Mad Men: "Blowing Smoke"
B+

Mad Men: "Blowing Smoke"

B+

Mad Men

"Blowing Smoke"

Season 4, Episode 12

Did anyone fall for the Robert Kennedy fake-out? I did. And I should have known better. For one thing, if Mad Men were to cast someone as RFK, they would have cast someone who could do a better impression. For another, Mad Men’s not the sort of show to bring in a historical figure to save the day deus ex machina like that. Don’s gambit may result in long-term gains—tune in next week?—but in the short term all SCDP gets is a chance to work pro bono for the American Cancer Society. Maybe.

And maybe we should remove the “C” from SCDP now that Bert Cooper has taken his shoes and gone home. In other words, Don may have just made the a brilliant tactical move that will save his company, closing SCDP off from the area of advertising with which they’d enjoyed their greatest financial success but, in theory at least, opening up the rest of the world. Or he may have just shot a hole in the bottom of a sinking ship. The episode ends with SCDP throwing out human cargo in order to stay afloat that much longer. This season began with an optimism that matched its office’s spotless, practically glowing, white interiors. Now it’s all clutter and confusion and the atmosphere stinks of doom. Things are, in other words, not looking up.

I’m indebted to Twitter pal David J. Loehr (a.k.a. @dloehr) for pointing me toward the real story of Emerson Foote, an advertising giant who publicly criticized the tobacco industry in 1964, resigning from the chairmanship of McCann-Erickson and devoting himself to anti-smoking advocacy. (He later came back.) Foote was of the generation before Don’s and, unlike Don, he hated the cigarette industry in earnest. Which makes him both an inspiration for Don and a stark contrast to the character, who pens his opportunistic manifesto after ridding his notebook of the reflective musings we saw a few episodes back. Goodbye earnestness. Hello, let’s do what we have to do to survive.

Will he? Who knows? Don’s in deep now, for sure, and not in business. (When you have one lover telling you to ask another lover to set up dinner dates, your life has gotten pretty complicated.) I’m fascinated, too, by how he arrived at his decision, staring deeply at Midge’s art work and seeing… what? It’s an undistinguished piece of abstract art, especially in contrast to the kind that adorns the SCDP walls. Does he see her addiction and make a connection to how tobacco works? And, if so, is it a testament to tobacco’s drip or the height of cynicism that leads him to smoke while writing it? (And later while talking about it.)

As for Midge, I think Don went through the same stages most Mad Men viewers must have gone through this week: he’s excited to see her, intrigued to learn what she’s been up to, then deeply saddened when he finds out. I’m not sure I buy Midge’s current state. She always seemed too self-possessed to end up in the junkie den of some loser “playwright.” Then again, drug addiction tends to cut through things like self-possession pretty quickly and Midge is deep in its grips, chasing the feeling of “drinking a hundred bottles of whiskey while someone licks your tits” even though it means humiliating herself in front of her old boyfriend. To paraphrase what’s either the best or worst line David Mamet ever wrote, that’s why they call it heroin. The show may have had sadder images than Midge stroking Don’s leg while he wrote a check, but none come to mind. (Nice to see Rosemarie DeWitt again, however.)

Is Midge’s fate too much? Is Betty wheedling her way into continuing to see a child psychiatrist to match her childlike psyche too much? Maybe. I bought it in both instances, however. And, even if Betty’s scene with the psychiatrist felt like too much at the time, her reaction to learning that Sally was spending time with Glen was appropriately childlike, as much an expression of jealousy as concern. (To say nothing of bad parenting: way to make Glen seem like forbidden fruit.) Weird, isn’t it, that Sally and Glen’s friendship seems almost sweet. She talks about her dreams. He tells her how to suck up to her mom. He offers her backwash. She describes eternity using the Land O’ Lakes logo. (Chip off the ol’ block, eh kid?) But if Henry and Betty make good on their plan to move, Sally won’t have a chance to be around such “low-caliber people.” (Unless, of course, she sneaks out, which she’s already proven herself capable of doing.)

Nice to see Sally responding so well to therapy, too, though I get the feeling she’s making a mother of her doctor, who’s explained Betty’s behavior to Sally as the result of “stresses.” (Accurate? Bullshit? A little of both?) Meanwhile, Dr. Faye may not know what to do around children, but she proves herself infinitely more capable of handling stresses, immediately looking to the bright side of losing SCDP as clients by stating that she and Don would now be enjoying their relationship out in the open now. At least for now, Don doesn’t contradict her. Whether it will last remains another question.

Whether things will last is the question as this season winds to an end though, isn’t it? SCDP is caught in a terrible situation where nobody wants to work with them because they might not be around in six months, but they most certainly won’t be around if nobody works with them. Don asks only to be put in a room with clients so he can close some deals, but will he have the same abilities with a greatly reduced ad staff? (True, I doubt Danny was pulling his weight, but still…) And besides, he does get a shot this week, and he can’t even close the Heinz deal Dr. Faye handed him, and it’s not even with the ketchup division. Yet he stakes it all on a moment of inspiration, the “Why I’m Quitting Tobacco” gambit that’s alienated him from the other partners and driven poor, office-less Bert Cooper out of the place entirely. It looks likely to be a long six months.

Maybe we’ll get through them next week. Maybe we won’t. If last season proved anything, it’s that it’s best not to make predictions about where this show is going. As for this week, it’s another beyond-solid outing, even if I never felt like all the plots and themes got knotted together with the tightness of the series’ best outings. (Nice work a promising new director, though. Hopefully we’ll be seeing more of that Slattery kid.)

Stray observations

• Nice scene between Peggy and Faye. Peggy sees a principled, strong-willed woman who’s gotten where she is without compromising. Faye knows better.

• If Betty and Henry move, what becomes of the Draper house? I can’t see Don moving back there. How strange would it be for Mad Men to lose both the signature sets—the Draper home and the Sterling-Cooper office—with which it began as a show.

• “Food is cyclical.” Yes. But how can you keep them in baked beans and vinegar once they’ve tasted ketchup?

• Love the shorthand this show has developed. Don blows it with Heinz. He calls a waiter. We don’t have to seem him take the drink.