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Monday, October 11, 2010

"Mad Men" Season 4, Episode 12

Its a schooner.
This week, everyone’s invited to Man Men’s season penultimate, which brings almost every one of this season’s plot threads back around—with the conspicuous exception of Joan’s—and even finds time to revisit a loose end from season one. I know I shouldn’t keep being surprised at how skillful and satisfying this show continues to be, but it really is a wonder of a program, constantly one-upping itself without a hint of fatigue or predictability. The season may have had a slow start, one or two off characters (Miss Blankenship had her haters; Stan has been largely worthless), and a disappointing lack of Betty (though I may be the only disappointee), but it has built to a thundering, operatic climax as good as the show has ever given.

The crisis continues unabated: we open with Don making a solo play for beans, vinegars and sauces at what appears to be an empty restaurant (the same one where he made a solo play for Roger’s attention in the flashback from midseason?). It doesn’t work—in fact, nothing does.

The big meeting with Philip Morris, which the research team of Geoffrey & Dr. Faye assure them is their best and only hope (“You’re a certain kind of girl, and tobacco is your ideal boyfriend”), turns out to be a setup. The bank is willing to extend SCDP’s loan, but only if they can half the employees and pony up a boatload of collateral. And it seems there’s nothing Don can do: “We’re going to sit at our desks and keep typing while the walls fall down around us, because we’re creative—the least important, most important thing there is.”

Meanwhile, Sally’s been hanging out with that no-good Glen, but also with Dr. Edna—and both seem to be better influences than her mother. For her part, Betty seems just as prickly and on-edge as ever, despite a tender moment early on, when Sally expresses interest in eating dinner with stepdad Henry. Betty greets the news that Sally is improving with denial and alarm, barely masking her panic when Dr. Edna suggests their own once-a-month sessions might be curtailed, and that Betty should probably see a psychiatrist of her own. While Betty almost certainly wants to avoid the stigma of seeing a therapist, she also has experience seeing a psychiatrist for adults, who was basically just a spy for Don. Ironically, she confirms to his diagnosis—that she’s got the emotions of a child—by clinging to her sessions with the child psychiatrist and, further, acting almost like a jealous ex-girlfriend when she discovers Sally hanging out with Glen: “That boy is bad. Believe me, I know him better than you do.”

But Don’s also branded a child—by Campbell, no less!—after his stroke-of-genius move to save the company: a full-page ad in the New York Times explaining “Why I’m Quitting Tobacco,” a strategic combination of his own “change the conversation” directive for companies in trouble (usefully rehashed by Peggy) and a defiant announcement of the “he didn’t dump me, I dumped him” variety (summed up neatly by secretary Megan). It’s also a canny distillation of the counterculture’s social conscience, demonstrating its creeping influence on the mainstream—which, we all know now, will build to no less than a revolution in American attitudes and behavior—and centering on one of the show’s most conspicuous period tics, the omnipresent cigarette.

Of course we, the audience, are impressed, but Don's move is hardly the silver bullet it might be in other, lesser shows. The partners are furious, but Don refuses to discount the brilliance of the move: “It’s an ad for this agency. And if you don’t understand that, then you shouldn’t be in this business!” Interest from the American Cancer Society isn’t enough to turn around office sentiment—or keep half the office from being fired—but it indicates a possible radical change of direction for the laxative-cold-remedy-and-suitcase peddlers: promoting the public good. Could SCDP go nonprofit? Socially conscious? HIPPIE? It’s not entirely far-fetched—recall how happy and at-ease Don seems whenever he hits the west coast, and he’s nothing if not ready to adapt. I guess we’ll have to tune in next week to find out—but even if it doesn’t happen this season, I’m betting we’ll see Don in tie-dye by the end of the '60s.

The backwash:

— Further developments: Burt is no longer part of this agency. Lane has just moved his family back to America. And Dr. Faye is taking her separation from SCDP (SDP?) as an opportunity to get her relationship with Don out into the open. (Question: did secretary Megan know about Don & Dr. Faye already?)

— Sally is unstoppable this week: “I hate sevens.” “I’ll save my fritos for you.” “Like the Land-o-Lakes butter has that Indian girl sitting holding a box, and it has a picture of her on it, holding a box, with a picture of her on it, holding a box.”

— Don’s favorite starving artist Midge returns(!) with a few words about heroin: “It’s like drinking a hundred bottles of whiskey while someone licks your tits.”

— Trudy doesn’t get to forbid Pete!

— “He was so dismissive. It reminded me of Don.”

— Is it just me, or does Dr. Edna seem to have been lifted from a David Lynch production?

Why Don’s quitting tobacco.

—“So nobody’s happy about this?” “I don’t know. It’s good not to be the reason this place went down anymore.”

— “Is he going to quit smoking?” “You’re an idiot.”

— “Crane! Out!”

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