Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Review: Mad Men "Blowing Smoke"

Non Spoiler Review:
SCDP continues to collapse under the weight of Lucky Strike's departure, as accounts begin to question whether the firm will exist in six months time. Don runs into Midge (flaky artist from season 1), which provides an interesting and disturbing portrait of where these two characters are in their lives.

Sally is doing well in therapy with Dr. Edna, but is it really all that it seems? She continues to have friendly meetings with Glen, but it's not long before Betty stumbles upon them and throws out her patented vindictive brand of parenting.

This penultimate episode provides a lot of depressing developments as characters are raised up and knocked down throughout. The principles struggle to save the firm but seem to be spinning their wheels, set against a backdrop of layoffs. It's left to Don to go nuclear and risk everything to bring SCDP out of its spiral. A very poignant and dark hour that promises what is sure to be an interesting finale.

Spoilers Now!
SCDP is searching for ways to stop the hemorrhaging accounts, and Don is meeting with Heinz. Heinz is open to working with SCDP, but in six months, which really means, if you're around in six months, we'll be happy to work with you.

The agency consults with Faye's boss who suggests they do what they do best—tobacco. So Atherton sets up a meeting with Philip Morris. But that also comes to naught, and further damages the morale at SCDP.

Lane has returned and mentions he just brought his family back (whatever that might mean given his marital situation). But all the partners must throw in funds to keep the revenue stream going for the next six months in order to secure a bank loan. Pete cannot afford the $50,000 to do so, however, and feels extremely betrayed by the partners when the likes of Roger are doing nothing to help the firm survive.

Trudy forbids him to put any more money into SCDP, so he's left to consider his options until Lane advises him by the end of the episode that Don has paid for his share. Pete shares a glance across the room with Don, a silent thank you and acknowledgement of Pete's value to the company. Well done, Don.

While leaving the office, Don runs into Midge from Season 1, who is attempting to sell some artwork. It's an interesting exchange as they catch up and Midge says she's married—rather, openly married—to another artist. She invites him over for dinner to meet the husband and maybe purchase some art.

Something is not quite right with Midge, as we soon realize when they get home and Midge's husband is ready to hustle her to Don for any amount of money. Don sends him away to buy food, and Midge reveals she's thoroughly addicted to heroin. "You haven't changed at all," she compliments him. Don is thoroughly disgusted with her, and buys a painting, but to add insult, she asks what she can do with just a cheque. So he gives her the little bit of cash he has on hand, and leaves her.

That sombre note tarnishes the entire episode. Staring at Midge's sad painting at home, struggling to figure out a way to get new business, Don has an epiphany, tears pages out of his journal, and begins a letter to the editor that appears the next morning in the paper. "Why I'm Quitting Tobacco" amounts to a full page ad for SCDP and its new direction to refuse to ever work with cigarette companies ever again because of the health dangers.

Madison Avenue is buzzing with the news, and Roger and Bert are infuriated—Bert, so much so that he resigns(!), declaring that they've created a monster (in Don). But the ad has done what it intended—getting people talking about something other than SCDP's imminent collapse. After a flood of crank calls (including Robert Kennedy via rival Tad) the gamble seems to have failed. Only at the partners meeting does Roger tell Don the American Cancer Society has been calling for him, and perhaps they should return the call.

Against this partner dispute, the office initiates a round of lay offs and Don notifies Peggy ahead of time. That spells the end of Danny, thank god, as well as a host of others. But when Don asks Peggy's opinion on his letter, she manages to get in a great retort, "I thought you weren't in for those kinds of shenanigans," echoing his reaction to her canned ham escapade at the beginning of the season.

Don's actions have had other repercussions—Faye's firm can no longer work with SCDP as they want to continue to do business with big tobacco. But Faye is pleased with that as they can now have a more public relationship. Peggy and Faye share a nice scene where they say their good-byes and Peggy declares how she admires Faye for being true to herself and not letting the men push her around.

Sally has been progressing well in her sessions with Dr. Edna, so much so that Edna is cutting back on her therapy. But Sally is just doing as she's told and taking the path of least resistance with her mother. Both Edna and Sally know Betty is unhappy, and Sally seems quite mature about the whole thing with an attitude of just waiting it out.

Sally and Glen are enjoying a secret friendly rendezvous in the neighbourhood discussing such profound things as life after death. Sally doesn't believe in heaven (much to Glen's horror). In fact, the only thing that bothers her is the forever part of death. Betty, however, stumbles upon them and sends Glen running away, and Sally home for a scolding. Despite Sally's protests that Glenn is nice, Betty assures her she knows better.

As Stan and Peggy attempt to work amid the crowds of staff being paraded by the doors as they get laid off, we leave the episode with Don ushering in his next firing, but confident he has changed the message.

What Worked:
The feelings of this episode were quite morose, from Midge's self-destruction, Betty's ongoing mistreatment of Sally, and the overall sense of despair permeating SCDP. The only shining moments were Peggy's confidence and sense of humour, and the ongoing Don/Faye relationship (but I have a sense that's living on borrowed time). Megan and Don's working relationship seems normal, but in a few scenes she's framed in the background behind Don and Faye.

There are several hints throughout that Don might be abandoning his progress this season, including tearing out the pages of his journal he's been updating the last few episodes. Faye continues to urge him to let go of Don Draper and stop living the lie of Dick Whitman, but Don absolutely refuses. Even his behaviour with the letter is true self-preserving Don Draper, thinking nothing of consulting the partners, or that his actions might result in Faye losing the SCDP account.

There was a tiny moment of redemption doing good by Pete and seemed to acknowledge in that brief glance the amount of work both men have put in the firm and their conflicted past together. He also continues to rely on Peggy as his only real confidante, asking her opinion of his actions above anyone else.

Sally's somewhat chilling attitude about death has me a little concerned about her. Things are too calm with her at the moment, and Glen has even grown somewhat less creepy. I'm unsure how that is going to unfold now that they're going to move.

What Didn't Work:
Does anyone care about Bobby? He's been a prop the whole season, just happily eating dinner in the background. Maybe he will be the wild card and something crazy will happen with him.

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