Our Best Work

 Posted by on October 13, 2010 at 9:00 am  Characters, Season 4
Oct 132010

The most important, least important thing there is.

Don Draper, Blowing Smoke

Is there anything more frustrating than not being allowed to work?

Blowing Smoke is a great snapshot of the American panorama of work in a time of crisis.  It has almost a full cast of misfits, for once:  movers, aces, naysayers, sages, protectors, and burnouts.  A few characters are offstage:  the deadwood, the window dressing, and of course, the rainmakers.

At Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, there is still no sign of rain.  But here’s what we can see:


Movers do more than see chances; they create them.  In a room where a naysayer says the word “stagnant”, a Mover thinks, What would a mosquito do with those conditions?

Fire a Mover and he will thank you for the opportunity.  I see Don, Pete and Peggy hiring Little Danny back one day, when they can see their way clear.  They recognize in him the same values they hold themselves:  the drive not just to work, but to do better, and receive the reward for it. Which is, of course, more work.


An Ace can be the one card you need to win, or it can be wild.  It depends on what else you have in the deck.  If your Ace is a winner, one is good.  Two would be better, but one is better than most places get.

A wild card can go either way.  But even a wild card will leave when told to go, and she doesn’t like long goodbyes.  No, she will not meet you for a drink after she has cleared out her things.  Chances are you won’t see her again, unless you run into her in an unexpected place.  Will she recognize you?  Who knows?


Naysayers see the worst coming, long before anyone else does.  In a way, you could say they are always looking right at it.  They will never be as well prepared for anything else.  Their world is blue, blue and gray, and part of them will never be content until those around them see the landscape in those same gloomy shades.

Stagnant.  Decaying.  Chaotic.  Bad.  These are some of the Naysayers’ favorite words.


The Sage is a rare creature, harder to find than the Mover.  Sages seek Movers because the industry of the Mover wakes something up inside them.  Vision can do nothing without hard work; but when someone with vision meets a kindred spirit with the energy to build, things start to happen.

Movers find out who they are when they meet Sages.


Protectors do what they do for honorable reasons.  They protect people (companies, children, men who remind them of children), boxes of stuff left in their charge; sometimes, incendiary information.  This duty is far from a simple one — especially when those they protect occasionally struggle against their protection.  I will protect this man, this woman, this family, this firm.  Whether it wants me to or not.


Burnouts are the most heartbreaking characters in the American panorama.  They were once something else — Movers, Sages, Protectors — but something made them let that part go, and it may not return.  Substance abuse can rob a Mover of industry or a Sage of light, for a while; but when age takes away whatever that essential part was, as it may have done with Bert Cooper, it is gone for good.

There is no place in America where all of these people could otherwise meet, get to know each other, and learn the opposing experiences of competence and challenge, than the workplace.  There is no equivalent, in public or private life; nothing we can buy, nothing we can give one another, is quite the same.  Work continues to be the only journey we truly take together.

In the lovely words of Don Draper, the creative crucible of work is the most important, least important thing there is.


  27 Responses to “Our Best Work”

  1. Lovely post. Sometimes the whole is greater than the sum of the parts and it’s exhilarating to work at a place where that is true.

  2. This is a lovely post with a magnanimous overview of all the types including the naysayers and burnouts . Thank you for sharing this.

  3. Nice post, Anne B. The trauma of a failing business, and how different personalities respond to it, is hard to present in an hour of TV drama, but MM, with the characters’ history we all love (and obsess over!) did a great job of it in Blowing Smoke. I rewatched last night and was really, really moved by Moss’s great work in her two scenes toward the end – when Megan comes to get Peggy in the creative common room to meet with Don, and then in Don’s office [leading up to the ‘shenanigans’ quote]. Watch it carefully: She starts very nervous and insecure, thinking she’s being summoned to be ‘let go.’ (you can almost see her heart rise to her throat). She carries this into Don’s office, almost shaking. Then Don asks her who SHE can do without and you can just see her confidence spike through the ceiling! Finally, Don confirms her importance to him with an aside asking, indirectly, what she thought about his NYT letter [his amalgam of what he learned from Midge and Peggy’s earlier remarks about changing the name & conversation]. Then you get that great, knowing smirk with the shenanigans line, and Don’s grin confirming that she gets it! Great TV writing and acting. Lord, how I’m going to miss this show after next week!

  4. There’s a category you forgot


  5. Anne B., just magnificent! The visuals powered it right to my soul. I will reflect on this again…I want to figure out who those people are in my life, not just my MM life. Well done!

  6. This is so good Anne B. It so fits with the workplaces I have known (and you’ve got us all busy categorizing our colleagues!) If you don’t mind my asking, where do you see yourself?

    I think I’m about 1/2 Sage, 1/4 Protector and 1/4 Naysayer. Yes I’d like to be a Mover or Ace but to be honest I am not and I think the Sage can quickly degrade to Naysayer . . .

  7. pdx,

    Quite true. And very funny. :)

    I found the scenes of people weeping, carrying out their things in little cardboard boxes to be so tragic: in a very modern way. Everyone who puts his or her back into a job really does believe that “our best work is ahead of us”.

    It’s just that the firm that lets each of these people go sometimes does not have the luxury of time, or money, to devote to imagining what that “best work” would look like.

  8. ddd,

    I’m a Wild Card. Have been for some time.

    I do not like corporate work, but it’s what I know, and it’s the clientele I serve. I end up caring for the same types in organizations, over and over again.

    The Protectors are my favorites. :)

  9. Great points and wonderful pictures to accompany them :)

  10. Applause.

  11. This was just so deep and so true. Workplaces have a unique potential to draw people from different places to the same space.

  12. Synchronicity from NYT on the invigorating nature of work.

    http://nyti.ms/9kxXME : “suggests that work actually provides an important component of the environment that keeps people functioning optimally.”

    Although they never came to my office, that’s for sure.

  13. Very good post. Would Pete be a Mover without his Protector, Trudy? I think not. I think that he would be a Naysayer, just like Harry Crane (who probably imagines himself a Sage to the TV studios).

  14. #13 MadLibber, great point – whole sub-topic – which one we think we are vs. which one we are.

  15. Harry Crane definitely considers himself a Sage. But SCDP was late to create a TV department, and thus Harry was simply nudging it into a field where its competitors had already gone.

    I have trouble seeing Pete as a Mover in the same fashion as Don and Peggy. I feel like he rides on their coattails. He uses Don for updraft and Peggy for ballast. The result is something that moves forward, but not of its own accord.

  16. Ahh, Pete!

    I see Pete in more than one category, actually. When I was first building this post, I had a photo of him up there with Peggy, as a Mover. And certainly he is one.

    But lately (think Season 4), he’s been in the role of Protector, which is why I put him with his wife — who is one, too. Pete has taken on the role of “protecting” SCDP: from the Feds (on behalf of Don — and because of him), from the appearance of decay (a body in Reception!) or weakness (telling Ted Chaough when his advances are unwelcome).

    From Honda to Fillmore, Pete has almost single-handedly protected the honor of this firm. In addition to all his usual duties.

    If anyone here is wondering what would make a guy with money invest in a guy with less … that’s a start.

  17. Beautiful. I love the way you see things, Anne. You come up with stuff I never could.

  18. Not that this changes any of your interesting thoughts above, but just to clarify, what Don said was actually the opposite: “the least important, most important things we do”. The Creative Dept. is always getting the short end of the stick, which is often referenced throughout all seasons of the show.

  19. oops, “thing” and not “thing we do” but “thing there is”

  20. I have spent 15 years trying to understand M-B NTSP…. and now this.

    I am going back to the questioning meaning of painting number four, where I hope to have more luck…


  21. JulesSD,

    Thanks! I wondered if I was getting that backwards. (I’ll find a time to go in and edit. Count on it.)

    And Hawk, no worries. There are endless ways to categorize things (and people). Just ask any kid in high school … it’s, like, their favorite thing to do.


  22. Excellent!

  23. Let’s not forget the “User” and the “adaptor” who can morph into whatever role is needed to save their own skin. There’s a few of those at SCDP. Meagan comes to mind. One minute she’s the hapless secretary, then she’s the sexual aggressor and then she’s the career advancer who might want to do what “Miss Olsen does”

  24. Anne B,
    Thanks for the amplification. My bride urges me to see beyond black and white. Thirty years in and the work is ongoing…

  25. There is the item of chemistry; how well do people get along and work together. Then there is the item of business sense; understanding what everyone else does. SCDP, which looked so promising at the end of Season 3 is now failing as a business. Blame for this can be spread around; but SCDP is a badly run business. Lane and Joan I see are not aces but deuces.I would hope that they may have had a conversation in private about business. They both had the brains and business savvy to see what was happening

  26. I also see Megan as a user/adapter, and pretty brilliant at it. When Megan starts off telling Don that she wants to do what Don does someday, Megan seemed to immediately sense that that was taking it too far to suggest to Don that his secretary thinks she can advance to his type of position, and Megan quickly adds “or what Miss Olsen does” adapting to fit. And then she can’t spend one conversation actually learning about he ad business she claims to want to join, instead offering herself up for free, no strings sex. Megan adapted again when she was flattering Don with her “I love it that you stand for something” and then immediately changing to course to I get that part (you are dumping rather than being dumped). Adapter!

  27. Anna is a sage?? Looked to me like she was a do-nothing pothead who, upon discovering a man had broken the law and stolen her husband’s identity, took a payoff from him so he could keep it and she could continue to sit around and get high. Truly the wisdom of the ages.

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