This episode of Mad Men "A Tale Two Cities" reminded me of an underrated line by George Carlin: “California is a small woman saying ‘Fuck me!' New York is a large man saying ‘FUCK YOU.' "
In California its inhabitants may be living looser and lighter lives than their stressed and boxed up New York counterparts, but it’s on the surface. Underneath there is as much insecurity and fear of emptiness. The conversation between Roger and Danny showed this. Roger’s jabs hit Danny where it hurts, but Roger’s reveals his insecurities just as much.
Don’s vision anchors the trip. A brush with mortality is nothing new for Don’s arc, but I did find the Megan segment of his dream to be interesting. The dream Megan is care-free, having left behind both her job and the weight her life puts on her, in favor of the escape to California. Megan’s release is similar to Don’s in previous trips here. But the real Megan will never escape the weight of people like her mother and Don on her, or the weight of expectations she’ll never meet. Don’s sub-conscience knows Megan is damaged and he’s at fault, even if he won’t look that far in his conscience state. Another important aspect of this trip for Don is he no longer finds peace in California. This hurts him, he needed that release to stay afloat mentally.
Joan’s powerplay brought tension with Peggy to the surface. More important to her than putting her job on the line, Joan’s respect in the office was at stake. Joan has respect for Peggy and how her career has risen, while Peggy has envy about Joan showing the balls to make such a move standing up for herself. While out of fear as Abe told her, Peggy is used to coloring in the lines. Pete’s anger about the breach of trust Joan had is warranted and this will hurt their ability to work together in the future. It stings Pete that Ted may have sided with Joan simply because she’s more likable. If Harry Crane had stepped out like that, Ted and Peggy likely deride him. But the biggest hit to Pete is during the discussion about shortening the company name to Sterling, Cooper & Partners. The hit isn’t that Pete lost his name in the title, though that doesn’t help. It’s that they didn’t even ask him whether he’s willing to make that sacrifice, while treating Don’s approval as essential. Pete is increasingly seen as next closest to Joan at the bottom of the partner’s food chain and she’s moving up towards him. Pete as always, just can’t buy respect as a real man with authority. He can’t be Don, Ted or even Cutler, who received his biggest spotlight so far setting up his Game of Thrones-like chess pieces in the company.
The most memorable part of the episode may be Bob Benson’s inspiring lift of Ginsberg. That showed real leadership, passion and skills. Benson’s motives and future is unclear, but that scene made me believe he’s headed towards power from his humble beginnings.
This season’s overall drive to its plot feels a little lackadaisical, but there’s a lot to like in this episode “A Tale of Two Cities”
By Julien Rodger