“Mr Draper, I don’t know what it is you really believe in but I do know what it feels like to be out of place. To be disconnected. To see the whole world laid out in front of you the way other people live it. There’s something about you that tells me you know it too,” and just like that Rachel Menken (Maggie Siff) throws Donald Draper (Jon Hamm) off-balance, his countenance clearly disturbed at her, probably apt, deduction, his air of confidence lost. Still, these are thoughts that have been lurking at the back of my mind since first meeting him. Maybe it was that when the camera first spots him in the crowded bar his back is to us or simply that he lies down, closes his eyes and hears explosions or that the title sequence involves a faceless silhouette, which I can only imagine to be him, falling through his dissolving office, as period ads reflect off skyscrapers, only to land safely on a chair cigarette in hand. Whichever it may be the character certainly walks on a cloud of mystery, even more so at the startling conclusion.
Incidentally, the title sequence is a homage to Saul Bass’s title sequence for North By Northwest and his poster for Vertigo, both Hitchcock movies a man creator Matthew Weiner has attributed as being an influence on the visual style of the show (AMC 2007). Moreover, it would appear that Hitchcock’s influence goes beyond that of the visual as the motif of identity, which played a major role in both North by Northwest and Vertigo, is established in this episode. As Don explains to Midge the problems caused by his writer’s block he says, “I am over and they’re finally going to know it,” which tells about his fear of the loss of his identity and in the final scene when we meet his wife, Betty Draper (January Jones), we revaluate our assumptions of him and everything we have seen before thus his identity, to us, has changed.
Although the visual style is reminiscent of Hitchcock, more North By Northwest and less Vertigo, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes is also similar to recent movies such as Catch Me If You Can and Down With Love (itself a homage to the Doris Day and Rock Hudson movies of the time). The one exception to this is the scene in which Don and Midge lie in bed discussing marriage. Shot with, possibly, a blue filter, the rich colour of the previous scene now gone, the scene has a feel of modernity, a realism that is never touched upon again, when compared to everything that proceeds it. The dialogue as well can be mistaken for modern as nothing specific, which would have anchored it in the 60’s, is mentioned and Don’s tobacco problem may very well have been the ban of smoking indoors, as was the current trend when Smoke Gets In Your Eyes originally aired, or the ban on sponsoring formula one or the current move to plain packaging.
The episode owes much of its humour to the comparisons between our world and theirs, such as when Don says to Pete, “It’s not like there’s a magic machine that makes exact copies of things” or to the audience knows more than the characters such as when Salvatore, who one can only interpret as a closet homosexual through his – not too subtle – behaviour and actions, says to the head researcher, “So we’re supposed to believe that people are living one way and secretly thinking the exact opposite – that’s ridiculous”.
Much like The Sopranos (a series both Matthew Weiner and director Alan Taylor worked on prior to Mad Men) the episode is self-contained and watchable on its own but also builds several themes that will most likely be explored throughout the season such as Don’s Purple Heart, the explosions he hears when he lies down on the couch, his infidelity, his confrontation with Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) and Pete and Peggy’s (Elisabeth Moss) relationship.