Clearly, Matthew Weiner witnessed the Sharon Tate-Megan Draper conspiracy theory frenzy last week and organized a covert op to shoot and edit a new episode dripping with Manson murder references in 72 hours, just to mess with our heads. “A Tale of Two Cities” brought Don Draper, Roger Sterling and Harry Crane to Los Angeles to try and land the Carnation account; while there, they head to a party in the Hollywood Hills (home to 10050 Cielo Drive), where Don smokes hash from a hookah and a pregnant Megan appears as an apparition.
This is the second time in season six that “Mad Men” has terrified me. First was the break-in at Chez Draper in “The Crash,” two weeks ago. And for the last 20 minutes of “A Tale of Two Cities,” I was bracing myself for a closing shot of Megan Draper covered in stab wounds.
Weiner loves a good red herring and teased us about Megan's fate right up until the very end, when Don returns to Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce Cutler Gleason and Chaough (Joan was right -- it is a mouthful) from the airport. It is made immediately clear that he hasn't been home, and we can assume he hasn't spoken to Megan in a while: In his last line of the episode, he orders Dawn to get his wife on the phone. For a change, the “Next on Mad Men” segment was actually useful, letting us know that Megan was not the victim of a Helter Skelter-style slaughter -- at least not this week.
At this point, “Mad Men” fans are going to be seriously let down if one of the main characters doesn't die a horrifying, bloody death before season six ends (there are three more episodes to go). Season five spent about the same time foreshadowing a suicide as season six has another violent death. At the midpoint of season five, most believed Pete Campbell would be the one to take his own life; the focus shifted to Lane Pryce only in the immediate lead-up to his hanging, which did not come as much of a surprise when it finally happened.
It's Don who has been the most consistently surrounded by death imagery in season six, but “Mad Men” couldn't possibly kill off its main character with (at least) one season left to go in the series? Right?
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I realize that hashish is technically a hallucinogen, but Don sure does seem to have an unusually strong reaction to drugs (and fevers). His dissociative episodes are becoming more common and bizarre. In “A Tale of Two Cities,” it does look like his hallucinations were due to lack of oxygen (some believe that a drowning victim reaches a state of euphoria before he dies), but how did Don end up face-down in the pool in the first place?
After a lackluster first half of the season, “Mad Men” has delivered three solid episodes in a row. “A Tale of Two Cities” was directed (superbly) by John Slattery; perhaps not coincidentally, Roger gets plenty of screen time, and he's mostly on top of his game -- except when he gets punched in the nuts by Danny Siegel, cousin to Roger's ex-wife and former SCDP copywriter, who is now a Hollywood movie producer.
Roger doesn't win his face-off with Danny (the spoils: a night with a dimwitted, strung-out hippie who looked like she could have been a Charles Manson follower), but he does win over the Carnation executives and was nearly spot-on in his anticipation of how they would be resistant to doing business with a bigwig New York City agency.
Likewise, Joan Harris tastes her first bit of business success, but her eyes may be bigger than her stomach. Her friend Kate, who works at Avon, sets Joan up on what she thinks is a date with Avon's head of marketing, but to her surprise and delight is a business lunch. Joan hardly misses a beat as she makes the calculation and returns to the office giddy with the promise of success. Joan has been desperate to prove she's worth more than what she did to earn Jaguar's business and tells Peggy she “doesn't want to be pushed off the diving board.” If playing by the rules -- stepping aside while Pete and Peggy close the deal -- means that Joan doesn't get the credit she thinks she deserves, she is not going to play by the rules. Joan's recklessness and arrogance put her reputation and the potential business in jeopardy and reveals the fascinating nuances of her and Peggy's complicated dynamic. In the end, Peggy saves Joan's ass -- for the moment. But we don't know yet if SCDPCGC will sign Avon as a client. If Joan doesn't win the business, it will be a devastating setback -- this is her chance to prove she's partner material, and she may not get another one.
Last week, Vulture published a collection of conspiracy theories that attempt explain Bob Benson, the mysterious, over-solicitous, always-in-your-face accounts guy who appeared out of nowhere one day (kind of like Don did way back when. Seriously, who hired Bob?). But if Bob is an undercover FBI agent, or a sociopathic killer, as some conspiracy theories suggest, would he really be listening to an audiotape of “How I Raised Myself from Failure to Success In Selling” behind closed doors? This seemingly earnest study on self-improvement undermines some of the more spectacular Bob conspiracy theories but reinforces the self-reinvention parallel between Bob and Don.
Also, where is Ken Cosgrove? We haven't seen him in two weeks.
When Peggy and Joan are having their almost-catfight, Joan says to Peggy, “You were so brave, letting Don carry you to the deep end of the pool.” Zing! Also, right around that time, Don was face-down in the deep end of the pool. Coincidence? Of course not.
Another great line, from Pete to Joan: “The entire thing falls apart if I send you to the store to get a cake and you eat it on the way back.” For some reason, this made me thing of the Donna Summer song "MacArthur Park," a trippy disco track that refers repeatedly to someone having left a cake out in the rain. Summer recorded the song (written by Jimmy Webb) in 1978, but it was first released by Richard Harris in May 1968, just a few months before “A Tale of Two Cities” takes place. Also, MacArthur Park is in the Westlake section of Los Angeles. Coincidence? Most definitely.
In the episode's closing scene, where Pete takes a drag from a joint, he's checking out an unidentified lady, who is wearing a yellow dress similar in shade to the one Peggy wore a day or two before. Remember, Peggy gave birth to Pete's baby. And was Don ever right when he said to Peggy, “it will shock you how much it never happened.” I forget about it all the time myself.