Monday, October 11, 2010

Review - Mad Men Season 4 Episode 12 Blowing Smoke

SCDP is in an unmitigated freefall, so what do the partners do? The question, brought up last week when the partners finally learn about Lucky Strike, is answered by the episode title, "Blowing Smoke."

In an episode filled with deception, Don makes the biggest move of all, a full-page ad in the New York Times chronicling his firm stand against tobacco. As he puts it, much like a smoker, the firm was dependent on tobacco, and when tobacco left, they were crushed. It's either a brilliant decision which will save the company or a few more nails in the company's coffin. Everyone seems to think it's the latter.

The initial aftermath isn't pretty. The partners are angry at Don, Cooper even packing up permanently, and several layoffs. The partners also have to pony up a significant chunk of change to stay solvent, leading to Don paying for Pete who doesn't have to money. In addition, Faye isn't working for SCDP, which could either help her relationship with Don or scuttle it entirely.

From Don's standpoint, the ad is good tactical decision. After all, Don is a master of sales and this advertisement is no different than the rest, except the stakes are higher. Although he doesn't believe in the stuff he wrote--the health risks involved in tobacco and the systemic cover-up--it puts SCDP's name on the map. People aren't talking about Lucky Strike anymore; they're talking about Don and his big balls. And even if the situation doesn't improve, it's not like they had much going for them after the Heinz interview turned out to be nothing. The one positive outcome is that the American Cancer Society wants them to do an anti-smoking ad--for free.

And talk about a blast from the past. Midge, Don's girlfriend from all the way back in first season, returns. The episode description said something about someone from Don's past returning, but Midge? I definitely did not see that one coming. Years later, Midge has fallen a long ways into drugs and squalor, her dark apartment contrasting wildly with her previous place. While her reappearance in itself isn't anything too exciting, Midge is the one who sparks Don's flash of inspiration. Don stares at her painting, a chaotic jumble of colors, a total lack of cohesion and order, and realizes that he must act to make things right. He can't let himself--and the company--fall into ruin like Midge has.

Since the beginning of the season, Betty, divorced and separated from Don, hasn't exactly filled a useful role--and by extension, her kids haven't either. She gets steamed, yells, and is generally not a good person to be around. Aside from that, on the grand scheme of things, she hardly influences anyone other than her family. Simply put, she has zero relevance to Don, the most important character on the show and the character the audience cares about more. When the season began, I envisioned a slow reunion spanning the entire season a la Carmela and Tony; however, by now, it's clear that won't happen. Don is too busy worrying about his own work problems to give a though to Betty, and Betty is still the petulant child she's always been. Essentially, nothing has changed. The problem now is that Betty isn't core to the show, isn't likable, and is expendable. Personally, I won't mind seeing her slip out of existence.

With the season finale next week, assuming this season follows in suit with the previous ones, we should get a game changing development. Could SCDP collapse for good? Despite the layoffs at the end of the episode, "Blowing Smoke" doesn't fall into a depressive mood and Don stays even-keeled the entire time. Perhaps there will be a huge coup, putting SCDP on top. And what of Betty? If she moves away, does she even have a place in the show?

Score: 9.6/10
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