Mad Men Season 4-12 ‘Blowing Smoke’ Recap

We’re coming to the end of what has been a frankly superb season of “the best drama on TV at the moment”. From the outset I never guessed it would go where this season did go, as suggested Weiner likes to pull the rug from under us and here he does. Following the events of last week’s episode with two big accounts pulling out of SCDP things fall further into the pit of despair as Don and the rest of the partners fail to drum up sufficient business to cover their losses. Extreme measures have to be taken. It is time for support money to be put up by the partners and several members to be let go.

In cinemas you have Wall Street Money Never Sleeps preaching to us about the threat and hazardous nature of recession and how it affects families. In one episode, set over 40 years ago Mad Men gives a more truthful portrayal of the terrifying emotion of unemployment and the state of affairs in big business more effective than the platitudinous Wall Street sequel did in two hours. There is increasing pressure and tension among the employees, everyone it appears is ready to crack. Especially among the partners, Pete Campbell especially who has to deal with his newborn and the pressure of his wife demanding they move, is nervous about having to chip into bail out his company. Lane has moved his family back to New York and with going through a divorce he can’t be happy with the lack of progress. Even when things start looking up with a meeting with Heinz their current situation prevents them from making a solid deal.

In a moment of anger or inspired genius, Don makes an informed move which could sink the success of the business once and for all as well as his trust amongst the employees. In his fury at the work of the company he writes an infuriated retort to tobacco and wiping SCDP’s claim to relying on cigarettes as their main business. It is a moment which causes controversy among the group of the partners, while the creatives love it, the business types hate it. And in a very abrupt moment, Cooper resigns from his position. It seemed a lot less significant in the plot of the episode, I’m not sure if we’ve seen the end of it yet. However Don’s move may not be entirely a bad idea, they are called up to promote an anti smoking public service company, which while free is getting the message out they are still working.

It is a very tense episode, where John Slattery again proves to be a very able director. His debut with the fourth episode ‘The Rejected’ displayed his ability of putting his wit into the visual and it was a visually, very neat and dryly funny episode. Here with beautifully lit interiors he brings much more of an emotional level, which is obviously inherent in the writing but brought over more by the direction. Nothing feels ultimately different from the other episodes in terms of style, it’s still very subtle but from an untrained director his discipline and technique is very refined.

In the character’s personal lives there are further revelations. Sally Draper is making sufficient progress in the psychiatrist sessions and has learnt more or less to deal with her problems. But as is very nicely brought to the audience attention it is the fact the psychiatrist has taught her to deal with her issues which in effect, is teaching her how to interact with her mother. If anything the person with the problems is Betty. This is not explicitly displayed but it is a clear and very cleverly written layer of the episode and indeed, looking back on it, the whole series. If anything, and we know this Betty needs the psychiatrist and in a brilliantly acted scene where Betty demonstrates her reliance on talking out her issues which she has failed to do with both her husbands.

Betty also shows her true colours in showing her antipathy towards her children, as said in an interview with January Jones, she is clearly not a woman who should have had kids and as done it out of necessity for the image of a perfect domesticated woman. She finally discovers about her daughter’s meetings with the creepy neighbourhood kid Glen. As a result whilst round the dinner table with Henry and the kids, announces to them all they are leaving the neighbourhood and moving house. Don has been pushing for this for a long time, as devotees of the season will know, but it now seems an odd time for Betty to do this and seems to be more out of spite for her daughter than convenience for her family. It’s tells of petty point scoring and is even more shocking because it’s between mother and daughter, a fascinating development here and with one episode to go will it all finally blow up.

With just one episode to go, there is so much to love about this series looking back and wherever they take this new story of the season finale, in keeping with tradition is written and directed by creator Matthew Weiner. It’s setting it up to be the best season yet, if at least on a par with the last.