At the end of last week, it seemed that Don might be recommitting himself to Megan and his marriage. This week we get to see Don try to follow through on his promise by overcoming his own impulses. In fact, while Don is fighting himself, “A Tale of Two Cities” is full of other conflicts taking place as well. There’s the chaos of the protestors vs. policemen woven throughout the episode, as well as the Republican candidates vs. each other as they struggle to secure nomination, and of course all the while the war (US vs. Vietnam) rages on. But there are also the fights that are taking place on a more relevant scale for our heroes. Let’s take a closer look.
In the office, the question that’s been on every viewer’s lips needs to be resolved: What is going to be the name of the new firm? The name becomes a battleground, with nobody wanting their initial left out and both former firms fighting to have their initials first. Cutler (or Roger 2.0 as I like to call him) argues “SCDPCGC is a mouthful but CGCSCDP is not.”
The office becomes even more torn once Roger and Don leave for California and Cutler and Ginsberg butt heads over the Vietnam war. Ginsberg calls Cutler a greedy, racist fascist while Cutler points out the inherent hypocrisy in Ginsberg’s position as an employee in an ad company that boasts Dow chemical as one of its clients (of course we see later that this cuts Ginsberg deeply and he has a small breakdown before Bob Benson manages to finally snap him out of it). Cutler runs to Ted, seething about “our people” and “their people”.
Meanwhile, on the west coast, it’s the New Yorkers vs. the Californians. Roger thinks their clients should be impressed simply by the fact they have New York ad men “conquistadors” visiting them. However, once in the Carnation office, it becomes clear that they won’t be winning the Californians over so easily. The executives think Carnation and Life Cereal are an unresolvable conflict for the firm, while Don believes that the two are not enemies. Think back to the promo poster for this season of Mad Men: Don Draper in a black suit passes by a Don Draper in a gray suit headed in the opposite direction. Don Draper isn’t arguing about Life Cereal and Carnation. Don Draper is arguing that he can resolve the two sides of himself that are in conflict. The side of him that wants to be a good husband to Megan and the side of him that is full of self-loathing and crippling insecurities that drive him to do hurtful things. But can we believe in the wholesomeness of Don’s intentions? The party later that evening serves as the litmus test.
At the party, Roger ends up fighting Danny while Don ends up smoking hashish, hallucinating a pregnant Megan, then hallucinating the soldier from the season premiere, and then hallucinating his own floating body in a pool, and then nearly actually drowning before being saved by Roger. I don’t think it’s a small detail that Roger is the one to rescue Don because on the plane back Roger gives him some pertinent advice “You’ve got to stop living in the past. Your job is to know yourself. Sooner or later, you start to love who you are.”
One great counterpoint to the conflict in this episode are Joan and Peggy. Their argument after the meeting with the Avon executive is not so much an argument but really a reaffirmation of the mutual admiration and respect they have for each other’s abilities. In the end, Peggy is the one to stand by Joan throughout the episode as she struggles to be the “account man” (Joan vs. Pete? How about Joan vs. the male patriarchy?)
In the end, the new name is decided to be SC&P as it’s the “only solution that’s equally offensive to all.” Ted tells an indignant Pete “We’re all working together. All agency business is your business.” But we are left to wonder, to what degree are these compromises creating resentments. Pete, like most of the Mad Men characters, cannot stand change in his life. As the episode ends on him finally smoking a joint by himself in the creative lounge, we have to wonder, will Pete Campbell continue to struggle or just jump ship?
- Don: [shows up late to the meeting, sits down] Are we done here?
- Roger: [grabs drinks from air hostess] Send one to the pilot, too.
- Ted: As new head of business- Pete: Since when? I don’t want that!
- Cutler: [explodes at Bob Benson]Why are you always down here? Go back upstairs!
- Bob Benson [to Ginsberg]: I know what you’re feeling and it’s fear. But it’s not fear of failure, it’s fear of opportunity. Stan: I can’t watch this.
- Is this the last we’ll see of Bob Benson now that he’s going to Detroit?
- Wasn’t it weird to hear Joan say the word “computer”?