Every week, Aaron Cohen (@UnlikelyWords) writes a recap of Mad Men for his blog Unlikely Words, and I illustrate something from the episode to go with it. Here’s Aaron’s recap for season 6 episode 10: (Still working on a different recap structure with David Jacobs. Some thoughts then a discussion.)
-This episode takes place at the end of August during the tumultuous Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Extended time was devoted to showing actual footage of the riots that occurred between protestors in Chicago and police, along with the reactions of Don, Megan, and Joan. I’m not totally sure why Joan’s reaction was shown unless it was a foreshadowing that things are going to change for her. “The whole world is watching.” was pointedly audible during the end of the riot footage. A reference to advertising…
-Don and Roger on the plain. “Leave the drudgery to the underlings.” I actually wanted Chris to draw, “Be slick, be glib, be you.” tonight. Don was trying to be prepared for the meeting and it turned out they were all a little bit unprepared for how angry Carnation was in general, and specifically about SCDP also representing Life Cereal.
-Bob Benson had a lot of air time, I do not know where this is going. First Cutler yells at him for always being on the Creative floor, and then his listening to inspirational records pays off when he talks Ginsberg off the proverbial ledge and gets him to go to a meeting.
-Joan thought she was being set up on a date with a successful divorcee, but it was actually a client meeting. I really hope this works out for her! Pete was mad about how it developed and through a tantrum about how things are supposed to work in the agency. Pete is definitely more well suited to hang around the straight-laced CGC guys vs. the loosey goosey SCDP crew.
-“Hippies don’t wear make up at all.” and “I’m not sure if we should be groovier or nostalgic. We’re somewhere in between.”
-Once in a while Mad Men will show the conventional wisdom of politics, and until now, there have been a few Democrats and a few Republicans, but not much polarization. The zealotry of the Carnation exec in favor of Nixon, and then again the exec in favor of Regan, were a couple of the first times where the political climate of today was foreshadowed. Also, Cutler saying his politics were private.
-“Because it’s better than being screwed by you.”
-“All agency business is your business.” Ted realizes Pete is feeling inconsequential, and is trying to make him feel better.
-Cutler is definitely a mini-Sterling with the one liners. Dryer, and with less joie de vivre than Roger, but still. “It’s the only thing that’s equally offensive.”
-Here’s GIF-evidence of Don and Pete being on the same path.
-Nice hand-drawn lettering on the Work Smarter Not Harder poster on Stan and Ginsberg’s office. Turns out it’s by David Weidman and was done in 1968.
Aaron: Tonight’s episodes was called “Tale of Two Cities,” which could be talking about the differences between NYC and LA or Chicago, but as you know, ‘Tale of Two Cities’ is a famous novel with a famous opening paragraph:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.”
So yeah, that’s what’s happening on Mad Men and in general in 1968, huh? I liked this episode. I thought it was snappier, I thought more things happened to move plot forward, the dialogue was good. How do you think the title of the episode directly applies to the episode tonight, and what’d you think?
David: I liked it. I think the title of the episode is a big nod to the constant comparisons of TV shows (like Mad Men, the Wire, Deadwood, etc.) to the serialized drama of Dickens, but also it is indeed the best of times and worst of times for SC&P. Even as they gain new business they tend to do it in a reckless (dare I say sloppy?) way, and Ted and his crew’s machinations wouldn’t be addressed unless things are going to end very badly. But there were some great moments tonight – Sterling getting cock-punched, the return of Dawn, the return of Danny Siegel (!) and Joan and Peggy’s confrontation near the elevators. Earlier in the season when Dawn told her friend how miserable the mood at SCDP was, we hadn’t quite seen it yet. Now we’re seeing it.
Like most Dickens, the Red Wedding, and Twin Peaks we’re in for a sad ending. The episode included some pretty dark foreshadowing – not just Megan (dressed again as Sharon Tate), Peter falling further into desperation, and Roger’s discussion of death, but also Don’s near death experience.
Despite these dark forebodings, we’re in the “downshift” half of the season, so I expect crowd-pleasers the rest of the way. In addition to the Vega, which we know will be a bomb, the Carnation breakfast campaign that Don hinted at in his meeting with instant breakfast executives (“it’s as healthy as two eggs and bacon, but easier to make”!) was the subject of a lawsuit just a few years later:
“The Carnation Company of Los Angeles has promised to stop making what the Federal Trade Commission called unwarranted nutrition claims in advertising Carnation Instant Breakfast, the commission announced today. The commission’s complaint alleged, among other things, that the advertisements falsely implied that Carnation Instant Breakfast had the nutritional benefit of two fresh eggs, two slices of bacon, two slices of buttered toast and an orange or a glass of orange”
I don’t think we’re going to get to the 70s this season, so this is all laying the groundwork for season 7. But the as you noted, the plot did move forward. I would also like to note that I thought it was masterfully directed, which is frankly unusual for a John Slattery directed episode. I couldn’t help but think of Annie Hall during the LA scenes. There’s a wonderful moment in Annie Hall when Woody Allen and Diane Keaton drive past a Santa being pulled by a reindeer sleigh, but of course it’s on a green lawn since it doesn’t snow in California. It’s a classic fish-out-of-water joke, the kind of things great directors background. Besides the obvious, what did you think of Harry, Roger, and Don’s California expedition?
Aaron: I believe this was the first California trip for Don since Mrs. Whitman died of cancer, and I was a little surprised she wasn’t referenced somehow. Harry Crane has been out to LA several times, but he’s still awkward as all hell, still NY, and still desperate. Roger’s completely out of his league at the party, “You’ll have to try harder than that.” And Don is Don. The whole house party was remarkable and full, the whole recap could be spent talking about it. First, there’s Danny Siegel, Jane’s (Roger’s ex) cousin who Roger made Don hire. Don stole Danny’s copy when pitching Life Cereal while drunk, and had to hire him for a couple days.
Then, after Don smokes some hash, we got a dream sequence where he sees Megan, who tells him she’s pregnant (maybe next week?), and he sees the soldier he helped marry in the opening episode of the season. I like keeping track of the quotations where Don’s being/personality are referenced, so, “I already told you that’s not my name.” But also, “My wife thinks I’m MIA, but I’m actually dead.” Megan thinks Don is at work, but he’s been hollowed out, and, “Dying doesn’t make you whole. You should see what you do look like.” Then he fell in the pool. The solder’s dialogue and Don falling into the pool were both a reference to the Hawaiian hotel ad campaign of the guy’s suit and the footsteps into the sea. I know what direction you think this means we’re headed in, David, but I’m still resistant to the idea. Did I miss anything in the house party scene, and also, what do you think of Joan/Avon?
David: Besides all of the fish-out-of-water references – name checks of television and movie executives, references to Danny’s “guest house,” Don’s first try of hashish (I’m astonished there’s a drug these guys haven’t tried!), and of course their wardrobe, I think this covers it. I also appreciated that Roger saved Don’s life, after talking about how useless he was going to be on the way out. And I enjoyed Harry Crane with the playing field tilted in his favor, for once.
I was a little surprised that Joan didn’t try to appeal to Pete directly, since they’d been building that relationship up a little bit over the last few episodes. And I would also think that Pete would be more supportive of her meeting with the client. But in the end, Pete was right, as Joan was awkward throughout the meeting. I think they probably will not get Avon, and that this coupled with other business going south will lay the groundwork for a bad ending for her. (I know it’s frustrated that I keep making predictions with no more depth than “bad,” but guessing with any more precision is probably a fool’s errand). What do you think of Joan’s power move? How will this end for her?
Aaron: Wait, you can’t ask me how this will end, I just asked you about Joan. I’m pretty surprised Pete wasn’t more supportive also, actually, as yes, they had been building their relationship more, seemingly. The two options for her are she doesn’t get the client and life for her returns to status quo, after she rightly or wrongly “learns her place” as it were, or she does get the client and begins a career in client work to go with her partnership. Not saying Joan deserves being stuck where she is because she’s a woman, just wondering if that’s how it will be portrayed. Speaking of the agency, for some reason Cutler and Chaough agreed to change the name to Sterling Cooper & Partners (“SC&P”), which must be foreshadowing something. More interesting to me, though, is this is Don getting erased, getting unthere’d, along with Pete Campbell’s fate being tied again to Don. This keeps happening, the Pete and Don thing having a similar path. What’d you think of the name change, what it means in regard to Cutler wanting to fire the riff raff, and in regard to the future of the firm?
David: Well, the guy who died (Fucking Gleason, why do you keep calling everyone Ken) told Ted to let Draper et al win the early rounds, and that’s what this is. Benson and Ken have been banished to Detroit, Joan and Pete are going to be split, Don (who is still clearly the talent, despite Roger’s girlfriend line with Carnation), are all being background. Besides Roger and Bert, are there any solid relationships left among the SCDP partners?
Aaron: Joan and Don. Unless they broke up after Don fired Jaguar.
David: Yeah, I just don’t think the trust is there anymore. Everyone is unhappy.
Aaron: Peggy’s line about not sleeping with Don was also pretty pointed. Guess she knows about Jaguar?
David: Jaguar, or Roger. In any case, to answer your question, I think the firm survives this season, but is blown up during the summer of 1969 next season. The Chicago riots got a lot of air time, and they also inflamed emotions at the office. I actually thought we’d get a little deeper into the election of ‘68 than we have, especially around the convention. I halfway expected to see Peggy’s ex on the screen. Whether or not that was the birth of “The Whole World is Watching” (link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_whole_world_is_watching ), I thought the Carnation executive’s political chatter, as well as the Avon executives frustration at women going to work was a little ham-fisted. In general, I feel like the “current” events of the show aren’t woven as elegantly into the fabric of the show as they used to be. Watching something happen on the TV is a little lazy – we’re just watching people on TV watch things on TV. I feel like other events (such as the JFK assassination) flowed better. Do you agree?
Aaron: When Joan stared at the riots, I thought we were going to see Abe, too. Or at least someone we knew, but that would have been totally ham-fisted. And I agree the expository TV and radio usage has been pretty heavy this year, I think we mentioned that a couple weeks ago, too. There was so much happening in 1968, and it seems like they want to touch on most of it. For the rest of 1968, there’s the Mexico City Olympics, halt to bombing in North Vietnam, and the upcoming election that may be referenced later on.
I think that might just about do it.