Mad Men, Season Four, Episode Twelve, "Blowing Smoke"
A much better episode than last week's. After his almost season-long descent into depression, alcohol abuse, and worse than usual behavior, Don is bouncing back into the take-charge, creative risk-taker who reinvented himself, slid his way into the ad business, and started Sterling, Cooper, Draper, Pryce. Tonight's title alludes to the very first episode of the show, "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," which was about the old firm's relationship to the tobacco industry. But, in that episode, Don and his cohorts were blowing smoke at the public to obscure cigarettes' harmful properties. They wanted to show tobacco to be a stronger product than it is. This time, Don uses the unhealthy properties of cigarettes to blow smoke in the public's eyes again--but this time to create the impression that his firm is stronger than it is. When their consultant suggests they go after the account for the new cigarette for women, he tells the partners, "You're a certain kind of girl and tobacco is your...boyfriend." With Don's letter published in the New York Times, he asserts himself in a typically masculine way to grab back the advantage and break up with his girlfriend, the newly feminized tobacco. Before writing the letter, he rips out all the earlier pages of his journal--those pages that he'd said made him feel like a little girl writing in her diary--symbolically ridding himself of the negative events about which he had written. He aims to be back on a stronger path again. Tonight's show also hearkens back to the first of this season in which he kicks out the bathing suit clients, telling them that they need to decide what kind of company they want to be: "comfortable and dead or risky and possibly rich." Like in that segment, Don shows himself with the New York Times ad to opt for 'risky and possibly rich.' We'll see if it pays off for him or if his partners are right.
The show also offers Betty as a smoke blower--literally blowing cigarette smoke in Dr. Edna's office, while she tries to persuade the psychiatrist that Sally still needs her, but she--Betty--is not in need of a shrink. "Why can't I talk to you?" Betty asks, when Dr. Edna tries to refer her to a colleague. The response that "I'm a child psychiatrist" is sadly--and humorously--ironic.
But, Betty's not the only one of Don's exes blowing smoke. I felt so bad seeing Midge as a heroin addict. She was so strong in Season One as Don's bohemian lover. I always liked her a lot. How could she allow herself to get to this place--the dark pit of an apartment, the fellow addict, pimp of a 'husband?' Yet even in her weakened state, she inspires Don. Her painting of the 'after-image,' that asks, according to Mr. Playwright, "What do we see after closing our eyes? What's more real?" is what Don spends time reflecting on before deciding to write the Times letter. He's seemed to ask himself, 'what does the corporate world see of us after they've closed their eyes to SCDP?' The Times ad is an attempt to shift that perception--what a good ad man/woman always does. Though it also feels like there needs to be more to bringing Midge back than just what we got this evening.
Finally, Sally is showing herself to follow well in her parents' footsteps. She's learned to craft a deceptive image of herself to present to her mother, telling Dr. Edna, "She [Betty] doesn't care what the truth is as long as I do what she says. . . . She just doesn't know that I'm mad." At least the psychiatrist reminds Sally of the importance of her anger: "Just as long as you know it." Sally's shown herself to be cynical about popular ideas like heaven, telling a rather surprised Glenn that she doesn't believe in it. She equates it with 'forever,' a concept that she--like her father--finds upsetting. It's interesting that she's chosen the advertising image for Land of Lakes butter as her emblem for what 'forever' means--something never-endingly self-referential. What a bright kid! She's sadly so upset at the end at the prospect of losing her friend, but Betty's instincts about Glenn are not wrong. She just doesn't let Sally know her complicity in a bit of Glenn's 'badness.'
A few closing observations:
--I'm back to disliking Faye again. Her dismissal of Peggy's frank admiration and offer to be friends was rude. She's right, of course, that Peggy doesn't understand ways that Faye, too, has had to play games. But, tonight she seemed to be back closer to the nasty manipulator of the Ponds focus group session earlier in the season. And, "have your girl make reservations?" I don't like Megan, either, after last week, but please. Successful women so condescending to other working women are too much.
--I wonder what happened in London that Lane now has his family with him again. Did he and his wife have a genuine reconciliation? Did his father somehow coerce the situation? What about the young woman whom he had claimed to fall in love with?
--Bert Cooper is finally making his non-participation in the work of the firm official. After the staff have been speculating about who will get fired and Bert comes in to make his farewell, Stan saying "I didn't think they'd start with him" was quite funny.
--The secretaries crying so loudly after getting fired was done in such a caricatured way. It gets Don's notice as the ending song urges, "Trust in me," perhaps highlighting how he feels the weight of everyone who's losing a job, but still comes off as a sexist depiction of them, especially after Danny has just maturely shaken Don's hand, thanking him for the opportunity to have worked there.
--Don paying Pete's share of the fee to the bank was decent, considering what Pete had done when they gave up the defense contract. I liked the subtle bows of the head they gave to each other after Pete found out.
Just one more week--will the final episode of the season take us into a further descent in the lives of characters or will Don's gamble lead them in a different direction?