Don Draper toking on doobies. It’s about time. This season of Mad Men has been – pardon the pun – maddening. Some of the episodes have been so unfocused and packed with stuff that they’ve been virtually impossible to sum up. But the highs have been very high indeed, and this week’s episode was one of them.
Titled “A Tale Of Two Cities,” the episode split its time between New York and Los Angeles, where Don, Roger and Harry traveled to drum up new business for the still-unnamed new agency. The City of Angels has always had special meaning for Don – it’s where he would go to visit Anna Draper in the show’s early seasons, the only person who knew about his former life. But now that she’s gone, traveling west just seems to unmoor Don even further into the open ocean of existential despair. While Roger is laughing it up and Harry Crane is in his Hollywood element, Don smokes hashish and winds up face-down in a pool, where he has a grim flashback of the soldier he met in the show’s first episode, who reveals that he’s dead.
The backdrop to the episode was the riots at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, and the show used them smartly to illustrate the attitudinal shift between the older and younger minds at the firm. There was a great subplot with Ginsberg freaking out over the news footage while working with Stan on the Manischewitz account that laid this into stark relief.
Joan is also trying to figure out her role in the merged company – while she was undoubtedly the glue that held Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce together, that’s not the case as much anymore. So she heads out on her own to try and snag a big account – Avon Cosmetics. Things, of course, go south, with Ted giving the client to Pete and freezing her out of the equation. But Joan Holloway doesn’t go out like that, so with Peggy’s help she iced Campbell out and tried to handle it herself. It didn’t work out so well, but it’s interesting to see Peggy and Joan with a unified front and hopefully this is a storyline that will continue.
And, of course, there’s Pete Campbell. Pete’s the one character who is getting the shaft the most in this season – his marriage is crumbling and his value to the new firm is questionable at best. With the decision to name the combined agency Sterling Cooper & Partners, Pete’s name is once again left off the masthead, and he’s pissed. When he confronts Don upon his return from California, the old Draper bluntness comes into play when he tells Pete that he should probably just “get out of the business.” That’s an interesting thing, though – we’ve never seen anyone voluntarily get out of the business, have we? When you’re an ad man, you’re an ad man for life.