Friday, 10 December 2010

'MAD MEN' 4.12 – "Blowing Smoke"

Friday, 10 December 2010

As penultimate episodes go, I found "Blowing Smoke" of good quality but broadly disappointing. I think it's down to the fact I don't genuinely believe there's a risk SCDP are on the verge of collapse, as it would surely be ridiculous to have them start again from scratch. Consequently, I'm not as tense about anything going on in the wake of Lucky Strike bailing on SCDP, because I'm expecting a magic wand to be waved in the finale. If this storyline had been done in season 3, as the reason Sterling Cooper collapsed, it may have worked better for me.

To briefly recap events: Don (Jon Hamm) is having problems trying to fill the gap left by Lucky Strike's walkout, because potential new client are overly cautious about signing with them, as word on the street has it that SCDP are six months away from folding; Geoffrey Atherton (John Aylward), the boss of Faye's (Cara Buono) research firm, arranges a meeting with tobacco company Philip Morris, who are launching a "woman's cigarette", only for this lifeline to be yanked away at the last minute; Don ran into old girlfriend Midge Daniels (Rosemarie DeWitt) and was invited back to her apartment to see her paintings, gradually coming to realize she's a heroine addict who arranged to cross his path and hustle money from him to fuel her habit; Sally (Kiernan Shipka) has made progress at her child therapy sessions with Dr Edna (Patricia Bethune), although her mother Betty (January Jones) is concerned she's growing too close to neighbour Glen (Marten Weiner); to Henry's (Christopher Stanley) relief, Betty decided to move out of Don's old house, unaware this decision's about distancing Sally from Glen; and the staff of SCDP fretted about their job security, as it became clear there will have to be lay-offs to keep the company afloat.

It was odd seeing Midge again after so long, although I'm not entirely sure everyone would have remembered her from season 1. It certainly took me awhile to recall who she was, and the memories of her are perhaps too distant for is to truly feel the sadness of her predicament. I'm guessing less ardent fans will have been scratching their heads too much to really care, as nobody's spent the past three seasons asking "whatever happened to Midge?" Still, Hamm and DeWitt did well enough with their scenes that it at least felt more pertinent than it perhaps was.

The overdue return to Sally's child therapy was most welcome, as it became clearer than ever that her mother's the real problem. Dr Edna clearly knows this, reducing Sally's appointments, and noting how Betty's still very keen for them to continue, as their ancillary discussions are something Betty values. It's the age-old story with Betty, that she's essentially suffering from arrested development and needed her own Dr Edna when she was Sally's age. In contrast, Sally's coming on leaps and bounds (or is she just tricking Edna, as Glen says all therapists can be fooled?), and impressed her mother by asking to eat separately from her younger siblings. Kiernan Shipka was noticeably more self-confident in her performance, while still being endearingly... peculiar. I'm never sure if that's intentional, or a quirk of the actress's abilities on camera, but it gives Sally a strangely compelling aura. I also appreciated a return to the issue with Glen, as he was shown to be growing closer to Sally, leading Betty to become very angry about their relationship. She still views Glen as a manipulative boy, remembering the days when he took a strange interest in her, which was almost mutual.

The big curveball of this episode was Don realizing he must follow his own maxim to save the company ("if you don't like what they're saying about you, change the conversation"), so printed a full-page ad in the New York Times entitled "Why I'm Quitting Tobacco", making it appear that SCDP put their morals above money and actually chose to ditch Lucky Strike. A move he made without consulting the other partners, partly inspired by Midge's painting.

Rather puzzlingly, I thought, the story took an unexpected twist by having everyone jump on Don for his reckless plan, with Cooper (Robert Morse) going so far as disowning the company and walking out on everyone ("we've created a monster.") There was even a prank phone call from arch-rival Chaugh (Kevin Rahm), pretending to be Senator Bobby Kennedy and congratulating Don on his upstanding principles, just to rub it in. For ad men, everyone looked rather blinkered, with only secretary Megan approving and marveling at Don's risky "he didn't dump me, I dumped him" ploy.

Overall, "Blowing Smoke" wasn't anywhere near the level of drama I was expecting from a penultimate episode, although the development with Don risking everything on his full-page advert was a late upswing. I also loved learning that Don secretly paid Pete's $100,000 the partners of SCDP were required to handover to keep the business afloat – likely as reward for his silence over his secret, and fact Pete covered for him before the Feds could continue to pry into his affairs. The fact Faye's company have parted ways with SCDP, so they don't alienate other clients in the tobacco industry, was also interesting, as it means she'll be spending less time with Don at work, but they're both free to date without is causing too many raised eyebrows.

WRITERS: Andre Jacquemetton & Maria Jacquemetton
DIRECTOR: John Slattery
TRANSMISSION: 24 November 2010, BBC4/HD, 10PM