Sunday, October 10, 2010

MAD MEN 4.12--"Blowing Smoke"

With one more episode before the end of the season, join me for the least-commented-upon and yet oddly most-viewed post of the week! Guess y'all like your Mad Men recap/reviews as early as possible. Heh.

"The way beans are funny we can't use that--we have to fight it, actually."

Well, last week only turned the screws even more on our gang. In the wake of Lucky Strike pulling out from Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, everyone was in a mad dash not to lose any more clients by convincing everyone that everything was fine. That went down about as well as that part where Leslie Nielsen's nose grows as he blithely lies to the passengers about the condition of the pilots in Airplane!.

Personally, things didn't go much better as Don did several things best termed "future fuck-ups" by schtupping his new secretary and convincing Dr. Faye to use her connections to get them more business, which was more than he deserved given that he'd just cheated on her. Oh, and Roger quietly imploded and surrendered to his despair.

So things are unsurprisingly in a very dark place as we begin this week's episode. Don meets covertly with Heinz, which Dr. Faye engineered for him. But it doesn't come to much, because the guy doesn't want to link up with SCDP . . .for the same reason they keep losing people--given their woes, no one's sure the firm will be around long enough to come up with anything. Don handles this by taking a drink, and frankly its hard to blame him.

Meanwhile, we check back in at the Draper household briefly (do we ever check in with them for longer anymore now?) where Sally expresses an interest in building a relationship with her stepfather, Henry Francis (and good thing too, because given Betty's default position of "Joan Crawford, loving mother," and Don's absence, she needs all the friends she can get) which is kind of a shock, but then she has been getting therapy, when she's not running away to see Don. Perhaps there has been some off-camera progress we haven't seen.

But that's B-plot stuff, and we're quickly back to SCDP, where their accounts person lets them know that the clock is ticking before perception of their insolvency murders all their business and suggests a way out--court another tobacco company and go for what they know. Apparently Phillip Morris is rolling out a new cigarette for women, and they want a new agency. It's not much, but a new account would be a step in the right direction. Anticipation and ambivalence ripple through the assembled, but the swell of music suggests--however quietly--this might be the turnaround they need, if they can pull it off. It's not, though--Phillip Morris cancels the meeting, and things get more desperate. Don asserts that desperation is the problem--it's a stinky cologne, after all.

Meanwhile, Sally is talking and sharing weird dreams and theories about the Land-O-Lakes girl with Glenn, or as I like to call him Mad Men's answer to Torgo, from Manos: the Hands of Fate. Glenn has apparently taken up football, which is just as well, as there was every likelihood the wackaloon was gonna wear one for one reason or another. We also learn that they share the same therapist, not that the fact that Glenn needed therapy was news to anyone, really.

Back in the A Plot, HOLY SHIT IT'S MIDGE! Yes, Draper's beatnik mistress from season one is back, and she and Don have a meet-cute where she tries to get a freelance art job and when that fails, for a little private bongo lessons. Don agrees and I begin to wonder if he's a closet Mormon. I don't remember that he was from Utah.

It's an awkward get-together (I don't remember her pad being that squalid) and Midge is into abstract art. Things get even more skeevy when the truth falls out--Midge tracked him down so he'd buy a painting so they can afford the heroin they're both addicted to, hence the uncomfortable scene where her husband all but pimps her out for the price of the painting. It's a disturbing scene, as between this and Anna I begin to wonder if every time we see someone from Don's past they're either going to die, or are dying a slow death of the spirit.

It's a heartrending moment--Don's equal parts disgusted and sad for her and the whole thing makes you think of their lighter moments together--however ultimately empty beatnik ideas of rebellion were, Midge was alive and I think that was why Don liked her so much--and seeing how far they are from that now makes it all the sadder.

The people who made the show must have known that I was complaining we weren't seeing Sally's therapy, so here she is, talking with her doc, and we learn (not that it was any shock after her outburst in Don's office a few weeks back) that she's gotten very good at internalizing her anger at her mother. There's a sweet little bit when her doc has to tell her twice that she's proud of Sally because she brushes it off the first time. In Betty's half of the therapy, she's not getting along as well as Sally, as she's had her own experiences with psychotherapy in the past. It's a bit telling on Betty that she feels more comfortable with a child psychiatrist than someone better suited to adult care. It's been noted by virtually everyone who writes about Mad Men on the net, Betty is an overgrown child, and this is one of those times that's been made explicit.

Peggy and Don hash out things, and Peggy suggests they change their name, but Don shoots it down--a fresh start after another fresh start doesn't send out great messages about a company's stability. And Pete and Trudi have a fight over having to extend a loan to SCDP to keep it afloat (Trudi now being the second member of her family to intimate that Pete's on a sinking ship) Don decides to quit smoking in the midst of all this. Maybe because he's disturbed by Midge speaking about her addition and recognizes that tendency in himself, maybe it's because he's sick of this bullshit--Lee Garner of Lucky Strike did spend the second episode of this season jerking them around, remember?--and as with Hilton last year, Don does not like to be on the end of someone's leash. He recognizes a moment has come.

And in that moment he makes a bold move. Don writes a manifesto about why he's quitting tobacco--as a business, anyways--and pays for it in the Times, making it explicit that tobacco is addictive, and asserting that SCDP is not going to take any more tobacco accounts. While the partners ream him out for it, Don asserts that they needed to make a bold move and he didn't want to deliberate over it. And hey, now people aren't talking about Lucky Strike leaving the agency now. This puts him on the outs with the other partners--Bert Cooper even quits. There's an amusing callback to the first episode of this season when Peggy calls Don on doing what amounts to a glorified publicity stunt, too, and the smile between them adds some much needed levity considering now the partners are arrayed against Don now, and Dr. Faye has to leave due to conflict of interest, which is bad for the agency, but good for Don as he and Dr. Faye can now openly date

But back to the B plot! Betty finds Sally and Glenn together and hilarity, unsurprisingly, does not ensue, as Betty does not like Glenn for reasons you can hardly blame her force because Glenn's a creep and a loser and he don't belong here. I am rather unimpressed by Glenn's running ability and I can't imagine he's first-string as he manages not to run out of sight of Betty before he gets winded. Oh Glenn, will you never learn? Following that, the long-awaited family dinner with Henry and Sally happens and it goes as well as you expect, as the Glenn thing gives Betty the ammunition to suggest they move (hey, remember that from the first episode?) Sally takes it about as well as you can expect, considering Glenn is her only friend (we're led to assume) and the house is her last connection to her old life with her father and mother together, she runs away in tears.

Things go from worse to utterly apeshit--the firings at SCDP have now begun, and the march of those let go is properly elegaic. That said, there's a glimmer of hope--the American Cancer Society wants a meeting to discuss an anti-smoking campaign, and Pete is saved from having to get into the shit with Trudi when Don pays his share without his knowledge (perhaps as a reward for handling the North American Aviation thing). Considering that even in the best of times they're never best friends, there's something rather sweet in the unspoken gratitude that passes between them. Even when things are at their worst (and they're pretty bad) as Bert Cooper said, you never know how loyalty is born.

So, here's how things stand. Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce is now Sterling Draper Pryce. Lucky Strike is still gone and business is still on the thin side. Worse still, Don's principled stand has set the whole agency out on a limb, and so much of one that a third of the company had to be eliminated. A miracle on the order of opening up the Matrix and destroying Unicron is needed now more than ever.

And there's one more hour left . . .

NEXT TIME: This is it--Mad Men's fourth season reaches it's blood-soaked conclusion in an apocalyptic final battle with the fate of all existence in the balance. As the cracks in the universe threaten all existence, can Don Draper forestall the colony drop which will doom Earth for generations? Can Roger unlock the Five Magics and break the Eternal Seal. Will Pete and Peggy unlock the secrets of DRAPER ROBO-1 in time to defeat the Robeasts marauding through New York city? All this, and Joan becomes the heretofore unknown Sixth Deadly Venom in the sure-that-none-of-what-I-just-described-will-happen final episode of Mad Men (this series, anyhow), "Tomorrowland." Aiming for your heart--target lock!

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