Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Mad Men Season 4, Episode 12 Recap: Blowing Smoke

What happens when the precariously flimsy base of your operation collapses underneath you? Eighteen months ago Don Draper led a revolt taking the best and the brightest from Sterling Cooper and striking out on their own to start a shiny new agency.  With their largest client abandoning them, the hubris of their move now becomes clear.  They weren't prepared for the worst case scenario and now that it's hit, they're scrambling.  Don goes for a "desperate times call for desperate measures" approach, because Don doesn't take well to things not going his way.

Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce is looking to fill the $20M gap that Lucky Strike's exit has left them with.  So far, they've had an introductory meeting with Heinz Beans but nothing concrete and they need new clients and new billings fast.  Their consultant Dr. Atherton discusses a potential new client, Philip Morris.  They're launching a new line of women's cigarettes and are looking for a new agency.  While this account will not make up; for the ones they've lost (the billables won't be near what Lucky Strikes was), it's a good start.  So the partners ask Dr. Atherton to get Don in a room with them.

Meanwhile the rest of the office is in full-blown panic about the future of the agency.  There are talks of layoffs, downsizing and reductions.  The vibrant new agency we saw at the start of the season, with its mysterious second floor, is now a shadow of itself and about to collapse.  They grab hungrily for whatever they can get, a meeting is almost as good as a signing at this point.  At least it brings some hope that they will pull themselves out of a free fall.

Sally Draper is starting to mature.  The cute, lisping first grader we met at the start of the show is becoming more grownup.  She even sneaks away to have private, adult conversations with Glen.   She asks her mom if she can wait until Henry comes home and join the grownups for dinner.  She meets with Glen and talks about her therapy sessions with Dr. Edna and he asks about Betty.  It's a great insight into Sally that she might complain about her mother, but then defends her when Glen suggests that Betty doesn't like children.  Sally has learned how to deal with her mother.  Agree with her, don't explode, and realize that she has her own issues that have nothing to do with whether Sally is a good kid or not.

Sally is doing so well, Dr. Edna suggests they cut back on their sessions.  Betty was unloading on Dr. Edna later, in one of their sessions ostensibly to discuss Sally's progress.  Dr. Edna mentioned that she was cutting Sally down to once a week because of all the progress she was making.  She suggested that maybe Betty might want to see her own therapist as she often has many issues that come up when they are talking about Sally.  But Betty tells her that she doesn't need her own therapist, she just needs to talk to Dr. Edna...for Sally's sake.  Dr. Edna quickly figures out that Betty likes having someone to talk to about her problems but does not like admitting that she needs to talk to anyone - and certainly not a psychiatrist (especially after the breach of confidentiality she endured with her previous therapist).  So they agree to continue their unofficial therapeutic conversations.

Don "bumps into" his old mistress, Midge, the bohemian artist.  He's happy to see her and catches her up on the latest - he has his own firm but not his own marriage.  She asks if he needs a freelance artist and then invites him over to her place.  It's only later, at her apartment, that we see that the accidental meeting in the lobby was no accident and that Midge is not doing well.  Addicted to drugs, out of money, her life has not gone in a positive direction since she was finding nine different ways to say "I love you, Grandma."

Her old man Perry spills the beans that Midge was looking for Don and tracked him down, knowing that he had the bank account to help them out in their time of need.  He offers that Don should buy one of her paintings - he can have whatever he wants if he does - to help them out. It would mean so much to her.  Don gets the whole story.  Midge is a junkie and any moment she's not painting she's shooting up and all her money, future, ambition has been shot up her arm.  It's pathetic and familiar and Don hands her some money that won't fix anything but will only give her another fix and we see that not all stories have a happy ending.

Don was nervously preparing for the Philip Morris meeting, when Dr. Atherton walks in with the bad news.  The meeting was canceled; Philip Morris is sticking with their agency.  That's that.  The whole world knows with Lucky Strike gone, SCDP is hanging on by a thread.  They won't be around much longer without that cash cow, it seems.  Lane Pryce managed to arrange and extension from the bank, but they partners will have to chip in a good portion of money to keep the company afloat.

It is against this backdrop of looming disaster, that Don Draper drafts the following letter, then pays to run it as a full paged ad in the New York Times:

Why I'm quitting tobacco.
Recently, my advertising agency ended a long relationship with Lucky Strike cigarettes.
And i'm relieved.  For over 25 years, we devoted ourselves to peddling a product for which good work is irrelevant, because people can't stop themselves from buying it.
The product that never improves, causes illness and makes people unhappy.
But there was money in it.
A lot of money.
In fact, our entire business depended on it.
We knew it wasn't good for us, but we couldn't stop.
And then, when Lucky Strike moved their business elsewhere, l realized here was my chance to be someone who can sleep at night because I know what i'm selling doesn't kill my customers.
So as of today, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce will no longer take tobacco accounts.
We know it's gonna be hard.
If you're interested in cigarette work, here's a list of agencies that do it well: "BBDO, Leo Burnett, McCann Erickson, Cutler Gleason and Chaough, and Benton and Bowles.
As for us, we welcome all other business, because we're certain that our best work is still ahead of us.
Sincerely, Donald F. Draper, Creative Director, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.
Was there any honesty in that letter?  Did Don really believe, let alone care, that his company was helping sell a product that kills its customers?  Was he at all moved to write this after coming face to face with another addict who can't stop doing something that is due to kill her?  Or was this just another ingenious Draper pitch, as manipulative and cunning as The Carousel?

Regardless of his intentions, the reality of that open letter hits the firm like a two-by-four between the eyes.  Worse, a howitzer to the face.  This is professional murder-suicide.  The rival advertising firms that got a shout out from Don (before that was even a thing) call him to thank him, or call him to mock him, or both.  Clients are worried, staff is updating their resumes and Bert Cooper has grabbed his shoes and is taking his leave of the agency.  Don's big move has cost Faye her job working with his firm, though she finds a plus in that they can now have an open relationship.  Peggy gently teases Don that she was surprised that someone so against "shenanigans" (remember the Sugarberry Ham hijinks?) would stoop to such tomfoolery.   Only his new bodyguard, Megan, comes out in full support of the letter.

Will this cost the company or can they recover?  Time will tell.  Today, it's a string of bad news to those receiving their layoffs.   It's difficult for everyone, but necessary if the firm is to survive.   Danny is fired as is Bill and some other employees that we don't know and won't be knowing.  But all is not lost.  SCDP has been contacted by the American Cancer Society to perhaps work on a new campaign.  And Pete received a little good news of his own.  Don paid his partnership share, to help keep the firm afloat.  Don may have done a drastic, selfish act, but he really did do it for the good of the firm.


Raymond of Heinz says to Don (when noticing how desperate he is for their business):  "I bet I could get a date with your mother right now."  He's wrong on two accounts, Don's mother is dead.  And, second, he would have had no trouble getting a date from her regardless of Don's interest in their business as "dating" was what she used to do for a living.

Ken mentions that he's about to be married and it'll be "Barefoot in the Park."  He's referencing the Neil Simon comedy that opened on Broadway in 1963 about a young couple living in New York.

I didn't realize until this episode that Philip Morris had launched Marlboro originally as a woman's cigarette.  With the macho image of the Marlboro Man branded in our brains, it's surprising to learn that was not the original direction that brand was going into.  The cigarettes were filtered, described as mild, and had a red band to deal with lipstick stains.  According to Wikipedia, and why would they lie to me, Philip Morris rebranded Marlboro as a man's cigarette after news about the harmful affects of smoking started entering the public consciousness.  These filtered cigarettes were thought to be safer.

Don is so superior to Midge, with his fine suits and fat bank account.  But does he realize that there is not that big a difference between her addiction to heroin and his to booze?  Does he not see that he too has lost so much because of his drinking, and how damaging it can be?  Does he not remember Freddy Rumsen?  Midge, in her desperation, is not unlike Don in his.

Nothing could get Betty out of that house except for Glen Bishop.  Seeing Sally sneaking around to meet him was the straw that finally broke Betty's reluctant back.  She bans Sally from seeing him again and announces that she is finaly willing to move out of the house she shared with Don.  Henry is excited about the prospect of moving the family, maybe to Rye (near Playland, Bobby mentions) but Sally runs to her room crying about having to say goodbye - to her home, to her friend, maybe even to her memories.


Raymond (of Heinz):  I'm afraid we've become the fading older sister.

Geoff Atherton:  You're paying me to assess your situation, but I could've told you from three blocks away that signing new business, no matter what the size, is of the essence.  Not only because your billings have shrunk by 50%, but because there's not much time before you'll be perceived as stagnant, or worse, decaying.
Roger:  Listen, Doctor, we know there's a black spot on the x-ray.  You don't have to Keep tapping your finger on it.

Bert: We will listen more than we will speak.
Geoff:  Like a good girlfriend.

Glen: She doesn't like kids.
Sally: That's not true.
Glen:  You're the one who's always saying how mean she is.
Sally:  So what?

Don:  What's it like?
Midge:  It's like drinking 100 bottles of whiskey while someone licks your tits.
Don:  I can see it's very good.
Midge:  He said it would help me take my mind off my work.  Turns out, it's a full-time job.
Don:  Why don't you stop?
Midge:  I know it's bad for me, but it's heroin, Don.

Midge:  Do you think my work's any good?
Don:  Does it matter?

Midge: It's really great to see you, Don.  I'm glad you haven't changed.

Pete:  The wind is blowing ice cold out there.  We can't even get a meeting with a damn tobacco account!

Sally:  When I think about forever, I get upset.

Don:  We can't start over.  We just started.
Peggy:  You always say, "if you don't like what they're saying about you, change the conversation."

Pete:  I'll lose my partnership.
Trudy:  You'll lose your stateroom on the Titanic?

Roger:  Somebody used your name to end our business in the newspaper.

Lane:   No one asked you to euthanize this company.

Don:  I did what I thought was best for the company.  You can either back me or not.
Pete:  You did what was best for you, because you're impatient and childish.  You had a tantrum on a full page in The New York Times.

Bert:  I'm no longer a part of this agency. You there, get my shoes.
Roger:  Bert, calm down.
Bert:   I will not.  We've created a monster.

Megan:  I love that you stand for something.
Don: Megan, that's not really what it's about.
Megan:  I know that part.  I know it was about "he didn't dump me, I dumped him." I just love that you did it.  It feels different around here.

Harry:  They're gonna fire everybody, or worse, make me fire everybody.
Bert: Well, it's been a pleasure working with you all.  I wish you the best of luck.
Stan:  I didn't think they'd start with him.

Don: So? You haven't said anything about the letter.
Peggy:  I thought you didn't go in for those kinds of shenanigans.

Spoilery Observations (WARNING:  Don't read until you're caught up):

Roger's quip about the "black spot on the x-ray" could be considered foreshadowing to the lung x-ray that the doctors show Henry in Season 7.

We will see Danny again, in Ep. 6.10 A Tale of Two Cities when he's the very groovy and very successful Hollywood producer.  He gets into a bit of a verbal battle with Roger than escalates with Danny coming out on top. The actor who plays Danny is an Emmy award winning writer and producer, in addition to being a talented actor (my favorite role of his being Paris' boyfriend in Gilmore Girls).

The letter comes back to bite Don again when, in Ep. 7.05 The Runaways, the firm wrangles a meeting with Philip Morris.


  1. Excellent review, as always. When will you post your take on Tomorrowland?