June 4, 2013
I loved A Tale of Two Cities when I read it in high school (I’ve never been that cool). My English teacher told us that the book was about point of view in a revolution, and in this episode of Mad Men we have just that: the powerless rise up and claim power, the powerful are cut down, and each character has an individual perspective as the revolution rages. There are actually three cities here: New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, and revolt takes place in each one. In New York, Joan saw an opportunity to finally get credit, to claim an account as her own, and she took it. In LA, Harry Crane boldly continued to drive the car of his choice, and Danny Siegel (the short guy Roger once hired as a favor to Jane) finally got to punch Roger where it hurts. In Chicago, history unfolded: at the Democratic National Convention, massive anti-war demonstrations were brutally repressed by rioting cops.
The world of Mad Men opened up to really take in the historical world of August 1968. First Joan, then Don, and then Megan watched their TV sets as the camera lingered on that stunning television footage from Chicago; the scenes were slow, so we could really get the picture. Don and Megan’s differing reactions provided the perfect example of the growing generation gap. Megan was horrified by the police actions and cracked skulls. Don justified the police: “They [demonstrators] were throwing rocks,” he says. “And what do you care, you don’t even vote.” “But I live here,” says Megan, and she really does. When they got together, they could not have foreseen that their age difference would put them in such distinctly different camps as the events of the sixties unfolded.
While the weak fought for power, the powerful fell. Don was stripped not only of his representation in the agency’s name but of his very ability to float; after a trippy walk through a drug-soaked LA party, he encountered a pregnant Megan and the ghost of PFC Dinkins (the soldier whose wedding he presided over in Hawaii), then fell face first into the pool. He stood watching his drowning body—it was peaceful for a moment—and then Roger saved him. That picture of Roger, sweating and on his knees, shooing people away from the scene as he lifted Don, made me realize how long and perhaps deep their friendship really is. Don, Roger, and Harry are also cut down to size during their meeting with the Carnation people. They’re all joking about the riots with a junior executive, but when the head honcho enters the room, he spews his powerful anger. Last night was disgusting, seeing those long-haired fools shame this country, and Nixon is nothing but an opportunist who can do nothing to fix the mess. Quickly, Don, Roger and Harry fall in line, nodding in agreement before changing the subject.
Pete, who was once weak, now believes himself to be powerful, but that’s stripped away here, too. He’s also not present in the agency name and he loses his battle with Joan. Not only that, but he can’t get Don to listen when he tries to yell about it. In the end, after reprimanding Stanley for smoking a joint in the office, he takes it away and smokes it himself. Meanwhile, Ginsburg, who has always been in a weak position, starts to unravel. He loses it on Cutler, making it clear he feels like he’s spending his days in the enemy camp and he doesn’t belong there. Rocking back and forth on the floor, he quotes J. Robert Oppenheimer, the man who built the atomic bomb: “Now I am become death, destroyer of worlds.” As a Holocaust survivor, Ginsburg’s intense feelings about all this violence are not easy to unpack. But he’s seeing his inaction as a negative action (and he rants to Cutler, “This whole thing works because people like you look the other way.”)
The Joan/Peggy dynamic was fascinating this week. Joan first approached Peggy as an ally, but after the renegade breakfast meeting with Avon, they exchanged words in front of that damn elevator that pitted them distinctly against each other. “I never slept with Don,” says Peggy, and the implications are clear. As a microcosm of the nascent women’s movement, that’s a devastating moment, and it makes Peggy’s later rescue of Joan feel that much more weighty.
I also thought it was interesting what a big deal it was that Joan simply changed the order of things; it’s not like she forged her name on a check, she just set up a meeting without Pete. Then I remembered “New Amsterdam,” the episode in Season 4 in which Pete pitched his own copy to the Bethlehem Steel people, subverting Don’s role completely. That move very nearly got him fired (and prompted one of my favorite Don lines: “I need you to get a cardboard box—then put your things in it”). In this episode, he’s now in Don’s position—he’s fully committed to the structure of things, and sees Joan’s power grab as a heinous crime.
And what about Bob Benson? At this point I’m just collecting facts. This week we learned: Bob is an aspiring account man. Bob listens to motivational records about how to achieve success. Bob hates disrespect. Bob responds to accusations of homosexuality with a joke. Bob relishes the opportunity to shine. Bob believes that, rather than be in the right place at the right time, you gotta be in the right place all the time. But who is Bob? I still don’t know. So now we have Sterling Cooper and Partners, or “SC-ampersand-P,” as Don styles it. The original power-holders have the power back and the underlings are no longer named. The power balance as the episode ended gave us some wins for the little guys (Joan, Danny) and some losses, but the struggle is far from over.
Other Things to Note:
– Lots of callbacks to Peggy’s initial success this week. During the Avon meeting, she mentions “Mark Your Man,” the campaign that got her started. When Avon sends over a box of makeup to try and “the girls” go crazy with it, it’s entirely reminiscent of Peggy’s “basket of kisses” moment. And then Peggy flips a switch and listens in on Ted and Pete’s conversation, just as her superiors used to listen in on her.
– Cutler continues to be a bit of a jerk, and I can’t quite figure out his endgame.
– Loved Roger’s description of himself as a “child with a full head of hair and a thriving business.”
– Part of Don’s drug fantasy is a pregnant Megan, one who wants to quit her job and devote her life to raising his kid. Yeah, right.
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