SONIA BRAND-FISHER: At the end of this week’s episode of “Mad Men,” Janis Joplin roars to “Take it, take another piece of my heart now, baby. You know you’ve got it if it makes you feel good.” A perfect choice of song to end this episode concerning desire and not really knowing if you’ve got “it,” “A Tale of Two Cities” shows us, baby, “that a woman can be tough.”
“Didn’t I make you feel like you were the only man?” Joplin sings, an ominous homage to the trials of Megan Draper trying to be what she was, or what Don thought she was, episode after episode with little success. Don and Megan watch the footage of the Chicago Riots on separate sides of the country, truly, I think, missing each other but not knowing how to connect or comfort each other over what they are seeing. With the world seeming to topple around them, all they can do is watch, even when their marriage could end up among the rubble. Megan appearing in Don’s hallucination/near-death-experience showed us Don’s subconscious, idealized version of Megan with hair longer, in her bold patterns, cool with his philandering, and ready to give up her career for their unborn child, their “new beginning.” This says so much, as the previous episodes have, about Don’s attitudes towards the women in his life. It’s an exhausting issue, and at times this season has felt like mainly filler episodes with little hints towards dissecting Don’s sexual psyche, which can only be so interesting after a while. Maybe we’re getting to the bottom of something here?
Despite “fundamentally” going against everything that SC&P (good move on the name, I think) is about, I am beaming with pride for Joan. The little description for this episode that I read when I downloaded it warns that “Joan is caught off guard.” If this is Joan being caught off guard, then she is the most quick-thinking person at that company. She reprises her turquoise ensemble, dressing for success as she takes charge of her account and, with Peggy, tries to reel in Avon. She gives Pete a taste of his own medicine and pushes him out of her account. Yes, this is an aggressive move, but this company is not particularly known for its subtlety and loyalty. But Joan is, which is perhaps why her action is so shocking to Pete and Ted. Yet Joan fielding peoples’ judgments of her, indeed anticipating their jabs before they are even said, is a depressing reality in Joan’s life. Everyone appears to know what she did for Jaguar, and everyone is using it against her, even Peggy who has been a mentee-turned-ally for Joan in recent seasons. The courage and confidence, that Joan has naturally, she is using in her new position to better the company and to give herself the fulfillment she deserves, and continually drives her through these waves of judgment. She’s got this. She’s dignified. And, at the end of the day, she knows how to get what she wants.
With three episodes left of the season, what in the world can we expect? Will we finally know who (the adorable) Bob Benson is? We’ve seen Don physically, emotionally, and mentally drowning, while his company transitions into shaky territory. Megan is alone, unhappy, and married to a man she barely knows. Every episode of this season has felt like it has been contributing to an impending climax. If this season’s last three are anything like last season’s, we’re in for a doozy.
NAVA BRAHE: Like Sonia, I too, am rooting for Joan, because she embodies the ongoing struggle of women in the workforce, and the reams of unpleasant innuendos many must put up with in order to co-exist with men. Yes, Joan has made her mistakes, the biggest of which she is constantly reminded of by Pete. Yet, she soldiers on knowing that it could have been much worse had she stayed home, and continued to languish in a bad marriage.
A few weeks ago, Sonia brought up the vivid colors of Joan’s wardrobe, in particular the bright greens and blues of her dresses. In “A Tale of Two Cities,” those colors appeared again, and gave Joan an even stronger presence, if that’s possible. Clothes might make the man, but when you’re a woman, and shaped like Joan, you need to walk a fine line between appropriate and incendiary. And, to her credit, she hits it out of the park. Her presence reminds me a great deal of Anne Bancroft’s Mrs. Robinson. She doesn’t say much, but you sure as hell know when she’s in the room.
I’m getting so bored with Don Draper and his follies. You know there is something significant coming, and I find myself hoping it will be something utterly soul-shattering. Maybe the Internet rumors are true: maybe Megan will meet an untimely death and Don will finally fall apart. I don’t think that’s likely. I think it will take much more than the death of his trophy wife to affect Don. Now, Sylvia, on the other hand – that would be significant. But, until that event happens, we’ll have to endure more of his near-misses until something hits the bull’s eye. Only then will things really get interesting.
HOWARD MEGDAL: Leaving aside whether the Sunset Boulevard Don Draper tableau was foreshadowing or present state of mind, there are no shortage of dynamics at play here this week.
On Joan, I think it is worth pointing out that neither Peggy nor Joan has hesitated to criticize how the other is getting ahead, but that neither one has been right all the time, and both are doing quite nicely, especially adjusting for 1968 standards. Moreover, are we really betting against that guy calling Joan? Is that ever a wise bet? Those not blinded by her looks are charmed by her personality. And kudos to Avon’s forward-thinking executive. His approach was so business-like, it caught Joan and us by surprise. She adjusted well, though.
Peggy is critical of her choice to wrest the account from Pete, but the overarching question is voiced by the Avon exec, not intentionally: what does Joan bring to the partnership? Joan’s efforts to figure that out will lead her in different directions, but not necessarily to her detriment.
Seeing Pete smoke at the end of the show, the last member of the cast to join the 1960s (Bert Cooper was in the 1960s before they even began) would also take him in fundamentally new directions. What is Pete Campbell, sans ambition? Do we have any idea?
And the chess gambit put forward by Ted and Jim: it feels like something too clever for its own good. Is Harry Hamlin more odious as Jim, or as Dino the Cabinet Thief on Curb Your Enthusiasm?
So many unanswered questions, and graceful writing/plotting that brought established characters to new places without feeling as if it is in any way a stunt. This was a magical episode, even if the specific payoffs are still to come.