Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Mad Men Season 4, Episode 12 Recap "Blowing Smoke"

All right, let's talk Don Draper. As the writers of Mad Men are prone to do, they have thrown the viewer a major potential plot twist right at the end of the season. Last year, the season ended with the excitement and promise of starting a new agency. This year, as the season wraps, the agency is in major financial trouble. It could go under. So Don makes a brash and bold move that could either seal its fate, or give it another lease on life.
Don attempts to buy one of Midge's paintings
One of the sadder moments in this amazing episode comes towards the beginning when Don runs into his old flame, Midge, from Season One. The beatnik chick that he used to bang whenever he was held up in the city has fallen on some seriously hard times. She "bumps into" Don at his office, but we learn later that this was no accident. Since they have last seen one another, Midge has gotten married and has become a heroin addict. She's still an artist, and that is the lure she uses to get Don to come to her apartment (that, and the probability of sex, which she says her husband does not care about).

Once they get to her place, Don realizes just how far she has fallen. Midge and her husband need money desperately for their drug habits, and they hoped Don would buy one of Midge's paintings to support their addiction. Turns out, sex could have been part of the deal, too. That was to be the "bonus" for buying a painting. Don passes, and writes Midge a check for the artwork. When she asks, "What am I supposed to do with a check?" Don reaches into his pocket and gives her cash. As far as Don may have fallen this season, he didn't fall as far as her.

Back at the office, everyone is sill buzzing about the loss of Lucky Strike and would the agency be down-sizing (a term which I don't believe existed in 1965). As Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce continues to lose clients, they are unable to pick up any more. Faye tries to help with an introduction to a man from Heinz, but they want to wait six months before signing with SCDP because they fear the agency might not exist then. That becomes the mantra coming from businesses who are reluctant to work with an agency that might be going under.
Don, Pete, and Bert in a partner's meeting at SCDP
The partners have an emergency meeting to talk cash flow, and it is decided that they will each need to personally contribute $50K (a massive sum by 1960s standards) to keep the agency afloat and meet payroll. Pete, the youngest partner, does not have the money, and his wife forbids him from putting any more of their money into the business. Later on, we learn that Don put up Pete's share of the money without telling him (payback for loss of the airplane company a few episodes ago?). But, seriously, how much cash does Don have?

Don brainstorms at home for a way to follow Peggy's advice (which was actually a re-stating of something Don said earlier) about changing what people are saying. He writes an essay about quitting tobacco. Even though he is smoking while he writes it, Don pens a letter giving all the reasons why he and SCDP will not work with tobacco companies any longer: health issues, etc. He publishes his letter as a full-page ad in the New York Times. The idea, of course, is to leave the impression that Lucky Strike didn't leave SCDP, but that SCDP left them.
Don ponders his decision to "quit" tobacco
The next day, the partners are furious. They view it as the end of the agency. Bert Cooper even resigns! Don tries to explain the bigger picture of what he was doing, but with tobacco companies providing so much money to advertising agencies, it falls on deaf ears. The rest of the partners only see all of the clients they won't get, as opposed to any they might.

As a result of the letter and the bleak financial outlook for the agency, the partners begin the process of lay offs and even entertain the idea of leasing out some of their office space to another company. Layoffs are always a sad thing. I have been at a company on a big layoff day, and though I survived the cut, it was a horribly memorable experience, nonetheless.

As the show ends we learn that Faye has lost her job due to her association with SCDP. Peggy offers Don her support over the letter, as does Don's beautiful secretary, Megan (side note: OMFG, how freakin' hot is Megan?! Jessica Pare is the actress that plays her...DAYOM!). 
Jessica Paré stars as Don's new secretary, Megan
On the home front, Sally has a secret friend...Glen. Shortly after the therapist tells Betty that Sally can reduce her therapy sessions due to her recent improvements, Betty's trust in Sally is once again gone. She forbids Sally from seeing Glen, and then tells Henry that it is time for them to move out of the neighborhood. Somehow, I question the true motivations behind Betty's actions.

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