Mad Men Recap: Blowing Smoke
A couple of quick observations about this episode, before I start the recap. I thought it was fascinating how prescient this episode was, considering our current economic climate. You see the exact same things happening in this office almost 50 years ago that we are seeing (and have seen) happening in offices and companies all over the United States in the last few years. It really struck me how relatable this episode was.
Also, I am probably going to out myself as a gigantic idiot, but I was very shocked by the heroin story line. For some reason, I have always thought of heroin as being a rather recent drug of choice. It was very interesting to me that there were addicts five decades ago. Now, on with the recap.
Things are tense, to say the least, at SCDP. With the surprise departure of Lucky Strike, the fledgling company is desperate to drum up some business. The episode begins with Don meeting with a man from Heinz (beans, not ketchup) who is looking for a new ad campaign. (“The way beans are funny, we can’t use that, we have to fight it.”) He likes Don, but wants to wait about six months to do business. When he is pressed to explain why, he bluntly says, “I don’t know if your company will be around in six months.” It’s a fair statement, but frustrating for Don, who tries to knock off some commission to entice the man into business.
SCDP is going through the frustrations that everyone has faced in the workforce-no one will give you a job unless you have experience, but how are you supposed to get experience if no one will give you a job?
The executives have a meeting with a consultant, who suggests they stick with pursuing cigarette advertising. They have the knowledge and experience, and he can arrange a meeting with Philip Morris tobacco. The account is worth five million dollars. The men salivate at the possibility.
Back on the homefront, Sally has struck up a platonic, kind of sweet relationship with Glen Bishop. The two meet behind a shed on a regular basis, and there is no hanky-panky going on. The two share Cokes and swap stories about therapy sessions. When they speak of Betty, Glen correctly states, ”she doesn’t like children.” A season ago, I would have disagreed, but that boy has hit the nail on the head. It is tragic that Betty has three children.
How cute was it that Glen says “See you later, alligator” to Sally when he leaves? I got all nostalgic and shit over that catchphrase.
Don runs into his ex-mistress Midge (played by Rosemarie DeWitt, from Rachel Getting Married) in the lobby of his building. She has just come out of a meeting with a magazine publication. She asks Don to come to her house, and meet her husband. She is quick to point out that it is more of an arrangement, not a romantic marriage. Don reluctantly agrees.
Once he enters their apartment things are horribly awkward. Her husband practically pounces on Don the minute he enters, and pleads with him to buy one of Midge’s paintings. When Don doesn’t immediately agree, Midge’s husband tries to sweeten the offer by pimping out his wife. Don seems shocked, saddened, and disgusted all at once. It is a depressing scene, but highly effective. When Midge’s husband goes to the store, presumably to buy groceries to cook a killer dinner for the threesome (with money supplied by Don) Midge confesses that they are heroin addicts.
Don writes her a check for $300, but she says that a check is of no use to her. He empties his wallet, and gives her $120 cash instead. He picks up a painting and leaves. Here is the woman who was so vibrant and interesting, wasted away and begging for money. She is self-aware of her plight, but says she cannot quit. The whole experience seems to serve as an impetus for Don’s next move.
Meanwhile, Sally’s saint of a therapist Edna is speaking with Betty, under the guise of discussing Sally. When Edna notes that she is proud of Sally’s progress, and thinks that they can cut back their sessions to once a week, Betty looks bewildered, if not a bit panicked. ”So she’s cured?” she asks. Edna encourages Betty to seek out her own therapist, but Betty objects, “I don’t need a psychiatrist.” Right, Betty. You’ve got it all together, don’t you? The irony is not lost on me that Betty is most comfortable speaking with the child psychiatrist.
At the office, the senior executives are told that they must pony up $100,000 each (and the juniors, including Pete, $50,000) so that half of the employees may stay on at SCDP. Jesus, that is a lot of money now. Can you imagine how much it was then?
Pete drops the bomb on Trudy, who goes post-partum ballistic on him. ”When you bet big and lose, you don’t double down. You are FORBIDDEN!” To which Pete feebly replies, “You can’t forbid me!” Pete buddy, I think she already did.
Pete grovels with Lane at the office, asking if he can work out something for his $50,000. Lane then tells a stunned Pete that Don already took care of his share. This leads to one of my favorite scenes of the episode. When Pete sees Don, he simply tips his hat in gratitude, and Don nods, accepting the acknowledgement. It is so old school and gentlemanly. I just loved it.
Don consults with Peggy to find out who she could live without at the company, and they cross some names off of the payroll. Peggy thinks they should start anew-with a new name for the company. Don disagrees, because the company is still so new. They can’t change names again. The gang also finds out that the meeting with their potential golden goose (Philip Morris) has been cancelled. It’s mass chaos at SCDP.
That night, Don stares at the painting that he “bought” from Midge and seems to have an epiphany. He straps on his big boy balls and crafts a letter that will run as a full page ad in the newspaper the following day. It basically denounces tobacco companies, and says that SCDP will no longer accept them as clients. Oh, and he does this without the knowledge of any of the other executives. Like I said, big, gigantic balls.
When he arrives at the office the following morning, he is persona non-gratis. Everyone is pissed, believing that he has committed career suicide, and taken the SCDP name down with him. He defends his move, stating that somebody had to do something. It remains to be seen if it worked on the client side. Roger nearly chokes on his cigarette announcing that the American Cancer Association is interested in working with them on an anti-smoking campaign.
Roger also had the most callous, asshole quip of the episode, “I need to learn a lot of people’s names before I go fire them.” And so the firing begins. We see weeping, trudging office employees file out of the office, clutching their belongings.
One unexpected casualty of Don’s letter is Faye. Seems her boss doesn’t want to severe relationships with big tobacco, so they are severing their relationship with SCDP. It is ironic that Faye risked her job last week for Don, but he was completely clueless that her job could be affected by his risky letter. Faye says goodbye to Don, all the while making dinner plans. ”Have your girl make the arrangements,” are her parting words. Something about the way she said “your girl” makes me think she is on to Meghan and Don.
Incidentally, Meghan is one of the only people who congratulates Don on his letter. She knows that it is the equivalent of a man saying he dumped the woman, not the other way around, but she likes that he stands for something.
Lastly, Betty continues to be a bitch on wheels when she finds Sally *gasp* speaking with Glen. She hauls Sally away, and tells Glen to leave her alone. She then announces at dinnertime that she thinks it is time to move away from the neighborhood, which is being taken over with “low caliber people”, meaning Glen. Sally runs upstairs and sobs. Here she has one friend and confidant in the world, and her mom wants to take that away. Betty is truly wicked. I hate her.
So, what do you think will happen in the season finale next week? Grace will be here to guide you through that one, so until next season, I bid you adieu.
Fun fact: “Blowing Smoke” was directed by John Slattery, who plays Roger Sterling. You can access our archive of Mad Men recaps here.