Mad Men: “A Tale of Two Cities”


For a lot of season six, it seemed like Mad Men had abandoned its motif and focused on the drama of the show. Mad Men was no longer about an agency so much as a drama that just so happened to take place at an ad agency. So, it was great to see this episode focus on the business once again.

In their latest escapade out west, Don and Roger go looking for new meat, only to come up dry. This was tough to watch because we are used to seeing the dynamic duo fail in their personal lives while soaring professionally. And though Roger has long been fading into irrelevance, Don has suddenly become redundant. He’s not wowing clients like he used to.

Moreover, Don is becoming increasingly disengaged. He’s dumped Jaguar for Chevy only to wash his hands of the entire automtive industry. Still, maybe this for the best. If Mad Men is following history, then we can assume Chevy’s next big thing that they’re all so eagerly anticipating is supposedly the Vega, a disaster for Chevy that nearly bankrupted the company. What sort of damage will it do to the fledgling, long winded SCDPCGC

Which brings us to our next order of business: What’s in a name? I’m not sure, but SCDPCGC is a lot of it. After Jim Cutler loses Manischewitz, he suggests to Ted that they the other gang a bone, and name the place Starling Cooper & Partners. Of course, this is just a way of masking their own little revolution. I wonder, is the title literally alluding to New York and LA, or is it referring to the tenuous peace between the two camps?

ascot alert(ascot alert!)

The name change is also noteworthy because earlier in the episode Cooper had suggested removing the names of the deceased partners. Now, by dumping all those names – Don especially – it’s like they’re killing off them off.

Thus death was once again strongly present in this episode. We see this most strongly in LA when Don smokes hash. He starts tripping and believes he sees Megan and a dead soldier. He then sees himself lying floating face down in the pool. Roger retrieves Don (damn I wish they’d shown that) and tells him he’s a lousy swimmer, which is strange because Don swims regularly. Megan even suggests he go for a swim after watching the riots outside the Democratic convention, because it “relaxes” him.

Perhaps swimming relaxes Don because it is sort of like dying. Don’s death wish has been well documented. However, the soldier has disturbed this illusion, telling Don that dying doesn’t make you whole. In the case of the soldier (for whom Don was the best man in Hawaii, another kind of nether world symbol in the first episode of the season), it’s a lost limp. I suppose for Don, it’s his amputated soul. Don longs for death to fill in the gap of his life, but this is no longer an option.

This sequence irked me because hash doesn’t have that kind of buzz, and I hate contrived depictions of recreational drug use. However, it’s also possible that this was a vision Don had while he was drowning. Either way, I feel like this scene was too similar to what happened in “The Crash.” I’ve always liked how Mad Men handles dream-like sequences to achieve meaning, but it’s something that should only be used sparingly.

Back to Megan.

There’s a lot of fans who believe Megan is going to turn into a Sharon Tate type murder victim. Don’s hallucination really hit that home. I don’t think she’ll be murdered by Charles Manson followers like Tate, simply because Mad Men hasn’t introduced 60s cults into the mix, but there is an undeniable sense of doom surrounding Megan. I wonder if the good Doctor Rosen will kill her in a rampage when he finds out about Sylvia and Don.


“A Tale of Two Cities” also saw Joan kick at the glass ceiling a little more. Last episode, Joan told Bob Benson that Pete Campbell was the only person at the agency who has never broken his promise with her. Now, Joan has betrayed Pete as she squeezed him out of the potential Avon account. It’s great to see Joan take the next step in her career, but it was strangely sad to see her break what seemed to be a budding friendship with Pete. They seemed to be having a Joan/Lane going on. Oh well.

I especially liked it when Pete suggests that Joan and Peggy were going to start their own agency. I was like, “Fuck yeah!” But more to the point, the issue of women’s liberation really hit home when we see Pete make his way into creative to smoke some pot. As the camera leans in, we see Pete has aged considerably. His relevancy at the agency is receding almost as fast as his hairline. Also, Pete’s toke clearly echoes Don’s bong hit in LA. These men of the old guard are slowly drifting away in the movement of history.

We also got some kinda, sorta clarification about Bob Benson. I laughed out loud when Jim Cutler yelled at him to get back upstairs. It’s literally what viewers have all been thinking.

Anyway, Bob’s probably not some spy hanging around the agency, as he seems to have at least his own office. That said, I don’t think it’s a simple matter of him being a ladder climber, either. He’s got something up his sleeve. I don’t think Weiner would build up this character for nothing. It’s hard to tell how sinister Benson is, though, because he gives nothing away. Maybe viewers are so used to seeing assholes on Mad Men that when we see a sincerely nice guy, we all automatically assume he’s hiding something.

(Fuck it, I’mma get high, too)





~ by braddunne on June 4, 2013.

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