“Mad Men” at its best transcends the tedium of office life. “A Tale of Two Cities,” at least in a first viewing, was not “Mad Men” at its best.
Whether or not something major comes of Jim Cutler and Ted Chaough’s secretive scheming, far too much of this week’s episode was dominated by office politics and ad men at work. Only one of the storylines — Joan seizing the opportunity to land her own account — emerged as fully realized and compelling to watch.
We got more examples of how the times-are-a-changin’ (oh those nasty DNC riots! Pete smokes up in the office!), without really digging into any of the characters enough to make the events resonate as more than historical pastiche (something “Mad Men” rarely ever deserves to be accused of).
I’m not one to harp on this show for not moving fast enough or delivering episodes with minimal “action,” but “A Tale of Two Cities” felt like another minor stumble in a season unusually high on underwhelming episodes. There’s no question “Mad Men” is still one of the very best shows on TV, but the next three episodes need to over-deliver in terms of story and character, or Season 6 risks falling short of the very high bar the series typically sets for TV drama.
[Note: In the spirit of showrunner Matthew Weiner declaring
that this season is about Dr. Arnold Rosen telling Don, “People will do
anything to alleviate their anxiety,” we’re tracking the happiness of key
characters week by week.]
The “Mad Men” happiness index, week nine:
1) Roger (last week, #8): Roger gleefully rips into the better-left-forgotten Danny Siegel (Danny Strong) at a Hollywood party (and winds up getting punched in the crotch, but… bygones), rescues Don from a bad trip in the pool, steals the spotlight during the meeting with Carnation and even gets to keep his initial in the agency’s new name (Sterling, Cooper & partners, or SC&P). The entire world could (will?) come crashing down tomorrow, and Roger would still find a way to grin and bear it.
2) Bob Benson (last week, #1): Is Bob a nut-job? A compulsive liar? The greatest man in the history of the world? A closet “homo” (as Ginsberg asks, and Bob coyly deflects)? We still have no idea, but there’s no question he seems like one of the happiest men at SC&P. Although we wonder about that glimpse of him all alone in his office… Everyone’s got a story.
3) Jim Cutler (unranked last week):
No complaints about more screen time for Harry Hamlin, but we still don’t know much about Jim Cutler other than he’s somewhere between CGC’s version of Bert Cooper and Roger Sterling. And also he pretty much hates all of the SCDP staff, wants them fired and appears to be secretly plotting with Ted to take complete control of the company when Bert, Roger and Don aren’t looking (which is most of the time).
4) Ted (last week, #6): It’s obvious that Ted isn’t a happy man, but he’s still a bit of a mystery too. (Are we ever going to see his home life?) He puts on a happy face at work, burying himself in business to mask something we don’t yet have a firm handle on.
5) Peggy (last week, #10): How many times will Ted disappoint her before she sees the truth? We’re not sure, but at least Peggy has her mind on matters other than Abe this week. Namely, helping Joan make sure she doesn’t lose the great opportunity she’s stumbled upon and possibly land Avon as an account. Peggy and Joan’s old rivalry boils to the surface — Joan feels Peggy never respected her, Peggy feels Joan belittled her professional ambitions — but the women ultimately work together and leave Pete exasperated on the outside. That’s a pretty winning week for Peggy.
6) Joan (last week, #3): If there’s anything about this episode to be treasured and singled out for praise it’s the entirety of Joan’s storyline, from her first meeting with the Avon executive (she thinks her friend Kate set her up on a blind date) to her power play over Pete’s head to her dramatic clash with Peggy and her ultimate stoicism in the conference room facing down Ted and Pete. Joan took a lot of crap this week, but she ultimately — we think — came out on top. One more victory in her ongoing war for respect.
7) Megan (last week, #9): Upset over the DNC hubbub
and not entirely sure where she stands with Don, Megan didn’t have a
lot to do this week. But did it seem like her spirit has been slightly
deflated by all the drama she’s endured lately? Don telling her “I hate actresses” can’t help. (Surely his attempt at a — very bad — joke, right?)
8) Ginsberg (unranked last week):
He yelled at Jim Cutler, had to be talked out of a panic attack by Bob Benson, and wound up on the losing team in a meeting with Manischewitz (who have put the agency “up for review”). At times it seems like Ginsberg is the only one truly concerned that the world is going to hell in a handbasket.
9) Pete (last week, #7): OK, maybe Pete notices too. But only because Joan managed to “steal” a new account out from under him. (Nevermind that Joan had the tip in the first place, there are rules in this business or “the entire thing falls apart”!) As Don says, “If you don’t like it, maybe it’s time to get out of this business.” Hey, Stan, pass the doobie.
10) Don (last week, #4): Don Draper’s strange relationship with California continues. He no longer has Anna Draper to visit, so he winds up smoking hashish and lying face down in a pool after hallucinating visions of a pregnant Megan urging him to cheat and the “ghost” of Private Dinkins (Patrick Mapel) telling him, “Dying doesn’t make you whole. You should see what you look like.”
On the plane back to New York, Roger tries to share some wisdom and tells Don, “My shrink says the job of your life is to know yourself. Sooner or later you’ll start to love who you are.” You should see what Don looks like after hearing that.
Falling off the index: With the focus firmly on the office, Betty and Henry Francis were MIA this week.