Mad Men Monday Recap – A Tale of Two Cities

By: Daniel Reynolds

Heading into its sixth season, the Same Page welcomes you each week to the Mad Men Monday Recap. A show as deep as this one needs a little diverse commentary so jump in and enjoy the irreverent breakdown of each episode. 


What’s Happening on Madison Avenue?

It is worth taking a minute to discuss what happened in each episode, right? If you’re looking for some straight talk on what we just saw on Mad Men, read this section (and then read the other sections because, why not).

It was the best of times and the worst of times, indeed. Since nothing is done by accident on Mad Men, the idea of naming an episode after the classic Dickens’ novel is a pretty clear indication of the divided theme of tonight’s episode. The two cities? New York and Los Angeles, but the two tales? One of the old world and the revolution of the new. Flip on the TV, there are people rioting in the streets, there are 200 body bags a day coming back from Vietnam. The crew at SCDP/CGC (the last time I’m going to type that out) feel like they are fending off battles from every side.

First: Don, Roger and Harry go off to California to hook new clients. The result? Harry looks like a goofy Austin Powers most of the time, Roger admits that he is just a curious child (albeit, with a full head of hair and a thriving business), and Don does a header into a pool (seriously Don, keep your shit together just once). The meetings don’t go well and it is increasingly clear that Don, in his conservative suit, is moving further and further away from the pulse of the culture. Speaking of which, not even an avalanche of short jokes can help Roger best the resurgent Danny (remember him?). Can a shot to the nuts be billed as thematically significant?

While the cat is away and all that, Ted and Cutler are sorting out rebellion within the office. Cutler is chafing; he is not a fan of Ginsberg’s pointed  insults (he calls Cutler a fascist; a risky venture), and he really wishes Benson would stay upstairs. His idea is to just throw the whole lot of SCDPers out of the boat. Despite Cutler’s obvious weird guy leanings, he still wants to be in control. It’s definitely fitting that he is the one to suggest a renaming to CGC/SCDP. But Cutler’s not one for fisticuffs, he is a crafty guy. By the end of the episode, he’s employed the human doormat Benson to mediate, and comes out of the company naming debacle relatively unscathed.

Now, if you’re Pete Campbell, you see rebellion everywhere. The creative types don’t listen to you, the accounts men are trying to take your job, and everyone is out to get you. While Joan and Pete have remained on decent terms (which still feels surprising), Pete will not have the necessity of his presence undermined. Of course it is Peggy that understands the danger of trying to upend the system (both the macro societal one, and the micro Campbell one). Joan’s dealings with the Avon man represent more dissent for Pete, more challenges to his authority, and more crumbling of the structure of his world. I hope he doesn’t look out the window. Those funny cigarettes will only take you so far away, Pete.

Everyone reunites in the end. LA is left behind once more. And look at that, we even get a new name: Sterling Cooper & Partners. SC&P sounds fresh and, let’s be honest, does have a nicer ring to it than the ungainly SCDP/CGC (featuring two dead guys). Roger is probably right, New York City is the best city in the world and it is certainly better than anything California has to offer. By his estimation those two cities will never get along (forget not getting any new clients, any city where Roger loses a girl to Danny is scorched earth as far as he is concerned). For now though, the twin cities of SCDP and CGC are at peace. The uprising has been quelled and all they had to do was put a new name on it. It’s just too bad the rest of the country doesn’t realize this.

The Symbolism Rankings

Enjoy, with minimal comment, the weekly rankings for whatever symbolism Matthew Weiner has heavily stacked into each Mad Men episode. A show set in the world of advertising is only as good as its symbolism, right?

1) Televised Protests

2) Extra Hashish Pipe Nipple

3) Self-help Records

4) Funny Cigarettes

5) Cravat

Back in the Day

Remember the 1960s? Mad Men really values its sense of place. To that end, here’s where we make mention of whatever anachronistic or historical element popped up this week.

Ugh, more Vietnam. I know I shouldn’t be glib and believe me, I’d rather dive into a pile of obscure New York Yankees trivia for this section, but still, riots.

At a business meeting in today’s world, you probably want to stay away from talking politics. In a business meeting in the 1960s? You definitely wanted to stay away from talking politics. Case in point: Don and Roger think they are going to meet with some upright Republicans (Rog thinks of them more as yokels, but we’ll keep that under our respective hats). Joking about riots, protests and the incoming election of Richard Nixon is never safe, though. Especially when you’re sitting across the table from two Californians who think Ronald Reagan is the bee’s knees. Hey guys, you’ll get your chance!

Once the political lines have been drawn like that, it makes talking about Carnation Instant Breakfast products a little difficult (even after discounting the conflict of interest with Life Cereal). What does this leave us with? Well, somehow, in a meeting featuring Don, Roger and Harry, we escape the scene with Harry having been the one to not screw it up. Clearly, the darkest 60s timeline.

Also, Carnation guys, it’s just long hair. Let’s try to keep some perspective here.

This Week in Ken! (Cosgrove. Accounts.)

As the most likeable guy in the entire series, Ken Cosgrove deserves his chance to shine. Here’s where we discuss what everyone’s favourite earnest moonlighting sci-fi writer was doing or not doing on the last episode.

Good news: Ken(!) is still alive! Ahem, I’m going to take it easy on the exclamation marks this time. In a stirring bit of news this week, Cutler informs everyone that Ken is still wandering the streets of Detroit, ostensibly still working for the mad men (for real) of Chevy. Apparently, Ken was able to work his magic well enough that he got to visit a floor of their corporate HQ that he’d never seen before.

What does this all mean? Despite being able to say he got to march down the CONTROL-esque hallways of 60s era Chevy, I still worry about Ken. He’s been through a lot lately, towing the company line, getting injected with drugs in the ass, tap dancing (I’ll never forget the tap dancing). But, now the most distressing news has emerged: Bob Benson is coming.

God speed, Ken Cosgrove. Good luck and God speed.

Know Your Role

Since so much of Mad Men is predicated on minute character interactions, here’s where we discuss the top conflicts that happen in each week’s episode and decide on a winner.

What is it with Pete and his rules about the advertising business? I get that he is good at his job and wants to be involved in all aspects of the business (except, apparently, being head of new business: “What? I don’t want that!”). But come on Pete, why the hostility to Joan?

If you’ll recall, it wasn’t that long ago (OK, it was like 8 years ago in “show” years) when Pete was trying to subvert the established ad-man code. He was entertaining a client and took the opportunity, with Don not around, to pitch some creative thoughts on copy. Don didn’t care for it and since then Pete has stayed in his lane (well, relatively speaking). But now, woe be to Joan for attempting to lure in a man from Avon. It feels unfair.

Credit to Joan, she stands strong and does not wilt under Pete’s caustic yelling. How quickly the two of them go from confidants about their troubling mothers to enemies in the boardroom. And how sad do we feel every time someone alludes to Joan’s unfortunate Herb Rennet proposition. It is safe to say that we are all rooting for Joan. We want her to succeed and, despite already being a supremely confident office manager and partner in the firm, break through the glass ceiling that invisibly slides into place every time she attempts to rise above her station, Pete be damned.

Winner: Joan

Actual Advertising

Between the drinking, the social commentary and the drinking, sometimes the people of SCDP and Madison Avenue actually do some work on advertisements. Here is where we sit in the seat of the client, trying to figure out what the hell these ad guys are talking about.

I think we can be honest and say that most of advertising comes down to the pitch. So, let’s make a critical assessment right now: there has not been a lot of actual advertising work done in the SC&P offices this season (discounting the drug fueled mess of two weeks ago). As you can imagine, this is a distressing notion given that this section is called Actual Advertising. Then again, this episode was heavy on the pitch, about selling the idea before you even have the idea.

I already mentioned Don and Roger’s sojourn to LA, with Harry bouncing around eagerly trying to drum up business and scoop girls. Meanwhile Joan is working overtime to elude Pete and hook Avon. Likewise, Cutler and Ted are behind closed doors lobbing ideas for the future of the new company back and forth. Everyone has an idea for how its supposed to go, but with riots on TV, it feels like everything could also very quickly fall apart.

My favourite image of the episode though was Bob Benson listening to his motivational ‘turn failure into success!’ record before being summoned to rescue Ginsberg from whatever anxiety attack he was suffering from this week. Benson, morphing into the smooth talker from his record, calms Ginsberg down and sells him on the idea of promoting his quality work on Manischewitz kosher wine (“They’re your people!”). Benson may be creeping everyone out but he does somehow manage to turn failure into success with his pitching skills. Still, it is a volatile situation: the success turns back into failure (Manischewitz puts SC&P under review) and then turns back to success (Benson will be the secondary man on Chevy). See that? It’s all in the pitch. And no one really has any idea after all.

Joan thinks about having to listen to a Pete Campbell rant.

Joan thinks about having to listen to a Pete Campbell rant.

Next Episode Predictions

This is where we watch the totally opaque preview for next week’s episode and make wild guesses as to what will happen next.

I’d like to use this section this week to talk about what I’d like to call the Betty Voice. Watch the “On the Next Episode” promo again and you’ll hear it. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

You saw the usual bit of intense stares and pained sighing, but then, like a klaxon alarm siren, there is Betty announcing in that snipped, angry tone that only January Jones (for all her flaws as an actress) can deliver: “She’s twenty five”. I don’t know who she is talking about, or what the context of the discussion is. But I do know that the girl she is talking about is 25, and that is the worst thing that she can be. I know this because Betty used the Betty Voice. It is vicious and final.

And yes I realize I should probably address my overreaction last week to the Bob Benson / Joan situation, but instead I’ll just say in my best Betty Voice: I want a fresh start, OK? I’m entitled to that!

One response to “Mad Men Monday Recap – A Tale of Two Cities

  1. Pete’s upset at Joan because, duh, It’s Pete, but also because now is not the right time for the SCDP originals to be working against each other. He’s the only one who can see Cutler and Chaough’s power play clearly. (Why he can’t calmly relate this information to the other partners instead of throwing another hissy fit is the real question.)
    I really enjoyed the shifting alliances and tensions in the office. Pete and Joan were thick as thieves last week and now they hate each others’ guts. Bob Benson continues to fall upwards, well on his way to becoming Cutler’s man.
    Good to see Joan get a storyline that didn’t revolve around her lovelife.
    There were parts in this episode that almost reached Forrest Gump-levels of tired ’60s tropes. No more scenes of people watching the TV in horror, please. The party scene gets a pass from me due to the hilarity of Don and Roger’s misadventures. I can’t believe it took six seasons before someone finally took a swing at Roger. How many times is Don going to pass out this season? I feel he’s got at least one more before we’re through…

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