Television Review: Mad Men Season 4 Episode 12, "Blowing Smoke"

I know this episode was all about desperation, but I had a lot of fun watching Sunday night's "Blowing Smoke," an exciting precursor to the finale next week of what may be Mad Men's greatest season yet.  It was chock full of the kinds of goodies that make Mad Men the best of the best, and garner audible reactions from this viewer.

The return of Don's very first mistress! Bert Cooper resigns! Don's swimming pool voiceovers are back!

The episode, directed by John Slattery (Roger Sterling), struck a nice balance between office/suburban life and maintained a steady pacing as it builds toward the end of the Mad Men year next week. The two big events of the night come to echo each other in displays of rather pathetic desperation: Mistress No. 1 Midge Daniels (Rosemarie DeWitt, who I absolutely love) "bumps into" Don at his new office building, and the men in charge at SCDP attempt to deal with the blowback caused by the loss of Lucky Strike.

First, Midge. If you didn't watch Mad Men when we were first introduced to Don's philandering ways, let's paint a picture of Season 1: Midge — A care-free youth who lived in the Village, she was the first woman we saw Don cheat on Betty with. And she had him on a hook. Seemingly wise beyond her years and fully in control of a much older and more successful Don, she shared her apartment with her hippie friends, smoked pot freely and eventually turned down Don's offer to take her to Paris on his surprise Sterling Cooper bonus money. Flash forward to season 4, Midge is in a bit of a desperate situation. She's apparently a heroin addict, living with a "husband" who is okay with letting her sell herself for drug money. Oh, and she's a painter. It's all very shady, her efforts to track down Don and get him to give her drug money buy one of her paintings. I hated every minute of it, only because Midge has always been my favorite mistress of Don's. Harshest moments: "What am I gonna do with a check"?  Says Midge, after Don writes her a $300 check. She takes a little over $100 in cash instead, because apparently her drug dealer doesn't cash checks. Later, she tells Don: "I'm glad you haven't changed." Ouch. Oh, and what was with the hubbie's strange reaction to Don giving him $10? Was it too much? Too little? For dinner, or for drugs?

Of course, Midge's desperation parallels Don's as he struggles with the SCDP partners to do something about their fledgling company. Don resorts to writing a letter, from his desk at home and in what was previously his private journal, to the New York Times entitled "Why I'm Quitting Tobacco." He seems to feel somewhat useless as the creative force of the company; his encounter with the Heinz man at the beginning of the episode showed that he can't close a sale. "Creative, the least important and most important thing there is," he tells Peggy.

I thought the letter was brilliant. (No, not only because it was written over a swimming voiceover.) In it, he informs the world that he doesn't want tobacco accounts, because good work on a tobacco account is irrelevant, because no one will stop smoking anyway. His partners aren't thrilled. In fact, they're really pissed. He tells them someone had to do something. The other men are upset mainly because he didn't include their names in his diatribe. It's a fair reason to be upset, but in reality, Don is the one who has to do something with the accounts the others bring in. Along with the creative team, he's the one who has to make tobacco look good. The idea was great, and probably because it was actually Peggy's. She tells Don early on in the Lucky Strike crisis that SCDP should cope by changing the conversation. And that's exactly what Don did.

But one prank call from a fake Bobby Kennedy and a few other promising ones later, a whole lot of people are fired and Faye Miller's research company pulls out. The SCDP partners are told they have to throw in tens of thousands of dollars each, plus cut staff, to keep the company afloat. A small but great part of this episode was Pete's ordeal. The new father doesn't have the $50,000 he needs to hand over to remain a SCDP partner, and he gets no support from his daughter-of-a-rich-man wife. I enjoyed seeing her let Pete know what was up. And then, seemingly because he was in a very generous mood that week, Don pays Pete's share. A thank you for keeping Don's secret all this time?

In Ossining, N.Y., the Francis clan is pressing on as usual: Sally is friends again with creepy Glen (Marten Weiner, who is either a great kid actor or just so naturally creepy that he inserts it where it doesn't belong) and Betty refuses to stop seeing Sally's child psychiatrist. Sally was charming as ever here, a nice, well-behaved young lady who is already years beyond her maladjusted mother in terms of self-control and maturity. We got a bit more Henry Francis, who tries to sit down to dinner with his stepkids but can't ever make it on time. I had no interest in figuring out the subtext of those scenes, but at least we got that Betty is finally ready to move out of Don's house. I can't help but think we haven't seen Henry much this season because he is going to factor in more importantly next season.

The episode managed to pack a lot in and still be top-notch, which makes the wait for next week's finale that much more exciting. I particularly loved the cuts at the beginning to different pairs of SCDP men talking about their situation, and the shot of Henry Francis reading Don's NYT letter. Foreshadowing of a future business partnership,  or at least a mutual coming together in agreement that Betty is wacko? The episode didn't have enough Joan/Faye stuff for me, but I predict that next week we will learn the former is still pregnant, and the latter knows Don had sex with his hideous secretary ("Have your girl make a reservation," she says). I hope Joan is indeed pregnant, and that Faye doesn't leave Don.

Next week's episode is entitled "Tomorrowland," which I'm sure is referencing Don and Co.'s move into the future of the 1960s (but how will they save SCDP?), and hopefully means a road trip for Don and the kids to Disney World. See you then!

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