Monday, October 11, 2010

Mad Men “Blowing Smoke” Recap & Review

All photos from AMC

Things seem to be unraveling fast for Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. The company, already on the brink of collapse, gets helped along by what the partners think is a reckless moved by Don Draper (Jon Hamm). Also, Don’s daughter Sally (Kiernan Shipka) seems to be coping with life at home, until her mother Betty (January Jones) decides it’s time for a big change. The episode is aptly named, as “blowing smoke” means to trick someone or obscure something so that the truth is not obvious or to cover a falsehood. It also means to make a statement that one knows can’t be backed up. Mad Men “Blowing Smoke” has Sally finding a way to play the role of the cooperative child in order to make things work, and Don finding a way to turn the loss of the company’s largest account, Lucky Strike, into something positive. Don’s action comes from an idea that may have been spawned by an off the cuff comment by Peggy which repeated one of Don’s own maxims: "If you don't like what they're saying about you, change the conversation." His move looks to mean certain failure for SCDP. Viewers, who have the advantage of knowing how the public will view tobacco over time, may see his action as a big leap forward for the company and not a jump off a cliff. This was an excellent episode that can only make viewers anxious for next week’s season finale.

With Sally, it looks like her counseling is having some positive effects, and she and her mother Betty seem to be getting along much better. Dr. Edna Keener (Patricia Bethune) tells Sally she is proud at how well Sally is coping, yet when Betty comes in for a progress report, Betty tells Keener that Sally is not better. Keener wants Betty to start seeing her own psychiatrist, and Betty resists the idea. Meanwhile, Sally continues to cement her friendship with neighborhood friend (and I think a stalker in the making) Glen Bishop (Marten Weiner). During one of the conversations she has with Glen, she tells him she doesn’t think there is a heaven, and doesn’t like the idea of doing something for eternity. She makes a very interesting observation about it, comparing eternity to the lady on the Land O Lakes box who is holding a box with a picture of herself holding a box which has the same picture on it, ad infinitum. This is a deep observation for such a young child; some may say it’s troubling that Sally doesn’t see anything positive in her life or death.

When Betty sees that it looks like Sally and Glen are going off to do something inappropriate, she chases Glen away and takes Sally home. When Henry Francis (Christopher Stanley) comes home early for a rare dinner with the family, Betty announces that she doesn’t like the neighborhood anymore and wants to move. This makes Henry happy but causes Sally to run away from the table to cry in bed.

Meanwhile, Don Draper is trying to drum up business, and the meeting that Faye (Cara Buono) arranged with Heinz turns out to be a bust, as they want to wait 6 months before making any more to SCDP. Fyae’s boss Geoffrey Atherton (John Aylward) encourages SCDP to stick with what they do best – tobacco. He says he has an in to get them a meeting with Phillip Morris about a new women’s cigarette line – and this later falls through. They find that Philip Morris just used the threat of meeting to cut a better deal with someone else. It’s as if a pall of death is hanging over the company. Lane is working with the bank but each of the partners must come up with some money in order to help secure a bigger loan, but Pete doesn’t have the money and Trudy (Alison Brie) refuses to let her use any of theirs.

As he leaves for work, Don has what seems like a chance encounter with Midge Daniels (Rosemarie DeWitt), and he later finds that she tracked him down in order to sell him one of her paintings to feed her heroin habit. At home, while Don looks at the painting, he also seems to be thinking about what Peggy told him about changing the conversation, and he rips out the pages in his journal and starts writing something else. It’s a new full page ad that he places in the New York Times about “Why I’m Quitting Tobacco.” Needless to say, it rocks the company and the partners are furious, with Bert Cooper (Robert Morse) taking his shoes and quitting on the spot. Megan (Jessica Paré), however, applauds Don in private for his actions, saying she knows the purpose of the ad was to make it look like "he didn't dump me, I dumped him." Peggy is also pleased with what Don did, and seemed to recognize that Don really may have listened to her. Frankly, I’m not sure why none of the other partners could see Don’s point of view, but as Don is part of Creative, it’s not surprising. Of course, viewers have the benefit of hindsight and know that tobacco will soon be scorned and a highly unattractive account to have. It was a risky move on Don’s part, but it was also another look into his genius as an ad man.

Later, as they get ready to fire employees in order to keep the company afloat, they find that they may have a legitimate lead with the American Cancer Society because of Don’s anti-smoking statement. This may bring them additional contacts and leads. Pete (Vincent Kartheiser) finds that Don has ponied up Pete’s share of the money they need to keep afloat. Faye also gets fired from her job, seeing that Don’s actions have alienated tobacco so much that Atherton is severing ties with SCDP to avoid alienating his own potential cigarette accounts. Don is sorry but Faye sees this as an opportunity: they can now date openly. Somehow, I have this feeling that Faye has an inkling that Don and Megan have had a fling and Faye may think that dating openly may keep Don’s attention on her. We all know Don, and I suspect that Faye wanting more relationship time with Don may only serve to smother him.

As they fire people, Don looks back on the scene with people crying. We can only wonder what Don is thinking. Does he have regrets? Does he not care, and just sees this as a means to an end? Did his encounter with heroin addict Midge make him realize that he has to get off the tobacco accounts and kept the agency “clean”” and this is all part of the process? Somehow, I think Don Draper and SCDP could come out better and stronger. Don’s big risk may have been the best gamble that Don ever made and it may have the biggest payoff. Sally. However, seems to be headed for disaster. Any progress she may have made with her counseling may take a huge step back if Betty gets her way and moves the family. While Sally may have been trying to understand her mother’s perspective, Betty’s actions tell Sally that nothing with Betty has really changed.

“Blowing Smoke” was an interesting look into life through Sally’s eyes. Maybe both Sally and Betty have being blowing smoke about making their relationship work. This has been exposed as just a thin veneer that is cracking at the slightest hint of stress. Don, however, uses his desperation to blow smoke at the ad world through his full page ad, making people think he’s taken the high road by blowing away the tobacco companies. It all makes for an interesting set up for next week’s finale, “Tomorrowland,” where anything can happen.

Inside Mad Men “Blowing Smoke”

Mad Men “Blowing Smoke” Video Recap

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Heh. I don't think Megan really gets it. I didn't feel Faye is threatened by her either. her comment about 'let your girl set the reservations' just reflects her masculine take on things, and Don's subsequent assessing stare confirms that.

good review, and some good points missed by others.