Mad Men "A Tale of Two Cities" Review: A Song of Angry Men (and Women)

By MaryAnn Sleasman

Jun 03, 2013

Mad Men S06E10: "A Tale of Two Cities"

It's been a long, long time since I've read  A Tale of Two Cities, and even then, it was in high school, so "read and study" was probably more like "skim and wing it," but water was kind of a big symbolic deal representing destruction and the unconsciousness, and the French Revolution hovered in the background of it all—so there plenty of parallels to Don's drug-addled dip in the pool and the violence-plagued Democratic National Convention taking over every TV set in the country (and placing this episode at the end of August 1968).

The two "cities" that comprise the newly christened Sterling Cooper & Partners ("It's the only name that's offensive to everyone.") clashed quite a bit when Ginsberg mouthed off to Cutler and Cutler approached Ted Chaough with a glorious plan to fire all of the SCDP survivors while Don and Roger were in California trying to make nice with the folks from Carnation, who were pissed about competing with Life cereal for the love and affection of their ad agency. I'm not sure how serious Cutler's threat was, though I did think Ginsberg was a goner there for a second—and then Bob after the Manischewitz meeting—and then Joan after the Avon incident. SCDP vets better be careful! 

All things considered, however, "A Tale of Two Cities" was an episode about futility, hypocrisy, and, in a roundabout way, teamwork. Everybody, and I mean everybody, spent a lot of time being frustrated, angry, and disappointed with each another, but the idea of anyone just removing themselves from the people who infuriated them is impossible, especially at SC&P. 

At the stonerific party that Roger, Don, and Harry attended, Jeannie C. Riley's "Harper Valley PTA" provided the background music, which is a song about calling out hypocrites for their own vices when they call you out on yours. The song tells a tale of victory for its fictional,, free-thinking mom, but in the real—well, "real"—world of Mad Men, all of the little rebellions happening over the course of the episode largely ended in stalemates. 

In the battle of words between Cutler and Ginsberg, neither party scored a decisive victory, though Cutler's amazing zinger about hippies cashing Dow Chemical checks was... well... amazing. From a professional standpoint, Ginsberg calling his boss a Nazi to his face is hugely and hilariously not okay, even if the part of me that enjoys sticking it to The Man was waving a little Team Ginsberg flag the entire time. Cutler's words seemed to strike a chord with Ginsberg, who consequently panicked before the Manischewitz meeting and went off on a tangent about how he's an awful person for working at SC&P, but he was quickly calmed by the soothing/creepy ministrations of Mr. Bob Benson and attended the meeting like a good puppy. 

Ginsberg isn't going to leave SC&P unless he's fired and as long as Manischewitz is a client, he's (probably) not going to be fired; unfortunately (or maybe fortunately, depending on the depth of those cracks in Mikey's psyche), Manischewitz placed SC&P in review at their meeting, which turned out to be a "courtesy," so the company may not be a client for much longer. Since Ginsberg is hearing voices and starting to noticeably go off the rails, being forced to take a break from selling his soul to Big Brother miiight not be the worst fate ever for him.

Elsewhere, the Joan-Pete-Peggy conflict also ended largely unresolved, with no clear-cut good guy or bad guy except for maaaaybe Peggy if only because she's stuck in the middle of the warring factions and, so far, hasn't thrown either party under the bus... even though she actually has a pretty solid motive with regard to Joan. 

From an audience member viewpoint, the Joan-versus-Pete issue is complicated, and as much as I'm sure we'd all like to unquestionably fall in line with Joan's cause, the truth is, she was wrong to cut Pete out of the Avon meeting. Mad Men made it very clear with her total meltdown in front of the Avon exec that, while Joan bringing in her own client and sticking it to the men would have made for a delightful rah-rah girl power moment—particularly for Joan, who gets so few it seems—not everyone is cut out for every single job and maybe with a little practice and time, Joan could do Pete's job as well as Pete, but her insistance that she could easily just jump right in and take his place was all hubris. Even Peggy-the-wunderkind climbed the ladder one rung at a time, something she pointed out to Joan when it was confirmed that six seasons later, everyone still assumes Peggy slept her way into her position.

Was it disappointing as a feminist Joan fan in 2013 to see Ted crush Joan's hopes of nurturing an account of her very own by essentially handing the reins over to Pete? Absolutely. But, as we saw during the disaster-lunch with Peggy, Joan, and the Avon dude, Joan wasn't ready. Everything that came out of her mouth was stilted, canned, cold, and detached. She even interrupted Peggy's genuine connection—the story about her family's Avon lady—to offer a bland, generalized line about how "all women have a connection" to Avon despite the fact that the Avon man had just said that sales were down and certain groups of women, like career women and hippies, just didn't care all that much about makeup so no, not all women had a connection to Avon.

So Joan was wrong, but Pete wasn't exactly right. Bringing Joan along probably wouldn't have hurt anything and it would have alleviated some of the anger and resentment she felt when Ted took her precious potential client away. Everything Pete said about the way the business works—including the cake example, which, while problematic, illustrated his point well—was accurate and logical, but perhaps if Joan had been kept involved with the potential client and not just given lip-service that oh, hey, yeah, Joan brought Avon in on a date, wink wink, maybe she wouldn't have gotten so overwhelmingly protective to the point that Avon might not sign on with SC&P at all, which could mean Joan's career is potentially in jeopardy.

By sweeping in with the save, Peggy postponed Joan's possible punishment and gave Avon some time to call back—hopefully—and in a small way, reaffirmed Pete's stance that teamwork makes the dream work and there is a valid reason why the firm works the way that it does, as well as Ted's stance that it doesn't matter who or how a client becomes a client, it just matters that it's a client. Everybody is expected to do his or her best for every client, even if it's not "your" client.

Both Pete and Joan were right and wrong at the same time but in different ways. Poor Peggy was caught in the middle. Apparently another theme of Mad Men's sixth season is "poor Peggy."

In California, Don smoked hash, proving that Mad Men might just be one long anti-drug PSA—at least if your name is Don Draper—but seriously, has getting stoned worked out for anyone on this show ever? Stan, maybe? Sometimes? Even then, he got stabbed during everyone's amazing hypodermic Red Bull adventures.

Anyway, at some point after smoking hash, Don fell or jumped into the pool (we didn't see how he got there, after all) and died for a sec. During his "death"-induced hallucination, Don encountered the soldier from Hawaii whose lighter he wound up with and who claimed that he'd been killed in Vietnam. It's important to note that we haven't heard anything about him since the season premiere, so I don't know if we want to "officially" declare Dinkins dead or just chalk up his appearance to Don being a morbid bastard, buuuuut I'm going with actually dead just because it makes things more interesting, especially since the next face Don saw in the dead zone was Megan's—and she was pregnant, no less—adding yet more credibility to the internet-wide belief that Megan Draper is totally Sharon Tate

Don's "death" provided a nice connection to the season premiere with the return (sort of) of Dinkins and his line that "dying doesn't make you whole." Don's entire pitch to the Royal Hawaiian Hotel people centered on "what isn't there," with the missing man's belongings left on the beach—which everyone took to imply that the man in the ad had killed himself somewhere outside the frame of the picture. Don again relied on the idea of the missing "something" with his Heinz ketchup ads that didn't actually feature any ketchup in them. A lot of Don's work, and a lot of Don's internal angst this season, has been wrapped up in the idea of what people don't see and how it "completes" them, but now that he's (kind of) experienced the death he seemed to long for in Hawaii, Dinkins seemed to confirm that in actuality, it wasn't what Don was looking for after all... unless it was. So much of Don's death-trip is still a mystery to us. We don't know how he ended up in the pool and we didn't see much of his response to Dinkins revealing that that's where he was. This wasn't a trip to the afterlife where Don was forced to choose whether he stayed dead or returned to the land of the living—Don was forcibly brought back to life, not necessarily against his will,  but not necessarily with his blessing either. We just don't know. 

We do know, however, that deep down inside his soul, Don still thinks of himself as Dick Whitman and not Don Draper, illustrated by his line to the host, "I told you that's not my name," when she called him Don. 

The muddled meaning of Don's death could be bad writing, but since this is Mad Men, the chances of that being the case are pretty slim. The ambiguous meaning of his encounter with Dinkins and Megan fits well with the deadlocked conflicts of his alive-and-well co-workers. Perhaps in the coming episodes we'll learn whether Don's experience did anything to complete him or assauge his increasing turmoil, but at the end of "A Tale of Two Cities," Don seemed no more or less unhappy and uninterested in the world than he usually is. When the renaming of the firm resulted in him losing his place on the door, he didn't care, which seems to imply that he's still miserable... especially when you consider Bert Cooper's words earlier in the episode, in his offer to have his name removed "with the other deceased parties."  If having your name taken out of the firm's name is equivalent to death, then Don Draper died two deaths this week, and the effects of both are yet to be seen. 


– WTFLOL Mad Men moment of the week: Roger getting punched in the balls by Danny. 

– "WHY ARE YOU ALWAYS DOWN HERE?! GO BACK UPSTAIRS!" Cutler wins favorite line of the night honors. 

– Yet more coffee mug coveting: Nice effort, Cutler Gleason and Chaough, but yours looks like the old Styrofoam McDonald's coffee cups. I like the color though!

– Cooper offered to remove his name and join the dead partners, but is it at all meaningful that the envelope that inspired the firm to finally pick a name was addressed to Sterling, Gleason, and Pryce, sticking Roger in the same club as the dead guys? OMG DEAD POOL

– I like the constant effort to keep the CGC and SCDP factions united with one another, even just in small ways, like Don and Ted's coffee mugs, or the fact that in the final scene, all of the SCDP partners wore gray suits while Cutler and Chaough were clad in very different colors. Even Pete smoking Stan's joint was, in a small way, an example of this. 

–  Speaking of which, that last shot of Pete smoking Stan's joint was perfect.

What'd you think of "A Tale of Two Cities"? (The Mad Men episode of course, not the book.)

  • Comments (32)
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  • Akkustikkoppler Jun 08, 2013

    I wouldn't text too much into the Joan-Peggy-Avon situation either (like MollyPoppy laid out already).
    For the California-party: hashish is not that common in the US and we need to get used to it - it's way better than weed anyway (hi NSA, ur reading this?)
    I hated Vincent since like ever he's been on the screen, dunno, he might be a nice guy but always get's the bitch part - and that's Pete in this instance. Deducting by that I'm totally on Joan's side, that dude needs to get a grip. Considering that I did like the closing scene with him, coming down, getting high.
    All these theories about who's dead or not or when and why maybe and what's the histrical relation to this - I don't care. Mad Men is a good show and since people are over with real life conspiracy theories - and there would be a lot to think about these days (again, helloooo NSA) - I'd rather sit back and enjoy the unfolding than spend my time in thoughts about a series character's impacts on historical events and the cross-references by those.

    It's TV, don't take it too series [sic!].

  • MollyPoppy Jun 08, 2013

    I thought Joan performed beautifully at the Avon meeting. When she cut off Peggy she was saying the Avon guy knows women have a connection with the product he does not heed to hear it again. Of course Joan had no ideas that was Peggy's job and Peggy failed.

    Pete is one of those guys that is good on the inside but it always comes out wrongly. I hope he and Joan can make their professional relationship work. They would make a good team.

    I loved that Roger saved Don's life. Don would have watched Roger drown poolside with a scornful look on his face. Goes to show Roger is a hero. At the same time Roger deserved to be punched in the nuts. Too many jabs at a person will lead to that or worse.

  • ManuelValero Jun 07, 2013

    Great review... i´m totally agree.

    About Joan i must say i understand that she did wrong walking over Pete like that but in her position i can see that probably is the only thing that she could possibly do to being noticed as an actual partner, she have been walking the "walk of shame" for the way she gained her partner status. She knows more than anyone the functioning of the agency and she deserve to succed (even more than many other people of the staff). About Peggy i must agree: this season she´s quite the victim, professionally and personally. Abe was a mess since the beggining and we all knew that wouldnt work but at the same time i think she really wanted some stability in her life ( I wish she could give Stan a chance).

    About Megan well... i dunno what to think, obviously she and Don are over but none is willing to say it loud, She obviously is going so i dunno how the writers going to do that. This episode was very interesting to me specially the Don bits, very foreshading...i wonder is he going to have finally a meltdown at work. About Pete...well Pete seems every day more alone and uncapable of connecting with other people. I have a weird relationship with this season : one week i feel dissapointed and the next one i´m totally fascinated again, i´m really curious about the season finale.

  • donjacobson10 Jun 05, 2013

    Another Sharon-Megan clue? The loud ambulance sirens that have sounded in the background as she and Don have talked in their apartment. Does the siren sound for thee?

  • mrjimmyjames Jun 05, 2013

    The fact that 1968 was when the world seemed like it was about to explode really seems to be making inroads into the storytelling. Ginsburg can't live with himself. All of the Sharon Tate allusions. Is someone from SC&P; about to murder someone else? Will this inner turmoil find a way to permanently affect the show? Whatever happens it can't be that obvious or predictable. With that said, I sort of expected Lane's suicide last year. So I've been wrong about it before.

  • mrjimmyjames Jun 05, 2013

    I hate the name SC&P.; It feels like a step backwards and it's undescriptive. Really? Was it so hard to name something similar to SCDCC? They really could have based the order of initials on amount of input to the firm.

  • Shreela Jun 04, 2013

    Joan's meeting with Avon might have been unpolished with a hint of desperation, but certainly not a "total meltdown" IMO. But, how she sneak-handled things to exclude Pete from the meeting, I'd consider that part a meltdown.

  • Devon39219 Jun 04, 2013

    I don't like it when Peggy and Joan are fighting, I love it when they work together and it's girl-power! And I'm not even a feminist.

  • JelloJim12 Jun 04, 2013

    I actually said, "Awww!" when Roger was performing CPR on Don, and I noticed that Roger was soaking wet, too, meaning that HE jumped in to rescue Don. With all the ups and downs their relationship has had, and with Don's constantly cold and distant personality, I'm not always sure whether Don considers Roger a friend or not. But I gotta say, after seeing that scene...awww!

    I always love rooting for Joan, so it was almost painful to watch her lunch meeting with Peggy and the Avon guy--even though I thought she handled it well...but I'm not the best judge. Still, as much as I love her, she didn't handle this whole situation the right way.

    It's so rare that we see her lose her extremely tight self-control, but it's also very interesting.

    I also like when Peggy and Joan get along, so I was sad to see them argue...but it was interesting that Peggy seemed to have some built-up resentment for the way Joan had treated her as she worked her way up. And I really never thought Joan thought Peggy had slept with Don. The whole situation was very good drama, but it makes me so upset to see characters I love arguing.

    Finally, Bob Benson...this is really getting frustrating: what is his agenda? Is he evil? Is he seriously just, like, the perfect person? What is the purpose he's going to serve in the plot? Because it looks like the writers are setting him up for something important, but WHAT?

    I realized something about what he said to Ginsberg: instead of trying to be in the right place at the right time, "you have to ALWAYS be in the right place." And that made me realize that he seems to always be in the right place...although it's not always the same place.

    Seriously, how does he do that? He's like a magical fairy who appears whenever someone is in distress, then he waves his magic wand and fixes it. It's...weird.

    Finally, I really hope nothing bad is going to happen to Megan. I really like her, even if she's not the most popular character. Maybe she doesn't fit in with the Mad Men world, but she's still a good person.

  • Gilda Jun 04, 2013

    I love that this season is actually featuring Joan and Peggy working together. Which is fun cuz it never really happened in the last five seasons.
    You know the whole Bob Benson thing will only slightly make sense in the last episode and still non of our questions will be answered.

  • Gilda Jun 04, 2013

    I was sadly disappointed by this episode. Idk why but I found it boring and it seemed like it was cut in with a lot more commercials than usual. Which is a shame because it finally featured Joan.
    I disagree with your comment that Joan doesn't have the skills to pull in an account. I think she has enough know how to do it seeing that she has been in that environment for about 17 years. She knows how the business works, and unlike Pryce who tried to do this in season 4 (?) Joan has enough people skill to look confident and seem like she knows what she's talking about. In previous seasons she has been able to pull off harder tasks like this and work with clients to the agencies advantage so it is kind of weird to me that this meeting fell flat for her (at least the parts that we saw). I think her downfall was more about her being to anxious and not thinking things through fully b/c her sole goal was to prove to herself and more importantly others that she has the skills to be more than an "over glorified secretary". I also think that b.c Peggy showed no confidence in her during the meeting added to it not going as well as it could have.

    "Mad Men made it very clear with her total meltdown in front of the Avon exec"- Wait when was the meltdown? b/c I clearly missed this, I saw awkward pauses but no meltdown.

    "WHY ARE YOU ALWAYS DOWN HERE?! GO BACK UPSTAIRS!" Cutler wins favorite line of the night honors. - by far the best part of the episode, Oh Bob when will we find out your purpose on this show?

    Lastly did anyone notice that in every scene that Stan was in he walked out of it as soon as another character started bringing up negative things that and when Pete stole his pot. He cant deal with conflict anymore? I don't think Stan's doing ok since his cousin died.

  • pnnf Jun 04, 2013

    Joan only knows about office business, but she never had anything to do with actually bringing in business, which showed in that meeting with the Avon guy.
    It wasn't that Peggy didn't have confidence in Joan, but that Joan wouldn't let Peggy do what Joan brought her to do: make a connection with the man and their company and thus seal the deal.

    Because in office matters mixing private stuff with business is considered a no-go, but in bringing in business it is required. Maybe "breadown" is a harsh word, but Joan was clearly unsettled and angry, as you can tell by her exploding on Peggy and later nearly crying because of something Pete said.

  • Gilda Jun 04, 2013

    Also wasn't Peggy supposed to come up with the new name? What happened to that?

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