Another triumphant Mad Men this week wherein the women, just like last week, reigned supreme. “A Tale of Two Cities” though was just as its title expressed, about Us versus Them (after that trippy episode two weeks ago, the last two episodes have been pretty clear in tone and intention). It’s a theme that is pervasive not only at SCDPCGC, or SD&P as it is now known, but is woven within the time period as well, something that spills over from the news to business and personal life. “A Tale of Two Cities” had a nice, clean arc, too — things happened, people triumphed, others were put in their place, and we roll ever more clearly into the height of the Swinging 60s. Hit the jump for more on why “I’m Vasco de Gama, and you’re some other Mexican. Our main objective is to not get syphilis.”
The SCDPCGC merger has never been settled, and things came to a head (and then cooled off) this week over the superficial crux of the problem: that blasted name. In the end, perhaps Pete was right that to give up the fight and allow Sterling Cooper to return to, more or less, Sterling Cooper, was a defeat. Though Pete didn’t have a direct complaint about losing name space, there was something somewhat regressive about allowing the firm to return to its original title, given how far they had all come.
Few though have come as far as Joan, and as she has been jerked around and had happiness pulled away from her over and over again in the series, it was exceptionally nice to see her score a victory here, especially against a more rat-like-than-usual Pete. Viewers may recall many seasons ago when Joan, who has always been more capable than she has been allowed, read Soap Opera scripts for Harry, and did an exceptional job at it, only to have it handed off because it wasn’t her job (i.e. she was a woman).
Peggy and Joan have both struggled to get where they are, and they both have had some help — Joan from Roger and Peggy from Don, both in the beginnings — which is why it was heartbreaking to have Peggy lash into Joan after the business breakfast. In a rare, straight-forward moment, Peggy actually redeemed herself for attacking Joan (with her pent-up rage) by fighting for her, and therefore herself, and rescuing her from Ted and Pete. As a bonus, Ted — maybe the show’s only real good guy — essentially told Pete to get over himself. The bottom line is always the client, something a petulant Pete will seemingly never fully realize (something Don struggles with, too).
The Us Versus Them theme also embraced gender as well as politics, with the Democratic Convention and protests on the streets of Chicago finding its way into everyone’s lives, from Joan watching at home on TV to Megan and Don’s differences over it (Megan taking a progressive view and Don being flippant and stogy), as well as the very Republican Carnation bringing it up in the conference room before transitioning immediately to powdered milk without a segue. It also went bicoastal — could Roger and Don have looked any more east coast in L.A.? Carnation brings up the bicoastal problems regarding business interactions, and L.A. once again serves as the forefront of fashion and pop culture change, just like when Don met up with the beatnik grifters last time he was there going rogue.
The most shocking moment of the episode was certainly Don’s drug trip though, and what it revealed. The war permeated his brain in some kind of amalgam of the Vietnam soldier he met at the bar at the start of the season with his own time in Korea and him becoming Don Draper. “I told you, my name is not Don …” he slurred to the partygoer before “seeing” Megan next to him. It was telling that the “suicide ad” that Don created after he went to Hawaii made an appearance in the “last time on” montage. Don went towards happiness — the water, escape, even death — and ended up face-down in the pool, looking at himself from above and seeming unmoved. Death is never far in Mad Men, especially in the last two seasons, but this is the most overt, with Don, the show has ever gotten.
It was also telling about what Don imagined Megan would say to him. In his dream vision, Megan was ok with “sharing,” quit her job (something Don has always resented) and says she’s pregnant (a callback for viewers to her abortion earlier this season), three things that definitely aren’t happening in real life. Perhaps its was Betty’s influence on him last week that made him so attracted to a more domestic Megan, even though that’s exactly what he resented and rejected about Betty. Don has always been old school, which explain some of his values, but maybe too he’s realizing on a subconscious level that the kind of home he had with Betty was what he really wanted, even though Megan is the one he wants it with.
Don survived and lived to be confused for another week, and meanwhile, SC&P made up their differences and ended the week on a high note (with Chevy appeased, Avon on the brink of signing them, and even being ok with losing Manischewitz’s interest), ready to move forward. That was illustrated best of all by Pete to end the episode — the working stiff in his suit taking Stan’s joint and smoking up, eyeing a mini skirt and go go boots as they slowly passed him by. In that moment he looked an awful lot like Roger, minus the charm, but showing that maybe the new age isn’t so different from the old. Now, like in Don’s hotel ad, it’s time for all of SC&P to step forward with certainty into the great unknown.
Episode Rating: A-
Musings and Miscellanea:
— Questions about Bob Benson abounded on Twitter this week, one suggestion being he’s gay. Mad Men doesn’t need to be cagey with a gay character after Sal, so I think that Ginsberg asking if he was a “homo” was a red herring. There is something really weird about Bob though, especially this week. He’s like a robot approximation of a human.
— I love hearing about Kenny’s adventures with Chevy, even second hand.
— Ted really is a great, decent guy. He’s fair and holding it all together. Naturally, sometimes going to give soon I’m sure.
— Ginsberg’s anxiety and him quoting the Bhagavad Gita was fantastic.
— I could have done without Danny Siegel, Jane’s cousin, but he was great representing that L.A. scene. I loved Roger’s jokes though, especially, “Japan is a long walk for those little legs”
— A few words and phrases of the time snuck in this week: “groovy” and “outta sight.”
— “I’m in charge of thinking of things before people need them” – Joan (close watchers can correct my quote on this, I missed the last bit).
— Ted: “Good! Pete, as Head of New Business …” Pete: “What? Why? I don’t want it!”
— Joan had the best outfits on this week, from her blue business-wear to the dress with the big green bow and her PJs … flawless.
— Peggy: “Are you intimidating me?” Joan: “That’s impossible because it would require respect for me and my job.”
— Pete was a complete **** this week (I’ll let you Mad Lib. I can’t tell you the word I used …)