The unrest of the ‘60s is still simmering. As the political tensions rise, so escalates the turmoil in Don Draper’s world.
‘A Tale of Two Cities’ focused on fierce rivalries: East versus West Coast, Joan versus Pete and Cutler versus Ginsberg. No one was stabbed (thankfully), but Roger did get sucker punched. And it was hilarious. Roger was the shining beacon of much appreciated comic relief in an episode riddled with ominous and violent undertones.
After last season, I’ve become somewhat numb to the death imagery in ‘Mad Men,’ since they tend to hammer it rather hard into viewers’ heads. But the chaos of the Democratic National Convention riot footage is too brutal to be ignored, even 50 years after the fact.
It echoes through the characters' language. Ginsberg calls himself the destroyer of worlds and Pete despairs about the gravestone of their resistance. It reverberated through their relationships as well. Joan is shocked, Megan is terrified and Don is rather blasé.
When Megan calls Don in California, he shows her compassion. Sure, he made an off-hand and crummy comment on Conrad Hilton possibly staying at the hotel, but he was much more considerate of Megan thousands of miles away than when he was sitting on the same bed as her after RFK’s assassination. He might as well have been on Ginso’s home planet when she was three feet away from him, crying. Here, he seems to makes some effort to console her.
The next day, Don’s coworkers make cracks about the riot, declaring victory for Nixon. Jack, their client, snaps at them for making such insensitive jokes. It doesn’t get much easier for Don. As the meetings continue, the client points out that his California-based company is hesitant to work with a New York firm. The time change and the different cultures are just too much.
“We’re sorry your last girlfriend hurt you. We’re in your office now,” Roger assures them. (Note: Roger has many snappy one-liners, which I list further down. For now, let’s focus on Don. He could always use more attention for his precarious ego.)
The East-versus-West rivalry is even more obvious when Don and Roger go to a Beverly Hills party with Harry. It’s loaded with California hippies, and those two don’t stand a chance of blending in, especially Roger.
The man has dropped acid five times and yet he screams East Coast-square. Wearing a double-breasted navy blazer while Danny Siegel is wearing a paisley hippie-print get-up? Good thing he passed on the ascot and yacht hat.
Don, though clad in a pressed suit, gets in on the groovy scene. He joins a blond strikingly similar to Betty at the hookah. After he starts making out with her, a hippie-fied Megan comes up to him, assuring him that she’s OK with sharing her husband. That’s your first clue he’s hallucinating. The second? She says that she’s pregnant.
What truly highlights the hazy, altered state is the dragged-out walk where Megan leads him from one room to another. It feels like Pete’s epic poem of a commute from last season, only far-less melodramatic. The psychedelic music blaring felt a tad cliché, but then again, it’s a party where business cards are nowhere to be found.
With one blink of the eye, the lieutenant from his trip to Hawaii appears. He tells Don he’s dead.
Don sees a body -- his body -- in the pool, an image eerily reminiscent of the ominous Hawaiian pitch earlier this season (not that we saw the body in the ad, but it’s implied). He comes to with Roger performing CPR on him. It’s the least he could do after Don saved him from a heart attack in season one.
There’s been a conspiracy swirling around online about Megan’s out-of-place red-star t-shirt worn on the balcony in last week’s episode. It’s identical to the one that Sharon Tate wore in a spread for Esquire. Yes, the actress who was killed by the Manson Family when she was pregnant. Is it possible that Megan will go the way of Sharon?
The riots, Abe getting stabbed last week (twice) and her previous miscarriage are all violent signs hinting to Megan getting pregnant and killed. The hazy drug sequence in which Megan says she’s pregnant followed by Don’s doppelgänger dying is heavily implying that. The red star very well could be a red herring. But at the very least, it could foreshadow that Don and Megan’s marriage is dead, and is thus heading toward divorce. Either way, it doesn’t look good for Mrs. Draper. Yikes.
Back at the office, Joan is trying to move up in her career. What starts off as a lunch date, obvious from her flirty floral dress, turns out to be a potential new client. Joan goes in for the kill.
It feels faintly reminiscent of Lane’s attempt last season to dip his toes in the accounting pool. Only this time, Joan has more moves than the late Mr. Pryce. It does, however, feel awkward and jarring when she cuts off Peggy, who's reminiscing about her Avon rep. Account exec lesson number one: Don’t cut off the creative.
Joan and Peggy relay the news to Ted, who gives the account to Pete. “You’ll get all the credit,” Pete assures her with a smug smile.
If Peggy is looking for another sign that Ted’s not the knight-in-turtleneck-and-blazer (no, I will not forgive him for that get-up) fantasy she’s construed in her head, it’s sitting right there.
Peggy’s pissed, Joan’s devastated and the pitiful glance from Ted’s secretary only cements the heartache. The scene is a flashback to when she helped Harry read TV scripts, only to be yanked off the project and have it given to a male co-worker.
Just what can a girl do to move up in the oppressive, sexist ‘60s workforce? Lie and not invite Pete to the next meeting with the client. What chutzpah!
Joan, tired of being a glorified secretary, has nothing to lose by squeezing out Pete. She earned her partnership the salacious way. That left her with scant new responsibilities and little respect from her colleagues.
Even Peggy knows and throws it in her face. “At least I didn’t sleep with [Don].” Oh please, Pegs. We all know you tried to.
Then when Pete finds out, he predictably has a hissy fit. Why did she exclude him from the meeting? “Because it’s better than being screwed by you,” Joan snarls at Pete. Finally! I hated seeing them chummy together.
Peggy is at least rooting for Joan, which sadly is more than Joan could do for Peggy when she was cutting her teeth as a copywriter. Nevertheless, Peggy puts aside her resentment and has Joan’s back.
While Ted and Pete are upbraiding Joan, Peggy sends in a fake message saying that the Avon marketing lead has called. Way to stick it to the men, Pegs.
Pete the Petulant, ever paranoid that he’s mere seconds away from losing his job, goes and whines to Don. “If you don’t like it, maybe it’s time to get out of the business,” Don suggests. He should know about adaptation; his 40-year-old self just came back from a dabbling in hash.
So, Pete tweaks his philosophy: If you can’t beat them, snatch a doobie straight from their hands and take a puff or two.
Joan isn’t the only one making moves in the office. Bob Benson manages to ass-kiss his way into Cutler’s heart. After a falling-out between Ginsberg and Cutler, whom Ginsberg calls a fascist and Nazi (the latter is especially harsh, considering he was born in a concentration camp), Benson swoops in to tell Cutler that he doesn't tolerate disrespectful behavior.
Cutler is clearly impressed and his ego is sufficiently stroked. He insists that Benson meet directly with Manischewitz. If he doesn’t nail the next meeting with Chevy, Benson should become an inspirational speaker.
“Pull yourself together and be the man that I admire,” he urges a nervous-wreck Ginsberg. The guy’s a regular Ray Lewis. Now all I can think of is Bob doing the squirrel dance in last week’s short-shorts beach ensemble.
I’m still not sure what to make of Bob Benson. His desire to move up in the ranks at SC&P; is earnest -- no question about that -- and his sincerity as an all-around nice guy seems believable. At least, I want to believe it. Despite my unrelenting suspicion, I want to think he’s genuinely that nice. But I can’t! He’s just too wholesome. No one that good-natured belongs on ‘Mad Men.’ I just can’t have it.
MORE HIGHLIGHTS FROM ‘A TALE OF TWO CITIES’
BEST ROGER ONE-LINER: Roger was dishing out gold! By far my favorite part of ‘A Tale of Two Cities.’ It probably didn’t hurt that John Slattery directed this episode. Here are my two favorites:
“My job at these meetings is to keep them from saying GOLLY too many times.”
“We’re conquistadors. I’m Vasco da Gama, and you’re some other Mexican. Our biggest challenge is to not get syphilis.” [Note: Vasco da Gama was Portuguese. Can’t his underlings highlight basic social studies notes for him?]
BEST INTROSPECTIVE ANALYSIS: “My therapist says the job of your life is to know yourself. Sooner or later you’ll start to love who you are. Apparently, I am a curious child with a full head of hair and a thriving business. And you’re a terrible swimmer.” – Roger to Don. That’s what five acid trips (I’d pay to see the other three) and a shrink will help reveal.
BIGGEST FORESHADOWING BALL-PUNCH SET-UP: "I want you to go in there and keep your cool. But if he baits you, I want you to punch him in the balls." – Roger in season five. And now for the punch line…
“Nothing like finding a man’s magic spot that will drop a man to his knees, unless he already started there.” Then the vertically challenged Danny Siegel punches him the balls. As hilarious, and deserved, as this was, I was still hoping it would have been Pete.
LEAST CREATIVE AGENCY NAME: Sterling Cooper & Partners. It feels like a reboot of season one’s agency, with many more chiefs. I’ll take it -- it’s certainly better than SCDPCGC. How eerie was it that a letter was addressed to “Sterling Gleason and Pryce,” with two of the partners who had died in the past year?
MOST ALARMING MENTAL BREAKDOWN: Ginsberg’s pre-Manischewitz meeting. It seemed like he was having a panic attack, until this line: “I can’t turn off the transmissions to do harm. They’re beaming ‘em right to my head.” That screams paranoid delusions. Good thing he’s staying away from the sticky icky. Drugs only exacerbate mental illnesses. #themoreyouknow
MOST CLUELESS LINE: “Does this color look good on me?” – Meredith, the ever-oblivious secretary, to Peggy, who’s eavesdropping on Pete and Ted as they chew-out Joan. Not the time or the place. But, yes, the dress is adorable, and I so badly want to raid the ‘Mad Men’ costume closet.
BEST BACK-AND-FORTH: Ginsberg: 'Tell me the truth, are you a homo?'
Benson: 'There’s your sense of humor!'