Monday, October 11, 2010

"Mad Men' recap: Hell hath no fury like Don Draper scorned

Spoilers for this week's episode of "Mad Men" below. Don't click through if you don't want to know.

Last night's episode of "Mad Men" was the season's penultimate offering, and things are sure moving along at a devastating pace. Still reeling from the loss of Lucky Strike, the gang is working overtime trying to bring in new accounts. That includes Don who, at the beginning of the episode, is meeting with Faye's contact from Heinz. As it turns out, Heinz guy -- though in need of fresh ideas -- isn't too keen on moving to Sterling, Cooper,  Draper, Pryce.What if they're not around in six months? Don is apoplectic, all but begging Heinz guy to hire the firm.
And there's the problem. Don and his co-workers are all too aware of the situation they're in. They're desperate to get new business. That desperation makes them look pathetic and that drives away new clients. The result is that Don and company become all the more desperate. As Don will later allude to in his tobacco-bashing manifesto, they're not unlike junkies chasing the next fix of cash flow. Or, to use the analogy put out by Faye's boss Dr. Atherton, they're like anxious single women chasing potential husbands.
Dr. Atherton's fix is that Sterling, Cooper, et. al. find a mate that's as well suited to them as Lucky Strike -- another tobacco client, in other words. The firm, as he points out, is a certain kind of girl and tobacco is her ideal boyfriend. But, no sooner does the firm arrange a date with a potential new suitor (a new female-skewing brand which, though never named, I'm guessing is Virginia Slims), than they're stood up. The tobacco people were just using the firm to make a better deal with another agency.
It's humiliating, and everyone's at the end of their ropes. Which is when Don writes that letter/ad for the New York Times, swearing off all tobacco business. It's a move that can be seen as bold and brilliant or pathetic and childish. As Megan later points out (using the boyfriend-girlfriend imagery again), it's really about "He didn't dump me. I dumped him."
On one level, it's as desperate a move as chasing new business around town. On another level, it's kind of ingenious. As Peggy points out, Don has always told her that, if you don't like what people are saying, change the conversation. Don, at first, bitterly responds to Peggy's advice by pointing out that what people are saying about the firm is true. But, later, he realizes that a possible solution lies in changing what's true.
In the end, I'm not entirely sure the strategy works. All of the partners are furious, particularly Cooper, who (after finding his shoes) storms out of the firm. Dr. Atherton, not wanting to upset future tobacco clients by having the firm as a client, resigns as researcher, taking Faye with him. They still have to fire most of the staff (and put up some of their own money) to keep the firm liquid. And, of course, it gives that odious, snot-nosed Ted Chaough a chance to play a childish prank, calling the office pretending to be Robert Kennedy.
But it does get clients to stop speaking about Lucky Strike. And they do get that potential offer from the American Cancer Society, which, while it likely won't be a lifesaver for the firm, is better than nothing.
With Don's letter, the firm has gone from a figure of pity to, at the very least, a figure of intrigue. Whether that's enough to save them is anyone's guess, but at least it's a sign that they'll go on fighting.
Anyway, let's skip right to the bullet points, shall we?
* The chaos at Sterling, Cooper, etc. does have one bright spot -- Lane's back! Huzzah! Of course, he's furiously trying to figure out how to keep this ship afloat. He does so by asking each partner to put up some money -- Roger, Don and Cooper must put up $100,000, while Lane and Pete are responsible for $50,000 a piece. The problem? New dad Pete doesn't have $50,000, and Trudy, understandably, doesn't want him sinking whatever money they do have into a business that's most likely failing. But Pete is contractually obligated to come up with the money, and sweats over what to do. When Pete finally comes clean to Lane, begging for some kind of arrangement, he's told that Don put up Pete's share for him. Huh. Why, do you think? Is he trying to show gratitude and remorse for forcing Pete to cover up the Dick Whitman mess? Or he is trying to show that he has the firm's best interests at heart, despite that seemingly inflammatory New York Times letter? Maybe a combination? Whatever the reason, Pete is grateful.
* Oddly, just as Don and co. are running around town like a junkie/desperate potential girlfriend, Don happens to run into his old girlfriend, Midge, who, funnily enough, is now a heroin addict. Of course, he doesn't really just "run into" Midge. He later learns from her creepy husband that she's engineered the meeting, hoping to get him to buy one of her paintings (translation -- give her enough money for a fix). He does, and it seems like his encounter with her spurs him to write the New York Times piece. Midge tells him that she knows heroin is bad for her, but can't stop. Don appears sad for her and, maybe on some level, he is. But his wheels are turning frantically at this point, trying to come up with a solution for his work problems. Midge's confession causes him to see a connection between heroin and tobacco (and between tobacco and the quest for business).
* Still, that meeting with Midge is pretty sad. When she was introduced in the first season, Midge was fresh and vibrant -- a symbol of the rising counter-culture. But, with her creepy husband, drug addiction and lack of funds, she's now a symbol that members of the counter-culture are feeling just as lost and terrified as Don's ilk. Oof.
* One last Midge point -- did anyone else's stomach drop when Don asked Midge to describe heroin for him, and he seemed impressed by the description? Oh Don, no. You have enough problems with curtailing the booze and keeping your hands off the secretaries. Please, please, please don't add heroin to the mix.
* Though most of the action centers on Don and his quest to keep his firm alive, we do have a fairly strong Sally plot here. Sally's sessions with the kind-hearted Dr. Edna seem to be going well. In fact, we see in the one scene between them that Sally has found, for the first time since her grandfather's death, an adult who is kind and supportive of her. Dr. Edna decides to cut back their sessions -- due to Sally's progress, and allow her to do the normal kid stuff she needs to do. But Betty freaks out. Does this mean that SHE gets to see Dr. Edna less? Dr. Edna tries to soften the blow by recommending an adult therapist who can help Betty. Oh, no, Betty says. I don't want to see a therapist. But I do think it's important to keep seeing you. Dr. Edna gently points out that she's a child psychiatrist, but Betty is immovable.
* Aside from Dr. Edna, Sally has another, markedly less positive, influence in her life -- creepy little Glen, who she's still hanging out with. Their meetings seem harmless enough, though Glen is still clearly obsessed with Betty. He asks if Sally talks to Betty about him. When it seems clear that she has, and Betty disapproves, Glen is hurt. He's even more lost later, when Betty catches the two of them together. Scared, angry and confused, Glen runs for the hills, leaving poor little Sally to confront Betty alone. Betty, meanwhile, is horrified that Sally is still keeping company with her former suitor and wants to move. Actually, she's probably right. Glen is a creepball. I don't blame Betty for trying to get her daughter away from him. However, Glen would probably have no interest in Sally had it not been for his weird, inappropriate friendship with Betty. But, while Betty isn't blameless for this situation, she is looking out for Sally, which is something.
* OK -- sidenote: Did Glen offer Sally the backwash from his soda? Gross! When I was a kid, an offer to share a beverage always came with a promise that said beverage contained NO backwash! Yes, I know his offer of the cigarette was more symbolic, but the backwash freaked me out.


Anonymous said...

Very good report and I LOVE the photo you chose of Don. Be still my heart.

Lee Steele said...

That manifesto is a masterwork. I can't believe the partners are so oblivious. David Ogilvy would have approved. BTW, what kind of ad deadlines does the Times have? He made a full-page ad appear the next morning?

Bill Scurry said...

John Slattery directed the ep last night, the second time that's happened this season. He knows how to movie the camera -- in the child shrink scene, he breaks the "30 degree rule" while cutting from a tight to a wider shot of the the doc when she's reminding Betty she's a child psychiatrist, revealing the cartoony mural behind her to stamp that point home.

Also, the scene where Don asks Peggy to talk strategy before the presumptive Virginia Slims meeting was shot with a low camera, conferring power on the characters. That impression would be thwarted moments later as they learn the tobacco meeting was canceled.

Many nice moments this week -- I agree with Lee Steele, Ogilvy would certainly approve of Don's move, and I'm sure it will be borne out next week.

IScreen said...

Of course, he also frames Don's conversation with Faye in the office with Megan smack dab in between them in the background.
Also, and I haven't seen anyone mention this, both this and the other Slattery-directed ep, "The Rejected," feature sequences where people eavesdrop on others in the office. I wonder if that's a coincidence, or if Slattery likes to play with the fact that this is a relatively small space, and there probably aren't that many secrets.