Mad Men: The Least Important Most Important Thing

Mad Men often forsakes the world of advertising to take on the personal lives of those involved in the industry, but it's at its most powerful when the business and the personal collide—and everything hangs in the balance.

This magnificent fourth season has been about Don Draper's downward spiral and possible redemption. His trajectory seems to be at odds with that of his agency Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce which was rising while Don was descending and is now descending while Don is possibly ascending. In last week's episode the firm lost their biggest client, Lucky Strike, and in this week's episode (directed by John Slattery, who plays Roger) we're dealing with the aftermath.

When their loss of business became public knowledge all their other clients got nervous and anyone they approached about new business was reticent because they thought SCDP would go under. We start the episode with Don's meeting with a representative for Heinz, but not the ketchup, the beans and sauces division. He wanted beans (Heinz original best seller) to retake its rightful place at the top of the food chain, as it were. Don offers some great ideas but the Heinz man is worried about the health of Don's business. Don is launching a losing battle for a waning product. Sure, Heinz still makes beans, but how significant can that business be?

While Don's meeting with Heinz was the poisoned fruit he picked from the tree of Dr. Faye, her boss Dr. Atherton was more than willing to get them a meeting with another tobacco client that would bring the firm $5 million in billings and show the world that the firm continues to thrive.

On his way home for a night of preparation, Don runs into Midge, his bohemian old flame from the first season who first introduced him to the ways of the West Village and wacky weed. Not that she's as great as Rachel Menken, but I always really liked Midge. She was the kind of girl who was effortlessly cool, who could see the hip heart beneath Don's square exterior, and who knew what the future held. It was good to see her (and the wonderful Rosemary DeWitt who plays her) back, although looking skinny and disheveled. When she invites Don home to meet her husband, she won't take no for an answer and their interaction is a bit awkward when Don arrives at the house, it becomes clear why.

Midge is now a junkie, and she's hard up for cash. When Don first arrives, she introduces him to her husband, Perry, a playwright who got her hooked on smack. Perry tries to get Don to buy one of Midge's paintings, a not very artistic abstract that looked like bad hotel art, but Perry described as being an "after effect," something that Midge sees after closing her eyes. He intones that if Don would buy a painting, Midge would be so thankful that she'd sleep with him—and he wouldn't mind. Here's a husband literally pimping out his wife so that he could get a fix. When that doesn't work, he proposes to go get some groceries, but has no cash for food. Don gives him $10 to get him out of the house.

Midge admits that she can't quit heroin, even though she knows it's bad for her and it ruins her life. Midge is just like Don. While his poison was imbibed rather than injected, he was also ruining his life trying to lose himself in the numbness of drugs. Midge was a reminder of how far a person could fall. How small indulgences and the quest for pleasure compound themselves until one is no longer in their revelry, but rather in their thrall, a slave to unhealthy impulses. He feels pity for Midge, not only because of her circumstances, but also the desperation of her plea and that she's willing to sell herself for a little bit of money.

When he writes her a check for a painting, that's not good enough for her. Not only does she presumably not have a bank account to cash it, she also can't give a check to her dealer. He gives her everything he has in his pocket, and she doesn't say thanks, she asks if Don likes her work. Even after all this, she still wants his approval. She gives him a kiss and sends him on his way, saying that he's never changed.

The next morning, back at the office, everyone prepares for their presentation, and Don even gets nervous doing a little "red leather, yellow leather" in his office to loosen up. As they wait at the front door for their prospective client to arrive, they only see the ghoulish face of Atherton. Phillip Morris had no intention of actually meeting with them, and only scheduled it so they could get a better deal from another agency. They've been played.

Peggy comes into the office (wearing a smashing red and white number) because all the creative types are nervous about the future of the firm. She asks Don if there's anything she can do to help, and he says no, because they're creative and they have to "sit at their typewriters while the walls come crashing down around them." Peggy tells Don something I think might be a direct quote of his, "If you don't like what they're saying about you, change the conversation." Like Roger Sterling when he lost Lucky Strike, Don has been lulled into a sense of complacent fatalism, but Peggy isn't going to stand for it. She reminds him that he has to fight if he wants to win, and no one else is going to help him out.

He goes home and he looks at Midge's painting, her "after effect," and is about to throw it out, when he is struck by an idea. He props the painting up on the couch and stares at it for a long time, and then he goes to his notebook. Several episodes ago, we saw Don was trying to dry out and get his life back together and he took to journaling, trying to get in touch with his emotions and integrate Dick Whitman—his true self—with Don Draper—the identity he has assumed. But he rips all of those out of the book. They're history and they don't matter anymore, all that matters is this—his newest gambit for survival: "Why I Am Quitting Tobacco."

Don took this out as a full page ad in the New York times, and really, he has Midge to thank for all of it. After Philip Morris stood them up, Don felt like a cheap whore, trying to do anything to land the client with the account guys acting as his pimp. When looking at the painting, Don feels just like Midge. He's desperate for his next fix, but in his case it's the glory of creating something, of being on top, and making money. He creates these "after effects" that aren't really images or ideas, but are coded messages that are supposed to make you buy something or believe something that isn't true. But he isn't making them because he loves them or believes in them, he's making them to survive. And then, after he whores his creativity out for corporate interest, he cares enough that people still like his work, as if that even matters.

He also sees the nature of addiction through Midge, but associates her reliance on heroine to customer's reliance on nicotine. There is nothing she can do to stop shooting up, and she'll keep doing it no matter what anyone says. The same is true of his ads—the "after effects"—he creates. People are going to keep smoking no matter what, no matter what he tells them. As Peggy points out, no one changes brands. That isn't customer loyalty, that's addiction.

Don is sick of being Midge, pimping himself out and letting the people with all the money have all the control. He's also sick of letting the account guys handle the business, which is why he fires off this salvo without getting the consent of the other partners. He couldn't sit back and let the business fall down around him, he had to do something. Like Midge says, Don hasn't really changed at all. Even after all that swimming and journaling and chastity, he still does what is best for Don without thinking about how it would effect anyone else. He was rash, arrogant, and petulant. Irony of ironies, baby boy Pete Campbell calls Don "impatient and childish," but it was. Naturally, it's going to work. Don does have all of those awful qualities, but he's also brilliant and knows how advertising works.

While most of the advertising world thinks they're a bit of a joke (congrats Mr. Slattery on the scene that switches from office to office showing how all the workers and partners are reacting to Don's stunt), no one is happy in the office either. Perhaps the person who is most upset is Pete Campbell.

As much as we love Trudy (who was looking much better in her blue pajamas than last we saw her as a giant pregnant mound swathed in pink ruffles) she has always worn the pants in the Campbell family. When she finds out that Pete has to put in $50,000 to keep the firm running (all the other partners minus Lane, have to chip in $100K), she refuses to let him do it. And then she further emasculates him by saying that the only other possible avenue he would have to get the money would be from her father. But Pete isn't willing to give up, because, like Don, he is impatient and childish. I have a feeling that when SCDP works out and Pete is on the winning side of this strategy he'll finally have the upper hand over Trudy.

Eventually we find out that Don put in Pete's share of the money for a number of reasons: because he knows that Pete is the only account man bringing in new business, because he has to make up for losing North American Aviation, because he has to keep Pete close so that he doesn't spill his secrets. If the firm loses Pete, Don is in imminent danger, and the price of keeping life as he knows it intact was $50,000. I don't think this means that Don "likes" Pete or there was anything sentimental about his donation, it was just a wise business decision.

But Pete's angry and desperate reaction was the least of it. Don's stunt finally got Bert Cooper to pick up his shoes and go home, distancing himself forever from the firm. Lane seemed understanding, but was pissed that the firm might fold now that he's moved his family back to New York (a big move that will hopefully be addressed more in next week's season finale). The sweetest moment of all though was when Don called Peggy into his office. She's worried she's going to lose her job, but he asks her who she can live without. She literally sighs with relief. After they talk about staffing changes, Don asks her what she thought of the letter. With a straight face but the faintest of smiles, she tells him that she "didn't think he went in for those kinds of shenanigans," a direct reference to the reaming he gave her in this season's first episode when she hired two actresses to fight over a ham. Don smiles back, registering his happiness at her approval and his thanks for her seed for his big idea.

But there was one unforeseen circumstance to Don's war with big tobacco: Dr. Faye had to resign so that her boss could work with smoking clients in the future.

Last week when they were fighting about whether or not Dr. Faye should help out Don so his business wouldn't fail, he said he would do it for her, but here he is, just a week (days, maybe?) later and he has made a move that cost her her job He admits that he didn't even think about what the consequences of his actions would have on her. There we have it, ladies and gentlemen, America's greatest boyfriend, Don Draper! Like Midge says, he hasn't really changed at all.

But Dr. Faye doesn't seem too pressed. She says that losing her job is an equal trade for their relationship going public. They can finally divorce themselves from the professional entirely and just be personal. It seems like a step Don doesn't quite want to make, but he makes a dinner reservation with her. Maybe he is intent on seeing this through. On the way out, Dr. Faye tells Don to have "his girl" make their reservations. Does she know that Don slept with Pretty Megan and that is her jab at her? I don't think Dr. Faye would be so vindictive, or that she really knows.

There was also the curious interaction between Dr. Faye and Peggy. She stops by to tell Peggy goodbye and Peggy is sad to see her go. She says it looks like everyone respects Dr. Faye and the men in the office don't make her play games. Dr. Faye just gives her a coy smile and says it's not true. We all know that the least of her games is telling people she's married so they'll leave her alone. That Dr. Faye sure is a player. Peggy sees her as a role model but also a peer. Dr. Faye is the only other woman at the firm who gets to sit with the men at the conference table and Peggy is sad to be losing an ally. But Dr. Faye doesn't want a personal relationship with Peggy. She keeps it professional, shooting down Peggy's advances to start a friendship outside of the office. Is that because she thinks that Peggy slept with Don as well and wants to keep her distance or does she not want to muddy the waters with Don by befriending one of his colleagues now that their relationship has been taken out of the private sector?

One thing's for sure, last night was all about girlfriends. Not only did we see Don and Dr. Faye's relationship change, but how he interacted with Peggy, who is a bit of her office girlfriend. Then there's Midge, his former flame who kicked off all the action and Pretty Megan, who is still being the devoted secretary, even after her indiscretion with Don last week. And both Dr. Atherton—who calls SCDP a certain type of girl who can attract a certain type of boy—and Pretty Megan—who says Don's letter was about saying "I dumped him when he dumped me"—liken the firm to a girlfriend.

But the girlfriend theme really tied in the two main women in Don's life, his ex-wife Betty and his daughter Sally, who was toying with being a girlfriend herself by hanging out with future serial killer Glen at an abandoned house after school.

Of course Betty hates Sally hanging out with Glen. She already thinks that Sally is going to turn out to be "fast" because she was caught masturbating at a slumber party, and now she assumes the worst when she runs off for completely innocent visits with Glen. It seems like Sally has finally found someone who understands her, another child of divorce who hates Betty. With her sitting on the grass in her dress and Glen lying on the ground in his football uniform, it reminded me of Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty in Splendor in the Grass for some reason, but a very sweet innocent version of it. It's clear that Glen really doesn't like Betty, for rejecting his love and turning him in to his mother when he ran away from home several seasons ago. And Sally seems to hate her mother too, but in the way that all children don't like their parents at times. She hates being told what to do, but when Glen attacks Betty, Sally defends her mother, showing that she clearly still loves her.

Sally and Betty have a very complicated relationship. Sally is finally behaving a bit better and doing what Betty tells her even though she knows that Betty is wrong. Even Dr. Edna knows that Betty is the worst mother in the whole damn world. She tells Sally that her mother is acting out because she is stressed and that she is very proud of the progress Sally has made in their sessions. But when Betty comes to visit the good doctor, she recommends that Betty get even more treatment. Betty resists leaving a child psychologist, just like the developmentally disabled Betty is reticent to stop being a child.

When Betty (in her wood paneled station wagon and Suburban Splendor Barbie shades) catches Sally with Glen, he runs off (for 20 feet before getting winded, what a great football player). She takes Sally home and yells at her and tells Sally that the boy is bad. Sally counters by saying that Betty doesn't even know him. She's right, and Betty not only is out of touch with Glen, she's out of touch with Sally as well. They're both growing and developing (physically and psychologically) and Betty is totally out of touch. She thinks she knows Sally and Glen, but she really just understands the child versions of them, not the adolescents they've grown to become. For Betty, herself frozen in the past, they will forever be crystallized in amber, maintaining the characteristics from when she knew them before they matured. That is the essential fracture in Betty's relationship with Sally. She can't accept the fact that Sally will—and wants to—grow up. In Betty's eyes, Sally will forever be at the children's table, kept away from the sophisticated dinners she shares with Henry.

At the end of the episode, Betty announces that it's time the Francis family move. She does this less because she wants to move and more because she wants to display her power over Sally. I swear Betty saying "go to your room" has probably been uttered more than any other line on this series, but that is the one thing she can do to maintain the upper hand. After the announcement of their leaving, Sally doesn't need to be prompted, she goes to her room of her own volition to cry and clutch the lanyard that Glen gave her way back at Christmas. She is losing the one person who understands her.

Back at the office, Don is cutting loose the unessential staff. While Peggy and Rizzo cringe in the work room while people walk by with their banker's boxes full of family photos, potted plants, and probably an errant hole punch or two. Don escorts one creative type out of his office and calls another unlucky soul in. He looks down the hall at the cluster of people who have just been terminated as they join together and have a little cry.

This is what Don unleashed on the world. He wouldn't just sit by while everything came crashing down. He wouldn't be the victim, but instead took the agency to do something to survive. He wouldn't be Midge, wasting away to nothing, a victim of her uncontrollable desires. But fighting has its own consequences. He very easily could have been one of them, but for Don, failure is not an option. He is a force of destruction and he leaves these crying souls in his wake, but better to be the destroyer than to be the destroyed.