Sunday, October 10, 2010

"A Certain Kind of Girl"

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?


  1. Great analysis, Cathy. I loved this episode as well. I was thrilled by Don's idea, not only did it show that, in Megan's apt (almost) words, "he broke up with them", but the smokescreen also shows them as the noble, ethical, humanistic alternative to cut-throat, deceptive advertising companies. At that time, U.S. was desperately looking for things to believe in, and Don may, once again, have pulled the solution out of his adorable...oops
    Poor Sally. Thank god for the fine shrink who seems to be keeping her together. And Betty too, for that matter. I love her preferring a chid psychologist, and not even aware enough to get the irony we see so clearly. Since Glenn is the writer's son, do you think he gets how creepy he seems, even when he's being nothing more than a supportive friend?

    Great lines: I have to go learn their names so I can fire them. Someone find my shoes. (I can't believe he'll really leave).

    John Slattery does a terrific job directing. And Roger didn't look like he was at death's door this week, phwew.

    I loved the scene with Fay and Don talking and Megan smack dab in between them!

    TV at its best.

  2. I was wondering too, Elizabeth, about how intentional the creepiness is on the part of the Weiner boy acting out Glenn. He's always been such an odd character and I still don't quite get how the writers understand him and the role they expect him to play in the story. He is, as Sally asserts to Betty, just her friend, but we have to always have those images of how he was with Betty in our minds as we're watching him now. Does he just see Sally as another 'oddball' child of divorce with whom he can ally himself? There weren't too many of them in 1965, so would need some support. But, he is just too weird. "Do you want the backwash?" as he's offering her the last bit of his Coke...

    John Slattery IS an excellent director. Let's just hope they're not weaning him off of Roger. You're right that Roger didn't look as bad in this episode, though. He was back to his sardonic--if rather useless--self. And, I hope too that Bert doesn't really leave.

  3. Don definitely changed the conversation--what he seems to do best. But it concerns me that he threw away the conversation with himself.

  4. You're talking about the pages of his journal, I take it, Debbie? Him ripping them out bothered me too. In their blog, Tom and Lorenzo referred to Don's journal-writing as "self-indulgent musings." While I love their blog and insights into Mad Men, I disagree with their take on this. I think--as I wrote in my entry on that episode--that it was vitally important for Don to do that writing to make sense out of the quagmire his life had become and to re-tackle the job of constructing himself. But, I'm a writing teacher--so of course I'm going to think that....

  5. Generally, I love every scene that Sally is in...except this week. I found myself slightly bored with the Sally/Glenn scenes . I know he's creepy and the whole Betty/Sally/Glenn competition is beyond creepy. But, I just wasn't into it.
    I felt so sorry, like you,Cathy, over Midge's fate. Her addiction served as a foil to Don's,and while he still smokes, drinks, etc...I felt that he had a window into a world where he could easily reside and decided against it.
    Best lines, as ever, belonged to the women: Peggy's "I thought you didn't go in for those shenanigans" to Don, who can't help but smile at her reproach, and Faye's "Is that how it looks?" when Peggy admires how Faye appears to have it all together. I wish Faye had reached out as equally to Peggy as Peggy reached out to her, but I don't know enough about the early stages of feminism and how women bonded and encouraged solidarity. I just thought about how the outside of Faye appears so confident and the inside is not! Asking Don to have "his girl" make their dinner reservations? Is she somehow aware of the Don/Megan tryst? Does she want to assert her place as Don's number one?
    Finally - John Slattery,director. Brilliant. Is it a theme of his to have people listening at walls, peeking over office dividers, etc? But please - don't kill off Roger! That Sterling is gold!

  6. Re your wondering about feminist solidarity at this point, Mary: At this stage of the decade, women in the newly-burgeoning women's movement were focusing on sisterhood and solidarity, but I think that was largely happening within the ranks of the civil rights movement and peace groups--among people already involved in leftist political work of the decade. For example, Casey Hayden and Mary King wrote their 'sex and caste' memo about women civil rights and peace movement volunteers being second class members of those movements in '65. They gave their speech challenging SDS--Students for a Democratic Society--in '64. Women like Faye--who worked their way into a man's field on their own and probably felt battered and somewhat alienated from the struggle--might not yet be all that aware of a budding women's movement. NOW was formed the next year. So, it doesn't surprise me that she keeps her emotional distance from Peggy, though I wish she wouldn't; they could be allies and friends, though I sense more of a manipulative streak in her than in Peggy. None of these main women characters who were charting new waters really have any women friends. Peggy sort of has Joyce, but so far Joyce has mostly served to set Peggy up with her new boyfriend.

    I think it was Tom and Lorenzo who pointed out that Faye has always been dismissive of secretaries and so her condescending comment about Don's "girl" is likely just that coming out, now that she thinks she and Don no longer have to hide their relationship.

  7. Yes, I was definitely thinking of Don's journal, or "little girl diary." It seems like a device that was helping him to get to his core. But, as you say Cathy, maybe that's just a delusion of the writing teacher in me. In the diary, Don talked about wanting to gain control over his feelings. At the time, I heard this as a plus, meaning that he wanted to understand them better. But in light of "Blowing Smoke," it seems more like the diary functioned mainly to show Don what he didn't want to feel. Is he back on top, though? I guess the season finale will tell. Or maybe not!