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California schemin’

June 3, 2013 - Ray Eckenrode

“Mad Men” 6x10:

Episode title: “A Tale of Two Cities”

Significance: On the surface, a reference to the rise of Los Angeles as a business and media center in the late 1960’s to rival New York, but look a little deeper and you’ll see it’s an allusion to a Jim Cutler-led effort to give the former SCDP execs the name to the new agency while claiming everything else quietly behind the scenes.

Time passages: “A Tale of Two Cities” takes place in the last week of August of 1968 as the Democrats nominate Hubert Humphrey to run for president while war protestors clash with police on Chicago’s streets.

Episode essay:

Don Draper has never been very good at finishing things. But it would still be somewhat of a surprise if he managed to lose both his new bride and his new company at the same time. But that seems to be exactly where “A Tale of Two Cities” is pointing. The best of times and worst of times, indeed.

We know there’s been emotional distance between Don and Megan all season (our clue being all the coveting Don’s been doing with his neighbor’s wife), but the personal distance between the two is becoming more apparent, too, evidenced by their telephone discussion about the riots at the Democratic National Convention, where it becomes gradually apparent that Megan is siding with the protestors and Don with the police.

Of course, Don realizes it. That’s why Megan shows up as one of THEM in his hash haze vision at the party in Hollywood hills. Megan’s full-on hippy persona fits a little too well, but there’s no doubt this is Don’s vision as she’s both barefoot and pregnant (Sharon Tate foreshadowing anyone?).

Megan isn’t the only spectre visiting Don in L.A., PFC Dinkins (who Don met in Hawaii in the season premiere) arrives on the scene, fully decorated and apparently quite dead. When Don asks Dinkins why he’s missing his arm if he’s in the afterlife, the Vietnam vet delivers some more bad news. “Death doesn’t make you whole,” he tells Don. “You should see what you look like.”

And that’s when we learn that Don’s visions aren’t just another drug-induced misstep, but also a near-death experience and that guy floating face-down in the pool (“Sunset Boulevard” reference anyone?) is him. But all the death imagery floating around Don this season begs the question: Is it just an indicator of the level or personal decay in his life or something more sinister?

Back at the office, it’s not necessarily sinister, but definitely sneaky, as Jim Cutler and a somewhat reluctant Ted Chaough come up with a plan to give the former SCDP crew all the letters, but have the former CGC players wind up with all the major accounts. Can you say hostile takeover? We bet you can, although the Chaough/Cutler faction would probably need to sway one partner from the other side to really make it happen. Now, who would that be? Hmmm, we’re trying to think of a disenchanted SCDP partner, perhaps one with a growing personal rivalry with another partner, who would jump ship. We’re drawing a blank. Oh wait, it’s Pete. Nevermind.

Of course, the corporate machinations are made possible by the fact that Roger never sweats the details (“We’re executives,” he tells Don on the flight to L.A.) and Don stopped doing that almost as soon as the ink was dry on the merger agreement cocktail napkin. But Roger is also very good at falling into a barrel of manure and coming out smelling like a rose, which means it’s time to remind everyone that the Chevy account Cutler, Chaough and now Bob Benson are working on (and plotting to have for their very own) is the Vega.

About last week: That was quite a fuss over a T-shirt! It turns out the simple white T with a red star that Megan Draper (Jessica Pare) sported in the final scene of last week’s episode on the balcony of the Draper’s Manhattan apartment has quite a back story. It’s the same kind of T that actress Sharon Tate wore in an Esquire photo shoot in 1968. Take those two facts and put the Internet to work and you wind up with theories of an elaborate bit of foreshadowing of Megan’s impending murder, possibly by her husband. What? At least that’s what I heard. A you certainly could amass some circumstantial evidence: A) It was the “Mad Men” production team who dropped the Sharon Tate info into an interview; B) The Season 6 teaser poster features two versions of Don with an police car and policemen lurking in the background; C) More and more violence has been creeping into the “Mad Men” world with each passing 1968 episode, and; D) Several scenes in last week’s episode featuring Megan and Don together also featured sirens in the background.

Brand names: Wow, there were a ton this week. Most notably, Carnation and Sunkist were among the California pitches while Avon was being wooed in New York and Manischewitz was heading out the door. There were two cool product placements, a Schlitz bottle in Don’s disheveled L.A. hotel room and a Hires root beer bottle on the table in front of pot-smoking Pete.

Quick hits:
+ Considering Charles Dickens is about as universal an author as ever lived, many of the themes of his eponymous novel can be applied to this episode (and nearly ANY episode of good television). If you want to dig into the parallels, knock yourself out.

+ So, apparently Joan didn’t like Bob Benson’s shorts?

Historical notes:
+ Ginsburg, who is wont to break into poetry at any given moment, pulled out a few lines from the Bhagavad Gita while dreading the Manischewitz meeting: “Now I am become death / Destroyer of worlds.” Those were the same words Robert Oppenheimer quoted after the first A-bomb test in 1945.

+ “Harper Valley PTA,” playing as Harry, Don and Roger arrived at the party in the Valley, was a No. 1 hit for Jeannie C. Reilly in 1968. The song was written by Tom T. Hall.

Sweet tweet: From @SteelCard30: Don Draper is really bad at doing drugs.

Lines of the night:
+ “You’re so cynical.” –Megan Draper

+ “We’re conquistadors. I’m Vasco de Gama and you’re some other Mexican. Our biggest challenge is to not get syphilis.” –Roger Sterling

+ “I’m in charge of thinking of things before people need them.” –Joan Holloway

+ “I’m not sure if we should be groovier or nostalgic.” –Andy the Avon guy

+ “Do you like hashish?” –Cindy “Not yet.” –Don

+ “Man overboard.” –Roger Sterling

I am looking for:

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While the former SCDP partners won the name battle for the new agency, they're losing the account war.


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