Playing out against the background of 1968’s civil unrest, Mad Men’s Episode 10, “A Tale of Two Cities,” contrasts elements of a country cleaved and clashing in its sensibilities, its warring generational factions, and likewise in our favorite ad agency with its approach to business and its personal relationships.
The Hawks and Doves are pitted one against the other – in the board room at Carnation, in the creative workroom at SCDPCGC, between Don and Megan though enhanced via a drugged dream, and even between Peggy and Joan.
But let’s hear it for Joan!
She boldly goes where she’s never been before – taking what she wants on her own terms.
Two Ways of Life
As Roger, Don, and Harry head to the West Coast to nab Carnation’s instant breakfast business, Jim Cutler is up to no good back in New York, trying to solidify the CGC side of the house, and in some respects transform the merger into a take-over.
None of the SCDP crew have their eye on that particular ball; Cutler’s miffed with Ginsberg (who has a hissie fit over Manischewitz and who knows what else – what’s up with that?), and the ensuing rant on Ginsberg’s part makes him a likely (and fitting) candidate for dismissal.
Cutler tries to accomplish exactly that, but Ted gets him to cool his jets, so he maneuvers using Bob Benson, and essentially sabotages the SCDP account. While the cats are away, this rat did play…
It’s amusing that Roger lectures Don on what the New York ad world is about, later referring to the city as “the center of the world.” The dynamic between these two on their way to California is telling: Roger says they can be slick and impress (of course, little does he realize that “slick” is underway in his own backyard); Don wants to be informed and prepared for the client.
Roger’s priceless response: “Our biggest challenge is to not get syphilis.”
As for New York versus Los Angeles?
Northeastern snobbery (tradition? establishment?) is alive and well – and on the table around the table as Carnation pulls no punches in expressing their dislike for the Big Apple’s big egos. But the real visibility into the clash of cultures is the Big Biz Board Room by day, and the mod-hippie scene by night in L.A., as Don drinks heavily, partakes of a “nipple” and gets high on hash, and hallucinates Megan along with one dearly departed Private Dinkus.
Interesting that in his hallucination, birth and death co-mingle: Don imagines that Megan is back in Disneyland with him, where they once were happy. She’s left her acting career, is pregnant with their child, and Dinkus though dead, describes his experience. Yet it’s Don who winds up face down in the pool, and Roger who appears to have fished him out.
Very William Holden in Sunset Boulevard, but with a happier (albeit temporary?) ending.
Stranger still is the fact that in this hallucination, Megan says “take a swim,” reminding him how much it relaxes him, and coaxing him into dangerous waters.
Political Turmoil, Inside and Out
As the 1968 Democratic National Convention takes place in Chicago, violence breaks out and the reactions are mixed. Ginsberg’s bizarre outburst (he calls Cutler a fascist) is one example, but we also witness a more civilized version in a poignant scene between Don and Megan as he watches the news from his room on the West Coast, as she does the same in their apartment in New York.
Megan is distraught over seeing policemen “cracking heads.” Her husband’s response, however gently delivered – “they were throwing rocks.” Hello, Generation Gap and empathy gap?
And in the agency? Peggy and Joan may keep mum on the violence, but Cutler is trying to rule the roost, and does seem to represent the worst of the Madison Avenue profit-mongering. He’s quick to point out to Ginsberg that his paycheck is dependent on those who support the policies the younger man despises.
Let’s not forget the political maneuverings to take power at SCDPCGC – best exemplified by Cutler’s direct address of the identity issue – that seven letters won’t do. By the end of this episode, SCDP has all but given away its power, as they agree to an abbreviated SC & Partners.
It’s a slick move on Cutler’s part, and clearly at his suggestion. We have to wonder what’s up his sleeve, now that he’s just scuttled a longtime Sterling Cooper client (Manischewitz).
As to the ongoing tug-of-war between Cutler-Chaough and Sterling-Draper in particular, Cutler seems to be all about the power, whereas Ted is far more focused on the business. He manages to make a quick trip to Detroit where he makes more progress with Chevy than anyone to date. Similarly, as we see the dynamic between Roger and Don, even in their conversation on the flight to LA, Roger is about ego and Don is about Creative – trying to prepare for the meeting as Roger continues to grab his folder and prevent it.
There’s a satisfying symmetry in these opposing factions. Will Cutler eventually face off against Sterling? Is Roger’s pitiful belittling of a former employee, Danny Segal, only to be brought to his knees (literally) a sign of his soon-to-come comeuppance?
Joan Takes a Risk
The tension between Joan and Peggy is delicious in this episode, as an unexpected opportunity arises for Joanie. Her friend Kate, who advises her to take what she wants (like the men) has set her up on what she thinks is a date with an exec from Avon. Turns out it’s all business, and Joan quickly switches gears and begins to tout what the agency can bring to the table.
Confiding in Peggy, the Chief Copywriter takes exception to Joan pulling a fast one when Ted and Pete try to grab the lead. Peggy says she “worked her way up,” implying Joan hasn’t – much as Pete puts her contributions down on a regular basis.
Peggy is perturbed by Pete wanting to run with the Avon ball, understanding that Joan feels belittled by this behavior. But in some ways now one of the boys herself, Peggy insists this is the way it’s done – playing by the rules. But these are the Old Boys’ rules, and Joanie has gotten nowhere playing that game. Only when she played her game and did it well, did she even make the partnership status that she’s now attempting to exploit more fully,
When caught after the fact – she ditched Pete and ran the prospect meeting on her own with Peggy (and damn well at that) – Pete is incensed, Peggy helps bail her out, and Ted is just happy that it looks like they’ll land the business.
Good for Joanie for flexing her feminine take-no-prisoners muscle! And notice again – Ted is about the business, while all around him it’s ego and politics.
On a costuming note, Joan is glorious in brightly colored solids reflecting her confidence – at her Avon dinner and luncheon meetings. The day after daring to pull a fast one, her dress is floral and feminine, more pastel and somehow tentative. It’s the ideal accompaniment to her expression, the whole of which presents a mask of standing firm, but a sense of her simultaneous unease with the move she’s just attempted.
Transitions, Transitions, and Moments of Note
Hardly holding our attention with the smooth surprises of the last episode, “A Tale of Two Cities” is a set of transitional scenes in which we view the changing era and likewise, the changing agency.
We’re increasingly aware of the political climate, not to mention the way “things are done” as Harry Crane makes that evident in California. The newly named Sterling Cooper & Partners is on rockier ground than the SCDP side of the house seems to realize.
In a touching moment, the fact that a drugged Don hallucinates Megan promises a potentially sad demise to that once blossoming union. And it doesn’t go unnoticed when he says “my name isn’t Don.” California wasn’t only a place where he was content with Megan, but it’s where he was able to be himself as Dick with Anna – even if only periodically.
Peggy and Joan? They’re allies as women, yet their approaches are dramatically different. Peggy recalls Joan’s resentment of her as she moved out of the secretarial pool and into the copywriting waters; Joan (rightly) defends herself in saying she’s been doing account work for years, and we’re pleased to see her growing bolder.
Among the exchanges that caught my attention are these:
I live here. I quit my job. I couldn’t bear to be apart and I want to have enough love for my other surprise…
In his dream state, she tells him she’s pregnant, and then says
What do you think it is?
A second chance.
In another interesting sequence, especially as Don Draper has built his life on the name of a soldier who is long dead, Private Dinkus says:
My wife thinks I’m MIA but I’m actually dead… Dying doesn’t make you whole. You should see what you look like.
Shades of Dick-Don in so many respects, not the least of which may be his current marriage.
And Matthew Weiner takes us out on the voice of Janis Joplin, who would be dead in 1970, just two years later. Signs of things to come in a season that has been dancing with death since the premiere?