SPOILER ALERT: STOP EVERYTHING AND GO WATCH THE MOST RECENT EPISODE OF MAD MEN BEFORE YOU READ ANY FURTHER.
"A Tale of Two Cities" is a classic episode, with all five of the major Mad Men food groups represented:
1. A Pete Campbell temper tantrum
3. A d*** punch
4. BOB BENSON!
5. Peggy being a bawse
It was one of the stronger episodes in an already wonderful season of dramatic television. Let's dive in, shall we?
The episode starts off with Don and Megan Draper being all lovey-dovey in their family room with the 1968 Democratic National Convention on in the background. They discuss Don's upcoming trip to California as they flirt and she warns him to stay away from actresses and he pleads with her to come with him. She sits on his lap and they kiss. Get a room.
Meanwhile at SCDPCGC, the partners are arguing over the arrangement of the letters in the company's acronym. We learn that Sterling and Harry Crane will join Don in L.A. while Teddy Chaough heads to Detroit to help Ken Cosgrove tag team Chevy. Additionally, we learn that Cutler is growing increasingly frustrated with the organization of the new behemoth agency and that Joan has a line new (Fortune 500) client.
On the way out to L.A. Don and Sterling are drinking (surprise) and arguing about the best way to prepare for their upcoming meetings with Sunkist, Carnation and "the avocado people." Don wants to study up on the flight out, while Sterling has subscribed to more of a "wing it approach."
"We're conquistadors. I'm Vasco de Gama and you're... some other Mexican, he says." "We're going to land there and buy whatever they've got for the beans in our pockets. Our biggest challenge is to not get syphilis."
Don't ever change, Roger Sterling. Don't ever change.
After a politically charged meeting with Carnation, in which Sterling and Draper opine about breakfast philosophies (it's the most important thing), the trio of New York ad men find themselves at a lavish party in the hills where they bump into former SCDP copywriter, Danny. Sterling tries to swoop in and steal Danny's lady friend, but winds up getting punched in the crotch by his former employee.
Don spends his time at the party smoking hashish because, California hippies. He ends up kissing a blonde woman before hallucinating that Megan was in the room, pregnant, and totally cool with his infidelity. He follows her through the party and goes to light a cigarette. His hallucination turns into the young soldier he met in Hawaii during the season's pilot. The soldier is missing an arm and announces that he's dead. When Don asks the soldier why he didn't get his arm back, the young man answers, "Dying doesn't make you whole. You should see what you look like."
Suddenly we see Don standing above the pool looking at himself, floating face down in the pool. The scene cuts to Sterling kneeling over Don, both of them drenched. Essentially, Don got high, hallucinated conversations with his wife and a dead soldier, went for a swim and had to be rescued by Roger Sterling. Don's swim was foreshadowed by an earlier conversation with Megan. She told him he always feels better after a swim.
Back in New York, Joan is NOT playing around anymore. Homegirl is sick of having her night with the Jaguar sleazeball thrown back in her face at every partners' meeting and she'll be damned if she's going to let Pete Campbell and Teddy Chaough wrestle Avon cosmetics out from under her arm. She squeezes Campbell out of the meeting, tells Peggy just as it's about to begin, and then struggles through the breakfast.
Later, Campbell finds out about the breakfast when Avon sends some samples to the office with a note that mentions the breakfast. Suddenly SCDPCGC is Toys 'R' Us and Campbell's throwing a tantrum in the aisle because he won't be getting a teddy bear. He runs to tell Chaough because he's a dirty little snitch. Chaough and Campbell return to the board room to confront Joan and Peggy. They ask Peggy to leave, so she runs into Joan's office and switches on the intercom to eavesdrop on their conversation.
Joan looks terrified, frantically searching for the words to defend her actions, but she's dumbfounded and silent as Chaough lays into her. But, because Peggy's a genius and the only person on Mad Men with legitimately redeemable qualities, she sends Joan's secretary into the room to interrupt the scolding with the announcement that Avon was on the phone for Joan.
Joan retreats to her office where, with Peggy, she listens to Chaough explain that Avon will be Joan's account before chastising him for being too wrapped up in his own personal agenda and not focusing enough on the success of the company.
It was a wonderful moment and served as a callback to the first season, when Peggy got her start as a copywriter after a lipstick brainstorming session (the campaign was mentioned during the Avon breakfast) that saw all of the Sterling Cooper pigs gawking at the women from behind one-way glass. Joan was in on the joke back then and didn't seem too thrilled that Peggy was getting extra attention.
Five seasons later, Peggy puts a similar intercom to use to help save Joan from the gallows over a different cosmetics account.
A doe-eyed Peggy put too much faith in Teddy Chaough at the beginning of the episode and managed to take a page out of Joan's playbook by violating some of the rules to get what she originally wanted in the first place. Peggy and Joan are similar in many ways. They both started as secretaries, they both have given birth to illigitimate children, they both have a harder road to success in the advertising world because of their gender. But, Joan feels more and more like Pete Campbell to Peggy's Don. Joan sees and opportunity and grabs it. Peggy sits back and watches the play develop before jumping in and participating.
Their conversation outside of the elevator, when Peggy exclaims that she didn't sleep with Don, was a microcosmic example of their relationship dynamic. They're very similar and they want the same things. But, Peggy is hyper aware of how her actions will trigger reactions from the rest of the major players, while Joan is more concerned with the final result.
Draper and Sterling return from L.A. in the wake of the Pete/Joan incident, only to be greeted by Campbell crying that the sky is falling. The partners storm into Don's office with good news about Chevy and Avon and suggest naming the agency "Sterling Cooper & Partners." So, SC&P it is.
The scene marked the second time in the episode when Don's name comes up. When he was kissing the blonde woman at the party (or hallucinating that he was kissing the blonde woman at the party), he corrects her when she calls him Don. Now, "Draper" just got squeezed out of the agency name and he doesn't have a problem with it, indicating that he's growing increasingly uncomfortable with his identity and might be looking to shed his Don Draper skin.
The episode ends with Campbell, livid with events of the day and convinced that everything is going to sh** at the new agency, storming into the creative room, swiping and joint from Rizzo and smoking up right then and there. This is fine art.
Loved Don's participation in the partners' meeting. They tell him to sit down and participate and he responds by sitting down and asking, "Are we done, here?" A classic Draper power move.
How about Bob Benson? Gets to handle the Manischewitz meeting, gives an inspiring pep talk to Ginsberg, falls on his sword for Cutler, and gets news that he might be headed for Detroit. Also, the line of the episode might have been when Cutler yelled, "Why are you always down here?!" A lovely little nod to all of the chatter going on about who the hell Bob Benson is.
Don was on his way to the bathroom when he walks by the group of people smoking. The one woman tells him that there's an "extra nipple" for him to smoke from when he returns. He decides to stay and smoke. Don Draper: never one to turn down an extra nipple.
When they bump into "Daniel" at the party in the hills, he mentions that he's finally set to make a studio film, Alice in Wonderland. This mention points to the whole Carl Jung/Lewis Carroll/syncronicity theme of Mad Men. Again, Matthew Weiner is The Cheshire Cat.
Roger Sterling LSD counter: 5.
I've said before that this season of Mad Men seems to be talking about itself. It certainly seemed like the political confrontation between Ginsberg and Cutler could have been that. It seemed very "Artist vs. Suit" that could be a nod to the creative/business forces at play behind major television franchises.
During their political spat, Ginsberg calls Cutler a Nazi. A friend of mine pointed out that later, after Cutler pawns the Manischewitz meeting off on Bob Benson, he appears to stand at attention and click his heels together like in the Nazi salute.