Mad Men, "Blowing Smoke": why I'm quitting tobacco

Quick Take: Mad Men, "Blowing Smoke"
"We're gonna sit at our desks and keep typing while the walls fall down around us because we're creative, the least important, most important thing there is." – Don Draper

betty draper

Review: Mad Men, "Blowing Smoke"
(S0412) Driving home today, an acoustic version of R.E.M.'s "Fall On Me" popped up on my iPod, Michael Stipe beseeching the sky not to fall on him. And indeed, the sky is falling on Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce (which may well be Cooper-less from this point forward) in a way that we've never seen before. Not only is the Lucky Strike account long in the rearview, but current and potential accounts are leaving SCDP to die on the vine. Promising to check back "in six months," the implication is that if the firm is still around by then there can perhaps be some business to discuss.

After a series of episodes that spent significant time with supporting characters, this episode – the penultimate of the season, beautifully directed by John Slattery – is very much Don Draper (Jon Hamm) and Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce-centric.

"We're desperate, they can smell it on us," Don declares after the latest potential "savior," Philip Morris' new cigarette brand for women in this case, bails out on a meeting (they never really had a chance as it turned out, SCDP on the wrong side of the kind of power move that Don himself used to help engineer). He's getting firsthand experience with potential clients (or "boyfriends," as Jeff Atherton would say) who don't like his odor too. The Heinz executive who was connected to Don via Faye Miller's uneasy decision tells him, "Maybe six to eight months from now you can call me with a humdinger."

The Philip Morris walkout brings everyone at the firm to a new low, and the troops start to see the writing on the wall. Pete Campbell (Vincent Katheiser), not one to keep thoughts to himself typically, says, "The wind is blowing ice cold out there. We can't even get a damned meeting with a tobacco account!"

The ever practical Lane Pryce (Jared Harris) had already been looking at contingencies and has a lifeline ready with a bank, but only if the partners each throw in $100,000 as collateral, and $50,000 each from Lane and Pete. Back in his office, even Don is rattled, telling Peggy (Elisabeth Moss), "We're gonna sit at our desks and keep typing while the walls fall down around us because we're creative, the least important, most important thing there is." Peggy's befuddled reaction in seeing Don essentially ready to sit on his hands and wait for the end (or for Pete to "get him in a room with somebody" to sell to, whichever comes first) plants the seed for his later actions. Back on Pete's home front, meanwhile, new mother Trudy (Allison Brie) flat out balks at Pete using their money to help save the firm. "You are forbidden to give anything more to that company!" Later, Don discreetly pays Pete's share, yet another instance where Don attempts to use money to pay off personal and emotional debts.

Don, back at the apartment, takes to his sobriety journal and begins an entry entitled, "Why I'm Quitting Tobacco," which swiftly transitions into a full page ad that he takes out in The New York Times. It's a Hail Mary pass and extremely risky, even for Don. It's also misleading and supremely self-serving, noting that the relationship "ended" with Lucky Strike, which coincidentally coincides with SCDP having a big and dramatic and altruistic change of heart. "We knew it wasn't good for us but we couldn't stop," he writes (echoing his run in with Midge, which I address in "more thoughts" down below). Cigarettes are suddenly, "A product that causes illness and makes people unhappy." And one where, "creative is irrelevant." Not only does he literally "go public," he "outs" the agencies that do "good work" with cigarette brands, including BBDO and rival firm CGC.

The partners are not so happy with the move, to put it mildly. "No one asked you to euthanize this company!" Lane thunders. Roger hilariously (and honestly) adds, "I don't know. It's good not to be the reason this place went down anymore." And Bert (Robert Morse) lowers the boom: "I never thought you had the stomach for a partnership." He then quits the firm and calls for his shoes. Megan (Jessica Pare) is with Don at least: "I love that you did it. It feels different around here."

The episode ends with layoffs and a sense of gloom. But there is a silver lining, if only a feint one: the American Cancer Society is interested in SCDP doing an anti-smoking campaign (hilarious if only because the firm is jam-packed with tobacco addicts). There's no money in it but it's prestigious and there are bigwigs on the board, as Ken points out.

Season Three's closer, "Shut the Door. Have a Seat.," was so surprising and inventive and game changing that it sets an impossibly high bar for next week's season finale.  That said, Matthew Wiener and team have surpassed expectations so many times in the past that I have no doubt that we are in for a humdinger ourselves.

And then the cold layoff of the Mad Men offseason begins.

More thoughts on "Blowing Smoke":

  • "There's a time for beans, and there's a time for ketchup." – Raymond, the Heinz exec
  • John Slattery does a fabulous job with the episode. Just as example, I love the montage of mini-scenes where the staff at SCDP wonder what's going on and what will happen next. Okay, here's one more: the shots of Peggy, and then others, listening to the partner's combative meeting through the wall.
  • "I'm getting married in October, it's gonna be Barefoot in the Park!" – Ken Cosgrove (Aaron Staton), less optimistic these days
  • "I'll lose my partnership!" – Pete. "You'll lose your stateroom on the Titanic?" – Trudy
  • There's so much going on in this episode and at this point in the season that it's almost easy to overlook the return of Midge (Rosemarie DeWitt), one of Don's Season One mistresses. In short, it's not good times for the former hipster paradise that Midge existed in back in 1960. She pretends to bump into Don, but really it's a truly desperate and deliberate event meant to draw him back to the Village to extract money out of him – ostensibly to buy a painting – to feed her and "husband" Harry's nasty heroin habit. "It's like drinking a hundred bottles of whiskey while someone licks your tits," she says in response to Don asking, "Why don't you stop?" Don gives her all the money he has on him (because a check won't work in her downtrodden case), yet another easy out for good old Dick Whitman, and the encounter ends with a brutal exchange. "Think my work is any good?" Midge asks with reference to #4 in a series of "after image" paintings. "Does it matter?" Don replies. And we remember what happened after Don paid off brother Adam Whitman in another sad apartment, don't we?
  • So much going on Part II: the one major subplot this episode largely deals holds allows to check in on Sally Draper (Kiernan Shipka, who gets better with each week and each season). "She doesn't care what the truth is," she tells Dr. Edna, "as long as I do what she says." The conflict comes though when Betty (January Jones) catches Sally hanging out with Glen Bishop (Marten Wiener, one of Matthew's sons), who of course has a longstanding and oddball relationship with the Draper women. Betty conjures up a major power move of her own by prompting Henry to speed up moving to another town (which he wants to do desperately anyway). Is it because she's jealous of her daughter's relationship, perhaps, that she shouldn't be allowed to befriend the one person that Betty had some real connection with, even if completely unrealistic and even inappropriate? Or is she fearful that Glen will reveal too much of their past history ("I'm so sad," she tells Glen near the end of Season Two, in a snowy parking lot) to Sally? This maneuver is wide open to debate, I'd say.
  • Betty, child-like herself, shrewdly bargains her way into continuing to meet with child psychiatrist Dr. Edna instead of being referred to a psychiatrist that is appropriate for adult issues
  • Amazing Glen Bishop moments abounded, and include: seeing him in a dirty football uniform, offering Sally a cigarette, offering Sally his "backwash," and best of all: reminding Sally that "psychiatrists are easy to fool" and that he is the one who advised that she kiss her mother's ass.
  • "Robert Kennedy wants to speak with you," Megan (Jessica Pare) says. It turns out to be Teddy Chaugh from CGC with a terrible accent (and perhaps unknowingly aping Howard Stern's classic "er-uh" Kennedy parody bit), pulling Don's leg.
  • Peggy zings Don but good: "I thought you didn't go in for those kinds of shenanigans," she says of the NYT ad.
  • Faye's firm is forced to break its relationship with SCDP because of Don's shenanigans. She's not angry that he didn't consult her about the ad, but relieved and happy that they can have a relationship out in the open now. Her increasingly rose-colored view of Don gives me the sense that their relationship will not make it into Season Five.
  • "Well, I gotta go learn a bunch of people's names before I fire them." – Roger, as always getting one of the best lines of the episode.
  • Video: Mad Men, "Blowing Smoke"
    Head inside the episode, from AMC:

    From Around the Web: Mad Men, "Blowing Smoke"

  • A.V. Club: 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.
  • More A.V. Club: When you have one lover telling you to ask another lover to set up dinner dates, your life has gotten pretty complicated.
  • UGO: I honestly don't even know where to begin.  "Blowing Smoke" deserve such a cerebral, in depth analysis of all its character turns, callbacks, confrontations and plot progression, and yet I want nothing more than to craft a loving ode geeking out over how fantastically awesome it was.  I want to bathe in it. 
  • Speakeasy: The episode ends as Don pauses between firings to stare at a group of ousted employees, just as he searched for meaning in Midge’s painting.
  • By Eric - TV Geek Army "Revered Leader"

    About the author

    Eric is the publisher and revered leader of TV Geek Army… at least in his own mind. TV Geek Army is a place for serious TV reviews and news for serious fans of great television. Contact: eric-[at]-tvgeekarmy.com 

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    7 Comments
    On: Monday, October 11, 2010
    Lucas said:

    With only one episode in what has thus far been an excellent season, I think it is an appropriate time to start making predictions for the finale and for next season. I don't see how there is any way SCDP can shut its door because I don't imagine the show starting two seasons in a row with Don's agency changing. That means they have to figure out a way to save the company. Bringing Midge back open the doors for reintroducing past characters. And as we all know, there is one past character with the clout to step into the spot the American Tobacco vacated. Conrad Hilton. I know that Connie wasn't very pleased with Don's "Hiltons on the moon" pitch, but his very public (if not neccessarily heartfelt) mea culpa might be enough to buy him a second chance. Whadduya think?

    On: Monday, October 11, 2010
    Eric - TV Geek Army "Revered Leader" said:

    Yes, I agree that SCDP will make it into Season Five in some shape or form. Bringing in Hilton would be very cool and great timing -- his account is the new "anchor" that could keep the firm afloat (and would correctly satisfy Roger's notion of going after clients large enough where their business alone could help guarantee the agency's security, thus negating any worries about them being around "in six months"). 

    Another character from the past I'd love to bring back in: Sal. And dump Stan in the process! How cool would it be if Sal was somehow attached to a lucrative client and Don has to beg him to come back a la his mea culpas throughout the Season Three finale?

    On: Monday, October 11, 2010
    Lucas said:

    Yeah, I certainly miss Sal too. Best gay Baltimoron since John Waters. Although some of Stans zingers have had me slapping my knee.

    On: Monday, October 11, 2010
    Adam Wattenbarger said:

    Agreed that Hilton is the most logical way to save the firm.  They also name-dropped Emerson Foote, a notable ad exec who attacked the tobacco industry.  Was probably just a reference they threw in, but it's possible they could make him an onscreen character.

    On: Monday, October 11, 2010
    Lucas High said:

    Adam,

    I conisidered the Emerson Foote angle too, but when I looked up his bio I couldn't find anything that would indicate him being able to save the company. From what I could tell from the brief things I read online, he was an ad exec who clashed with tobacco industry and became an anti-smoking spokesman for the American Cancer Society or something. All which sort of mirrors what is going on with Don, so I think the reference might have just been a wink at the audience.

    I guess if he is a powerful enough ad exec he could absorb SCDP into whatever firm he is attatched to? Can you envision any scenarios in which Foote could end up SCDP's savior?

    On: Tuesday, October 12, 2010
    Eric - TV Geek Army "Revered Leader" said:

    My guess is that Foote is more of a name check to a real person who acted similarly to Don back in the day (though perhaps with more noble motivations), but who knows? 

    Countdown to the season finale continues !

    On: Tuesday, October 12, 2010
    Gordon S. Miller said:

    Mad Men seems one of the last series viewers should be making predictions about because it never goes where you think it will, week to week, and especially season to season considering we don't know yet how it's going to end. Plus, each new season has had a different amount of time pass when the series returned.

    Midge isn't the first time they have brought back a character but I don't see Hilton coming back like the cavalry to save the day.  It's too easy and the main characters usually make their own way in the world no matter how bad the decisions are. 

    A lot rides on Cooper.  Hope they keep him.  He's too good of a character to lose and creates a needed balance to the recklessness of Draper and Sterling.

    I am disappointed they have not revealed any more about Sally's masturbation.  It comes off as shock value as opposed to purposeful plot point, and doesn't seem like the show at all.  Hope Weiner isn't going to follow his Sopranos roots and just drop storylines out of laziness.

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