Mad Men Recap: Signs and Blunders

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It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. And then Pete smoked a joint.

Lots of seemingly good stuff happens in this week’s Mad Men: Joan stands up for herself, Chevy finally signs off on the firm’s work and Don makes it through a stretch of days without cheating on his wife. But an air of dread – highlighted by the riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention – seeps into everything like pot smoke into Campbell’s comb-over. You read that right: Everything’s so topsy-turvy in this episode that the last scene involves Pete getting high at the office. Pete!

In short, and to use the parlance of the times, I dug it. So let’s review what happened in the very groovy “Tale of Two Cities.”

RELATED | Who Is Mad Men‘s Bob Benson, Really?

WHAT SHOULD WE CALL ME? | Don and Roger are heading to California with Harry and Ted’s planning to “kiss the ring” at Chevy HQ in Detroit, but not before the partners meet to discuss a very important problem: The merged firm still doesn’t have a name. No one but Jim Cutler seems terribly worked up about it, which… really, guys? Aren’t you supposed to be all about image, perception and all that jazz? Whatever. I’ll just focus instead on Pete’s incredibly tiny tie, which looks clown-car small. I expect dozens of smaller ties to spill out of it at any moment. (Yes, I am aware that tie length waxes and wanes depending on the era. Please, People for the Ethical Treatment of Bob Benson’s Swim Trunks, don’t crucify me in the comments.)

On their way to the Golden State, Roger tells Don – who’s doing research — to lighten up and enjoy the fact that their status as big New York ad men means they’ll instantly charm Carnation and the other companies on their list. “Be slick. Be glib. Be you,” Sterling advises his colleague. “Our biggest challenge is not to get syphilis.” Heh. At the hotel, Don turns down Roger’s invitation to check out the Strip and instead talks on the phone with Megan, who’s upset by the Chicago police’s use of force on protesters outside the convention. He jokes about it but stops when he realizes she’s about to cry. Because she’s Canadian, “You can’t even vote,” he teases her. “But I still live here,” she points out. The cute, attentive way Don’s talking to Megan, it’s like he actually misses her – could it be that his promise to be a better husband is actually taking effect?

PARTY ON | The next day, Don, Roger and Harry sip Instant Breakfast at an uncomfortable meeting with Carnation – where, by the way, every single thing Roger said on the plane is proved untrue (ha!) – and then head to a party with Harry. (Side note in the form of a quick quiz: Harry’s tool-ness is A) enhanced by his neckerchiefs in this episode, B) camouflaged slightly by his neckerchiefs in this episode, C) unaffected by his neckerchiefs in this episode but what is the deal with his neckerchiefs in this episode?) In their sportscoats and pomade, Roger and Don stick out among the partygoers, who are mostly hippies and Cali kids and… Danny?! Yep, it’s Roger’s former cousin-in-law (and former Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce copywriter) Danny Daniel  Siegel, who’s now a Sonny Bono-looking film producer with a mean fu manchu ‘stache and no desire to listen to Roger’s short jokes. When he’s had enough of the mockery, Daniel pops Rog in his nether regions (“Hated to do that,” Danny quips, which is easily 10 times more witty than any tag line he ever came up with) and leaves with a tripping beauty named Lotus.

UP IN SMOKE | Meanwhile, Don goes looking for the bathroom but finds a hookah full of hashish, which he shares with a room full of new friends. After the smoke clears, he cozies up to a chilled-out blonde and is taken aback when Megan – clad in flower-child garb – shows up. “I quit my job. I couldn’t bear to be apart,” she tells him, and of course she’s a drug-induced hallucination. Interesting, though, that she tells him she has “another surprise” and pats her belly, which seems to make Don really happy. “What do you think it is?” he asks as she leads him through the house by the hand. “A second chance,” she replies.

But soon, Megan’s replaced by PFC Dinkins, the drunken soldier for whom Don stood up in Hawaii. Dinkins is missing an arm and is – as he informs a confused Mr. Draper – dead. Shouldn’t he be whole if he’s deceased, Don asks? Dinkins replies “Dying doesn’t make you whole. You should see what you look like.” And then Don is seeing himself, floating face down in the party house’s in-ground pool… and then he’s waking up and coughing up water as Roger – who’s clearly jumped in to save his pal – is telling everyone to step back and leave them alone.

Let’s take a minute to unpack Don’s dream/drug fever/near-death experience/whatever you want to call it. Megan tells Don “Everybody’s looking for you.” A nod, perhaps, to the government closing in on his ID switch-up? Dinkins says, “My wife thinks I’m MIA, but I’m actually dead.” During their terrace talk last week, Megan noted that Don had been so emotionally absent, she missed him “all the time.”  And on the plane on the way home, Don has a rough-sounding cough – the same cough we saw a few episodes back, perhaps? Maybe something’s more wrong (in this chronic smoker and hard-liver) than we thought? Or maybe, between the Megan Is Sharon Tate theory and trying to decipher Bob Benson’s intentions, I’ve just got a bad case of Matt Weiner-induced paranoia.

CORPORATE DISCORD | Back at the office, after a political argument with Ginsberg, Jim Cutler is agitating for a Cutler Gleason Chaough takeover. With Don and Roger away, “Just lock the gates and leave Pete Campbell as the doorman,” Jim advises, but Ted says he has to play nice now – and that the first step will happen when he brings Ginsberg with him during the client meeting with Manischewitz. Cutler is not enamored of the idea and foists the job on a very willing Bob (who, it should be noted, is listening to a record of How I Raised Myself From Failure to Success in Selling at one point in the episode. Mark one point for the Bob-as-J.-Pierrepont-Finch camp).

Bob proves himself good at soothing Ginsberg, who’s tweaking about being part of the problem instead of the solution, and making the quirky copywriter ready to face the Manischewitz folks. Michael point-blank asks Bob if he’s gay; Bob gives him neither a yes or a no. (Mark one point for the Kim Is Not Insane camp.) And even though the meeting is a bust and the wine makers are thinking about jumping ship, Cutler rewards Bob by adding him to the Chevy account. I wonder what Ken will have to say about that?

JOAN COMES INTO HER OWN | Joan’s makeup-hawking pal from a few episodes back sets her up with the head of marketing at Avon, but their meal doesn’t go exactly as the redhead plans. “I thought it was a date, but it turned out to be better!” Joan gushes to Peggy, and she’s ridiculously cute as she realizes that she would be the account rep if the cosmetics company signs with SCDPCGCABCDEFG. But when the ladies confer with Ted, he wants Pete to close the deal… and Pete has no desire for Joan to be part of the process. “Don’t worry, you’ll get all the credit,” he airily promises her, but it’s hard to hear over the sad trombone that accompanies Joan’s crestfallen face.

Perhaps recalling her friend’s advice to take control of her career, Joan shows up at the client-courting meal the next day wearing a blue power suit and an air of determination. Peggy quickly surmises that she squeezed Pete out of the meeting, but there’s no time to argue because Avon guy arrives. Joan works the interaction, charming the dude and directing the flow of conversation; once they’re back at the office, Peggy lets her know that stepping outside the chain of command was un. cool. and will not be viewed kindly by the rest of the firm. Sit back and prepare to soak up the awesome, people, because Elisabeth Moss and Christina Hendricks are about to have one of the most fantastic interactions of this season.

Peggy is mad because she had to work for her position – without Joan’s support, for the most part. Joan is mad because she’s just as smart and savvy as anyone else in the building, but everyone thinks she’s a cheap whore. (I’m paraphrasing, obviously.) When Joan brings up Don, Peggy says, “I never slept with him;” from Mrs. Harris’ reaction, I think this is the first time she’s ever had confirmation one way or the other. Very nice, Mad Men. Though they’re prickly with each other, Peggy still comes to Joan’s rescue while Pete is chewing her out, and when Ted basically sides with the former office manager, it looks like she’s got a slightly tarnished win on her hands.

THE CHRISTENING | Upon Roger and Don’s return, Cutler, Chaough and Cooper propose a new name for the agency: Sterling Cooper & Partners. “It’s the only thing that’s offensive to all,” Jim says. (Ha.) They all shake on it, but Pete – still vibrating with anger from the Joan offensive – claims it’s the beginning of the end for SCDP. He’s so upset he stalks into creative, literally steals the join out of Stan’s mouth (don’t worry, I’m sure he’s got another handy) and tokes up to the strains of Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart.” And that, friends, is the grooviest thing you’re likely to see all week.

Now it’s your turn. What did you think of Stan’s small but hilarious presence in this week’s episode? Were you as impressed as I was by the Joan-Peggy scene? Am I reading too much into Don’s throat tickle? Sound off in the comments!



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