Lost in the Movies: Mad Men - "A Tale of Two Cities" (season 6, episode 10)

Mad Men - "A Tale of Two Cities" (season 6, episode 10)

Welcome to my viewing diary for Mad Men. Every Monday I will review another episode of seasons four, five, and six. Both parts of season seven will be covered in the summer of 2022 (now updated to winter 2021-22). I have never seen this series before so there will be NO spoilers.

Story (aired on June 2, 2013/written by Janet Leahy and Matthew Weiner; directed by John Slattery): Don and Roger fly west to pay homage to Sunkist's oranges and Carnation's instant breakfast; in return they receive an earful of Dutch Reagan worship and (in Don's case) lungs full of pool water after he smokes too much hashish from a Hollywood hookah. The sixties is in full swing, but which sixties? It's a year past Haight Ashbury's peak hippie season but at that party in the Hills, where Don's hallucinations include a groovy, pregnant Megan doppelganger and the now armless (and deceased) soldier he met in Hawaii, the world is still in full Summer of Love mode. (Elsewhere at the gathering, Roger mocks little Danny Siegel - remember him? - until the now long-haired, mustachioed, poncho-wearing peacenik breaks his personal code to punch Roger in the balls.) On the other hand, the sixties caught on videotape replay during the nightly news ("The whole world is watching!") appears far more militant and unsettling, a bitter battle between the blue-jerseyed, white-helmeted forces of Straight America and the alienated youths protesting the Democratic Party machine and the war effort it's protecting. Back in New York, a similar battle line is drawn in more farcical fashion between Jim and Michael, with Bob trying to smooth things over; in the midst of all this personal drama, they lose Manischewitz. Joan's ostensible dinner date turn into an initial client meeting with Avon and, sensing an opportunity to finally carve out her own space in the office, she tries to land the account herself. This gets her in hot water with Pete and Ted for bypassing the proper accounts bureaucracy (until Peggy intervenes with a clever ploy). As for the overcrowded agency letterhead, the name is finally pared down: Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce Cutler Gleason Chaough becomes simply Sterling Cooper & Partners. Without even lifting a finger themselves to make it happen, only the elders are left standing.

My Response: Of all the California trips, this is the most inconsequential - mostly an excuse to groove on that full freakout sixties vibe (just like the iconic closing shot of Pete taking a drag and scoping a skirt to the beat of Big Brother and the Holding Company). I expected Anna's niece Stephanie to make a fateful return appearance but no, all of the Whitman baggage has been dispensed with. And Megan is back in New York for this trip, despite Don's hallucinations, so there's no re-living that West Coast landmark either. Even the meetings with potential clients feel incidental although I loved the bit where the admen try to appeal to one client's conservatism, only for another one to step in as the presumed liberal...only for him to reveal that his objection is in fact even more right-wing, leaving them speechless. (California in the late sixties was a strange brew of radical chic and this arch-reactionary extremism; if the former would reshape pop culture, the latter would go mainstream when the Carnation rep's favorite politician became America's last widely popular president in the eighties.) With Slattery directing again just a few episodes after his last, more brooding entry, the emphasis is definitely on wit and wackiness; it's no accident that this is Roger's first time venturing out to the West Coast. And while "Man with a Plan" gave Slattery a chance to dip into footage around the (second) Kennedy assassination, "A Tale of Two Cities" draws on news clips of the Chicago police riot as Hubert Humphrey is nominated. Slattery, unlike most in the ensemble, could possibly remember these events - albeit only as a small child (he turned seven a couple weeks before the Democratic convention). As in several other episodes this season, characters are glued to their TV sets, reacting in various ways as the world falls apart around them, even if it's hard to discern a direct impact. By now, the big events of '68 have mostly unfolded (and been referenced, some more obliquely than others): the Tet Offensive, Johnson dropping out, Bobby vs. Gene, King's assassination, May '68 in France, Kennedy's assassination, the Soviets in Prague, and now "Czechago" as activists called the melee (in an effort to tie it to that last event). The Columbia University takeover and numerous other youth uprisings have been bypassed; Nixon's election and the Christmas moon circling remain on the horizon. If I had to guess, there will eventually be an occupation of the Sterling Cooper & Partners office before the season ends, in protest of their relationship to Dow Chemical, and Michael in particular may have a decision to make.

Next (active on November 15, 8am): "Favors"Previous: "The Better Half"

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