Mad Men S6 E10: A Tale of Two Cities (updated)

Discombobulation is the order of the day at what’s going to become Sterling Cooper & Partners. The name change at first signals a reversion back to the old days, to the glory days, when (m)ad men were kings of the castle and the living was easy. It was not so long ago that there would be no chance that Don, Roger, and Harry would find themselves out of place at a party, because the party came to them. (And boy did Bert Cooper wear a big ass grin when it was announced.) They still have their fun, but they’re the guests rather than the hosts, and if they won’t hightail it out to LA, the hot girls will be taking dips in movie producers’ pools, and not theirs. The old name has a nice and familiar ring, but the ampersand and “Partners” remove a little of the luster; we’ve reached the point by which advertising is considered a last-ditch option for creative types, something done purely for money rather than artistry. That’s perfectly understandable as we’ve probably reached the point by which TV stopped being a novelty. After the novelty and luster fade, commercials are little more than bathroom breaks and things to tolerate. More people will start watching TV, but ratings are high for breaking news events, like the 1968 DNC riots—the stuff with no commercials. With the exception of Super Bowls, ads will have to adjust to work subliminally, because the ads aren’t much more than guests of the entertainment industry; TV begrudgingly invites them along so it can fund the real creativity.  It’s as if the name change says: Here’s the same guys you know and love…plus all this new stuff—new work relationships, new “Partners” under one masthead, new clients, new customers to target—they don’t know how to handle. The SC&P response? Ignorance or resignation.

Don, Roger, and Harry sojourn to California to meet with Carnation (of instant breakfast fame), but I’m imagining that they arrive home with less than a satisfying aftertaste. Probably last night’s funniest moment came during their sit-down with the Carnation execs, when its head honcho expressed horror regarding what he’d seen going on in Chicago not because police brutality is so awful but because Richard Nixon didn’t quench his thirst for law and order enough. THOSE DAMN HIPPIES, RUINING EVERYTHING. It’s true that the younger generation confuses the hell out of Don and Roger (much less so Harry), which is problematic enough, and it doesn’t help that the agency can’t really decide if it wants to market its clients’ products (Carnation, now Avon) to kids. Further foreshadowing their impending obsolescence is how little work is required to do their job; Roger hasn’t prepared one bit, and didn’t have to, because no one else was going to save them from the initial awkwardness of their meeting with Carnation.

Further diminishing the sexiness of their position, the trio arrive at the Hollywood Hills party in, as revealed in dialogue, a cab and not the shiny red Mustang they’d rented. Don and Roger care too much about their looks, and they’re right not to want the wind to fuck with their hair, but it’s growing more and more obvious that they’re the oldest people at parties these days. Roger pulled off his outfit, but he looked enough like a sea captain to stand out. He could spend a few more days at Jack Horner’s house, sure, but that wouldn’t make him any younger even if he’d have a pretty decent time. Roger confirmed that his LSD trip wasn’t a one-off occasion, but the potency of any good trip last night wouldn’t have prevented him from babysitting Don—as adrift in the pool as he is in life, basically—and whoever else doesn’t fit in the new scene. That Roger’s little shit of a family friend—Danny, the copywriter for whom Roger’s ex-wife asked for an interview, has made it out here apparently successfully, with all these beautiful and mostly younger women—is both beguiling and frustrating.

Joan’s is a case I had a little more difficulty reading. Of course, many of Joan’s scenes this season have involved people, like her high school friend that set her up with the Avon guy, relating to her their amazement and awe at what a success she’s become. Joan doesn’t see that the same way; she has a baby without a husband, and she’s a partner who doesn’t bring in new business. That last reality could change, and seemingly has, given Joan’s maneuvering and Peggy’s crunch-time assistance, but had Peggy not come to the rescue Joan herself risked overplaying her cards and for the first time making herself vulnerable by exposing her quiet desperation. The scene she and Peggy shared near the elevator bank was forceful in its testiness (one of Peggy’s first defenses is always “I didn’t sleep with Don,” Joan deploys the standard “You’re just like them” comeback) and evocative of a role-reversal from the beginning of the series, in that it’s Peggy telling Joan how things work. Ultimately, they’ll look out for one another—they have to—but forging an alliance is tough when both allies insist on being the teacher and look upon the other as the student. Now, I’ve got all that; I think I understand perfectly well what’s motivating Joan’s decisions. What I’m trying to wrap my head around is where she fits in the larger social milieu. Is Joan a feminist? If so, she might be an unwitting one; she’s a woman trapped in a man’s world but is more conservative in disposition than someone like Peggy. Does her reaction to the news have anything to do with the play she made last night? The show made a point to show her forlornly gazing at her television set.

There are fault lines surrounding all the SC&P employees. Some are their own doing—Jim Cutler putting Bob Benson, not Ken, in charge of the new Chevy leads; Joan going behind Pete’s back, breaking a promise to the person she claimed never broke a promise to her—but many are not. The times are moving by, and SC&P keeps getting bigger, the “&P” a kind of nebulous descriptor for trying to bandage Kevin Ware’s compound fracture with Scotch tape. Some of these guys don’t really comprehend what’s happening, and the ones that do are left to bogart whatever joints are lying around.

[kyra addendum]: I don’t think I struggled to understand where every character thinks they stand this week as much as I was actually confused by some of the events that took place.

Using the standard Mad Men time measurement, it’s been about a month since we last saw Don assuring Megan he was going to change, and things seem to be going well. While on the phone in California he sounds genuine when he says he misses her. Later on he hallucinates seeing her while high, and seems to be delighted–she immediately distracts him from the hot blonde he was talking to. Don’s relative happiness in this episode makes me confused as to how he ends up face down in the pool. Is this attempted suicide? Is he really so fucked up that he has no idea what’s going on. I’m no expert on hash, but I didn’t get the impression it had these kinds of effects. He sees Dinkins, the guy who gave him the lighter earlier this season, who tells him that ‘dying doesn’t make you whole.’ That sounds like anti-suicide talk to me, and yet he ends up in the pool. Matthew Weiner’s just trying to be crazy deep.

Are we supposed to think Joan and Peggy’s pitch went well? I really couldn’t tell. I thought Peggy was doing a really good job telling stories about her youth being associated with Avon, while Joan kept trying to annoyingly tie-in back to the business. Based on their argument outside the elevator afterwords though it seems like they both thought they struggled. Once again, I found myself a little confused. On another note, do people not realize that Joan has a way to hear everything that goes on in the partners’ meeting room? I guess they might use this if they were to ‘give the client the room’ and then secretly listen on them, but then surely they should know when someone else can listen to them. It seems like an incredibly dumb design decision.

Lastly there is loveable Bob Benson: the subject of endless debates on the blogs and amongst the commenters (is he the next Don Draper? Is he the next Pete Campbell? Is he an alien?). James Wolk is a potential future big star (some have called him the next George Clooney) so I suspect that his prominence will continue to rise at SC&P (unlike say Ginsburg who is too neurotic and weird to be a feature player). So far he seems like a genuinely nice guy with a habit of being in the right place at the right time to do the best brown-nosing possible. Here’s where I’m a little confused: after Ginsburg pisses Cutler off Cutler decides to put Benson on the Chevy account. A little time passes, and the account goes under review. Are we supposed to take from the Cutler-Chaugh scene that Cutler put Benson on the account in the hopes of him screwing up and them losing it because it was one of SCDP’s accounts rather than CGC? That was my impression, although Roger remarks that they’ve been under review for months. So far we’ve scene Bob the romantic, Bob the sycophant, and Bob the rally-guy, but we have yet to see if his work has any merit. Until then I don’t really know what to think of Bob. Clearly Matthew Weiner is not showing us his full hand, but I would suspect that he has a couple cards up his sleeve.

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