AMC’s Mad Men – Blowing Smoke Episode 412
Tread lightly, thar be spoilers below
Last night’s episode of Mad Men, Blowing Smoke, definitely set up a lot of pieces for an explosive season finale. Sterling Cooper has been bought out by a British parent company, ran out of the agreement like pirates, added two partners in the process and now are in complete jeopardy of losing it all. Let’s be clear, losing Lucky Strike at any point in the last four years would have done the company in. What happened two weeks ago is simply what Sterling Cooper from the pilot on could never have afforded to have happen.
Continuing the tradition, we’ve got blowing smoke. Starting literally, the partners are told by an outside consultant that they built their business on tobacco so they should do tobacco again. He gets them a meeting with Philip Morris, what is launching a new brand, and PM decides to stand them up, only using the meeting as leverage with another agency. Don then decides to write a letter, appearing as a full page ad in the NY Times, decrying tobacco and stating that SCDP will never work with tobacco again.
Literal is boring, let’s dive into the idiom. Blowing smoke is deceiving someone, lying to their face, closely related to smoke and mirrors, smokescreen, although we’ll have to throw out “where there’s smoke there’s fire.” Mad Men is pretty much built upon blowing smoke.
Was everyone surprised to see Midge? Did y’all remember who Midge was? Back when Don still lived in the ‘Burbs, Midge was Don’s Greenwich Village fling. In the pilot script she’s described as a sexy no nonsense woman about Don’s age, wrapped in a red kimono. Midge was this sexy player who was exactly Don’s type but you could tell wasn’t interested in Don’s other life. She took him to Jazz clubs, introduced him to marijuana, made him hang out with proto-hippies and wanna-be beatniks.
The Midge we see in the lobby looks just a bit off. She’s a bit too skinny, has excuses that seem desperate as opposed to controlling. It’s weird, Peggy has seen a positive side of herself come out by hanging with village folk, having a Greenwich artist friend. I’m guessing the writers felt it unfair to glorify the village as this great haven for artistry without showing how it could destroy someone. Which is reason #5,042 why I love Mad Men. Nothing and no one gets to stand unblemished.
That painting that Don is staring at is vision #4, a number in a series of prints Midge has done for and while on heroin. It was hard not to think of Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground at that moment, “Heroin/it’s my life and it’s my wife” the way that Midge seemed unaware of the rules of any other social relation, she loathed her husband and really only used Don, unaware of when it was appropriate to talk and when it was appropriate to kiss. All she knew was how to treat heroin. Just sad, but it’s one of the realities of artistic life, there will be some lost to drugs.
Don handles it the way Don handles things. He pays her off, knowing it won’t do any good but unable to really try and affect change. He knows Midge lied to him in order to score some money for heroin, but that’s all he can do, pay her off and walk away.
That’s all Don really gets to do this episode. He fires a few people, as was decided in the partner’s meeting, and he pays Midge off while also paying Pete to stick around on the great ship Draper price. Pete had to tell Trudy that they couldn’t get a house to raise their child in because he was required by contract to put up money as collateral to keep the company’s line of credit open.
Cooper, disgusted by Don’s actions, resigns from his position and walks out, shoes in hand. Sterling is one fall away from being completely useless (at least now he can walk, look mopey). So Don knows that this company is basically down to just him and Pete now. Which is fantastic when you think about it. Don and Pete have been set up since the pilot as the movers in creative and accounts. Don was able to gain creative a bit of power in the company, and now it seems like creative and accounts might become equal partners in whatever SCDP becomes.
The B story this week (out of what an entire alphabet of storylines) deals with Sally Draper and her family (clearly Betty is no longer calling the shots). Sally has her secret friend Glen, who is playing pop warner football now, and the two of them sneak off after school and practice to lie in a dirt lot, drink cokes, and talk about being kids with problems. Glen is still that creepy kid who asked for a lock of Betty’s hair and trashed the Francis’ kitchen, but Sally shows a genuineness that really redeems her. It’s obvious she just needs a friend her own age, though Glen’s intentions seems a bit less innocent. With her child psychologist, she seems pleased when told she’s making progress, and that her psychologist is proud of her.
This all falls apart when Betty finds Sally sneaking off to see Glen. Betty is obviously reliving the whole ordeal with babysitting him, giving him the lock of her hair, having to explain to the stalker child why what he did was wrong, and doesn’t want Sally mixed up with a kid like him. She’s got every right to be paranoid, but when it makes her finally come around to leaving the old Draper estate (to Mr. Francis’ delight and Sally’s dismay) it just seems reactionary and not something she’ll be happy with long term.
A spoilery thing for next week – the episode is entitled Tomorrowland. Take that in combination with what we saw in the “next time on Mad Men” segment, Don’s going to Disneyland, and I think he’s taking his kids with him. Whether this is a beginning of the episode or an end of the season thing, I don’t know. But it’s going to be very interesting to see how we got from here to there next week, in a season finale I’m super excited about watching next week.