MAD MEN “Blowing Smoke” Review

MAD MEN "Blowing Smoke"

MAD MEN “Blowing Smoke” Episode 12 – This week’s episode of Mad Men shows an agency torn apart by the departure of their biggest client, Lucky Strike. The partners desperately seek new business to no avail which results in the partners tearing each other apart.

The meeting with Heinz that Faye set up for Don Draper does not go as planned. Although the exec likes Don and thinks that he can give him ideas more like what he wants, unlike his current agency, he is not willing to transfer his business over to SCDP for at least 6 months. Don, in an act of desperation, offers to cut commissions. However, the exec is not persuaded as he tells Don that he is not sure SCDP will be around in 6 months. Even though Don strongly voices his opinion that it will, the Heinz exec is just stating what everyone else thinks is true. Later when Phillip Morris agrees to meet with SCDP to go over a new campaign for a cigarette designed specifically for women, the same sentiment is voiced. This time Phillip Morris doesn’t even bother to show up and the partners learn that the Phillip Morris execs never really intended to leave their current agency. That does not lessen the sting of rejection for SCDP, Don or the other partners. Roger, the man who has no contacts and no way of drumming up business, says they should go after something as big as they had. Perhaps that is true, but right now they are struggling to hold on to their smaller accounts and struggling to even garner an audience for any account. Sterling Cooper Draper and Pryce is in trouble.

Lane is back and has brought his family back with him. He wants to reduce the staff and the square footage so they can stay afloat. He also requires every partner to contribute $100,000 to the agency, with he and Pete contributing $50,000, so that they can continue funding the payroll. When Pete objects, Bert reminds him that it is in his contract. Now it is Pete’s turn to be desperate as he simply doesn’t have the money. The most he can come up with is $22,000 which Trudy forbids him from using. Pete does not want to lose his partnership even though Trudy astutely says “What the state room on the Titanic?” It does appear the agency is a sinking ship. This is evident with the large amount of staff that the partners eventually have to let go despite the ponying up of the extra funds. When Don asks Peggy who she could live without in creative, she offers only one name, Danny. Don then reads off a list of about ten names that Lane has suggested. It is then that the severity of the situation hits Peggy. It is only reinforced when staff members are seen leaving the building with their belongings and crying. Although sad to see people let go, it was refreshing to get a Roger one liner “I have to go learn the names of some people before I fire them.”

In the midst of the crisis and chaos, Don runs in to Midge in the lobby of his building in what he believes is a chance encounter. Don has not seen Midge since he gave her a bunch of money to go travel. She is back, living in the Village and invites him to her place to meet her husband (not romantic, just for the bread) and perhaps to buy one of her paintings. Midge’s husband is eager to have Don drop by and offers to sell him a painting and then offers to basically have Midge do whatever needs to be done to get Don to buy a painting. He also reveals that it was not a chance encounter, but that Midge looked Don up. Seems that Midge and her husband are heroin addicts. Midge’s husband takes $10 from Don and is off for his next fix. Midge explained that her loving husband got her addicted by claiming it would help her work. She describes it as “drinking a thousand whiskeys while someone licks your tit.” Don sadly writes a check for $300 for “painting number four” which Midge says she cannot cash so he gives her $120 and takes the painting.

The painting provides inspiration for Don after he gets home. Just as he is about to throw it out, he instead sits down and studies it. He then takes to his journal, rips out everything he has written and writes something new entitled “Why I Am Qutting Tobacco,” naturally while he is smoking. The next morning Don’s essay is a full blown ad in the newspaper and is a decry against tobacco companies and their deceiving ad campaigns. Don, on behalf of SCDP, asserts that they will never work with another tobacco company ever. He also lists the agencies that will. The partners are furious. In fact, the furor and passion that erupted when he arrived at the office was hypnotizing. Some of the best scenes ever, I believe. Most are mad that Don did not consult them, some are mad about the message, and others are mad that their names weren’t on it. No one is happy. No one thinks it was a good idea. Pete screams at Don, “You did what was best for YOU because you are impatient and childish.” The phones are ringing off the hook, mostly reporters and prank calls, as well as other agencies. In the end, however, the American Cancer Society called and wants the agency to do an anti-smoking campaign. Don is thrilled, but no one else is since it doesn’t pay. Don sees it as an opportunity to get their name out there. They have to do something. Bert is furious and resigns.

I thought Don’s ad was brilliant. Yes, he should have discussed it with the partners, but they surely would have stopped him. Yes, it alienates them from tobacco companies, but they weren’t giving them any business anyway. It was a way to shake things up and to get people talking about something other than Lucky Strike or whether the agency would be around in six months. Peggy recognized that. She also called Don out for using shenanigans, although it seemed she was impressed. Perhaps it was her idea of changing the agency name that also served as inspiration? Even though Don shot down Peggy’s idea, she did tell him “if you don’t like the conversation, change the topic.” Don definitely changed the topic.

There was so much going on in this episode of Mad Men, that it is hard to squeeze it all in here. Aside from the agency, we also got a fair does of Sally Draper. Sally is still hanging out with Glenn Bishop in secret meetings. They still seem to get along fairly well and it could be that, for as creepy as Glenn seems, he at least listens to Sally. Sally has also been seeing her therapist, however, Mrs. Edna wants to decrease the amounts per week as Sally is progressing quite well. This dismays Betty, who has also been seeing Mrs. Edna under the pretense of discussing Sally. When Mrs. Edna offers to get Betty her own therapist, she balks. She does not need a psychiatrist. However, the progress Sally was making is quickly destroyed when Betty finds her with Glenn and gets upset warning Glenn to stay away from Sally and telling Sally to stay away from him. Betty later tells Henry it is time to move, away from Glenn of course. Sally is devastated. Betty thinks she will get over it. Why Betty sets out to destroy everything of importance to Sally I will never know.

This was a very powerful episode of Mad Men and I am anxious to see what next week’s season finale holds. This season seemed to be about new beginnings as much as it was about downfall. Don has started over and tried to better himself. The agency started over in the beginning, and now again at the end. Relationships that rooted the agency and the characters were taken from them. Still, there is a bond between the members of Sterling Cooper Draper and Pryce. It is Don that pays Pete’s contribution to the agency, even after Pete screamed insults at him. It is the partners that graciously take the responsibility to let employees go so that the agency will survive. Hopefully this bond that they have formed will see them through this crisis and SCDP will come out on top, once again.

What did you think of this week’s episode of Mad Men? Although the topic was heavy, there were still some laughs. My favorite moment was when the employees were contemplating if they were going to get fired and Bert walks in and tells them it was nice working with them resulting in one of them saying, “I never thought they would start with him!” What was your favorite line from tonight’s show? What do you think will happen at SCDP? Is this a new beginning or just a downward spiral to the end? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Follow me on Twitter @danimari