“A Tale of Two Cities” – Mad Men

Screen Shot 2013-06-06 at 7.25.07 PMOne could argue that, if it addressed any at all, Mad Men’s theme this week was a continuation of that in “The Better Half” – reappraisal. With “A Tale of Two Cities”, that reappraisal took a far subtler turn. Set against the background of the DNC’s failure to make ending the Vietnam War a platform priority at the 1968 convention, the episode was all about introspection and attempts at betterment.

We were pleased to see Joan taking center stage on this one, as it’s been far too long since she got a fair showing. She was also the most introspective and most determined character throughout. When presented with an opportunity, she looked at her life and saw it wanting. Her attempts to better her situation by advancing herself in SCDPCGC (now Sterling Cooper & Associates, thanks to Jim and Ted and their attempt to smooth things over with S, C and D) were great to see, and the myriad reactions to her ‘audacity’ were an interesting glimpse at the perceptions people (including Peggy!) had of a secretary trying to branch out. We were delighted by Joan’s betrayal of Pete, and rejoiced when she insisted on working the account herself. Her demeanor as she sat and took Ted and Pete’s accusations and disapproval was perfection. We’ve never liked Joan more. We also look forward to seeing how this arc progresses. Will Joan win the company the Avon account and, if she does, how will she fare running it?

Last week, the writers played around with Pete’s dissatisfaction with his life. So what’s new, right? This was different. For the first time, he was evaluating his position at SCDPCGC and wondering if it was enough for him. Wondering if he was being respected enough. Wondering if he should turn elsewhere for validation and employment. This week drove that home in a big way. “A Tale of Two Cities” left Pete feeling excluded. Bypassed by Joan, overridden by Ted, dismissed by Don… Pete’s got to be feeling like even more of a waste of space than usual. We have to wonder if that will translate into a move for him. Now that his personal life is sorted out, will we be seeing Pete send out feelers for work at a new agency? One thing’s certain – this version of Pete is broken. The final glimpse of the usually straight-laced and uptight Pete looking like he should be in a rap video (an epic scene that conjured the sole descriptor BAMF) made us wonder if we should expect a brand new version of Peter Campbell. We hope it’s this one.

Returning to our theory of his approaching rock bottom, this week saw Don fall that little bit further, and we have to wonder how long this hedonistic approach to life can really last. He’s not as young as he used to be and the parade of women and the cavalier attitude to drugs and alcohol will have to catch up to him eventually. It already has, in a way. Don’s experimentations with drugs haven’t gone well in recent weeks [and thanks to Dean Van Nguyen for the perfect summation of those experiments]. The amphetamines of “The Crash” and the hashish of “A Tale of Two Cities” brought Don nearly to breaking. And yet, disturbingly enough, he appears to have gone straight through fear and on to nonchalance. This week’s near-drowning phases him about as much as a hangover would. Will drugs be his eventual undoing?

Speculation is rife on the internet about Megan’s possible death. This was inspired, no doubt, by her appearance alongside Dinkins – the soldier from the season’s opening episode, now missing an arm and musing about his death (a death, by the way, which Don couldn’t possibly know about) – during Don’s drug haze. It was, most likely, compounded by haze-Megan’s comment, “I live here,” with many assuming that “here” is the afterlife. In all honesty, we put this down to Mad Men obsessives letting themselves get carried away.  Ever the fools, we’re willing to stake our name on the fact that she is still alive and well. There are a few things that led us to believe that. Foremost among them is the fact that, as far as we’re aware, Don is not a medium. Also significant were Megan’s suddenly longer hair, vaguely early-60s clothes and apparent pregnancy. In the words of Pfc Dinkins, “Dying doesn’t make you whole.” So why would Megan, in death, get back things she had lost in life? We posit that, high as a kite, Don’s brain worked overtime to give him the Megan he wanted. His lover isn’t dead, but his love for her is. This version of Megan, the version he sees in his drug-addled daydream, is the one he loved. And, now, she lives only in his dreams. But we could be wrong. Maybe that balcony is about to come into play.

Though, if we’re right about Megan’s continuation on the mortal plane, that ‘trip’ is where Don’s (subconscious) introspection came into play. In his drug-induced stupor, nearing death at a party in the Hills, Don conjured up his perfect life – a version of Megan who has quit her job, is pregnant, and doesn’t care if he sleeps around. This is clearly his ideal. After returning to his (relatively) sober self, he has to be thinking about how he can get this fantasy to become his reality.

Of course, the mystery of Bob Benson also continues. He remains the least offensive boot-licker known to man and, through sheer perseverance and by not pissing anyone off too greatly, has secured a promotion for himself. He will be joining Ken in Detroit, ostensibly as Jim’s man on the inside (Jim being loath to allow SCDP any advantages over CGC). We feel, though, that ‘out of sight, out of mind’ won’t apply to Benson. His mystery has not been solved, and we look forward to a lot more screentime from him in the future. The writers have built him up so much over the last 10 episodes that they couldn’t possibly let him fall by the wayside now. We sense that big reveal is coming fairly soon. We can’t wait. – K

Quoteworthy: “I’m in charge of thinking of things before people know they need them.” – Joan

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