Vulture

Skip to content, or skip to search.

Mad Men Recap: Screw You, Jerry Maguire

Last week, Mad Men climaxed with an odious ad-man funeral, the business on the brink, and Faye's sacrifice to Don, who'd just spent some time on the couch with Megan. As the crisis unfolded, Don screamed, “This is everything to me!” True to form, there’s no follow-up at all this week on Peggy’s affair, Don’s romances, Pete’s baby, or Joan’s situation. There’s just work and money. Accounts and panic. Oh — and let’s not forget — Sally and Glenn.

Well, as we'd expected, just about none of our predictions are turning out to be true. Just when you think you might know where the show is going, Mad Men, like Don, changes the conversation.

On the morning after the Times runs Don’s “Why I Quit Tobacco” ad — written in a cloud of smoke — Megan shows him a stack of phone messages from reporters, citizens, and "Emerson Foote." Okay, we’ll bite: A quick Google search reveals that Emerson Foote is the creative who once handled the American Tobacco Co. account and coined slogans such as, "Lucky Strike Green Has Gone to War." By 1964, the manic-depressive Foote was addicted to cigarettes and feeling guilty, so he announced that he would never work for an agency that had another cigarette client. After 1964, according to this 1967 Time article, “He spent much of his time with the National Interagency Council on Smoking and Health,” writing slogans such as: "Give to Conquer Cancer — Strike Back." After bailing on the profession, he took over a failing agency and had a very successful third act with his own firm, renamed Emerson Foote Inc.

So, there’s your historical hat tip — and a preemptive answer to those who would say that Don’s open letter is 2010 thinking applied to 1965. But there’s another, more contemporary influence on this episode: Jerry Maguire. Remember the beginning of Cameron Crowe’s warm-fuzzy Mr. Smith Goes to William Morris movie when Jerry stays up all night writing his statement of purpose, "The Things We Think and Do Not Say?" It’s impossible to imagine that Crowe’s touchy-feely corporate sports film wasn’t on Matt Weiner’s mind, from the way Don is mocked, to his contrived insincerity. Only, if Jerry’s open letter was spurred on by a crisis of confidence, Don’s motives seem significantly less warm-and-fuzzy — and a whole lot more practical.

Why did Don write the open letter? We might as well ask, what did Don see in Midge’s painting?

First, she’s so desperate he can smell it on her — she’ll do anything, including prostituting herself, for the next fix. And Don has just left an office where he feels like he’s lost control, where he’s had an accountant tell him their firm is the “kind of girl” a Tobacco agency would like, and listened to Bert Cooper confirm that they’ll “listen more than we talk,” to which the accountant approves: “like a good girlfriend.” It’s the old client-agency, client-prostitute exchange the show has so often role-played. So, when Don’s looking at that painting, is he thinking of Midge’s sorry addiction to heroin, feeling guilty and complicit, and suddenly deciding to do something good for the world? Nah, that’s some Jerry Maguire bullshit.

Well, as we'd expected, just about none of our predictions are turning out to be true. Just when you think you might know where the show is going, Mad Men, like Don, changes the conversation.

Now that Midge is revealed to be a smack addict running a pathetic little con with her idiot beau, Don’s likely looking at her and that beatnik Dharma Bum chase as every bit as empty as the other dead ends he's pursued. What’s the first thing he does when he’s done staring at the painting? He picks up that notebook with all that reflective woe-is-me self-reflective stuff about feelings, rips it up, and slams it into the trash. Then he lights up a death stick and, in a cloud of carcinogenic smoke, scribbles, “Why I Quit Tobacco.”

If the voice-over monologues never felt quite right this season, maybe it’s because they weren’t ever right for Don: He’s just not that first-person scribbler. This move is the afterimage of Don's season-four-premiere episode, when he repositioned the entire firm by telling that financial reporter about his maverick decision to pull out his guns and go for it. That's the "monster" Bert Cooper helped created. Don is as likely to be searching for an honest way to do business as he is likely to tell Faye, “We live in a cynical world … And we work in a business of tough competitors … You complete me.” It seems obvious that Don is the cynical one here, the tough competitor — not only because Megan rightly pegs Don’s move as a They didn’t break up with me, I broke up with them play. But because he's desperate and nobody has any better ideas. We really know that it's a crass move when the idiot Danny (“It’s a dog-eat-dog world!”) wonders aloud, “Do you think [Don will] quit smoking?” It’s not that Don wants to learn to have it both ways anymore: the successful career and the meaningful relationship (say, with Renee Zellweger and her cute tow-headed child). No, Don's all about show me the money. He just wants to get back into the game so he can play the game and win.

The gamble might not work — Pete’s right that any client will worry that Don could turn on them at any moment — but Don is getting craftier. For a second, it seems as if Don might have ruined things by screwing over Pete, who controls most of the firm's remaining accounts. But then it turns out that Don’s covered his share of the collateral needed for the firm’s loan. And the gamble practically clears the deck. In those meetings between the partners, it’s clear that nobody really matters except for Pete, who’s got the accounts, and Don, who’s got the ideas. Everyone else is replaceable. And that’s why Bert Cooper, realizing that he created his own obsolescence, leaves the building, shoes in hand. It’s sad to see Bert go but, really, now that Lane is watching the money, and Pete and Ken are pulling in all the new accounts, what value did Cooper offer, anyway? For that matter, what value does Roger offer? Wouldn’t a firm called Draper Campbell Pryce be just as strong without Sterling and Cooper?

Meanwhile, up in Ossining, Sally is growing up faster than Betty, learning to deal with her problems and manage her rage in a way that Betty can't quite figure. Her Freudian friendship with Glenn is creepy, sure, but it seems like she's gaining some more control over her life (Note: The show tees up those control-dream images of flying and floating we noted in episode eight). Sally seems like she's finally finding her feet, and just as she does, her mother jerks the rug out from under her by announcing that they will move. (Side note: Is Betty just creeped out by Glenn, embarrassed by her strange history with him, or actually jealous of Glenn's affections?) Given the "every time something good happens, something bad happens" mode of this show, you can't help but fear for what might befall Sally in the finale.

Meanwhile, up in Ossining, Sally is growing up faster than Betty, learning to deal with her problems and manage her rage in a way that Betty can't quite figure. Her Freudian friendship with Glenn is creepy, sure, but it seems like she's gaining some more control over her life (Note: The show tees up those control-dream images of flying and floating we noted in episode eight). Sally seems like she's finally finding her feet, and just as she does, her mother jerks the rug out from under her by announcing that they will move. (Side note: Is Betty just creeped out by Glenn, embarrassed by her strange history with him, or actually jealous of Glenn's affections?) Given the "every time something good happens, something bad happens" mode of this show, you can't help but fear for what might befall Sally in the finale.

Photo: Michael Yarish/AMC