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The Best of This Week’s Mad Men Recaps: ‘A Tale of Two Cities’

Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks) - Mad Man _ Season 6, Episode 10 _ 'A Tale of Two Cities' - Photo Credit: Michael Yarish/AMC

"A Tale of Two Cities" presented us with the struggles of being a woman in a male-dominated office, as Joan and Peggy dealt with their differences and ironically waited for success in the form of a call from Avon. Reviewers contemplated Benson and Cutler's motives and, in light of a floating suit that far too closely resembled a certain suicidal Hawaii ad, decreed the inevitable death of Don Draper. I'm Vasco da Gama, you're some other Mexican, and this is your weekly recap of the recaps. 

* "The problem with the job that these people do is that it’s constantly tossing distractions up in front of people, trying to keep them from finding that real and lasting stability that can only come from within. And maybe that’s what this episode and season are up to, too: By throwing enough stuff in front of us, they might just be distracting us from the true story, which is about how everything dulls just a little bit, how everything becomes just a little bit less personal and a little bit more corporatized. Maybe the answer was right there all along: The future is slick and impersonal and looking for answers in all the wrong places. Bob Benson is the man of tomorrow." — A.V. Club

* "Questions about Bob Benson abounded on Twitter this week, one suggestion being he’s gay. Mad Men doesn’t need to be cagey with a gay character after Sal, so I think that Ginsberg asking if he was a “homo” was a red herring. There is something really weird about Bob though, especially this week. He’s like a robot approximation of a human." — Collider 

* "For someone who has such a high alcohol tolerance, Don has terribly crazy reactions to other drugs." —  Entertainment Weekly

* "I'd love to talk about the fact that Jim Cutler, master of clandestine, intentional agency sabotage, is purposely assigning the inexperienced Bob Benson to co-handle certain accounts with the intention of killing any business the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce crew once claimed. This is clearly part of a plan — a plan masked by Jim's generous decision to keep only Sterling and Cooper in the agency's new name — that I shall refer to from this moment forward as the Coup de Cutler. And it concerns me. Based on Pete's comments to Don about how business is being conducted, it also seems to concern Pete Campbell. Which brings me to another cause for concern: the fact that Pete Campbell and I are both concerned about the same things." — Esquire

* "Neither Don nor Roger are the most engaged of partners (Don actually walked into a partners meeting with no idea that it was taking place), but they still present a balance to the CGC guys, as well as people for the original SCDP people to respect and/or fear. If Don and Roger are in the office, Peggy brings Joan to see Don, and perhaps Joan's subterfuge isn't necessary at all. If they're back home, Cutler doesn't get yelled at by Ginsberg or stuck babysitting an account that Roger didn't even bother to tell him was circling the drain — and, therefore, doesn't wind up in a mood to start plotting against the SCDP half of the merged agency. That power vacuum gave us fascinating glimpses into characters and relationships we know well, including a dynamite Peggy/Joan scene where the two women argued more forcefully than ever about their shared history and opposing career philosophies." — HitFix

* "For some people (hello, Harry Crane), all the social ferment is merely an opportunity to expand their wardrobe choices and sexual options. For people like Ginsberg (and other young people like Stan and Megan), the state of the world is emotionally distressing — and Ginsberg in particular doesn't appear to have the kind of resilience that would help him survive this disjointed, difficult era. The flip side of his creative brilliance may well be mental instability, and it's hard not to picture him wandering the streets of Manhattan in a tin hat a couple of years from now, talking about the thugs from the Trilateral Commission who are trying to read his thoughts." — HuffingtonPost

* "Peggy had a point, but she knows that Joan has one, too. The system is rigged to favor those who are already in power, and if Joan doesn't seize some for herself no one's ever going to give it to her. That was what Joan meant when she compared herself to Peggy, but Peggy misreads it and insults Joan with her typical lack of tact." - Grantland

* "The literal tale of two cities is New York and Los Angeles, with the plot both upending the notion that people in California don’t do any work and that they idolize the big boys in New York; plus, it confirms that the two cities are worlds apart in approach to life, dress, etc. Even if Don got on the hash nipple and ended up in the pool, I think he might ultimately prefer Los Angeles to New York. (Let’s not forget that he was, in Season 2, essentially baptized as Don Draper in the Pacific Ocean, still one of the greatest visuals of the series.)" — The Hollywood Reporter

* "The generational and emotional divide between these two has never been greater (even Megan’s outfit, a striped sweater and a pair of jeans, makes her look like a teenager), which is why Don’s suggestion that she accompany him on his business trip to California reads as desperation. “We’ll go back to Disneyland,” he says. “From what I remember, something amazing happened there.” The reality of the Drapers’ marriage does not quite live up to the Disney fantasy, and husband and wife have settled into a state of barely disguised contempt. “I hate actresses,” Don says, and it’s not entirely clear that he’s joking." — Los Angeles Times

* "And I suspect all that wrangling over the right acronym for the company’s name was intended to mirror the riot of acronyms in ’60s activist movements that made most pamphlets look like word soup: SCDP vs. SDS, SNCC, SCLC, CORE, etc. Internal politics ripped apart a lot of antiwar groups apart for reasons that often had more to do with ego than common goals." —  New York Times

* "This unwillingness to play by the rules, as well as [Joan's] burning desire to make a name for herself as a partner by doing something other than sleeping with a client, is symbolized in two songs played during the episode. One is 'Harper Valley P.T.A.,' by Jeannie C. Riley, which can be heard during the Hollywood Hills party. The other is Big Brother and the Holding Company's 'Piece of My Heart,' which played over the closing credits. Both songs are sung by strong, tough women who refuse to take any shit from men, and they couldn't have been better choices for the Joan/Peggy story line." —  Rolling Stone

* "Seeing Roger and Don soaking wet and stunned by the side of the pool didn’t have the emotional weight that it should’ve had, and it really drove home just what we’ve had to endure this season: the inversion of some of Mad Men’s greatest charms. The whole season has played out like the end of the second act of a movie, when the protagonist hits rock bottom. The big difference is, Don’s rock bottom will last 13 hours — or even longer. After watching this guy slip out of countless tight spots with his pride intact, his money untouched and a bevy of lady admirers always waiting in the wings, we now have to see him shatter into a million pieces in slow motion. That might be fine if it happened all at once, but having his damnation play out over the course of a full season turns out to be pretty anticlimactic." — Salon

* "'Tale of Two Cities' pushed [Jungian bifurcation] even further into literal territory. The bosses are on different coasts, Megan appears as herself and her longer-haired hippie variant in Don’s hashish hallucination, and Don stares at a version of himself face down in the pool — a sight which looks alarmingly like his suicidal Hawaii ad of an empty suit." — Slate

* "This was all business. From Joan’s sincere coquetry at the Avon lunch to Peggy’s surveillance techniques and expert game playing, Joan and Peggy leaned in so hard they threatened to overturn the whole damn office." — Time

* "In many ways, the story of Joan and Peggy is the story of second-wave feminism. If they can overcome their differences and harness their collective power in the face of overwhelming opposition, they could change the world. The grand irony of it all is, Joan’s empowering moment rests literally on ... Avon calling." — Tom + Lorenzo

Photo: Michael Yarish/AMC