TV Club

Mad Men episode recap: “A Tale of Two Cities,’ reviewed.

Joan the rebel.  

Michael Yarish/AMC

Seth, Paul,

The inmates have taken over the asylum! There are riots in Grant Park during the 1968 Democratic Convention and the whole world is watching on TV. Each of the characters reacts in the expected way: Joan sets aside her laundry and puts her hand on her heart. Don seems to think it’s all a game. Megan channels the Manhattan liberal sentiment of the moment (“cops cracking skulls”). Jack, in the boardroom, expresses the businessman’s line (“long-haired fools shaming this country”). And Michael Ginsberg starts throwing around words like “fascist” and “Nazi” to his superiors.

The breakaway the show wants us to care about most, however, is Joan, who flouts the rules and tramples over the hierarchy in order to keep control of her lead with Avon. Joan, who is usually a stickler for office rules, fails to invite Pete to a breakfast with Avon’s new head of marketing after Pete insists that only he and Peggy can go to the meeting. Presumably Joan is feeling emboldened after being taken so seriously in her initial lunch with the Avon guy—a lunch she expected to be a date, no less. Peggy’s appalled that Joan’s gone rogue, leading to one of the great office girlfights, with each dredging up long-held resentments: “You were so brave, letting Don carry you to the deep end of the pool,” Joan says, to which Peggy replies, “I never slept with him.” (So much for the theory that powerful women should be friends.)

But then Peggy comes through, spectacularly, bailing out Joan when she’s being chewed out by Ted by faking a phone call from Avon. For Ted, business is business, no matter where it comes from. Office rancor is defused—well, not Pete’s rancor—and all that’s left is for Joan to actually prove herself.

There is some irony in the fact that Joan and her stalking of Avon are the closest this office gets to rebellion. Ginsberg served as the prophet in this episode, reminding us just how incompatible the business of advertising and the chaos on the streets are. Advertising worries about making myths and tidy narratives, about controlling the story, through, say, the meaning of a name (SCDPGC or SCDC) or the marketing of makeup. But outside, everything is falling apart, and only Ginsberg seems unable to separate those two worlds. He worries he’s a “thug” and “part of the problem.” Paul, Seth, what did you make of his Ginzo persona, “destroyer of worlds,” receiver of transmissions beaming straight to his head? He doesn’t get high or do drugs, so is he actually going crazy? (And what happened to that nice girl he went on a date with. Can’t she help him?)

Seth, you wrote about Jungian bifurcation on the show last week and this episode, titled “Tale of Two Cities,” pushed that even further into literal territory. The bosses are on different coasts, Megan appears as herself and her longer-haired hippie variant in Don’s hashish hallucination, and Don stares at a version of himself face down in the pool—a sight which looks alarmingly like his suicidal Hawaii ad of an empty suit. (So much for him carrying Peggy to the deep end, or relaxing by swimming, as Megan advises he do). For those, such as Slate’s June Thomas, who believe that Megan is turning into Sharon Tate, this episode provided more fodder. At the end of the hallucination Megan pats her belly and implies that she has a surprise coming. Tate was 8½ months pregnant when she was murdered.*

Don and Roger both suffer in this episode for their insular arrogance. On the plane, Roger reminds Don—who would like to get some sleep or prepare for their meeting the following day—that they are New York ad men and thus will be seen by those hickish California execs as saviors: “We’re conquistadors. I’m Vasco de Gama and you’re some other Mexican.” But Roger is very behind the times. The California execs see right through them. And Roger loses his showdown with Danny, the twerp he once fired who is now a successful Hollywood writer. Looking rich and handsome doesn’t get him very far anymore. At the pool party, Danny punches Roger in the balls and goes home with the girl. Don, meanwhile, joins the hookah circle in a full suit, maybe because he doesn’t realize that the cocaine era hasn’t arrived yet. And he ends up nearly drowning.

The instances of men in suits getting high are getting frequent enough to fill a Tumblr. I loved the image at the end of Pete, smoking Stan’s joint, sitting under that pin-up board in creative. Cats are living with dogs, the world is coming apart, and all he has is a sunny yellow dress to distract him. Me, I’ve been waiting all season for that Janis Joplin.

If either of you could shed some light on all the pool references, or Cutler’s wooing of Bob Benson, I would be most grateful.

Tell me the truth. Are you a homo?


Correction, June 3, 2013: This post misstated the extent of Sharon Tate’s pregnancy when she was murdered. She was 8½ months pregnant, not 8½ weeks. (Return to the corrected sentence.)