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'Mad Men' recap: Changing the conversation

October 11, 2010 |  9:53 am

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On Sunday night, Don Draper pulled a Jerry Maguire.

As the saying goes, desperate times call for desperate measures.  And, fair or not, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce is in truly dire circumstances. Dumped by American Tobacco, the agency can’t even get meetings with other cigarette companies. As Pete puts it: “The wind is blowing ice cold out there.” Don, used to playing hard-to-get with women and clients alike, is clearly uncomfortable making the hard sell. There's a whiff of desperation clinging to the agency. “I bet I could get a date with your mother right now,” a Heinz executive tells Don.

And, in case you missed it, desperation was the theme of this episode. Midge, Don’s junkie ex-mistress, embodies the idea. When Don runs into her in the Time-Life lobby, she seems healthy and happy, but once he arrives at her drab hovel, he knows that’s not the truth. Strangely enough, the encounter is cathartic for Don. He realizes that he can -- and desperately must -- “change the conversation,” just as Peggy suggests. All it took was a run-in with his drug-addicted former mistress to make him see the light.

Rather than heading to Kinko’s late at night to make copies of his manifesto, a la Jerry Maguire, Don takes out a full-page ad in the New York Times. “For over 25 years, we devoted ourselves to peddling a product for which good work is irrelevant, because people can’t stop themselves from buying it,” reads the ad. Of course, Don doesn’t really care about the ethical ramifications of selling a dangerous and destructive product. The point of the letter, as Megan accurately assesses it, is to convey: “He didn’t dump me, I dumped him.”

I thought it was an inspired move, but none of the partners were impressed by Don’s manifesto. “You had a tantrum on a full page in the New York Times,” says Pete.  Even Lane, usually reserved in his criticism, tells Don: “No one asked you to euthanize this company.” Most irate is Bert Cooper, who calls Don cynical and craven, then promptly tenders his resignation. 

So, who’s right? Is Don just an egomaniacal hypocrite? Or did his manifesto successfully “change the conversation” about Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce? We’ll have to wait until at least next week to find out the answer. With just one episode in the season to go, the number of possible outcomes is a bit dizzying. The company could go out of business, but you can’t really have “Mad Men” without an ad agency, can you? Strike that one from the list. From a creative standpoint, it also seems unlikely that Don and company will form another new agency -- after all, that’s exactly how last season ended. It would be a major snooze if they did the same thing all over again, wouldn’t it? Theoretically, Pete could still abandon ship and take Vicks with him to CGC. The fact that Don paid for Pete's share of the payroll actually makes this possible: If he wants to, Pete can now escape financially unscathed. 

While we’re on the subject, I am not sure how to interpret Don’s gesture. It was either a very gentlemanly way of thanking Pete for dropping the NAA account, or an extremely manipulative way of buying Pete’s silence. Given that this is “Mad Men,” it was probably a little of both. In any case, Pete has demonstrated an almost unreasonable level of loyalty to Don and the agency, so I am guessing he’ll stay put -- and maybe even rise to senior partner. I don’t think Roger is going to make it past this season. So far, only Joan knows about the bungled Lucky Strike account, but there is no way there won’t be more fallout. And, as much as I love Roger, I also desperately want him to be exposed. 

My suspicion is that the calls from both Emerson Foote and the American Cancer Society are not an accident. (Emerson Foote was the former head of McCann-Erickson, who resigned in 1964 in protest over cigarette advertising.) My guess is that a pared-down Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce will become pioneers of anti-tobacco advertising. The irony would be almost unbearable -- what’s next, a campaign against sexual harassment? But it would also be sublime. Could a “smoke-free” workplace lie in the future? Such an unexpected client could be just what the floundering agency needs. Symbolically, it would also be a pivotal move. This is an agency primed for the times ahead: out with the cigarettes -- and the old white men!

As for the Faye-Megan-Don love triangle, we didn’t make too much progress this week, though there were a few interesting hints. Megan seems to have a hunch about Faye -- thus the repeated mentions of messages from “Dr. Miller.” Faye also seems wise to Megan; otherwise, why would she have told Don: “Have your girl make reservations”? Just to extend the “Jerry Maguire” metaphor a bit longer, Megan is the Renee Zellweger character, and supports Don's letter. “Things feel different around here,” she says. On a professional level, Faye seems slightly annoyed by Don's stunt, but personally, she is relieved. Now that they're no longer co-workers, they can at last dine out in the open. What’s not clear is whether Don will remain interested. Though he and Faye are (mostly) honest with each other, their relationship has operated in secret -- and I suspect that the furtiveness was part of the allure for Don.

Meanwhile, in Ossining, Sally and Betty appear to have reached a fragile accord, but it quickly falls apart. Blame it on Glen. Everyone’s favorite creepy kid was back this week to counsel Sally. I love Sally, and I even sort of love Glen, but there’s something totally unconvincing about the dialogue between these two. Sally, a budding atheist, explains that she isn’t bothered by the idea of dying, except that it’s “forever,” a concept she ties to the girl on the Land of Lakes package. That wasn’t an 11-year-old girl talking, that was a writer putting words in her mouth. It’s something that happens a lot on this show -- a character will explain their emotions using a conspicuously well-chosen metaphor -- and while I’ll take it coming from Roger Sterling or Faye Miller, it’s simply less believable coming out of the mouth of a tween. The one line I did swallow (so to speak)?  “Do you want the backwash?” That Glen: always a charmer. Episode-12-sally-betty

Unfortunately for Sally, it looks like her days of hanging out with Glen outside a dilapidated old shack are numbered. Betty catches her sneaking off to see Glen, and, predictably, freaks out. There’s no doubt that Betty is mostly concerned about the “optics” of this friendship. “What will the neighbors say?”, etc. But we also know that Betty has a deep-seated and totally unfair grudge against Glen. He knows just how immature Betty really is, so naturally she hates him. Out of spite toward Sally, Betty tells Henry that it’s finally time to move out of the Ossining house. Poor Sally can't catch a break, can she? I still have an irrational hope that Sally will go live with Don in the village. Who's with me?

Betty is using her sessions with Dr. Edna as opportunities to talk about her own problems -- and not just as they relate to Sally. “You can talk to me but, you know, I’m a child psychiatrist,” Dr. Edna, perfectly framed by the cartoon animals on the wall behind her, tells Betty. With her marital woes and continually lit cigarette, Betty is totally out of place in a room decorated with dollhouses and googly-eyed rodents, and that’s just the point. Emotionally speaking, Betty is a child, a point that “Mad Men” drives home a little too often for my liking. I’m going to play devil’s advocate here and argue on Betty’s behalf. Her skepticism about psychology is completely understandable, given the fact that Don used to get reports from her analyst on their sessions. So can you blame her for not wanting to leave the haven of Dr. Edna’s office?

I was happy to see some more of Betty and Sally this week. I am one of those weird “Mad Men” fans who prefers the suburban ennui to all the workplace machinations, so the truth is, I’ve missed Betty this season. Not that I like her, mind you, just that I miss her.  

Stray thoughts:

-- Freddy Rumsen, Duck Phillips, and now Midge. This season really has been a walk down memory lane, hasn’t it?  Fine with me, as long as Bobbie Barrett doesn't return.

-- I loved how Peggy told Don, "It means you're going to do great" before his ill-fated meeting with Philip Morris. Their special bond is intact.

-- Can Danny Strong (the actor who plays Danny Siegel) really be as short as he appears, or is Jon Hamm wearing lifts in his shoes for comic effect?

-- We didn't get to see much Joan this week, but once again she was dressed in blue. What do we make of this color choice?

So, what did you think?  Any predictions for next week's season finale?  Could this really be the end of Bert Cooper? 

-- Meredith Blake
twitter.com/MeredithBlake

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Photos: (top) From left, Don (Jon Hamm), Pete (Vincent Kartheiser) and Bert (Robert Morse) ponder the future of the agency. Credit: Michael Yarish / AMC

(bottom) Betty (January Jones), right, discovers that Sally (Kiernan Shipka) has been hanging out with Glen. Credit: Michael Yarish / AMC

 

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