Posted by on October 12, 2010 at 11:23 am  Film, Season 4
Oct 122010

I had planned to post about the plethora of numbers which were thrown into “Blowing Smoke.”  But as that’s already been discussed in the comments for Deb’s post from yesterday, I decided to change directions a bit. The result is this collection of eclectic observations.

Facts and Figures

I have to start by noting that the impending six month doomsday deadline facing SCDP as a result of losing Lucky Strike (and all the talk about numbers) reminded me of a discussion in one of my favorite movies: Dr. Strangelove (1964). When told that Russian anti-aircraft missiles have damaged their B-52 and resulted in a fuel leak which will not allow them to complete the mission, Major Kong explodes at his ever calm navigator (who never once flinches when dealing with the enraged officer) in this memorable exchange:

Kong: Dog gonnit, Sweets, you told me that you’d get me to the primary!

Navigator: I’m sorry, Sir. That estimate was based on the original loss rate factor, not at two zero five.

Kong: I don’t give a hoot in hell how you do it, you just get me to the primary, you hear?

Navigator: I’m sorry Sir, but those are the figures. We’ll be luck to reach weather ship at tango delta.

It’s interesting to note that SCDP’s six month deadline was the same time-frame given to Freddy Rumsen in “Six Months Leave.”

Also, Sally hates the number 7. That number comes up (sort of) two other times. The opening scene has Don failing to court a Heinz executive. Heinz famously touted it’s “57 Varieties” of product. The executive in the scene happens to be complaining about about those other varieties. 

Finally, Don chastises Midge for acting “like James Bond” in tracking him down. Bond’s number was “007.”


I couldn’t help but connect Betty’s taking a hot dog out of a pot of boiling water (in lieu of hog fat) just seconds after the Heinz executive has made a less than tasteful reference to Don’s mother in the previous scene.

The Bad Boy

Was I the only one who thought that Glen’s demeanor while courting Sally came off a little like George Costanza in a Seinfeld episode where he attempts to impress a blond employee of Elaine’s by being the “bad boy?” 

Modern Art

Roger Sterling’s unfortunate metaphor comparing SCDP’s situation to that of a cancer patient with a spot on their lung helped me to finally figure out the meaning of the picture in his office.  It’s been prominently shown in just about every episode (especially during moments of duress) and made Freddy a little disoriented when it was first introduced.

IT’S AN X-RAY OF SCDP! (tongue kinda in cheek)


  52 Responses to “Potpourri”

  1. Yes to Glen (Glenn?) George Constanza! And by the way, ugh for that soft drink backwash comment. What boy who respects you offers that? Smarmily intimate. But perhaps part of the bad boy act.

  2. I’m very curious as to what may have been going through Don’s head as he studied that painting. Other than its numeric title :-)

    So many things *might* be guessed about…addiction (to heroin or a client’s money)…prostitution (again, to support a habit…or sell one’s soul)… creativity? daring? Damn the torpedoes?

    It was a great moment…

  3. Last week in the UK, it was announced that BSkyB, the private satellite subscription TV service owned by Rupert Murdoch, outbid the BBC, which has shown the 4 seasons of mad Men to date (they’re up to episode 6 tomorrow), for future seasons. (Today, I read that BSkyB will be paying AMC £225,000 per episode while the BBC has been paying £65,000.) Lots of people without BSkyB are upset, of course.

    The interesting thing is that it has apparently been divulged, or claimed, that this extra income to AMC ($4.62 million over $1.34 million per season, if the above figures are correct) has clinched a commitment by AMC for seasons 5 and 6. But that has not been announced here, has yet? I don’t recall seeing anything about that. I imagine that, if true, they’d wait until after the finale has aired to make a big announcement. Or it may still be wishful thinking, with nothing actually firmed up as yet.

  4. Boiled hot dogs, boy does that take me back… good catch on that one.

  5. As an art teacher what struck me about the painting, No. 4 is that it is pretty good! It is well-organized with balance in composition, color, shape, form, rhythm, a focal point, etc., etc. I suppose it is possible for a heroin addict to paint something like this. Most art students will tell you an abstract painting is the most difficult to pull off successfully. We know Midge has talent and skill, but it also takes creative concentration.

    The Op Art painting in Roger’s office is presented as an illusion. This one in particular overwhelms the space to the point of vertigo which mirrors the season’s ups and downs in a lot of ways.

    I know you have written an article about numbers and I agree there are a lot of references to them, but the choice of art work is facinating to me (even Peggy’s and Harry’s choices for their offices are cleverly chosen to match their personalities). Love it!

  6. I never heard the term “backwash” before. Anyone no where that came from?

    Deborah, you could be onto something about the 007. I thought it was an odd, out of place reference, she’s not a man and it was all that difficult to find Don. James Bond felt like a stretch.

    Does anyone else see a woman in an open mouth scream on the right side of the painting?

  7. #2 Judy – I agree. It was a great moment. Beautifully done in his dingy Village apartment. It was a triumphant moment

    The painting is what this artist sees after she closes her eyes. Don sees what the account execs and stapler counters cannot see. Don said creative is nothing and everything. At this moment creative becomes everything.

  8. My kid uses the term to mean a bit of soda left in the bottle that was probably in his mouth when he took a swig, but washed back out as he tipped the bottle back down. Sort of the drink equivalent of “ABC” gum (Already Been Chewed)

    I thought Glen was being kind of wry — as in, I want to offer you something, but – ick! — all I have is my Coke backwash. But I’ll offer it to you anyway since you give me your Fritos . And you seem to appreciate my droll pubescent humor, or at least I hope you do.

  9. How many times was my (sixties) childhood dinner hot dogs and baked beans… especially when my dad wasn’t home for dinner. The hot dogs were boiled. The buns were not heated. The baked beans were straight from the can, heated in a pan on the stove. And there was often canned fruit cocktail on the side as well… we all wanted a serving with a piece of cherry in it.

    Matt, I often think you’re stretchin’ it, but I always enjoy the reach.

  10. I might be wrong but I think there were no (Heinz) beans at the table.

  11. To #6 Diva Debbi: Growing up in the late ’50s and early ’60s, my older brothers would warn my sister and me to lay off their bottles of A&W by warning that all we’d get was backwash anyway. That did the trick!

    Anyone else think the finale will include the Great Blackout of ’65? Google it, you young ‘uns……

  12. #6 Backwash is the water that flows back to the sea after a wave crashes on the beach. It’s also what flows back in your mouth after you take a big sip.

    MW has really done a nice job with the Glen/Sally pairing. He is far less forward with her than he was with Betty. I’m thinking as a younger boy, Glen didn’t really know the sexual implications of what he was doing with Betty (although Betty surely got it). Now he’s getting it, and he’s keeping an appropriate distance from Sally. Also, his reaction to Betty is understandable, given how upset he was – “I hate you!” “I know” – when she ratted him out.

  13. # 6 DivaDebbi – I’m not sure when it first came into use, but as far back as I can remember, “backwash” has always been in my lexicon. FWIW, in my neck of the woods we call soda “pop.”

    # 8 GoodSally – re: stretchin’ I plead guilty 😉

    # 10 jrt2000 – blackout of ’65. With only one left, I’m not sure iF they time to do a blackout themed episode. However, like “How to Succeed…” it would parallel another great Robert Morse outing “Where Were You When the Lights Went Out.” Maybe it could be shown as flashbacks in the season 5 premiere.

  14. #3: The Wikipedia entry for the episode list says MW’s contract includes a 5th season. For what that’s worth…

  15. Boiled hot dogs are not bad, especially when you compare it to what a hot dog is made from anyways.
    What bugged me, was Betty biting off a piece of the hot dog, and giving it to Gene to eat. Gross. Poor little dude.

    …and, @ #6, the open-mouthed scream was the first thing I noticed about the painting.

  16. Speaking of Sally and Glen… can anyone shed more light on their conversation about Sally’s dream of flying over London? and feeling she was going to heaven? Then the whole Land o Lakes lady on the box thing?

    It all seemed pretty deep and must portend something or MW wouldn’t have included it. I am nervous that some accident might befall Sally. Tell me I am over-reacting please.

    Just when the poor kid seems to be feeling better with the help of the brilliant and kind Dr. Edna, she is now faced with being torn apart from the boy who seems to have become her best friend – perhaps even her first secret crush?

    Why does she hate 7’s? I wonder if there is a connection to Grandpa Gene’s or his death. Any ideas?

  17. My potpourri:

    1. Re #8. I’m 34 and I also have memories of my dad making me a meal of boiled hot dogs and beans from a can.

    2. Re #5, thank you for the comment on the paintings. More please!

    3. Did anyone think that Sally was lying to Dr Edna? My wife is a counselor and immedately thought so. The episode didn’t play out that way and Betty ended up being more of the child. I chalk it up to Sally’s growth and maturity being a bit unrealistic. In fact, I found the Glenn/Sally conversations a bit much, especially Sally’s (too deep for her age) thoughts.

    4. Also, I’m a huge Betty defender but there isn’t much to defend when she is written thus. That was an awful passive aggressive moment during dinner.

    5. I would understand if Bert was unceremoniously exited from MM but I hope not. I’d really like to see Mr. Morse continue, or get a properly interesting and dramatic final few scenes.

  18. #6 and #14. I don’t see a woman screaming but that is the great thing about abstract art – the viewer gets to interpret it in any way they chose. I think Don was looking at that painting and processing several things.

    1. what Peggy said about changing the subject
    2. reflection about Midge – including the creativity of both of them
    3. the consequences of addiction of heroin and nicotine
    4. the insult of being used by Marlboro
    5. the loss of Lucky Strike
    6. desperation at possibly losing the only true love of his life – SCDP.

    If any person needed to portray themselves as screaming it is certainly Midge.

  19. Has anybody seen a “head-on” view of Midge’s painting?

    I need some inspiration and I’d like to gaze at it a while.

  20. #14 — Betty was making sure the hot dog wasn’t too hot for Gene. Moms have done it for eons. :>

    #15 — maybe the mentions of Land O’ Lakes and Mary Poppins, etc. portend something deeper. They also work well as the details that ground us in Sally’s 1965 world, and maybe that’s enough… sort of like the framed, signed photo of Buddy Ebsen as Jed Clampett in Harry’s office.

    #16 — Agree that Betty’s over-reacting by saying it’s time to move, but also understand her feelings… and feel for her in this just a bit, because it was SUCH a taboo for little girls to meet older boys in a secret place — it could only be for one thing (“We weren’t doing anything!”) and of course Betty’s got the Glen thing going on from way back to contend with, but even with that to consider, she’s not so over-the-top as a parent concerned about her daughter, and handling it the way parents did then.

    I posted this link on the shenanigans thread, to an excellent article in the Wash. Post about the feminism of MM. I think it’s spot on:


  21. I was thinking about Don’s decision to pay Pete’s share of the collateral. It means he put in $100,000 for himself and $50.000 for Pete. Assuming he hadn’t spent much of his $500,000 share of the sale of Sterling Cooper, that is still quite a hefty amount for Don to come up with.

    How did he know Pete didn’t have it? Presumably, he knows what Pete makes. He must somehow also know that Pete inherited nothing when his father died, and that in convincing Vick’s to move to SCDP, he couldn’t go to his father-in-law again so soon.

    But how interesting that a man who grew up in poverty with “no people” is bailing out a scion of an old New York family. It buys Pete’s silence on the Whitman matter and it puts Pete beholden to him. AND Pete can’t leave now.

    Well played, DD.

  22. How do we get MW to sell prints of Midge’s painting? I’d buy one, definitely. It was pretty groovy.

  23. #20 As someone said in an earlier thread, the money is collateral for 6 mionths. If SCDP survives, they get their money back. Don is putting his money where is mouth is, to keep the company surviving. He’s backing Pete as a partner, since he knows the company needs Pete, in addition to the personal debt he feels and is repaying for the NAA thing. If Pete can’t pay, he’d have to leave. Don wants to make sure Pete stays and that the two of them keep SCDP afloat.

  24. Don also wants to make sure Pete doesn’t join another firm. He can’t leave without paying (or getting his new firm to pay) $50,000.

    Also, did Bert leave only because of Don’s ad but also because he’d have to cough up $100k?

  25. Matt and all,

    Lots of good stuff here! Some other thoughts:

    #3 Berk: Rupert Murdoch is the ultimate Bad Boy bullying poor BBC. And yet it appears something good might come of his actions – reminds me a bit of Glenn actually,

    Did anyone notice the unusually “Mayberry” quality to the scenes with Glenn? The Cokes, the football uniform, the bikes etc. Given the art theme maybe it’s more Norman Rockwell than Mayberry. The entire thing had a fake or otherworldly fantasy quality about it. Totally appropriate for a children’s secret meeting place – outdoor, innocent and pure (and yet filled with portent of sex)

    #5 Mad: I’ve never seen a television drama with so much riding on painting let alone abstract painting – and I love it (Rothko, Roger and now Midge). Totally makes sense of course with advertising as the topic but it is a bold thing to place so much meaning on the back of how these images impact the viewer and are interpreted. Can also be intimidating and a little scary like Freddy and the vortex or Sally looking at an innocent butter box.

    #10 Blackout! Fits nicely with the theme of closing your eyes and seeing the afterimage.

  26. I saw the scene of Don staring at Number 4 as another reference to the emerging 4th iteration of himself (1=childhood, 2=Whitman/Military, 3=Don Draper, 4=reinvention).

    This season has been a pretty dark and difficult time for the character, and it’s hard to see Don swimming/exercising/washing/baptising during the voice-over of his open letter ad as a new chapter.

    We’ll see what the teaser “Opportunity arises for Don and Peggy” means next week.

  27. # 19 GoodSally Says:
    October 12th, 2010 at 2:22 pm

    #14 — Betty was making sure the hot dog wasn’t too hot for Gene. Moms have done it for eons. :>

    Yeah, I know, but it still grossed me out.

  28. Just some thoughts about next week. Since “Tomorrow Land” is the title of the finale ep. There has been no mentlion of the New York’s World Fair in 1964-65, I believe Disney was a part of that. Disney a smoker died of lung cancer – Conrad Hilton was a friend of his.

    The comment Roger made about the black spot on the lung and then his office artwork – may be foretelling us something about his fate.

    good episode – lots of symbols and afterimages to ponder.

  29. #20, brenda – Don knew Pete didn’t have the money because Pete told him so. “I don’t have it,” was the line. And Don knows that Pete and Trudy just had a baby.

    I know Sally was crying about losing her friendship with Glenn, but I couldn’t help but think that pulling her out of her current school would end her relationship with Dr. Edna. That would be far worse. I wondered if Betty’s decision about moving, while triggered by seeing Sally with Glenn, was contributed to by Dr. Edna telling her she wanted to cut the sessions to once a week. To which Betty’s response was, “You mean she’s cured?”

    That stuck with me for two reasons. First, that Betty thinks what she perceives as Sally’s problem is like an illness that can be cured, and second, that still coming once a week is what Sally will do if she’s cured. Neither of the two makes a lot of sense to me. Dr. Edna just staring at Betty after the question, not responding to it at all, made me think it didn’t make a lot of sense to her, either. And then Betty moved on to her own issues; Betty really isn’t in the least concerned about what matters to Sally. Her dismissive, “She’ll get over it” has echoes of Don’s, “It never happened.”

  30. The recurrence of the time period of six months is interesting. The Heinz representative said that he wanted to see where SCDP was in six months. The bank gave SCDP a six month extension provided they raised more capital. Atherton said that they might be able to approach PM about Virginia Slims in six months. Of course six months was the length of Freddy’s leave (which they all knew was really severance). As Don observed, six months means never. It is just long enough that you do not have to say “never” but long enough that everybody gets the picture. People are writing SCDP off, even their bank. That six month extension just gives them more time to pay off the loan and by requiring that SCDP raise more collateral ($400,000), the bank is trying to ensure that SCDP will not make many additional draws on the line of credit but rely on that capital cushion. Six is their unlucky number.

  31. Six months could also be when Joan is “due”.

  32. I’ve been told more than once that six is the number that represents imperfection in Judaism…with seven signifying divine completion.


  33. #1: The offer of the backwash was gross. But later Glenn brings two sodas–presumably one for him and one for Sally. He dropped the sodas and ran when he saw Betty.

  34. @#32:

    Good information about the number six. I had not heard that before.

  35. Judy, that is a great question: “…what may have been going through Don’s head as he studied that painting.”

    For me, Don opened his front door to dispose of painting #4, then he reconsidered.

    What were those considerations?

  36. #35, I think #18 summed up some great theories on what Don saw in the picture (some of them I even thought of myself, I’m pleased to say).

  37. I think Don bought the painting simply to help Midge–feeling obligated in some way. It wasn’t something he liked on his own.

    I think he was about to chuck it because he never wanted it. But then he remembered something about Midge from the past and he decided to look at it a little more carefully.

    I think he thought of Midge’s decline. But I think at some point before writing the letter, he thought about Anna and her death. Isn’t it likely that Anna’s death was related to the smoking? (Perhaps I’m remembering this wrong?)

    I think he thought of beautiful people who stumbled into decline, and their addictions were part of it.

    And I think Midge saying ‘i know it’s bad for me’ –I think Don has said this to himself about his drinking. And he may have said it to himself about his smoking. And it really drove home the other point he made–if people are addicted to the product, what do the ads really mean?

    That was a jab at the other ad agencies.

    But even if the other ad agencies don’t know it, yet, tobacco advertising is the way of the past not the future. Even if Don doesn’t really know that–the firm is moving in a direction that is more sustainable.

    Maybe they will not be able to pull it off.
    But the spin on the situation is that ad men who do work for tobacco don’t need to be creative because the customers are addicts. Ad men who do work for tobacco are involved with the poor health of many. And Don wants to be challenged.

    Everybody is talking about them.

    And when tobacco advertising is finally banned, he will look smart.

    Unfortunately, he’s drawn a lot of attention to himself personally. With his identity, that may not be good. Faye lost her work for them. Cooper walked out.

    But it still looks strong, and even if Don is a hypocrite about smoking (and told Peggy not to worry if the clients are racist) there is some underlying truth to his message.

  38. I guess I’m the only one who couldn’t see Midge’s painting very well.

    What I did see of it, I thought was hideous and amateurish.

  39. Just happened to think – maybe six months is the time between episode 12 and episode 13. Wouldn’t that be interesting?

  40. #19 Here’s a link to the painting in the season 4 scrapbook: http://blogs.amctv.com/photo-galleries/mad-men-season-4-scrapbook/midge-painting.php

  41. #16- I think Sally’s existential musings were akin to the four boys in “Stand By Me”..(GREAT movie, by the way). They wondered if Pluto was a dog, and Mickey was a mouse…what was Goofy? and other deep topics ;O)

    Kids often wonder about random stuff. When you grow up, you’re already used to weird things that don’t make sense…or you’ve become innoculated by then…

    I had a tippee-tumbler as a kid. One of those cups that supposedly won’t overturn. On the cup was a picture of a bear drinking out of a tippee-tumber with her image, drinking out a tippee-tumber, etc. etc. I remember wondering just how far back it went?

  42. @ # 20 GoodSally

    I haven’t read anything by Coontz that wasn’t interesting, but this is probably her most relevant work for this group:


    Only a few of us were adults at this time–the rest of us are going on the memory she dissects so well.

    (We need SOMETHING to do after next Sunday!)

  43. Hey, #42 — I’ve got that book and love it. I remember first reading it (years ago now) and shouting Yes! Yes! Yes! I’m looking forward to her new book in January. (How long between next Sunday and January? :>)

  44. Why isn’t anyone talking about the letter? It’s the key.

  45. “I couldn’t help but connect Betty’s taking a hot dog out of a pot of boiling water (in lieu of hog fat) just seconds after the Heinz executive has made a less than tasteful reference to Don’s mother in the previous scene.”

    Okay, I’m going to reveal my ignorance to y’all: I have NEVER heard of anyone boiling hot dogs in hog fat. I’ve only ever seen them boiled in water. So is that supposed to be strange or something, boiling hot dogs in water?

    • Taiga, think back to episode 1 of season 3; Don’s birth mother saying repeatedly, “I’m gonna cut your dick off and boil it in hog fat.”

  46. I have read comments on this site for several seasons and I am humbled by the insightful and intelligent viewers of Mad Men. I am also impressed with the management to this site by the moderators. Thank all of you.

    Midge was a muse when Don was originally lost with the AT account. Don is staring at the painting, he doesn’t seem to even like abstract art, but Don is like abstract art. He can be who or whatever is in the eye of the beholder, but Don also seems to assimilate the disparate and abstract information in his life. Don responds to Midge “Does it matter” because of her destructive addiction. She tells him to take the painting through the park to advertise for her. Peggy tells him it doesn’t matter when he is nervous about his presentation-smokers buy their brand of cigarettes. Don seems to make the connection that Midge’s painting as advertising is similar to his advertising for tobacco-it won’t matter once everyone knows that the product is destructive. Don is imagining the future in the way he had suggested to his staff with the airline account. I think Don calculated that it was worth the risk to change the conversation (Peggy’s suggestion) and reject Big Tobacco, because the odds were against tobacco in the future . Don does double down.

  47. In the abstract painting at the end of the conference room, I kept seeing an upside down gun pointing at the business consultant’s head.

  48. #48 – on my second viewing, I also saw the gun pointing to the Dr. A’s head.

    Watching the show is fantastic, but I so enjoy this website and the wonderful insights the fans share! Wish I lived in NY to watch the finale with the Lipp Sisters.

  49. Dear #5 MadDaddy,

    I am the artist of the “Midge” painting. Thank you for your analysis of the myriad facets addressed in all paintings – including abstracts:
    “well-organized with balance in composition, color, shape, form, rhythm, a focal point, etc., etc.”

    Abstract work includes all the aspects of artistic composition; it just changes the orientation of shared illusions. Abstracts indeed are more difficult that referential work, although many still consider abstract painting as merely splashing paint.

    For those who like the painting – you can see the rest of the series titled “Levels of Illusion” (#5 is the one that is “Midge’s painting”) at:


    For those who are less than enthusiastic, I hope that you might find other pieces of my work you would like better on my web-site.

    This has been a thrilling /chilling experience for me, interesting in the Chinese sense of the concept. I believe that many people were more influenced by the painting in context (the apartment was certainly abysmal) rather than the contents of the painting.

    One of the unexpressed sub-texts of the episode was about the force and energy of art (painting and other media.) Even though one might think that they do not like a particular work of art, nevertheless, a specific painting has the power to seize ones imagination, to change ones life, to impart new knowledge, to inspire and serve as a catalyst of new ideas and action.

    Karina Nishi Marcus

  50. Nishi Marcus,
    Now I understand the framework that led the character Don Draper to reject tobacco.

    As Don contemplated Midge’s situation and what she was becoming, he was simultaneously evaluating what she could have been.

    That is what drove him to “change the conversation”, and avoid her fate.

  51. Thanks Nishi – You are a brave person. Yes, some people were angry at your work. So paint arranged on a canvas evoked a primal emotion. Not bad for a days work. They made me want to look more closely.

    The first person to handle the painting was junkie pimping Midge to Don in a harshly lit ugly apartment. Talk about bad context.

    In my opinion our relationship with any work starts as superficial and is easily expressed in words. This is the art critic’s world. Then, as your relationship deepens and your experiences coalesce into an understanding, language fails.

    Sort of like our relation to Don.

    This blog is fantastic (to use a Ken word). Just in this one episode we’ve heard from experts in everything from Quebecois children’s songs and US Army protocol to abstract expressionism.

    I’m aGoogling as fast as I can!

    Back in the day my father used to talk back to the TV. Now the TV talks back.

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