In 'Blowing Smoke,' Don takes a stance on tobacco that causes ripple effects through the halls of SCDP
Mad Men Sally Draper
Credit: AMC
Thanks to costume designer Janie Bryant , Hamm's '60s ad man single-handedly revived an interest in the classic two-button suit.
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“I bet I could get a date with your mother right now,” the Heinz man told Don. The agency was bad news around town, tarnished after being so badly used and excused by Lucky Strike. Director John Slattery created a good flow through the season’s penultimate episode (how did that happen?), as we segued from an empty table with the Heinz client to Betty’s kitchen table cluttered with the brand. This was an hour dedicated to the shape-shifter idea of perception and reality—or image, and afterimage, if we borrow from Midge’s clouded vision—that left the adults huffing to put a better face on their desperation.

The partners were still reeling from the loss of 50% of their business. Lane was back from England, apparently with his uptight wife and kids in tow. (Be well, Toni.) Faye’s sneering creep of a boss had an idea for how the agency could recover. Simply woo Philip Morris and their lady cigarette line. The gang was up for it, although nobody, not even Peggy, understood what an untapped market they had in selling cigarettes to women. “Of course you have Don,” said Jeff, of the agency’s ace in the hole. “You’re a certain kind of girl, and tobacco is your ideal boyfriend.” How’s that for a succinct description of Don’s special brand of toxic love, and the ladies addicted to it.

Speaking of addiction, Midge hadn’t fared well over the seasons. It was kind of nice running into her in the lobby, although she seemed a little goofy from the get-go, supposedly having come from some interview with a magazine related to Time or Life or Planet Earth or something. When Don told her he had his own firm now, she gave a little laugh. “Draper, Draper, Draper?” she guessed. It was a cute retort, from a woman who was always clever, and a shrewd nod ahead to Don’s actions later in the episode.

In retrospect she looked a little skeletal, and that cardigan hung on her like a sail, but I was taken aback by her later revelation that she was hooked on smack. It turned out that Midge had tracked Don down in midtown solely for his wallet. That Harry was a loathsome toad, bounding out their hovel’s door with Don’s $10 to go score some heroin after he’d offered up his wife. Midge announced herself a goner, drowsily grabbing at Don’s leg while she used her other hand to twitch and rub at her face. Don, who looked more grossed out than moved by his old lover’s loss of self, wrote her a check. He signs things, that’s what he does! But she wanted cash, and maybe a kiss, and maybe a stroll through the park. He wanted out of there, and if it took $120 to close this particular chapter on his past then so be it. “Do you think my work is any good?” she asked. “Does it matter?” he said sadly.

NEXT: Don changes the conversation.

Is the agency’s work any good? Does it matter if clients think SCDP is on its last breath? Does anyone want to sleep or work with people who need them too badly? When Philip Morris balked at even showing up for a meeting, the partners went into a tailspin, although not before Mr. Cooper kicked Harry out of the office. (A rare laugh in a tense episode.) “It’s because we’re desperate, they can smell it on us,” roared Don. “We reek of it like some sweaty salesman knocking on his last door.” Lane said in order to save at least half of the company’s staff, the senior partners would be forced to pony up $100,000 of their own change, with Pete and him kicking in 50. My darling Trudy told Pete to fuhgeddabout taking Tammy’s future Connecticut lawn out from her under bootied feet. By this point I was really starting to fear that Pete would end up hat in hand over at Chaough’s by the end of the episode.

The staff was freaked. Don was listing in the wind. Somebody needed to take action. Just as Peggy had stirred up her boss for the Glo Coat campaign, it was she who reminded Don of his operating ethos: If you don’t like what people are saying about you, change the conversation. So after drinking in Midge’s painting (what was he looking for or seeing in there, do you think?), he wrote out a Dear John letter to tobacco, holding a pencil in his right hand and a cigarette in the left.

That man—Midge was right, he never changes—strutted down the hall the next morning expecting cheers and hale fellows. His letter ran in a full-page ad in the New York Times, which everyone down to a pickled Henry read at the breakfast table. It was a righteous tone poem to sleeping well at night, cleansing oneself of the evils of smoke and greed, but at heart a calculated ploy to stir up new conversation. The other partners were all furious, except maybe for Roger, who admitted he was delighted to see someone else in the dog house. No one, though, was more persuasive in their outrage than Mr. Cooper, who rightfully pointed out that with Don’s the only signature on the manifesto he’d cut the other men off at the knees. (Draper, Draper, Draper.) “You’re cynical and craven,” shot Mr. Cooper. “Tobacco put a roof over your head and it fed your children.” He’d had enough of Don’s Wild West ways, and announced his resignation. “You there,” he shouted hilariously at Meghan. “Get my shoes!”

Well, Meghan for one appreciated Don’s courage, even though he was really jonesing for Peggy’s half-smile of approval. But Meghan played Renee Zellweger to his Jerry Maguire, even as both of them acknowledged his move wasn’t born of a newfound altruism. That Meghan, certainly a clever cat. She somehow found her way into the middle of all of Don’s interactions with Faye.

NEXT: Sally heads for the woods.

In the beginning, Slattery had set up the three in a nifty triangle shot, then Meghan knowingly fielded all of Faye’s phone calls, and looked pleased as punch to be labeled Don’s bodyguard. Faye is no dummy. After announcing that she’d lost her job with SDCP because of Don’s effort to reinvigorate the agency name, she said she wanted to go out to dinner with her boyfriend. “Have your girl make reservations,” she demanded as Don’s face held for a beat too long in that quizzical expression. It’s almost like the idea of being caught in a lie confuses the man. He doesn’t ever imagine the people in his life seeing beyond the image he presents, so is struck dumb by someone in his life seeing more than he’s chosen to reveal.

“Don saved the company,” Pets groused at the conference table. “Now go get rid of half of it.” (Although we got to keep Pete. Don paid his share and earned himself a tip of the younger man’s drink. I know Don buys love and loyalty, yet I did so appreciate this gesture of owning up to one’s debts.) American Cancer Society may be calling, Don may have a like-minded ally in anti-smoking ad man Emerson Foote, but for now they are still bleeding money. That meant layoffs. “Well it’s been a pleasure working with you all,” announced Mr. Cooper, holding his shoes and fedora. What an exit, his first and last time he’d poked his head into the break room. “I didn’t think they start with him,” said Stan. We lost good guys like Bill and even dopey Danny (“it’s a doggy dog world”). Peggy was right. That goofball had kind of grown on me too. He’s another loss, in a season of losses, in a year of real-life job losses. It’s like Sally’s Land O’ Lakes box, reverberating in on itself.

I’ve never felt so simultaneously full of hope and despair for Sally as this episode. Dr. Edna is a marvel, and I felt a flush of tears when she held onto that Go Fish card and made sure Sally absorbed her pride and belief in her. Kiernan Shipka played the episode beautifully, her Sally leaping years ahead of Betty in terms of maturity and wisdom. Sally was able to speak frankly of her mother’s limitations (“She doesn’t care what the truth is, as long as I do what she says”) while also shutting Glenn down from his line of attack. But then Betty saw Sally cut into the bushes with her former friend and she iced over. Has Betty ever looked more brittle and dangerous, so terribly in need of a month of hearty meals, than when she stomped after them into the woods? Sally had committed no crime. She’d turned down an offered cigarette and what may have been doctored pop. She hadn’t rolled around in the leaves playing handsies. But she had the bad luck of finding a friend in someone who used to pay attention to her mother.

NEXT: Oh, Sally, it gets better!

At home, Betty pretended to know more than her daughter. “That boy is bad,” she snarled. “Believe me I know him better than you do.” Sally looked so weary of dealing with her ridiculous mother. “You don’t know him at all,” she said with such sad calm. It left Betty rattled, suddenly the more vulnerable of the two. So later at dinner with an oblivious Henry, she pulled a cruel power trip while a noodle hung from Gene’s mouth. She wanted her family out of Ossining, and was finally ready to move. Evil bitch. Sally escaped to her room where she sobbed into her pillow and made me nervous clutching Glen’s twine cutter. Earlier she’d confided to her friend that, ever her father’s daughter, she didn’t believe in Heaven or Hell. What did scare her though was the prospect of Forever. “When I think about Forever, I get upset.” Hang on Sally. You won’t live under that woman’s roof forever. To echo the oft repeated refrain, it gets better.

How are you folks feeling today? Who else needs at least one more episode before you can even contemplate a finale? Has Mr. Cooper really padded around the agency halls for the last time? Was anybody else surprised by how baby Gene is suddenly a noodle-slurping toddler? How badly did kind-eyed Doctor Edna want to rap her notebook on Betty’s baby head? Can someone please promise me that Sally is going to be fine in the end? Poor Bill! Tammy Campbell. Yes, that fits, doesn’t it?

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Thanks to costume designer Janie Bryant , Hamm's '60s ad man single-handedly revived an interest in the classic two-button suit.
Mad Men

Jon Hamm stars as Don Draper in the Emmy-winning ’60s-set drama

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