It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.
“A Tale of Two Cities” is a novel about resurrection. Characters find redemption and meaning in life amidst a backdrop of violence and social change. Dickens’ work is paralleled in the episode that steals its title. In separate locales, with the turbulent 1968 Democratic Convention ever present in the background, Don and Joan forge new, pristine paths. Well, they try to.
Reformation Don returns. He’s not writing in a journal. He’s far too tired to hit the gym. But, he is dedicating himself at work, in a new client-centered role as “conquistador” and “big New York ad man.” He seems to be amending things with Megan. When he escapes to California his first inclination is to…get a good night’s sleep and get room service. That earnestness, though, doesn’t mesh with his career. Roger urges him to “Be slick. Be glib. Be you.”
Don and Roger accompany Harry Crane and his Mustang to a party in the Hills. Don, still dealing with Mommy issues, can’t resist the extra “nipple” (not just a cigar, you guys), smokes hashish and hallucinates. As with Dr. Feel Good’s shot in the ass, the drugs manifest Don’s internal struggles. On the one side we see Megan. Well, what Megan initially represented for Don: a pure vessel, a surrogate mother and a chance to start over. On the other is a hollow existence and death. Don ends up face down in the pool, being rescued by Roger.
Roger tells Don “the job of life is to know yourself.” But that’s what Roger helps Don hide from others. He “caught a cold in California” and is “not a swimmer.” Nothing to see here. Move along. Not going to address the fact I just got punched in the nuts by a short man. Neither is reforming their lives. They just sell it differently.
Joan enters a new vein as well. Her Jaguar legacy lingers. When her date with the Avon executive “turns out to be better,” she seizes the chance to bring business in “legitimately.” Peggy advises Joan that Ted is different. Ted, however “groovy,” remains a man and enlists Pete. After a long look at the secretary, her past and (in perception) her present and future, Joan takes a chance. She cuts Pete out from the deal. Peggy, deciding to help her fellow woman, rescues her with an “Andrew Hayes from Avon is on the phone” memo. “Possession is 9/10 of the law.”
It’s not clear whether it will work out with Avon. What is clear is it has worked for Joan. She gave up the secretarial responsibilities before. Now she is shedding the perception. Joan? Joan.
Pete ends the episode adrift. He has spent his career (and personal life) obsessively following a path. He envies what other men have (Don). Tries to emulate them and fails. Joan’s act reveals the truth to him: there is no path. You forge your own way by changing the perceptions of others. He sells “for a living” but cannot sell himself. That’s why he’s not Don, or Joan or even Bob Benson. Pete’s end game, getting “Campbell” secured on the letterhead, is now rendered meaningless by “Sterling, Cooper and Partners.” We close with him smoking pot, and pondering an incomprehensible new world, which includes very short skirts.
* Bob Benson: Still an enigma. Ginsberg opens up one line of inquiry (“So, are you a homo or what?”) He listens to motivational records in his office. He inserts himself into a situation, apparently awkwardly. But he grasps the situation perfectly and, somehow, ends up getting put on the Chevy account. Let the conspiracy theories continue.
* Danny Siegel: He was a copywriter for SCDP. He gets the interview because he’s Jane’s cousin. He bombs the interview but Don inadvertently steals one of his ideas and wins a pitch. This results in Danny being hired and later fired. Not really sure what the symbolism of him punching Roger in the nuts is, besides further confirmation Roger’s brand of masculinity is dying.
* Ginsberg: As he has been throughout the season, he is the most sensitive to the external, historical stimuli. Jim Cutler can divorce himself from history. Ginsberg, born in a Concentration Camp, cannot.