Was last night the best night of television ever? Between GoT, Mad Men, and Venture Brothers, it was an emotional evening. And while I'm a little jealous of all the Game of Thrones recappers today, I'm going to set aside professional envy and summarize a TV show YES.
"A Tale of Two Cities" was a solid B, maybe B+ episode of Mad Men. It threw characters out of their comfort zones, contrasted people and places, and deepened some growing conflicts. The season's really been coming together since the amphetamine fueled antics of "The Crash."
The Bros: Roger and Don fly to California for a meeting with Carnation. Harry drives them around in a red convertible and takes them to a party steeped in the California hippie culture of 1968. All the while Don and Roger are probably thinking to themselves, "This is what we pay Harry to do?"
Roger predicts great things for them (relaxed client meetings, avoiding syphilis), but instead they get brow-beaten by some angry Carnation executives and then in over their heads at the party. Roger, rocking an awesome cravat, tries to bond with a chick over his acid experiences but ends up getting punked by Danny, the former SCDP copywriter, now a movie producer. I know he won an Emmy and everything but I'm just glad Danny Strong is getting some work. And another thing, are they going to bring back every former character at some point except for Sal? Matt Weiner hates us.
While Roger spars with Danny, Don gets mellow with some hashish, chats with a phantom Megan and the soldier he met in the season premiere, and ends up face down in a pool. Roger has to revive him. It's a sobering moment, an indication of Don's inability to get it together in spite of his efforts, and a disturbing suicidal gesture that recalls his Hawaii ad. It is also a gesture towards all the doom and gloom that people have been predicting this season.
Watching Roger and Don pick their way through the Hollywood types gave me heavy flashbacks to Annie Hall.
The Ladies: Back in New York, Joan has dinner with a man from Avon, thinking she's on a date. She quickly realizes instead it's a potential client. When she takes the business to Ted, with Peggy's encouragement, he kicks the account to Pete. Eager to play a more essential role in the firm, Joan squeezes Pete out of the meeting and goes herself.
Everything goes fairly well but Joan gets chewed out by basically everyone. Peggy, Pete, and Ted all take her to task for risking the account. A neat trick from Peggy takes the heat off, but the account's status is left hanging in the end.
Joan, so capable in her element, flounders at something new and untried. As much as he sucks, Pete is right to be angry. Joan risked a large account on her pride. But what I loved was seeing Joan and Peggy dealing with each other. The years of history between these characters really comes through in their scenes together.
The Riff Raff: Ted Chaough. Jim Cutler. Bob Benson. Michael Ginsberg. The B-story involves a lot of maneuvering. Cutler gets into an argument with Ginsberg. Bob steps in. Cutler gives Bob a chance with an account. Ginsberg almost has a nervous breakdown. Bob almost loses the account. Cutler puts Bob on Chevy?
Whatever Cutler is up to, he is a shark. (A fox? A silver panther?) And Ted is his little conscience/enabler. Cutler doesn't think through consequences and he's naturally hostile. Everyone's been after Bob this season, but Cutler is the one to watch.
The History: The infamous 1968 Democratic National Convention brought protests and disgrace, exposing a political party in disarray over its identity and future. I perfer it when Mad Men uses important historical events to turn the story rather than to frame plots about office conflict, but at least it works.
The Dickpunch: Danny STRONG! Serious question, does Matt Weiner have a GIF consultant on staff?
The Resolution: A name is finally proposed: Sterling Cooper & Partners. It's simple and catchy but it leaves a lot of room to restructure the place. Pete ends the episode a sputtering Cassandra, predicting ruin that no one else sees. In an A+ sequence he marches into the copywriters room and steals a toke from "Mother Hen Stan." Cool out Campbell, you deserve it.
Two Mad Men conspiracies that you probably did not miss if you follow the show.
Number 1: Bob Benson. He's evil! He's a liar. He's a spy. He's a government agent. He's Don's illegitimate child! Most likely though, is that he's queer. After the suggestive but ultimately innocuous scene in Joan's apartment last week, every straight blogger thought her and Bob were boning, and every gay blogger brought up the queer theory. In this episode the insightful Ginsberg asks him flat out, "Are you a homo?" Bob, fresh from an inspiration session with Dale Carnegie record, laughs it off.
Still it's a theory that makes the most sense and is the least crazy. I'm going with it.
Number 2: After Megan prominently appeared in the final scene of "The Better Half" wearing the same t-shirt that Sharon Tate wore in a risque photo shoot for Esquire, the entire blogging community flipped out. The next five days were spent talking themselves into, and then out of, the possibility of Megan being killed off.
I could see it happening. The foreshadowing of some terrible event has been constant. Whether it's an insanely jealous Dr. Rosen, a whacked out Don, or a random act of crime, Megan is definitely in the line of fire. There are also solid arguments against. Mad Men is adept at building expectations only to dash them. It's also happy to rake the characters over the coals. If they go through with it, I'm sure I'll have a lot to say.
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