Mad Men Review: “A Tale Of Two Cities” (Season 6, Episode 10)

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Christina Hendricks in Mad Men

…But a nice guy with untested allegiances might be more pliable for doing some dirty work. Hysterical as it is to watch Cutler chew out Bob Benson for his peacemaking efforts, it also makes sense Cutler would turn around two minutes later when what he needs is a someone to play nice with Ginsberg. Pairing the two for a dicey meeting with Manischewitz is something of a win-win, as Benson is given the chance to either prove himself an asset to Cutler (which he does), or screw things up horribly enough to justify some of SCDP’s original staff getting fired. Even though Sterling and Cooper are still on the business cards, CGC comes out ahead big time this week, as evidenced by Ted finally nailing down the Chevy account, and wildcard/ticking-time-bomb Bob scoring a promotion that will give him a reason to fight for the new guys.

One of the more enduring residents of the office makes similar attempts at advancement through the crafty deployment of an underling, though Joan isn’t quite as unscrupulous, or effective at Machiavellian maneuvering as Cutler. Gal-pal Kate from “To Have and to Hold” sets up Joan with a rep from Avon, with Joan surprised (and probably a little relieved) to find out that the date is business-oriented in nature. Avon, as a female-marketed company (and a Fortune 500 one at that) could land Joan a whale of a client in her first attempt fishing for an account…at least, her first attempt where she’s not the bait. Aware that she’s perhaps a bit out of her depth, she calls in the one person she trusts, and respects enough to make sure it’s Mrs. Holloway who gets credit for landing the big kahuna, and that’s Peggy.

Peggy and Joan’s relationship, like that of Joan and Don, has been one of the show’s great, untapped reserves of camaraderie  and mutual recognition. Seeing the two fully combine forces for the first time is a sight to behold, partly because of how awesome it is to see the two working a client together (with the added bonus of screwing Pete out of the equation), and partly because, oh my god, everything about this meeting is a disaster, and I can’t look away. Joan is right to think she needs Peggy, as her pitch to Avon’s man Andy is direct and efficient, but lacking in the slickness needed to properly schmooze a client into bed with the agency. Peggy, out of complicated feelings for Joan, doesn’t know whether she’s leading or following, so the pair end up with nothing more than a sample basket of product for the office by the time the check is paid.

Out of fear of seeing the old ways of doing things bunt to the ground, “A Tale of Two Cities” features numerous scenes of characters spelling out how the world is supposed to work, as both a reminder to those around them, and as an excuse to justify their actions. Peggy and Joan have it out in capslock over how each’s career path has mirrored, bounced off of, and diverged from the others, in one of those long-anticipated scenes of laying everything on the table that the show has been building to for a while now. Perhaps it’s partly out of a sense of delayed gratification, but watching Moss and Hendricks have it out, openly and honestly, is one of the best two minutes this season has had by a long shot, injecting some much needed pathos into an hour all about sweating bullets from stress and heat exhaustion.

And, heaven help me, I was just as moved to see Peggy then rescue their relationship from the brink, pulling some Get Smart moves on Ted and Pete while the two interrogate Joan in the conference room for going behind their back. Peggy’s little lie about Avon calling Joan gives them some breathing room, but it’s only upped the stakes for what closing the account means. We need something to actually root for and invest in each week on Mad Men, so anchoring Peggy and Joan’s careers in the same tight spot is both dramatically efficient, and shockingly fresh. The “everyone for themselves” mentality the show has really makes itself known in nights like tonight, where one more bout of turbulence for the agency could send everyone skittering and clawing over each other for an exit. It’s comforting to know that amid all the chaos, there are still people who you want to escape all the tumult unscathed.

Yet, what is it they would be escaping to? A bigger office? A return to the way things were? What is it about New York, the center of all these characters’ universes, that is so worth holding onto? Pete fought like hell to keep his mistress of a city, even with a wife dragging him out to the ‘burbs, but now it doesn’t even seem like New York wants him. Stabbed in the back by Joan, relegated to an unpromising new position by Ted, and shutdown by Don for accurately noticing the chess pieces being moved by Cutler, Pete’s losing the city, the job, and the life that was home to him. In a moment of ultimate disenfranchisement, he grabs a joint from Stan, sparks up, and Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart” roars to life in the background. It’s a terrific, drop-the-mic final series of shots to end a mostly clean, but very good Mad Men. If New York really is the center of the universe, maybe the only place Pete, or anyone else can escape to is another plane of existence.

  • Stray Thoughts

-Saving the bulk of the Stray Thoughts for tomorrow, as like Don in “The Crash,” I just spent a hectic, sleep deprived weekend in the city, and will need to pass out in a moment. And I didn’t even have any of that energy serum stuff.

-Tempting as it was to talk more explicitly about the “Dicksensian” aspects of the episode, I was worried I’d sound too much like the pretentious Baltimore Sun editor from the 5th season of The Wire. Probably more important: I know pretty much jackshit about Dickens.

-The source of Bob Benson’s powers is revealed! And it’s motivational vinyls! Like a lot of fans, I feel like Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window: the more normal this guy looks on the outside, the more convinced I become he’s secretly moonlighting as a psychopath. If there happen to be a series of murders involving cold coffee cups being found near dead bodies, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

-“Thiiiiis is my stop.” Stan twice proves himself to be a Houdini when it comes to awkward social situations, even when he’s willing to backup Ginsberg’s mini-portest, to a point.

-So Don wound up tripping hard on hash, and nearly drowned surrounded by bikini-clad extras from In Like Flint. I gotta say, I mostly tuned out his hallucinations. It’s interesting to see Don making half-assed attempts to be faithful to Megan, or at least, feel bad about it when he isn’t, but I can’t say the appearance of flower child Megan, or a ghostly Private Dinkins, struck me as terribly important.

-“Well, there’s an extra nipple here when you get back.” Best or worst pickup line ever? Try it the next time you’re at your local hookah bar.

-Roger getting punched below the 49th parallel was funny and really well-deserved. There’s maybe not a whole lot of love lost between him and Jane, but the short jokes at Danny’s expense were tasteless and witless, especially by Roger’s standards. We also learn Roger has now done LSD five times.

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