Tonight's episode of Mad Men was dark and powerful, working on many levels and running at a relentless pace. With Sally, Don and SCPD's troubles all getting major play, things are heating up as Season 4 begins to wind down.
The episode began with Don taking a meeting with the head of the Vinegar and Beans division of Heinz. Feeling ousted by Ketchup and unsatisfied with his current agency, he seems to like Don, but won't commit his business to SCDP, because it may not exist in six months, and the realization of exactly how damaging Lucky Strike's departure is really stings Don; "just get me in a room with them" isn't going to work this time. When they can't even get a meeting with Phillip Morris, and are used as leverage for more favorable terms with another agency, it becomes clear just how much trouble SCDP is in.
In the midst of this, Don runs into his Season 1 flame Midge, by her design. Midge's situation is only hinted at at first - she's "skinny" and she's moved from the high-ceiling-ed, white-walled loft where we left her to a dingy one bedroom. She's addicted to heroin and suffering mightily, and Don realizes quickly that their meeting is really a shake-down. But he gives her some money anyway and knowing full well what she'll do with it. Maybe he does so out of penance, maybe he does so as a way of staring down what might lead someone down that road, his own bouts with alcoholism have made him aware of that. Either way, the moment when she asks him "what am I gonna do with a check?" is one of the most powerful in the show's history.
The full effect of that scene isn't truly felt until later on, when Don decides not to throw out her painting and instead uses it as inspiration for his Jerry Maguire moment, an open letter about why he'll no longer make ads for big tobacco. It's his attempt to stem the tide for SCDP, to "change the conversation" for flailing firm. But it's also largely about him and his integrity. Maybe this means fewer dalliances with secretaries and an end to benders. Maybe it means putting an end to all the self-destructive behavior, aside from actually quitting smoking cigarettes, which he (hypocritically) hasn't done. Will any of this actually come to pass? Who knows, but he certainly seemed to mean it at the time.
And then there's Sally. Since her escape to New York a few episodes ago she's been largely absent from the show, except for screaming on the phone at the prospect of seeing the Beatles live. Tonight, she got some real encouragement from her psychiatrist, the kind she could never get from her mother, and we see that she's learning to take a path of less resistance. She's waking up to the world around her, and taking secret meetings with Glenn. At one of them, she talks about flying over London, but not lying down like Superman, rather she's floating upright, an image that is rather Christ-like. We learn that Sally is dealing with some weighty issues, she's contemplating forever and death and it upsets her. But she's aware, perhaps in a way that most of the show's other characters are not. (Certainly Betty's lack of self-awareness is laid bare this episode, as she fights to keep her own appointments with the child psychiatrist.)
When Sally talks about being upset by forever, she's not just talking about infinity, infinite regressions, or death, but also about the future. For all the show's characters, the future is now as unsure as it's has ever been. Betty thinks of her child's life as chaotic, and I think Weiner and Co. are about to show us just how chaotic life can be, for everyone.