No current TV show generates more Monday morning conversation than Mad Men. With that in mind, Flavorwire is recapping Season 6′s Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce drama by giving you a handful of talking points to spark your own water-cooler debate. The key to last night’s John Slattery-directed episode is right there in its title: “A Tale of Two Cities.” Yes, that meant another trip to Los Angeles, where the ad men wear funny clothes and every other scene has an ominous-looking swimming pool in it. But New York vs. LA is hardly the only dichotomy being explored here.
Throughout the episode, characters are glued to their televisions, watching the notorious 1968 Democratic National Convention — meaning its events take place in late August of that year. At one point, we watch them watch police beat protesters as they chant, “The whole world is watching.” And that’s what it felt like at the newly christened Sterling Cooper and Partners this week: On a show that has, in the past, been hesitant to tie its storylines too closely to historical events, we began to see some of the most extreme societal divisions of the late 1960s come between colleagues.
Most obviously, Don, Roger, and Harry have flown out to Los Angeles for a series of client meetings. In this Bizarro dimension, it’s Harry who knows about the coolest parties, little Danny Siegel (yup, that’s Jonathan from Buffy again, in a mustache) who’s a successful Hollywood producer, and Don who commits the ultimate party foul by smoking hash and very nearly drowning in a lovely pool. But it isn’t just New York and LA that are opposites — it’s also the ad men and their clients at Carnation. The political issue up for debate at that meeting isn’t Democrat vs. Republican; in a conversation that reminds us of exactly how many varieties of political orientation were floating around in 1968, it’s whether Nixon is an authentic enough conservative.
Meanwhile, back at home, the period’s classic intergenerational warfare played out between Michael Ginsberg and Jim Cutler over the latter’s apathy towards what’s happening in Chicago. By the end of the episode, Cutler’s comments about Michael railing against authority and then taking paychecks from big businesses have reduced the latter to rocking, sobbing paralysis. “I’m a thug. I’m a pig. I’m part of the problem.” We see an echo of this old vs. young division between Don and Megan, who, despite their marriage, do actually come from different generations. He’s not quite as callous as Cutler, but when Megan cries over police beating up protesters, he reminds her that they threw rocks and were prepared for physical confrontation.
We also get a bit of the old battle of the sexes when Joan begins to court Avon and then goes behind Pete’s back to cut him out of the conversation. While we see some tense moments between her and Peggy, the copy chief ultimately sticks up for her female colleague, despite their private disagreement over the lack of professionalism Joan demonstrated. Things will always be somewhat tense between these two, but this time we saw Peggy realize that solidarity can be more important than being right.
Additional talking points:
- Don’s hash-induced hallucination. Here’s more fuel for that “Megan is Sharon Tate” fire: Don sees the soldier he met in Hawaii during the season premiere. “My wife thinks I’m MIA, but I’m actually dead,” he says. So, if that guy’s dead and turns up in Don’s hallucination, how about Megan, who also appears and announces she’s pregnant? Now, she isn’t dead yet because she’s in next week’s promos, but the conspiracy theorists out there really couldn’t ask for a bigger parallel between her and Tate, who was pregnant when she was murdered.
- Is Michael schizophrenic? Sure, he was always a little weird. But when he has that breakdown, he also points at his brain and says, “I can’t turn off the transmissions to do harm.” If that isn’t schizoid talk, I don’t know what is. And remember, he’s still pretty young, so the onset of schizophrenia remains entirely within the realm of possibilities for him.
- Sterling Cooper and Partners. There’s a lot of symbolism going on in the christening of the new firm. First of all, it’s basically a reversion back to Sterling Cooper, which may say something about the partners’ resistance to change or being behind the times. But we also see Don very literally losing his name, and not being particularly bothered by it. We’re watching him detach from his identity again; the question is — as always — where will he end up this time?