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.

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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?

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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.

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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 s4e2: Christmas Comes but Once a Year

“In a nutshell, it all comes down to what I want versus what’s expected of me.”

Just about sums up life, eh? Let’s see how much of a piping hot mess Don is in this episode..

Sally runs into creeper Glen at the Christmas tree lot. Hating living in the house on Bullet Park Road without her dad there, she expresses how strange everything is; Glen can relate. He takes it into his own hands when the Francises are all out one night, trashing the house with food and junk.. save for Sally’s room, where he leaves a friendship keychain similar to the one she complimented him on at the lot. He tries to make the house as uncomfortable for everyone as it is for Sally.

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At the office, enter Dr. Faye Miller, one of the psychologists SCDP is using for market research. In an intro with a personality test for the senior staff, Don dodges another opportunity to divulge any sort of information about himself.

A man allergic to intimacy, it’s clear that Don’s in a darker place than his usual existential loneliness.. and this is his first real Christmas sans family to boot. He ain’t handling it well; he’s hitting everything too hard. Women whom he would otherwise effortlessly charm are rebuffing his sloppy advances with ease and a touch of pity. Score one for Faye and neighbour Phoebe, I guess.

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Allison reads out Sally’s letter to Santa (c/o Don Draper), and it’s a heartbreaking reminder of the damage the divorce has caused. She tears up at Sally’s wish to have Don there on Christmas morning, knowing that it’s not a possibility.

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The vile Lee Garner Jr is in town, and is miffed he wasn’t invited to the SCDP Christmas party.. which now has to become an actual party much to Lane’s dismay. Faye and Don spar about how someone’s past can influence them today, a point with which Don disagrees. She aptly brings up that his celebrated Glo-Coat commercial is heavily steeped in nostalgia, a certain longing for someone’s childhood.. but not Don’s. He tries to change the conversation by asking her to dinner, and gets shot down.

Natch, he forgets his keys at the office, and Allison does him a favour by running down to the Village to let him in. It’s noteworthy that younger employees have always gossiped about Don, but it was always in the admiring from afar sense, with some sense of wonder; mimbo Joey calling him ‘pathetic’ sheds light on how trash Don is at this point in time. And I guess in an effort to feel something (or anything at all), Don comes on to Allison; she reciprocates and they have a bang on his couch. Awkward.

The next morning is nothing short of a disaster with how Don handles (and not handles) things. He goes to his rhetoric of “this never happened”, so much so that he doesn’t acknowledge anything in the least, and gives Allison her Christmas bonus of a hundy in cash. You can tell he doesn’t feel great about it as she walks out of his office, but not guilty enough to not be a prick. And plus.. you shouldn’t shit where you eat.

So Freddy Rumsen is back, and he’s dry as a bone– but Peggy is thrilled to see him and to work on Pond’s. Freddy has some comically oldschool ideas for the cold cream, whereas formerly oldschool Pegs has moved forward quite a bit. He’s focusing on the marriage aspect of Pond’s, but Peggy wants something more, something deeper that speaks to women.. women like her whose be-all end-all isn’t getting fucking married. She wants to make an ad that speaks to everyone!

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BUT, even though her life in the office is super forward thinking and progressive she’s being weirdly old fashioned with her boyfriend Mark. Apparently they aren’t banging because she’s playing virgin.. yikes. Last I checked, she ain’t been no virgin since 1960.. maybe she’s just not so sure about the guy?

Why is Peggy dating this dolt anyway? Freddy peppers her with some absurdly old fashioned advice, firmly saying that she shouldn’t bang the guy if she wants to marry him, since he’ll never respect her.. Y I K E S.

I guess that cemented her opinion of Mark, cause she throws him a bone that night.

Maybe Allison is that gal looking to get hitched, and thought there was something deeper to her tryst with her boss.. as she stares off into space while typing, it’s hard not to feel her pain and humiliation. So uncomfortable. Don may have fucked it up with his best and most competent secretary yet.

“I don’t hate Christmas.. I hate this Christmas.”

Mad Men s3e9: Wee Small Hours

“But when I say I want the Moon.. I expect the Moon.”

Wanting and yearning, sprayed all over this episode. How do you give the person you’re bound to what they desire when even they don’t know what that thing is? What do you do when you’re trying to satisfy actual grown-ass human people who are as fickle and formidable as baby Gene?

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Hilton is blowing up Don in the middle of the night, while Bets dreams of snogging Henry on that whacking great hideous fainting couch. Betty decides to start writing him letters; after all, she is a person who has thoughts.. and nobody with which to share them.

Turns out Henry ditches the forced fundraiser at the Draper house, with good reason; infuriated, Betty drives the cashbox to Henry’s office herself and nearly beheads the fucking guy when she launches it directly at him. He talks her down from the ledge, letting her know he couldn’t just show up at her damn house like that; she’s married, after all, even though it certainly doesn’t feel like it to her sometimes.

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image courtesy of AMC

Sal is directing a Lucky Strike commercial, and Lee Garner Jr is sloppily sauced and ready to get weird in the editing suite. When Sal turns down his advances, Lee is PISSED. Lee Garner Jr is a man who never not gets whatever in the fresh hell he wants, the moment he wants it. Uh-oh.

Latenight meeting with Conrad Hilton and Don, father and son. In his life to date, Don has never once had approval from a paternal figure, but that concept profoundly matters to him. Connie and Don have an understanding. He’s worked his ass off while making his way up in the world, and Don is trying to do the same; neither of them had that boost of rich parents with cashflow, nor flashy Ivy League connections.

Though Connie sounds absolutely bizarre yapping about how the Commies don’t have God, he’s one of that generation that thinks of the USA as The Greatest Place On Earth(TM). He’s a ludicrously successful, wealthy self-made man; he built the most famous goddamned hotel chain in the world, after all.

The man is an icon, and Connie is also from a generation of men that believe American Democracy and our way of life is not only the best way, but the way of God. And after all, it’s the 1960s; we are at the peak of the Cold War here. Communism fundamentally preaches that religion is the opiate of the masses; “We’re good because we have God and Communists don’t. That’s their number one belief.”

In the office, Don Draper is fucking fried. He’s exhausted and at his wits’ end, and he’s creatively constipated. Even when he tears down Peggy and her team’s work on Hilton, she doesn’t respond with defensiveness so much as worry for his mental state of affairs. At this point in their working relationship, it’s obvious that she understands Don; it’s jarring to see him unravel.

Lee Garner Jr rings up Harry in the middle of the night, loaded and pissed off at Sal. He tells Harry he wants him gone. Awkward. Boob Harry does fuckall with this information; the meeting a few days later is a piping hot mess, which causes Sal to get the axe once light is shed on what happened.

Coaxing what went down out of Sal in an attempt to help him, Don is cold as fucking ice and lets the axe drop; it’s actually shocking. At this point, Don perceives himself as trapped at Sterling Cooper via his contract (thanks to Hilton), and he seems to be lashing out in bizarre ways as a result.

Sal: “He was drunk, and he cornered me in the editing room. And I backed him off, I told him I was married, and he was embarrassed and he left.”

Don: “You must’ve been really shocked. But nothing happened, because nothing could have happened because you’re married?”

Sal: “Don, I swear on my mother’s life..”

Don: “You sure you want to do that? Who do you think you’re talking to?”

Sal: “I guess I was just supposed to do whatever he wanted? What if it was some girl?”

Don: “That would depend on what kind of girl it was, and what I knew about her. You people.”

Sal: “I didn’t do anything but turn him down. He’s a bully.”

Don: “Lucky Strike can shut off our lights. I think you know that this is the way this has to be.”

WOOF.

Sal was hoping Don would understand, as a man with two lives; he might become his saviour and his champion. Instead, he just turns out to be a bastard. Truly devastating.

In a Central Park phone booth swarming with an enclave of hot dudes, Sal lies to Kitty about his whereabouts. What is he doing? It’s a heartbreaking end for this character. All I can do is hope he lives happily ever after on Fire Island.

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And to top it all off, Don’s Hilton pitch bombs catastrophically; apparently Don didn’t think big enough. When Connie said he wanted the Moon** and didn’t get the damn Moon (apparently he was being literal), he’s deeply disappointed in Don. He takes it very hard, feebly defending his campaign on deaf ears. “What do you want from me, love?”

**(Fun fact– apparently, the Lunar Hilton idea is real.)

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Y A W N || image courtesy of MadMenWiki

Faking a Hilton call, Don splits in the middle of the night to go see thirst trap Suzanne. Sigh. I guess it’s one way to deal with his apocalyptically awful day, diving headfirst back into what you know. Similar to Pete with the German Au Pair, Don is about to shit pretty close to where he eats. Not a good look.

“You’re my angel, you know that? You’re like a son. In fact, sometimes you’re more than a son to me because you didn’t have what they had .. and you understand.”

Mad Men s1e1: Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

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Hello, hello! Due to my own personal mania and a splash of popular demand, I’ve decided to undergo the Herculean task of rewatching and writing about all 92 episodes of Mad Men. Now these won’t be super duper in depth like my season 7 reviews, and I’m sure I’ll combine a couple of episodes into each post at some point, but I’m sure certain episodes will merit more yappin’ than others. So uh, here goes!

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image courtesy of Imgur

With the opening shot of the Mad Men pilot, we are greeted with the back of a shadowy figure at a bar. He’s in a crowd of breezy people, yet he is alone. Who the hell is this guy? What’s his deal? Here’s a vaguely fried Don Draper in a bar, grasping at straws for his upcoming Lucky Strike meeting.

The pilot of any series will lay out the greater themes to come, and Smoke gets in your Eyes is no exception. And one of the things I find magical about a well written show or movie is how we, the audience, are merely dropped in. This isn’t the beginning of something, we are entering into something, this narrative as it has already progressed.

The character introductions are sort of hilarious. We’ve got Peggy, the oldschool Brooklyn girl trying to make it at her first big job in the city. Pete, the boorish young guy who’s about to get married to the photo of Matthew Weiner’s mother as Trudy hadn’t been cast yet. Sal, the closeted gay man who makes approximately 100 innuendos implying that he’s gay. Joan, the snarky fun girl. There’s jokes about technology and the lack thereof in 1960. Pilots, man.. thankfully the rest of the series is far more subtle.

The real meat of this episode starts with Don getting schooled in a meeting with Rachel Menken. Here, we can see that she’s cut from a different cloth. She is serious about her business, and apparently Don is having none of that. He really fucked it up, and has to do some damage control later on in this episode..

And then, the Lucky Strike pitch. This pitch defines a lot of what the series is ultimately about.

“Advertising is based on one thing: happiness. And do you know what happiness is?

Happiness is the smell of a new car. It’s freedom from fear.

It’s a billboard on the side of a road that screams with reassurance that whatever you’re doing is OK.

You are OK.”

Does Don really know what happiness is, or is he just trying to reach out and touch people with what he thinks happiness implies? The notion that he’s adrift is emphasised when we see his meeting with Rachel at a bar that evening.

Don: The reason you haven’t felt it is because it doesn’t exist. What you call “love” was invented by guys like me to sell nylons. You’re born alone, you die alone, and this world just drops a bunch of rules on top of you to make you forget those facts. But I never forget. I’m living like there’s no tomorrow, because there isn’t one.

Rachel: I don’t think I realised it until this moment, but it must be hard being a man, too.

Don: Excuse me?

Rachel: Mr. Draper, I don’t know what it is you really believe in, but I know what it feels like to be out of place. To be disconnected. To see the world laid out in front of you the way other people live it. And there is something about you that tells me you know it too. 

Don: .. I don’t know if that’s true..

I mean, good goddamn. Rachel immediately saw through his elaborate bullshit façade and succinctly called him out on it. He showed his ass just a little, and she doesn’t have time for that. This brief but potent exchange lays important groundwork for the episodes to come. Don is both fascinated and bewildered by her honesty.

At the end of the pilot, I found myself faced with a couple of questions. Why do we want what we want? Is that all there is? The more you dig into those questions, the more you’ll find, and the deeper that hole gets. The show will grapple with this dizzying idea for the next 7 seasons.

Don heads home to the suburbs of New York state, set to Caravan.

And ah fuck, this guy’s married??

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Hey-o, thanks for reading!