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Yup, apparently Don Draper has become Jerry Maguire.
In taking out a full-page ad in The New York Times declaring how he will no longer advertise for tobacco companies, Don has declared himself the new “business man with a conscience,” one who may not be as wealthy as other ad men, but who has no problem sleeping at night. It’s the type of development that normally would seem too unbelievable and sentimental for Mad Men. What saves it from going too far into cheese (aside from the lack of mid-90s cute kid Jonathan Lipniki) is Don’s obvious hypocrisy in taking out this ad. Unlike Jerry Maguire, Don doesn’t write his statement due to a moment of moral clarity - he writes it out of desperation. Lucky Strike has left the company and no new clients will sign with SCDP for fear that they won’t still be around in six months. Don has nothing against pushing nicotine on children, he just needs to divert people’s attention from the company’s financial problems. As his receptionist Megan astutely points out, Don declaring they won’t work for tobacco any more is a simple case of him saying “He didn’t dump me, I dumped him.” In which case, Don’s dishonesty isn’t already completely apparent; episode director John Slattery goes out of his way to have Jon Hamm smoke even more than usual this week, including while he’s writing his statement and while he’s on the phone with people declaring the evils of cigarettes.
It’s a desperate move, but SCDP is in a desperate situation, furthered by the moment when Don sees what poverty and addiction can do to someone when he “accidentally” runs into his former mistress Midge, the bohemian from season one. What starts as a friendly reunion (and a happy one for me, since she has always been my favorite of Don’s “other women”) turns much more somber as Don realizes that their random encounter was actually pre-planned by her with the goal of getting money from Don to fund her heroin habit. Like the mission statement plotline, this one sounds too over-the-top to fit in Mad Men’s style, but it is saved by strong performances by Jon Hamm and especially Rosemarie DeWitt, who’s desperation is as sad as it is touching.
Out of this encounter comes Don’s inspiration for the plot to save his company. But, with the next episode being the season finale, SCDP’s savior will have to come soon (or should I call it SDP due to Cooper’s departure in anger over Don’s actions?). I still don’t see the company going under, but it’s hard to imagine a scenario where they’re magically saved where it doesn’t feel like a cheap deus ex machina. I was concerned that was happening this episode, when Don got a call from Robert Kennedy telling him how much he liked his ad (I was also concerned that the show had hired the world’s-worst Robert Kennedy impersonator). Luckily, that just turned out to be a Teddy Chaugh pulling a prank on his competitor. Whether they’re saved by their new pro-bono work for the American Cancer Society or by an outside benefactor (Conrad Hilton, perhaps?) remains to be seen. This is the most nervous I’ve been about how Matthew Weiner and company are going to satisfyingly wrap up a season, but really that just makes me all the more excited for them to pull it off.