Monday, June 3, 2013

The Whole World Is Watching

Mad Men, Season Six, Episode Ten, "A Tale of Two Cities"

I found this episode to be enjoyable, from the way it wove the Democratic convention protests throughout the script to its choice of one of my favorite '60s songs as its closer. Could there be a blunter music/image contrast than that of the uptight, constantly angry, suited Pete Campbell smoking a joint to Janis' wail? Is he finally going to learn to lighten up a bit? The imagery and music of the California party also contrasted starkly, from the upbeat "Harper Valley PTA" to drug-induced visions of death. The song offered a quick allusion to hypocrisy--hearkening back to Cutler's accusation of Ginsberg--as well as to a strong woman "socking it to" her critics and those who would hold her back (Go, Joan!), while Don's hash-powered hallucinations darkly lead us back to his season-opening Hawaiian trip and his death by water ad campaign. With the return of the Vietnam-bound soldier, offering Don's cigarette the lighter that haunted Don on his return from Hawaii, we see that Don still has a death wish. Yet the now-dead soldier tells him that even if Don were to achieve death, he wouldn't necessarily find the wholeness he seeks: when Don asks him why he didn't get his arm back upon dying, the soldier tells him, "Dying doesn't make you whole. You should see what you look like." While at the end of one of his previous trips to California, we see Don being "baptized" in the ocean, this time the trip ends with him face down in a swimming pool, miming (or seeking?) the death that he and the soldier discussed.

While Don is on his search for whatever it is he's desiring (a non-working, pregnant wife might be part of it, given the Megan vision at the party), others are--like the characters in the Dickens novel for which the episode is named--engaged in a struggle between authority-holders and revolutionaries. My favorite of these struggles is that between Pete and Joan--and for awhile Peggy--and the one between Ginsberg and Cutler (who completely affirmed my dislike of him; he's not only a dick, but apparently as useless a partner as Bert Cooper).

With the clashes between anti-war protesters and baton- and tear gas-wielding Chicago police setting the televised background of the episode, multiple sets of fighting sides were formed: the SCDP and CGC factions of the new firm with the peace-making Ted Chaough trying to bridge the divide; the younger people with their sympathy for the convention protesters against the older characters who tended to side with the police, with Don and Megan on different sides of this divide, though he did sympathize with her despair over her adopted country; the east coast and the west coast; and those who are primarily business focused against those who also worry about social justice. These were played out most forcefully in the cases of Pete v. Joan and Cutler v. Ginsberg.

I loved Joan's surprise and then delight to realize that what she at first thought was a date (why else does anyone ever set Joan up to have lunch with a businessman?) was actually a potential client meeting. Having never dealt directly with account gathering before--except having to sleep with Herb--she wasn't sure how to describe what she does; she comes up with the apt "I'm in charge of thinking of things before people know they need them." The disappointment she registers when Pete relegates her back to her typical role with the Avon man: "You'll show him around" was sad to see. She decides to go against company policy to pursue the account herself. It wasn't surprising that Pete can't abide the breaking of protocol--a "break of the fundamental rules of this business" as he pompously declares, but I was hoping for better from Peggy. She is shocked and starts arguing about how she worked her way into the role she's in, responding to Joan's taunt about Don that "I never slept with him." She deserves Joan's barb: "Congratulations. You really are just like them." She saves Joan at the end, though, with the fake phone message, prompting Ted to grant Joan the right to the account. "Possession is 9/10 of the law," he tells Pete, who whines, "only where there is no law." Pete sees his firm to be just like the streets of Chicago, but in this case, the one engaged in revolution won--for now. Yeay, Joan!

The other interesting revolt took place when Ginsberg let loose on Cutler for Cutler's lack of concern over the peace plank being voted down at the convention. His rhetoric got a bit overwrought with his charge of Cutler's "fascist boot" on his neck, but he expressed the differences between them. When Cutler, also rightly, points out the disparity between Ginsberg's politics and his acceptance of paychecks from Dow Chemical and GM, he sends Ginsberg into an angst-filled reflection on his complicity in what he sees as evil: "I'm a thug. I'm a pig. I'm part of the problem. Now I am become death, destroyer of worlds." Hearkening back to his initial episode admission to Peggy that he's from Mars, the outsider Holocaust orphan who feels himself from another world, says, "I can't turn off the transmissions to do harm. They're beaming them right into my head." I feel for him. He seems the best illustration of the culture's clashes at this point in time. And a genuinely well-meaning, questing character.