Mad Men Season 6 Episode 10 Recap: Us Versus Them

The fault lines deepen in “A Tale of Two Cities”

Question: If a New Yorker walks into a party in the Hollywood Hills in an ascot and a double-breasted suit, what are his chances of getting punched in the crotch before the evening fades?

Answer: The odds vary depending on the degree to which said partygoer ridicules a fellow New Yorker’s stature or employment history and/or makes a move on his mute, Buddhist-inspired girlfriend.

Roger clearly enjoys tweaking “Daniel” (Danny Siegel! Jane’s not-at-all missed cousin and former SCDP copywriter, he of the one-note “cure for the common ___” tagline). But their encounter also masks a series of deeper divides dealt with in “A Tale of Two Cities,” the second episode this season to be directed by John Slattery. It’s Cutler-Chaough versus the Sterling-Cooper-Drapers, the womenfolk versus their male overlords, the hippie anti-war demonstrators versus the silent majority, Don versus himself, and (one in which we take personal interest) New York versus Los Angeles. To wit:

History took the uncredited starring role this week, with an opening shot devoted to news coverage of the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. The party’s failure to deal with the anti-war movement leads to protests and police brutality. Humphrey eventually nabs the nomination but (as we know) Nixon will win the election. Even Jack, the conservative Carnation VIP (not to be confused with off-screen Chevy Jack, ’cause you know, they’re all named Jack) can see through this one: “Nixon is an opportunist,” he diagnoses. The fallout clusters along generational lines, with Megan, Stan, and Ginsberg anxious over the implications while Don, Roger, and Cutler remain largely apathetic. The subplot supplies the pretext for one of the night’s great moments: Ginsberg tearing into Cutler while the latter offers composed replies (“I’m a fascist because I gave you a deadline?”) until Bob Benson’s brown-nosing interjection makes him lose his cool. “Why are you always down here?!” Cutler bellows. “Go back upstairs!”

The exchange speaks to Cutler’s great anxiety: that CGC is getting subsumed into SCDP and he’s stuck babysitting the unglamorous Jewish wine account (and the talent) while Don and Roger gallivant around California. In another installment of “Mad Men riffs on Mad Men,” the partners’ discussion around the name change sounded like a rehash of a writers room meeting. (Cue Bert Cooper joking that he might as well be dead.) Ted offers the reasonable, grown-up solution with Sterling Cooper & Partners, which plays nice and keeps Cutler to heel while slyly digging at Don with his “I can swallow it if you can” bit. Ted may have ceded a battle but by keeping the agency stable he won the war. 

The real agency drama surrounds Joan’s attempt to snag the Avon account, which falls into her lap. This thread shares more than a few parallels with similar efforts last season by Lane Pryce, another partner who got screwed by Pete Campbell and never received his due. For everyone who screamed, “Give it time!” when Joan declared last week that Pete Campbell had never let her down, well. No doubt Pete recalls Lane’s failure to close with Jaguar when he rushes to wrest the business away from Joan under the guise of boosting her status quotient. But his cake analogy soon reveals the truth—he sees her as an uncontrollable child who can’t be trusted to bring home the goods. Joan tries out the Peggy track, even wearing a very Peggy outfit with a giant bow in her final scene, but when her office ally disapproves she’s stubborn about giving things her own spin. Joan isn’t the only one who’ll be holding her breath to see if Avon calls next week.

It’s Roger and Don’s trip west to see “Sunkist, Carnation, and the avocado people” that provides the episodes most entertaining moments and intriguing insights. Keeping with the meta theme, Matt Weiner contributes his own take on the ongoing bicoastal debate: East coasters think Californians worship the ground they walk on while Californians believe east coasters are hypocritical laze-abouts who in turn accuse Californians of not working hard. Roger’s podunk stereotypes fall flat and the myopic New Yorker is only too eager to return home. For Don, it’s a different story. 

Don’s trips to California are always significant, providing escape and emotional recalibration. In previous seasons he found the former at a jet-setting swinger pad and the latter with Anna Draper; in season five he obtained both by proposing to Megan. But in this fourth and perhaps final trip (mindful of next season being our last), he finds neither. Instead, in a hash-fueled haze he sees his wife decked out like flower child declaring she has quit her job to be with him and that she’s pregnant. Don’s hallucination is almost touching in its simplicity, revealing everything he yearns for in his broken marriage. But his psyche takes a darker turn with the next vision, a ghostly reappearance of the Vietnam-bound Private Dinkins from the season premiere. “My wife thinks I’m MIA but I’m actually dead,” he declares in an allusion to the real Don Draper. “Dying doesn’t make you whole,” Dinkins advises Don. “You should see what you look like.” Cut to Don watching himself float facedown in a pool then a soaking wet Roger reviving a sputtering Don on the deck. Don follows Megan’s advice to take a swim—quite literally—but it also hearkens back to his earlier suicide-as-subtext pitch to Sheraton. On the plane ride home he’s unsettled by Roger’s psychobabble: He doesn’t know or love himself and now he’s in symbolic exile from the only place that used to center him. He’s even caught a cold.

We’ve got three episodes left. Now that Don knows he’s suicidal, will he try again before the season’s out?

Read All Our Season 6 Recaps:
Season 6 Episode 9: “The Better Half”
Season 6 Episode 8: “The Crash”
Season 6 Episode 7: “Man With a Plan”
Season 6 Episode 6: “For Immediate Release”
Season 6 Episode 5: “The Flood”
Season 6 Episode 4: “To Have and To Hold”
Season 6 Episode 3: “The Collaborators”
Season 6 Premiere (Episodes 1 and 2): “The Doorway”