Episode 12 - Blowing Smoke
6 March 2012
Mad Men - 412 - Blowing Smoke
Don's letter in the New York Times was a brilliant piece of writing. I don't mean the letter, I mean from the writers of Mad Men. SCDP were in desperate straits and plot-wise you knew that something big would happen. With the agency starting anew this season it seemed unlikely that they would be heading for bankruptcy and next season Don would be working for someone else.
However any big new client would feel like a damp deus ex machina. Mad Men cannot be seen as a show like Entourage where a happy ending is always just round the corner. So Don's letter managed to shift the perspective of SCDP in the marketplace. Rather than be a failing ad agency desperate for any work, he put them on the moral high ground (however flimsy the reality) and "changed the conversation." 1965 (according to Wikipedia) was around the peak time for smoking in the West and so Don's "moral" shift comes at a plausible time when the numbers of smokers will begin to decline. The call from the American Cancer Society is perhaps the hint of what will lift SCDP out of their current crisis. If so then it was a very clever piece of writing from a team who have generally harnessed the major cultural shifts of the 1960s in entertaining ways.
Not only was it plausible though, it was excellent character drama. All the other partners come to rip into Don for not consulting them and everyone has a good point. Bert's anger is entirely understandable. Don was arrogant to consult no one and by not including the names of the other partners they are left in the awkward position of either backing him or making themselves look like a mess. Bert has spent a good part of his life enjoying the benefits of the relationship with Lucky Strike and sees the job of a partner to prevent crazy moves like this from being made. Pete's fury is just as relatable because he has to deal with clients daily and has spent all season feeling like Don ruins all the hard work he has done (yelling at the bathing suit people, drunkenly pitching ideas to the cereal people and ditching American Aviation). Finally we learn that Lane has indeed reconciled with his family and convinced them to return to the States with him.
Put in that context Don's actions seem so thoughtless and self centered. He had an idea which would stop the agency looking desperate and he acted immediately. But it's easy to see why Don took those actions. He sees himself as the reason the agency exists. Geoff Atherton lists Don as one of the companies major assets and he is far from the first person to do that. Don believes this too to a large extent. "Get me in a room!" he yells at Pete. He is convinced that if he could meet with more clients he could persuade them to hire him. He feels resentful that as "just" creative he can't get things done his way. So when he has an idea which he thinks is right, he takes it and consults no one. In the end Don showed enough humility to pay Pete's share of the collateral the bank needed. He was acknowledging in more than words the important work that Pete has done in bringing him more work.
The build up to the Times advert was excellent too. The return of Midge as a heroin addict managed to touch on another aspect of 60s culture as well as give Don inspiration for his letter. It was a clever one-two punch to provide the context for Don's attack on cigarettes. The irony of him smoking throughout was not lost either and led to a couple of nice moments at the office. Peggy took another step forward in her relationship with Don too. Not only did she suggest "changing the conversation" but she was also then able to smilingly remind him of her earlier "shenanigans" involving Sugarberry Ham (401). Megan too understood better than most what Don had tried to achieve. Perhaps she really does want to work in advertising after all?
It's not often that one plot point can generate five paragraphs but the New York Times ad was a brilliant piece of writing. I doubt we have seen the last of Bert Cooper but his exit showed the graphic consequences of what Don had done. The Don-Faye scene was nicely directed with Megan in the background sitting right between them. A little reminder that Faye may not know all she needs to about Don. I did smile at Harry being kicked out of the impromptu partners meeting. The Betty-Sally antagonism continues with Betty finally agreeing to move home just as Sally is more settled in the new arrangements. It's hard to blame Betty for not trusting Glen though and her clear need to spend more time with a child psychologist is sad to see.
Overall another strong episode leading to a very intriguing finale. All season the agency has felt under threat from the bigger fish in the ad world and now they may have reached a new crossroads. Do they survive and become something different or die off? I am looking forward to finding out what happens and how everyone is affected by it.
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