Mad Men s4e12: Blowing Smoke

“I bet I could get a date with your mother right now.”

Ah fuck, this is the episode with THE LETTER. Iconic Don Draper shit, kiddos.

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Turns out desperation truly reeks, as Don takes meeting after meeting and is met with continual rejection, a feeling he ain’t used to in the slightest. SCDP is teetering on the edge without Lucky Strike, and everyone in Manhattan seems to know it.

Hey, remember Midge? One of Don’s OG boho mistresses, she happily runs into him in the lobby of the Time Life building, but all is not as it seems. Don’s genuinely happy to see her at first, this familiar link to who he was just a few years back.

When he told her that he had been expecting to run into her in The Village, maybe he was hoping they would reconnect or have a catch-up sesh about all the seismic changes in his life this past year; he seemed crestfallen to learn how far she had tumbled, and that her reasons for seeking him out were motivated by cash. Ugh.

Turns out Midge is married to some idiot and lives in a real shithole now, with no use for a check. Said dolt lets it slip that she sought Don out and didn’t just happen to be in the Time Life building that day.. thanks, heroin.

Don gives her some cash for a painting, staring at it once he gets home, lost in the void. Maybe he’s not that dissimilar from the trapped junkie who sold it to him; someone willing to whore himself out for cash from Lucky Strike. Seeing Midge could be a partial wakeup call for him, maybe an extreme glimpse at what could’ve been had he not cut back on his boozin’ earlier this season.

image courtesy of Uproxx

Snapping out of the void, Don starts writing. After all, part of Don’s entire life mantra includes “if you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation”. Midge’s knob of a husband informed Don that the painting is an after-image– what she sees when she closes her eyes. Time to change the after-image of SCDP post-Lucky Strike.

Tearing the pages out of his sobriety journal, he’s set on moving forward and can’t seem to shed that dark period of his life quickly enough. In the process of creating this defiant statement, Don ditched an honest part of himself with his journal’s pages to make way for this very public (and fundamentally faux) declaration of independence.. looks like he’s done dabbling with authenticity for the time being. Nothing like splashing out for a page in the Times, huh?

image courtesy of MadMenWiki

I mean, GODDAMN. Natch, the other partners do not react well. Don didn’t sign their names, nor did he tell anyone about his plan. Then again, it seems to have done its job; the phones are ringing off the hook at SCDP, and it’s not all bad news.

Both Don and Betty act out of self interest in this episode, damaging others in their wake. Sally is growing up and becoming more of her own person, to Betty’s chagrin and vague confusion. Sally is absolutely a different person than Betty is at this point, and she has limited context for how to relate to her daughter outside of Dr. Edna’s sessions.

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Sally and Glen have stayed in touch, and sneak off to hang out in secret as kids sometimes do; Betty finds out and has a fucking meltdown. In a fit of bizarre jealousy over Sally and Glen, she announces to Henry that it’s finally the right time to move. Poor Sally.

Paired with Lucky Strike leaving, Don’s tobacco tantrum on a full page of The New York Times gets a lot of people laid off.. Faye Miller included. Time for all the partners to pay up, let people go, and keep the lights on. The junior partners have to put in 50 grand apiece to keep the company afloat, and Pete doesn’t have that kind of cash. Turns out it’s not that big a deal, as Don pays Pete’s share; a very generous nod to his discretion with that whole Dick Whitman mess.

“I heard from all my clients this morning, mostly out of morbid curiosity. But one thing’s for sure, they’re not talking about Lucky Strike anymore..”

Everything is uneasy, but in the midst of it all, Megan lets Don know that she ‘gets’ the letter and what it symbolises; one of the few times that day that Don breaks his Draper façade. And, Megan is the other person in the office aside from Peggy who comes to Don with something resembling a positive reaction, some form of understanding what exactly it is that he’s trying to pull. It feels different that day at SCDP.

And she’s right, Don does stand for something.. even if it’s through the guise of an ad rooted in a self-serving motive.

“I thought you didn’t go in for those kinds of shenanigans.

Mad Men s4e11: Chinese Wall

“Lee Garner Jr. never took you seriously because you never took yourself seriously.”

Welp, the cat’s outta the bag re:Lucky Strike and everyone at SCDP collectively shits themselves. Don, Pete, Peggy, Roger and Joan all get a certain sense of fulfilment from their work that their home lives just cannot seem to provide; having the possibility of SCDP being no more really scares the bejesus out of everyone, but especially the aforementioned guys and gals.

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Sunday night. Kenny is out with his fiancée and her parents (including Leland Palmer), and inadvertently gets the Lucky Strike news and blows shit up. The partners (sans Lane, who’s still in London picking up the pieces) all anxiously gather at the office as Roger puts on a show, faking a phone call to Lee Garner Jr in an attempt to save face and pretend he’s in the dark. He’s sat on the news for whatever reason, mostly embarrassment and booze I’d guess. Nada on the new business horizon, apparently.

image courtesy of Monsters of Television

When he fakes a last plea/flight down to the North Carolina HQ and rings Joan from his Manhattan hotel hideout, she understandably ain’t impressed. Somehow, Roger thought that maybe this crisis on top of the alleyway mug-bang would bring her back to him; instead, it’s reminded her of why she keeps her distance. Candor isn’t inherently negative, but when it’s rooted in some vague form of lazy self-immolation tinged with pity party, it’s a bad look.

Oh hey, Pete has a daughter! Then he hits up the most cringe-worthy funeral on the entire planet earth. A big account dude from a rival company died, and the partners deemed it astute to try and poach clients at the funeral; a desperate decision. The guy’s former colleagues are telling old war stories, as his widow and daughter look on; they appear glazed over as if they’ve all heard this work junk a thousand times before. They talk about David Montgomery The Man, but seem way more interested and animated when talking about David Montgomery The Adman. Clearly, the guy devoted a lot of his life to his work.

Granted, there’s truth bombs here — nobody on their deathbed wishes they’d worked more, and this sentiment washes over Don and Pete. I mean, look at Pete; missing the birth of his own daughter to chase a hearse. I know it wasn’t uncommon in the 1960s for fathers to be absent for the birth of their children, but this is pretty bleak. It’s one of the shittiest times they’ve experienced to date, business-wise, but hitting up a funeral for this purpose is grasping at straws. The last days of Rome.

Shocking statement: Don Draper is a self-loathing guy with a whole heap of fucking mommy issues. With his continual banging around, he seeks out the unconditional love he never received from a mother figure, and will go after anything that even vaguely resembles love like a moth to a light.

At the same time, he ends up blowing nearly every relationship he has straight to hell. This is usually either because the woman won’t give him what he wants — i.e. Rachel won’t run off into the sunset with him, Bobbie Barrett won’t put a sock in it — or because they WILL give him what he wants.. and then he won’t respect them for doing so.

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Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Either way it’s some manpain horseshit.

With the loss of Lucky Strike, Don is tense as hell and Faye is dunzo.. she’s pretty much stuck in a lose-lose situation with Don at this point. If she doesn’t break through her own Chinese Wall of business ethics, to Don it looks as if she does not care about him enough and wants him to fail. Pretty damned big leap there, Donnie, and real unfair to put Faye in that position.

image courtesy of Tom & Lorenzo

And in the end when she throws him a bone in the form of non-ketchup related Heinz, Don is very happy for the meeting.. but he also loses any remaining respect for Faye. Ugh. I mean, I never thought they were a great match to begin with, but he doesn’t need to be such a shitheel about it.

These two conflicting feelings are a fucking mess. His unrelenting thirst to be unconditionally loved and the unwillingness to actually accept unconditional love out of self-hatred means Don is probably going to be banging around for the foreseeable future. But this yearning to feel something and glimpsing it in rando beds is grounded in the very core of his character.

Meanwhile, here’s Megan saying all the right things at the right times. She even fixes the busted Clio Don hurled across the room post Glo-Coat exit call. She’s interested in the inner workings of his job and how it all works at SCDP, which Don is obvi totally into.. and they have an office bang. Megan is modern and savvy, letting him know point blank she understands this has nada to do with work (unlike Allison) and won’t have a fucking meltdown (also unlike Allison). Go girl, get it.

image courtesy of AMC

Speaking of banging, Peggy is seemingly unflappable in her post-bang lavender haze despite walking into the Lucky Strike apocalypse the next day. I guess Abe learned to put less of his foot in his mouth. She even uses her encounter with him to flavour her Playtex gloves presentation, just like Don has used his personal life in past work. Ooh la la!

“Every time something good happens, something bad happens.”

Mad Men s4e9: The Beautiful Girls

“It’s a business of sadists and masochists, and you know which one you are.”

This episode rattles me every damn time I watch it. Seeing Joan, Peggy, Faye and Sally all struggle with being put in a box and told what to do is infuriating and sad.. yet entirely too relatable even as a modern lady. Oof.

Like a tiny hobo, Sally hitches a train to the city to see Don; it does not go well. A kind judgmental stranger pops her to SCDP, and in a panic, Don shoves Faye in her direction. Turns out she’s not good with kids, much to Don’s chagrin.

image courtesy of MadMenWiki

Women in this era were made to feel like horrible people and general failures for choosing not to have kids, and especially for not being good with kids. Hell, women today still get the same sort of shite judgement but it comes in more insidious forms masquerading as Encouraging(TM); “you’ll change your mind”, “you’ll be maternal when you have a baby”, “it’s different when it’s yours”, “what kind of guy would want to stay with a girl who doesn’t want a baby?”. Fun fact: these are real life sentences said to me by real life men (and women), all of whom I swiftly told to fuck off.

Anyhoo!

“These domesticated suburbanites still have a primitive desire to get their hands dirty, but they have become so removed from nature that they can’t. They don’t know how to hunt, or swing a hammer, or fix their cars.”

“You mean like these two!”

“Actually, no.. I’m from Vermont, and Don’s a competitive fly fisherman.”

“What our findings show is that this demographic will spend a good amount of money for the satisfaction of being useful with their hands. Ladies love a man who’s good with his hands..”

There’s a nice splash of irony when Don is meeting with the Fillmore Auto Parts guys. Faye is rattling off research about how men want to feel like they’re Real Men(TM), getting their hands dirty and all that junk, since the suits we know don’t tend to do that often. Just as she’s not a Real Lady for not being great with kids, men can be viewed as lesser than for not being able to fix shit. However with the dudes it’s more of a joking context, versus the reality of women being judged pretty harshly.

Sally is super unhappy at home, and who could blame her? She doesn’t get along with Betty in the least, she misses her father, things just aren’t right. Don has no idea how to really connect with her, and popping Faye into that Woman(TM) mould doesn’t really work.

It’s striking how much Don is using Faye, and it really hit me over the head watching it now. Back when this initially aired, everyone on the damn internet was ALL UP ONS Faye and Don ending up together, and I remained as indifferent and skeptical as Sally. The way he treats Faye is absurd. Watch my kid, make me a drink. What’s going on at that other ad agency? Tell me. It’s pillowtalk subtle, but it’s definitely undermining what she does professionally and he still, a tiny bit, doesn’t take her seriously.

Speaking of disrespectful trash, Peggy gets a drink with Joyce and hey, Abe pops in! Good god, Abe. He’s a journalist, an opinionated know-it-all type, and admonishes Peggy’s very real concerns about equality for women versus the Civil Rights movement. Pegs isn’t one to take it on the chin, and puts him in his place for trying to tell her how she should feel.. cause fuck that noise.

Granted, I feel a lot of this Abe guy is just being awkward and jamming both feet in his mouth in the process but nonetheless, Pegs splits. He tries to apologise (somehow) by writing a literal fucking manifesto; Peggy is mortified, since it’s taking down her profession. In the days following, Abe is clearly on her mind, radical nonsense and all; has she met her opinionated, overconfident match?

At least he’s got better bone structure than Mark.

But man, the fact that Faye doesn’t magically “fix” Sally’s outbursts or offer any insight cements the idea that she’s nothing more than a fling for Don, and she rightfully calls him on it at the end of the episode. Woof. Don definitely needs someone to help him understand his kids better since he seems to be quite shit at it on his own.

Oh yeah, and during Sally’s surprise visit, Miss Blankenship fucking DIES. Jesus Christ.. and she dies at her desk. It’s a bittersweet scene with some good comedic punch, but Bert and Roger are clearly upset. Roger had a bang with her way back when, Bert knew her for most of his life.. very sad.

“She was born in 1898 in a barn, she died on the thirty-seventh floor of a skyscraper.. she’s an astronaut.”

image courtesy of ONTD

Ah, poor Ida. Feeling the immediate pang of life being too short, Joan agrees to have dinner with Roger at their old out of the way place which doesn’t seem so nice anymore since the Bowery’s turned into a toilet. After getting mugged, they have a filthy alley fuck high on adrenaline. It’s a good distraction for them both, at least. Roger is evidently bored in his marriage to Jane, and Joan’s shithusband is about to be popped off to Vietnam. She doesn’t regret the bang, but she wants to respect her marriage. Fair enough.

But man, do I love their banter.

image courtesy of MadMenWiki

Megan steps it up and works hard to cover Don’s desk as well as reception. When faced with the reality of returning home to Betty, Sally has a horrifying meltdown causing everyone to come running; faceplanting in the process, she hugs Megan and tearfully admits that she knows things won’t be OK. Ugh, heartbreaking and unnerving. Sally’s sadness and helplessness is palpable, radiating to everyone within earshot.

As the elevator doors close, we see the faces of Joan, Faye, and Peggy. It’s like the curtain closing on a play; who are these women in the office versus their real lives? What do they really want at the end of the day? They all want more out of life, that’s for damn sure.

image courtesy of MadMenWiki

“Men never know what’s going on.”

Mad Men s4e5: The Chrysanthemum and the Sword

“Christ on a cracker, where do you get off??”

This is one of those episodes that seems light on the outside, but there’s so much to dig into. Oof. Realistically, just how long can you hold onto a grudge? How long can you continue to define yourself by something that happened literal ages ago? How long can you use those prehistoric events to justify trash actions today? What does that garbage do to a person? Taking a closer look at Roger and Betty in this episode, this sort of shit is all on display.

Let’s take a moment for Miss Blankenship, because I love her in general, but also because she’s an excellent foil to Don. The guy treats people so fucking poorly sometimes; showing him tolerating generally harmless gaffes by this hapless bat he’s been saddled with humanises him a touch. He can’t just fuck off to California every week. Miss Blankenship’s weird hidden talent of transforming the guy from Don to Dick for a hot second is pretty great.

Roger Sterling has always been shown as a guy who doesn’t take life (or himself) too seriously, the life of the party and the guy who knows everyone and loves to schmooze and joke around. Apparently, the notable exception to this rule is World War II. When Pete brings up that he’s landed a meeting with Honda, a Japanese company, it’s meltdown city. Roger wholly rejects the idea of doing business with them, and almost fucks their chances entirely by acting like an asshole in the meeting to boot. Awkward.

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But hey, it’s nice to see Bert Cooper take an active role in something besides preserving the carpets. His extremely intimate knowledge of Japanese culture and customs contrasted well with his confusion over the march on Selma.. “They got what they wanted. Why aren’t they happy?”

There are tons o’reasons a guy like Cooper would grow fascinated with Japanese culture while generally shrugging off vast portions of his own culture. Remember that Cooper is an Objectivist; a large part of it may be due to that adoration of authority and order at the centre of so many of those guys and gals.

Through that, a theme of the episode emerges as well; utter goddamned frustration when someone is unable to force one’s will onto the people around them. Roger hits the fucking ceiling when Don and Pete decide to follow the Honda exec’s orders and not his own. Betty is absolutely livid when Sally asserts her independence and cries out for attention by cutting her own hair. Don is pissed when dear sweet Teddy Chaough grabs control of the narrative Don is building with SCDP.

That confrontation with Roger and Pete is intense, with Don in the middle. It was fun to see Pete echo Don’s sentiment from the s3 finale in this episode: “The rest of us are trying to build something.” Don knows Pete’s in the right. Lashing out and “wrapping himself in the flag” of Lucky Strike providing most of the company’s cashflow, Roger wants to cut Pete down for bringing in new business and shifting the importance off of him ever so slightly.

He’s gonna have to get over that bullshit real quick if he wants to keep the lights on.

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image courtesy of NYTimes

As Betty finds a shrink for Sally, she connects with Dr. Edna– an older woman who obviously sees through Betty’s façade. Betty smiling at the dollhouse says so much; here’s this perfect little life in this perfect little house, a husband and wife with 3 kids, a life that she still yearns for on some level though she knows it ain’t real.

Sally craves her father’s attention desperately, and has no clue how to get it; and she probably needs attention in general, to be acknowledged. What Sally feels matters, and Betty is perhaps starting to get that; the effect of the divorce on her matters. Sadly, Betty was more of a prize to her mother who paraded her for show; she’s still got a lot of anger and resentment there. Slowly but surely, Betty is trying to evolve.

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image courtesy of AVClub

At home, Henry is helping her with her transformation, but the vibe is sort of bizarre. Sometimes his interactions with her sound more father/daughter than husband/wife. When he helped settle the fight between Betty and Sally it sounded as if he could have been talking with two siblings about getting along. It’s almost as if Henry has stepped in as a faux father to the whole bunch, Betty included.

While many dislike Betty as a character, she is such a significant illustration of the consequences of the position women were put in at the time. I’ve written about it before, but with no real options open to Betty other than becoming a mother and housewife, she (obvi not happy with either) turns bitter and spiteful as she struggles under those limitations. Remember how free and herself she felt in Rome? Sadly, not reality.

To this point, Betty has not been able to garner a foothold in any world outside the home that has been slowly suffocating her. It’s way too easy to blame her for not going out and forging her own shit, but we’re in a super different world today; the constraints on her along with so many women of that time are vast. The expectations for ladies like Betty are super fucking problematic and sky-high, and the people around her get hurt as a result when she lashes out against said expectations.

Similarly clueless on how to help Sally, Don reveals a tiny bit about his situation to Dr. Faye Miller.

“Well, I can’t say there’s any evidence to support this, but I’m pretty sure that if you love her and she knows it, she’ll be fine.”

And that kitchen discussion between Don and Faye is damned impressive to watch. Take a look at the timing of when Don chooses to open up to her.. he offers absolutely fuckall about his personal life until he’s poked into hers, and discovered that she’s living her own faux life with the fauxgagement ring to discourage dudes from hitting on her.

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image courtesy of MadMenWikia

And Don is in enough of a personal crisis that even he needs to talk to someone about it, even if he doesn’t directly come out and say what’s happening to a T. He wants to be a good father to his kids, but has no earthly idea where to start. Shit’s complicated. But ironically, this is the most on point we’ve seen Don this season to date, craftily out-maneuvering indecently handsome Ted Chaough of CGC for the Honda account. Capery and all!

“Please tell me I missed everything.”

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image courtesy of Junkee

Mad Men s4e1: Public Relations

“I can use my expense account if I say they’re whores!”

Welcome back, and welcome to 1964! It’s nearly a calendar year from where the Season 3 finale left us, and Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce has an actual office that isn’t a hotel suite; they’ve got some cool new digs in the cushy Time Life building. Maaaaagic.

“Who is Don Draper?”

Bombing out in an interview with Advertising Age, Don supplies glib bullshit answers to the reporter’s pointed questions about his work and who he is, pretty much saying fuckall. Shocker. The problem with this approach is that he’s no longer just that stupid talented mysterious guy in the corner office, he has to be the fucking face of SCDP; a creative figurehead, the man behind the curtain. And we all know how much Don loves talking about himself.

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image courtesy of Imgur

But hey, Don is in a great place professionally; he’s legit blowing up. He’s calling the shots and running things his way, making a lot of money, and he’s got acclaim for the Glo-Coat commercial.. all the while his personal life is a raging tire fire, burning into the eternal night. Seems like Don is at his best in the office when shit at home is a mess.

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no time for your shit. || image courtesy of Tumblr

His attitude in meetings is more aloof than ever, while being incredibly sharp; the way he shuts down those Jantzen prudes is outta control, he’s got precisely no time for garbage at this new agency. This guy is forward thinking and takes risks, and he’s lost everything he ever (thought) he wanted in his personal life.

Our characters are exploring new terrain all over this episode, slowly adjusting to the new normal. Betty now has a mother-in-law (a hard-ass woman at that) and an extended family; she’s also got a more attentive husband and is learning how to be a person sans Don. She’s overly harsh on Sally during Thanksgiving dinner, still not quite sure how to navigate that relationship.

Understandable growing pains and lots of negative shit are to be expected, but Hank Frank takes it all in logical stride; he really loves that difficult woman. They even have a bang in the car, harkening back to their first kiss in Betty’s car. YEAHHHHHH

Going on a date with the poor man’s Betty, Don is vaguely bemused with Bethany. Brass tacks, homegirl is an idiot, but she’s young so I guess she gets a pass? Maybe? Ah well. Roger and (mostly) Jane seem determined to set him up with someone, just because.

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Dating doesn’t seem to suit Don at all. Skipping out on Thanksgiving at Roger and Jane’s and no plans with the family, Don’s plans include being mounted and slapped in the face by a hooker. Looks like he bones this lady on the reg, indulging his own self-loathing with a healthy dash of mommy issues.

His personal life really seems a lonely mess, and he’s boozin’ a lot, even for him. When Peggy needs bail cash for the ladies she and Pete paid off to fight over a ham, Don takes it all out on her unsuspecting bland boyfriend Mark, whom she brought to lessen the inevitable blow.

Joan has her own office, and is still the consistent go-to for everything. Glad she’s getting some recognition as the person who steers the ship, though she shouldn’t be getting sunburned tit Harry Crane a coffee. And it’s nice to see Peggy argue right back with Don when the Sugarberry Hams stunt goes south, her confidence is awesome to see. Roger is back in the saddle and full of beans, Pete is more secure in his footing.. everyone seems to be moving forward at a pretty brisk clip working together, conference table or no. Even Allison is back!

However, Don’s shite interview in Advertising Age has real consequences for the firm; being in such a small space equals his actions have actual meaning, something that is clearly not a thing to Don. Ya fucked it up. He takes it out on the straightlaced Jantzen guys by blowing up their meeting, and immediately rings Cooper’s guy at the Wall Street Journal to have a redo of that interview. Taking that feeling by the balls, he is cocksure and rewrites history ever so slightly to sound fucking awesome to this guy. Way better.

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image courtesy of Mad Men Wikia

So, what’s it going to be? Comfortable and dead, or risky and possibly rich? Sounds like a mantra to me, looking at how Don has evolved. SCDP sure seems intensely personal to him, especially for a man who won’t reveal a damn thing about himself. Let’s see what happens!

“You know something? We are all here because of you. All we want to do is please you.”