<i>Mad Men</i> Recap: Don Strikes Back

It's the penultimate episode of the season, SCDP is desperate, and Don is making moves. We've come a long way since the beginning of the season, where Don struggled with his own identity, and now SCDP is struggling with theirs.
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It's the penultimate episode of the season, SCDP is desperate, and Don is making moves. We've come a long way since the beginning of the season, where Don struggled with his own identity, and now SCDP is struggling with theirs. The title "Blowing Smoke" aptly applies, as the characters all literally blow smoke, chain-smoking cigarettes and figuratively, deceiving, joking, pretending with one another. Even though Roger is a disaster, John Slattery shows us he certainly is not with his masterful direction.

All of the accounts think that SCDP is "blowing smoke" by thinking they'll still be around in six months. That's the problem we open with as Don works the secret Heinz meeting that Faye got for him. "My answer's not no, it's just not now," the Heinz exec tells him. Don's desperate, offering a discounted commission, and it's obvious -- the exec says, "I bet I could get a date with your mother right now."

Consultant Dr. Atherton brings them one hope, a meeting for a five million dollar account with Phillip Morris for women's cigarettes. He advises them, "you're a certain kind of girl and tobacco is your ideal boyfriend." With renewed possibility, a drum-roll comes in and fight music plays as the boys ironically discuss their game plan, for their downfall and downsize. Sterling and Cooper, Lane and Pete with Pete's great line, ""Why even have an office? Why don't we just work out of a cab?" and Harry and Ken as Ken bemoans, "I'm getting married in October!" telling us that it's still September.

The shot of Faye giving Don the research for Phillip Morris in the conference room is so well done, with Megan sitting directly in between them through the glass in the background. It's not at the forefront of the episode, but the unspoken issue of Don and Megan is something that lies between them. Slattery does an excellent job with this throughout the episode, reminding us of the Don-Megan tension without mentioning it.

Walking out of the office, Don runs into his first fling from Season 1, downtown artist Midge, who practically begs him to come over, meet her husband ("it's not romantic, we just got married for the bread"), and buy a painting. Don seems amused and goes. It turns out that Midge, over the past few years, has turned into a heroin junkie and in fact tracked down Don and staged a fake run-in to try to lure him into buying a painting to pay for her next fix. Her ploy is another form of "blowing smoke" and is also reminiscent of Don's fake run-in with Roger from the flashbacks of when they first met.

Midge is more than ready to whore herself out for cash. Her husband tries to sell Don a painting and tells him, "I know she'd love for you to have one [...] she digs you, and I could tell you, she'd do anything if you bought one." The painting he tries to sell is called Number 4 (because we're in season 4?), and it's what he describes as an after-image, "the whole thing is about what she sees when she closes her eyes," he asks, "what's more real?" Don buys the painting, and it's this encounter and this painting that jerks him into motion. He asks Midge about her new habit, "why don't you stop?" She tells him, "I know its bad for me, but it's heroin, Don, I just can't stop." He gives her all the cash he has, takes the painting and leaves. "You think my work's any good?" she asks. "Does it matter?" he responds. The desperation of her state mimics his own and the agency's. As he walks out, she tells him, "I'm glad you haven't changed," but he has!

When it turns out that the Phillip Morris meeting was just another form of "blowing smoke," a scheme to get a better deal with Leo Burnett, Don sees that they're the ones acting like heroin junkies. "It's because we're desperate, they can smell it on us, we reek of it." He realizes, like Midge's painting, it doesn't matter if their work is any good, the companies can feel them ready to do anything for business, and that's the problem.

The scene is very interestingly shot as they argue over their next move. Roger says they should be going after bigger fish (which is kind of an ignorant/entitled comment) and Pete yells back at him, as the camera moves in and out of the room. On the other side of the wall, it shows Peggy listening in as he says, "I'm out there beating the bushes every day for anything," and then comes back into focus in the room as he finishes, "you should try it!" Lane informs them that to buy another six months or so, each senior partner owes 100,000 and Pete (who doesn't have that kind of money) and Lane each owe 50,000. The camera does the same thing when Pete yells again, moving out of the room to see Ken and Harry listening in and Pete's "50,000, absolutely not!" is heard from the other side of the wall, before moving back inside. It's notably Pete's voice that's drowned out, as it's his peers who are listening in. He's the only one who made it inside the room, and now he has to pay for it. Bert informs him, "it's an obligation of your contract."

As last week, when Pete's father-in-law told him it was time to jump ship, this week it's Trudy, who's always been so supportive, that's doing the same. She's focused on their new daughter TAMMY (really?) and planning to start looking at houses when Pete tells her he needs $50,000 for SCDP. They have $22,000 in the bank, not including baby gifts. She tells him, "when you bet big and lose, you don't double down." When he says he'll lose his partnership, she responds, sounding much like her father, "you'll lose your state room on the Titanic, you are forbidden to give anything more to that company." He says, "you don't get to forbid me," but she kind of does because it's her money. And knowing the way he would get it, she says "and don't even think about asking my father."

Throughout this stressful day, Don relies on his creative buddy, Peggy. Before the meeting he calls her in and asks for help, advice, but basically just needs reassurance. When Peggy later comes in to his office to find out what happened, she gives Don some of his own advice. She suggests changing the name, and tells him, "you always say 'if you don't like what their saying about you, change the conversation.'" Don shuts her down, but he hears her -- and change the conversation he does!

He goes home and stares at Midge's painting, the after-image, what she sees when she closes her eyes, presumably thinking about her toxic addiction and how SCDP has its own toxic addiction. Right now he's looking at his own after-image, of what SCDP is left with. With similar desperation to Midge, they've been whoring themselves out to Lucky Strike, doing whatever Lee Garner Jr. asked because they needed it, or they thought they did, to survive. Don realizes that tobacco is not, as Dr. Atherton calls it, their "ideal boyfriend," and it's time to break up. The proximity to addiction sends him straight to his rehabilitative behavior, swimming and journal writing. He goes through the pages he's written, and tears them all out to start anew. In a very Jerry Maguire moment, Don writes not a memo to his company, but a letter to the world, printed on a full page of The New York Times, titled, "Why I'm Quitting Tobacco." He announces to the world that given his agency's recent break with Lucky Strike, he's going to take this as an opportunity to stop doing bad business.

The voiceover returns, "I'm relieved," he says tobacco is a:

... product for which good work is irrelevant, because people can't stop themselves from buying it, a product that never improves, causes illness and makes people unhappy. But there was money in it, a lot of money. In fact, our entire business depended on it. We knew it wasn't good for us, but we couldn't stop and then when Lucky Strike moved their business elsewhere I realized here was my chance to be someone who could sleep at night because I know what I'm selling doesn't kill my customers, so as of today SCDP will no longer take tobacco accounts.

He goes on to list agencies that do cigarette work well, tarring their names in the process. His description rings true, and also sounds a lot like what he just saw with Midge and the heroin -- her work is irrelevant, she knows its bad for her, she can't stop. Of course, Don is not just trying to better the agency, but it's a creative smokescreen of his own. He's listening to Peggy, he's changing the conversation.

The execution of everyone reading the letter the next morning is great, as the shot moves over the different people reading the paper. We see Henry reading it first (interesting), then Pete, horrified, then Roger, horrified, then Danny with Joan and others in the elevator, then Stan and others in the office. Don walks through the office confidently, heads are turning, but no ones speaking (again feels the scene in Jerry) to see Megan, who's obviously so turned on by the letter. She gives him his various messages, and says there's one from "someone named Emerson Foote."

Some googling and a 1967 Time article tells me that Emerson Foote was a big creative in 40s and 50s (VP at McCann-Erickson starting in '51) who worked on the American Tobacco Co. account and specifically for Lucky Strike. He left McCann over a "crisis of conscience," where as a "reformed chain smoker who worried increasingly about cancer, Foote finally decided not to work for any agency that had a cigarette client." After 1964, he worked with the National Interagency Council on Smoking and Health, and even wrote an anti-smoking campaign that plays on Lucky Strike, "Give to Conquer Cancer -- Strike Back." In November of 1965, so two months ahead of where we are on the show, Foote was looking to get back in the ad game. What a perfect reference -- they're just so good! Looking to get back in the game, Foote would have of course responded to Don's letter -- SCDP would've been the perfect place for him!

Anyway, back to the show, the partners are pissed. Roger, finally quipping again, walks in and says, "somebody used your name to end our business in the newspaper, it's not you, is it?" (which even Don finds amusing) and all four of them proceed to berate him. Pete, who's freaking out most of all, yells, "it's suicide, it's insane, how the hell could you do this? Why would you do this?" He tells them "because someone had to do something." They're right that he should have consulted them and it was a selfish move (even with the company's best interests). Cooper gets to the truth of the problem, "you humiliated us by not putting our names on it, you left us with this hypocrisy." Don, who was feeling confident and empowered, is not taking any of it. He yells back at them, "so deny it, I did what I thought was best for the company, you can either back me or not." Pete, with a great line, comes back "you did what was best for you because you're impatient and childish, you had a tantrum on a full page in The New York Times." (Can you hear him yelling at Tammy in 15 years?) Cooper's so mad that he quits! He tells Don, "I never thought you had the stomach for a partnership, I'm not longer party to this agency, you there, get my shoes (ha!) [...] I will not [calm down], we've created a monster." And maybe they have. In the first episode of the season Don was struggling with his new public role in the agency, unable to give an interview, and unwilling to expose himself. They encouraged him to do so, and now he's going full throttle to a self-disclosure letter on a full page in the NYT. Looks like he's gotten comfortable with press.

While they're all fighting about it, more "blowing smoke," Don gets a prank phone call from "Teddy" Chaough pretending to be Senator Robert Kennedy. There's a moment where they all believe it's true but the prank just makes them even angrier. They all have problems of their own, Lane just moved his family to New York, Pete can't afford the 50,000 he's required to put into the company as a partner, and Bert's fed up (Did he really quit??) Roger, however, is okay with it, "it's good not to be the reason this place went down anymore," and luckily for us is back to his much-needed one-liners.

Megan then comes in to apologize for transferring the fake phone call, and he asks for Dr. Miller and dismisses her annoyed, but then... she tells him, ""by the way, I loved the letter, I love that you stand for something." Don says, "that's not really what it's about," but she totally gets it. She says, "I know that part, I know that it was about "he didn't dump me, I dumped him,' but I just love that you did it, it feels different around here." (AKA Renée Zellweger telling Tom Cruise, "I'll go with you" which we all know turned into "you complete me," is that where this is going?). Don appreciates that Megan understands what he was doing and that she generally seems to understand his work.

Back in the creative room, Danny (who's become funny) asks, "is he going to quit smoking?" pointing out the irony, but of course he's not. In fact, Don's been actively smoking as much as ever throughout the entire episode. Ken points out all his clients called, "but one thing's for sure, they're not talking about Lucky Strike anymore." Peggy responds proudly, "Well I think that was the whole idea," he changed the conversation!

Everyone's nervous because they know people are about to start getting fired. Don calls Peggy in -- it's ridiculous that Peggy would ever think that Don would fire her (doesn't she get they're best friends?) -- to ask who she can live without. She says, "Well, Danny, obviously, though he's kinda grown on me." Aw, he's kinda grown on us too, but yes obviously. Don really wants to know what his creative partner thought about the letter. He's looking for support since everyone else is against him. They have a really nice moment of mutual understanding when she jokes, remembering when he yelled at her about the Sugarberry Hams incident and says with a straight face, "I thought you didn't go in for those kind of shenanigans," and breaks into a knowing sideways smile. He smiles back, amused and knows he listened to her.

We later see Faye, with her things packed, waiting outside his office. In another great shot that tacitly reminds us of the love triangle, Don walks up to her beside Megan, with Don visually in the middle of the two of them. It feels a little wrong when Don tells Faye about Megan, "I have a bodyguard."

Faye's company had to resign from their work at SCDP -- Don hadn't considered how his letter would affect her. She really could have gotten angry and started yelling about his disrespect for her work, but her attitude has changed. She's actually happy, noting this means that they'll be able to date out in the open, and they'll be going out to dinner tonight -- "we can do that now, it's a fair trade." (They did already go out to dinner together on their first date -- but now they can be seen publicly as a couple) Faye says, "have your girl make reservations," flawlessly stating her position above Megan's.

Peggy's reaction to Faye leaving is really nice and also surprising. I hadn't realized how much Peggy had looked up to her as a female role model in the office -- but it makes sense. Peggy asks, "will you have a drink with me?" (which Faye kind of rudely rejects), and Peggy continues to tell her, "I hate to think I'm not going to see you[... ] you do your job so well and they respect you and you don't have to play any games, I didn't know that was possible." Peggy has so few women she can look up to and she admires Faye. Faye coyly responds, "Is that what it looks like?" and shakes her hand, keeping it professional and not stepping into the personal relationship Peggy is hoping for. But perhaps that's why she admires her? Would Peggy support her relationship with Don?

In the final meeting, Roger says the American Cancer Society wants to meet with them about an anti-smoking campaign. Don hadn't returned the call because he assumed it was someone else messing with him, but this opportunity is a glimmer of hope. Pete bemoans the financial situation -- "Great, public service, free work, that's just what we should be doing right now," but they all agree this is an opportunity. Roger says, "it took me about five minutes to stop laughing, I hope I didn't blow it," exactly as he blows smoke out of his mouth. Cooper's missing from the room, has he really left them? I hope not!

It's really touching as Pete desperately asks Lane for more time with the money, "is there any way I can owe it on advance against a bonus or future salary?" "Calm yourself," Lane tells him, "Don paid your share." AW! This is a real moment of solidarity -- it's like Don saying "you had my back, now I got yours." With just a simple cheers gesture, Pete thanks him and their partnership is strengthened and solidified. Right now they're the two most significant people for the company. Pete has most of the accounts and Don's the talent -- its going to be the two of them that are going to have to pull SCDP back together, but will they still be Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce? Is Cooper really out?

Back in Ossining, Betty and Sally -- and Glenn! (my favorite)--are dealing with their own issues. Sally is finally getting a handle on things and is doing really well. She's comfortable with Dr. Edna and Glenn, and she's significantly more mature than her mother. She asks Betty why they never eat with Henry and says that she'd like to and that she'd be willing to wait until he gets home and try new food. This shows that she's starting to accept his existence as a member of the family and is making an effort to get to know him. Betty seems so surprised she barely manages to respond. Sally's attempting to deal with her new situation, as SCDP is similarly trying to do the same.

Sally and Dr. Edna talk while playing Go Fish (kind of what SCDP is playing too, with each client saying, "No aces, sorry, go fish"). Sally has learned how to handle Betty. She tells Dr. Edna, "she doesn't care what the truth is, as long as I do what she says." Dr. Edna tells her, "I'm very proud of how you've found a way to behave so well even when you get so angry at your mother sometimes." She's learned to "blow smoke" as well, hiding her true feelings, she says, "she just doesn't know I'm mad." With the outlets of Dr. Edna and Glenn, who actually listen to her, she's learned how to control herself. Even though it's good that she's controlling her anger and that she's speaking to other people, Betty is still forcing her to be like her, to be someone who hides their feelings and pretends everything's okay. Dr. Edna obviously feels the need to explain and somehow shed light on Betty's behavior. She reminds Sally, "I told you your mom acts that way because she has stresses, not because you're bad or did anything wrong." It seems like they have a good relationship and Dr. Edna's done a really good job of opening her up. She's made so much progress that Dr. Edna tells her they can cut their sessions down to once a week so she can ride her bike, hang out with friends. That same music from the first time we met Dr. Edna comes in and again makes it feel a little like the twilight zone -- but as she hands Sally the card, she holds on to it and it's as if they become connected through the card. As they both hold on, she tells Sally, "I said I'm very proud of you, did you hear that?" and it's as though she's channeling a feeling of support or even love to her. Dr. Edna feels the need to compensate for Betty's lack of parenting -- that moment had more warmth than probably her whole life with Betty.

When Betty sees Dr. Edna to "talk about Sally," but actually talk about herself, we can see the contrast in the way Dr. Edna speaks to the two of them. She speaks to Betty much more as a child, saying, "you learned something, didn't you?" When she tells Betty that Sally can cut down her time to once a week, Betty gets all flustered, and has such a juvenile reaction of, "So she's cured? She's not better." This is the second time we've seen Dr. Edna remind her that she's just a child psychologist, and she should probably see someone herself, but Betty shies away from it (to be fair -- remember what happened when Don put her in therapy). Instead she shuts down the idea and simply tells her what will happen. She says, "Obviously I'm willing to do whatever you recommend as Sally progresses, and I would hope of course that if she continues to make progress we can continue to discuss that." Dr. Edna obviously sees what she's doing, but lets her do it, probably in fear of her having no help at all.

Glenn has become a real friend for Sally. They meet in the grass by a shed, which feels like a secret hiding ground for them, to drinks sodas and talk about life together. Glenn gives us the best line of the episode, "Do you want the backwash?" Their discussions feel so real and innocent compared to the cryptic way the adults speak. Sally says she doesn't believe in heaven, and he asks, "Then what happens when you die, nothing?" She responds so innocently, "It doesn't really bother me except for its forever, when I think about forever I get upset." It's such a simple statement of what all the adults are afraid of -- forever. Her father's daughter, she sees meaning/messages in packaging and says, "Like the Land o' Lakes butter has that Indian girl, sitting holding a box, and it has a picture of her on it, holding a box, with a picture of her on it, holding a box, have you ever noticed that?" That image represents being stuck in the same position forever, something that she would be afraid of, it's like the girl can never get out -- and Sally wants to get out. As they leave, Sally cutely says, "I'll save my Fritos for you."

When Betty sees Sally and Glenn together, she immediately runs to stop it (what does she think they're doing?), starts yelling and Glenn, amusingly, drops both Cokes and runs for dear life. Betty's all worked up and Sally's completely calm when they get home. Sally says, "I told you, he's my friend, we don't do anything." Betty, who thinks that she knows him because of that whole incident where she gave Glenn a piece of her hair (!) says, "That boy is bad [...] believe me I know him better than you do." Sally says so calmly, "You don't know him at all," that you can tell Betty actually knows that Sally's right before sending her away. Instead of trying to talk to her, Betty announces that it's time to move out of the house. Henry, of course, is thrilled but Sally storms off to her room to cry on her bed, holding Glenn's lanyard. Just when she's finally made a friend and trying to have a life, Betty decides to uproot her as punishment for just that. Is it that Betty can't handle anyone else being happy if she's not?

The episode closes with Etta James' "Trust Me," as Don looks guilty as he watches people who have been fired walking out crying. He did lose those people, he knows they've incurred a major loss, but he's asking everyone to trust him. He will make sure they survive. The song also applies to Sally, needing Betty to trust her.

Questions for the finale: Will SCDP survive? Is Cooper really gone? Will the letter work? Is Joan still pregnant? Is it over with Roger? Will Greg die? Will Betty and Henry move? Peggy and Abe? Faye or Megan? Sally and Betty? What else? What does everyone think? Predictions?

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