As you note, Hanna, this episode is titled “A Tale of Two Cities.” And much as it was in 18th-century France, rebellion is afoot. The establishment is crumbling.
But it’s three cities, no? In Chicago, the pigs fend off the longhairs. In New York, Pete fumes at Joan’s sedition. And in L.A., Roger Sterling gets a nut-crushing introduction to a “different protocol” from the one he’s accustomed to.
The divide seemed to fall between those who believe in hierarchies and dues-paying—or, viewed less charitably: entitlement—versus those who believe that power exists to be seized. Pete complains that Joan playing fast and loose with the Avon account is “a revolt,” and he simply cannot brook her “breach of the fundamental rules.” But he caves. In the end, he’s smoking grass with the creatives. (By the way, if you’ve never tried weed, it’s exactly like that. The instant the smoke hits your lungs you hear the disembodied wails of Janis Joplin.)
As order breaks down, there’s this notion in the air that we can all reinvent ourselves. Danny Siegel, a washout on Madison Avenue, has been rechristened Daniel J. Siegel, movie producer. Joan unilaterally declares herself an accounts guy. Even SCDPCGC is whitewashing its history, erasing five letters from its name, willy-nilly, in an act of superficial transformation. If Sydney Carton can make himself Charles Darnay, I guess the art team can cook up a new SC&P logo.
If anyone knows about radical reinvention, it’s Don Draper. “I told you that’s not my name,” he says to a woman at the debauched shindig in the hills. But what’s going on with Don? The change in him seems deeper this time. He gets sappy with Megan before he leaves town, and later dreams she’s pregnant with “a second chance.” A second chance to be a great dad? To get marriage and family right? Megan marvels that “a policeman cracking your skull would change your whole life.” But so might a baby. I couldn’t help but notice that Don’s first act upon returning to New York was asking Dawn to get his wife on the line.
Hanna, I can’t suss out what’s going on with all this portentous pool stuff. The very first line of the episode is Megan asking if she should pack Don’s swim trunks for his trip. Later, she encourages him to swim because it makes him “feel better.” And then the plunge. Is this a baptism? Yet another fresh start?
And what are we to make of the ominous death imagery that continues to trail the Drapers? There’s the Sharon Tate reference. The opening scene of the season, in which we see the POV of a dying man. And now Don encounters a hallucination of that soldier he met in Hawaii—now KIA—who promptly tells Don, “Dying doesn’t make you whole. You should see what you look like.”
I’m starting to nurse a harebrained theory that Mad Men will kill off Don in the final episode of this season. How Weinerian would that be? Icing the icon of your show seems like the sort of zagging—a rebellion against TV’s established order, if you will—that Weiner can’t resist. Stay tuned.
Hanna, I’m curious to hear your thoughts about the ongoing look at how women’s careers advanced in this era. It’s all been unorthodox leaps: Peggy plucked from the secretarial pool, Joan promoting herself in a sort of coup, Megan benefiting from nepotism at the office and then in that ad shoot. Have we seen any women ascend the hierarchy through formal channels, one rung at a time? Or is that still a ways off?
Paul, I’ll leave the Bob Benson speculation to you. It seems to have shifted from the notion that Bob might be an undercover spy to the notion that Bob might be an undercover homosexual.
I love you, you know that, you’re a mother hen,