Mad Men, “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes”: like there’s no tomorrow [Key Series Moments]

In this new series, we head back and look at key moments from Mad Men. As we wait for the arrival of Season Five, currently scheduled to premiere in early 2012, stay tuned to TV Geek Army all summer long to get your Mad Men fix.

don draper

“Smoke Gets In Your Eyes,” Mad Men’s pilot episode, is a masterfully entertaining and exquisitely executed introduction to a new world. Even as an enormous amount of information and detail are thrown at us, it all goes down smooth as silk (or as a properly prepared Old Fashioned, depending) as we dive into the marvelously original and painstakingly detailed world of Don Draper, Sterling Cooper, and New York City circa 1960.

Don is a Master of the Universe, the super hero Creative Director of the Sterling Cooper advertising firm that can and will save the day using his moxie and towering ego and craftiness. Yet by the time we arrive home with him at the end of the hour (and find him to have a beautiful wife and two kids only then!), there’s sufficient mystery and unanswered questions about this mad man that we can’t wait to find out what happens next.

I’m struck when watching “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” by how revealing Don is when he meets with Rachel Menken in a swanky Manhattan lounge. It’s an easy scene to neglect if not forget as it comes just moments after the epic and iconic board room scene in which Draper pulls off a brilliant recasting of how to pitch Lucky Strike cigarettes (in short, well, “it’s toasted”) at the dawn of an age where the government is just beginning to get serious about curbing tobacco addiction in the United States.

Don and Rachel did not get along very well during their intial introduction at Sterling Cooper. All bluster and ego at first glance, Don did not take well to being told that his ideas weren’t well received, and especially by a woman (and a Jewish one at that). After the victory with the Garners and Lucky Strike, Roger Sterling smartly dispatches Don to have a kiss-and-make-up get together offsite while his Creative Director is on a hot streak.

                                mad men

Therefore when they meet again, we see a Don who is suave and charming as ever, yet does not feel the need to sweet talk his potential client. And he’s certainly not trying to seduce her – at least at this moment in time. Instead we get a Don who transitions from glib to surprisingly revealing, though it takes a fellow outsider as sharp and perceptive as Rachel to pick up on it.

After Don probes her as to the reason why she would choose to forego marriage in order to work in a world of men and “fight with guys like me,” Rachel admits that she has never been in love.  “She won’t get married because she’s never been in love. I think I wrote that to sell nylons,” Don says. “What you call love was invented by guys like me to sell nylons.”

And it’s here where we get a taste of the real Don Draper… as constructed and mobilized and deployed by Dick Whitman. Don ends his little monologue on a note of nihilism that is one of my favorites from the entire series: “I’m living like there’s no tomorrow because there isn’t one.”

This might be Don Draper’s motto in the early going of Mad Men, or at least the one that Dick Whitman invented for Don Draper when he created his new persona. The Don Draper who believes statements like this is invincible because he is constantly running away from what is real, particularly his feelings. He’s invincible and he’s sedated and he’s in almost all ways alone. The Don Draper who we see on the Dark Side of the Moon of 1965 – during a Season Four that sees him battling alcoholism and despair as a divorced dad – is the guy who keeps waking up tomorrow after living like there wasn’t one for too many years. 

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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