Mad Men recap: The wasting of Roger and Joan behind a "Chinese Wall"
It's been tough for me to watch what Matt Weiner and the Mad Men masterminds have been doing to my Roger and Joan.
Two of my favorite characters when the show started, John Slattery's rich kid schmoozer Roger Sterling and Christina Hendricks' va-voomy office manager Joan Harris offered the promise of layered sophistication. How does a bombshell with a fine command over her impact on men make her way in a changing, 1960s America? How does the rich kid transcend his sheltered lifestyle and inherited company to create something on his own?
Sunday's episode, "Chinese Wall," finally answered many of those questions. But not in a way that made this longtime fan happy.
As this season has unfolded, both have become exactly the cliches you'd expect: Sterling is the entitled screw-up he always feared becoming, losing his fledgling agency's largest account -- 70 percent of their business at one point -- and lying to his partners about when he knew the client would be leaving.
Dumping that knowledge on Joan solidified her status as a beauty always drawn to the wrong men. But making these characters exactly what they seem to be felt less like satisfying drama and more like a serious cop-out.
It is interesting to watch Vincent Kartheiser's Pete Campbell emerge as the hard-working yin to Sterling's yang. Where Sterling slid right into the family business with a lazy entitlement, Campbell has fought to establish himself in a new field, enduring the soft condescension of his parents and in-laws to work feverishly at creating his own life. Campbell can be a spoiled brat, too -- but like his dark inspiration Don Draper, he tried hard to never let it affect business.
While Campbell was missing his child's birth to scrounge for new accounts at a funeral, Jon Hamm's Draper was being schooled by fate on what a real relationship is -- and what it means to trust those who you say you love.
Initially rejected after asking new flame Dr. Faye Miller to violate her contracts with other agencies and steer some business his way, Draper fell back into old habits, bedding his secretary in a tryst she swore would be without strings. Imagine his -- and our -- surprise when Dr. Miller showed up at his doorstep, having set up a lunch with a client he could woo, because she loves him. (I keep wondering how Draper could keep her from guessing what he'd been up to just minutes before; surely he didn't hop in a shower before leaving Sterling Cooper!)
Draper was left with another awful secret and another load of self-loathing -- just when he gave up on their relationship, Dr. Miller doubled down, making me seriously doubt her skills as a predictor of other people's behavior.
Sterling, on the other hand, was left in his big house, holding copies of his vanity memoir, sitting next to a pretty young girl he doesn't love who is naively oblivious to all the craziness going on in her husband's life. Forever the poor little rich boy who never gets the toys he wants, he has become a seriously pitiable character this season.
I still have questions: Is Lane ever coming back from Britain? Will Draper & Co. ever realize they have something to blackmail Lucky Strike into staying (it's owner's gay advances on a former employee)? Surely the partners will figure out how Sterling snookered them?
With just two episodes left this season -- I know! -- Weiner and Co. don't have much time to make all this dysfunction pay off.
PREVIEW OF NEXT WEEK'S EPISODE