If last week's theme of The Better Half was "everything as it was" then the theme presented in the tenth episode of season six, A Tale of Two Cities, is "dying does not make you whole." Before I delve into the actual episode, I reflect that it's an interesting title. An obvious reference to the Dickens classic, Weiner might be trying to cast our Don Draper as the cynical, alcoholic yet ultimately heroic Sydney Carton. The book is classic enough that I don't have to worry about spoiling anything, but the final moments find Sydney romanticizing his death--a death he goes to willingly and gladly. I always had a hard time telling if Sydney's death was murder at the hands of the French guillotine or if I could consider it a suicide, after all "It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known." Sydney wants to die; we cast his sacrifice in a romantic light because he is saving Darnay and Lucie but he also longs for this sleep, this gentle repose, this death. The literal and less metaphorical implications of this title are fairly straightforward: New York, where everyone works at a neck breaking pace all the time, and the cities of California, where the flower children of the late 1960s have come home to roost, hash and all. The dress and mannerisms of both cities are different, and while for Roger, "New York is the center of the universe" Don has always been more at home in California. California is where Anna was, where Don could be himself--that all important self that is always just out of reach when he's in New York. California is where Don gets to be Dick, and let's not forget the all important baptism scene of Season 2 (image above) that occurs in California. The water in this episode does not herald such glad tidings as a baptism, however.
Bearing all these literal and metaphorical implications in mind, let's take a look at Don's voyage into yet another drug(hash this time) induced psychotic breakthrough(breakdown?). At a party where Don's ability to make connections is clearly failing, he wanders into the wrong room and I am instantly reminded of the episode Nixon vs Kennedy (1x12) in which Burt Cooper utters, "The Japanese have a saying. A man is whatever room he's in." Confronted with a room full of hippies smoking hash, Don decide so to join in, to become the room, in essence. The prequel to the hallucination is Don kissing the blonde hostess, which I somehow doubt is real. The conversation between the two is too metaphorical, less drugged. Her line that the pool is full of water he can drink and his response that Don is not his real name, seem to set up the appearance of perfect wife-mother Meghan and the dead soldier, which are the real meat of this hallucination.
His hallucination begins with Meghan suddenly appearing, clad in hippie threads, in the California house. She proceeds to tell Don exactly what he wants to hear: she has quit her job and is expecting a baby. The revelation of Meghan's miscarriage earlier this season is significant. At the start of their relationship, Don envisions Meghan as the perfect mother, she is great with his kids and manages to keep calm in the face of mundane motherly tasks in contrast to Betty's shrill unmother like attitude. Megan inability to carry a child resonates with Don, at least subconsciously, that she cannot be that perfect mother and wife he so longed for. Meghan leads Don to the bar where she becomes Private Dinkins, whom Don met in the season premiere. The Private is now missing an arm and Don questions what happened to him. Dinkins responds, "My wife thinks I'm MIA but I'm actually dead." This is a clear call back to last weeks episode where Meghan tells Don that she has missed him for a long time now, that she feels alone in her marriage. What Meghan doesn't know (at least metaphorically) is that she too is married to a dead man. She may know that Don is really Dick but she doesn't understand the resonance of that life changing act. Meghan just thinks Don is missing, but he is really dead. Dinkins then gives Don the perfect sum of the series and Don's life as a whole: "dying doesn't make you whole. You should see what you look like." This both plays on the idea of the real Don Draper and his obvious state of decay following the 15+ years since his death in Korea and it plays on the idea of our Don who keeps falling apart because he is not a whole living person. Flash to Don watching his body float in a pool, foreshadowed by Meghan telling him earlier to go for a swim, only to realize that this event is happening in real time not in the drug addled mind of tripping Don. Don is saved by Roger and while it would be nice to think this is a wake up call, we know Don too well at this point. He will only retreat further into his tortured soul instead of seeking any kind of help; and all of this leads me to conclude that Don, who is always stuck in the past and can't ever quite get out of the bygone era, will die. He is not the Don we knew in Season One. His creative genius has plummeted lately--think back, when was the last time Don pitched an ad that was good or powerful? He's not this guy anymore. Don's standing still and everyone else moves forward and soon he will literally drown under that pressure.
Back in New York, the most significant moments are given to us by Peggy and Joan--best frienemies. Their interaction this episode was probably the best interaction they've had all season and one of the top Peggy/Joan moments all series. Peggy has come a long way from the timid mouse like girl in season one with her Catholic schoolgirl plaid skirts. She's in creative now, no longer a secretary. Joan may be a partner now, but she didn't climb the corporate ladder like Peggy did. She got where she is through sex, and all the other partners take every opportunity to throw that in her face when it suits them, especially Peter Campbell. Joan has brought in new business--correction, new lucrative business, the cosmetic company Avon. Excited about being more than the "executive secretary extraordinaire" Joan gets advice from Peggy and the two go to Ted together, who instantly passes the new business off to Pete. Joan feels neglected and though Peggy goes to bat for her, Pete insists that Joan not be present at the next meeting. Joan, however, perhaps inspired by the youth rioting at the Democratic Convention in Chicago, upstages Pete and attends the meeting anyhow (wearing a simply gorgeous blue power suit). Peggy is uncomfortable the entire meeting and back at the office the two hash it out. Peggy wants Joan to respect the chain of command, the way the business runs, but Joan is tired of being on the sidelines and in the climax of the scene Joan accuses Peggy of sleeping with Don, thus ensuring her success in the business. We all know this isn't true, but it's interesting that Joan honestly thought that's how Peggy got to where she is. Joan wants so bad to believe that Peggy did want she did, but instead Peggy got her new position honestly. In the end, Joan is caught in the deception she played on Pete, who is livid, but it is Peggy who goes to bat for Joan, saving her from Pete and Ted's wrath. In the end, the company only cares about the money and if Avon comes through, it is sure to bring in a lot.
Miscellaneous Notes from A Tale of Two Cities
--Roger Sterling is one of the best things to happen on TV. More Roger all the time! His shrink's axiom about "the job of your life is to know yourself and eventually you'll start to love who you are" is so trite I almost laughed. Roger is right about himself, of course; he is a curious child and always will be, but it's so ironic that he's telling this to Don who doesn't know himself and can't know himself because he isn't a complete person. Also, it's worth noting that if any of the old guard are going to make it to the 70s, it's Roger. He was made for the dizzying drug filled decade.
--Another theme replete in this weeks episode was the ever growing gulf between generations. From Ginsberg's tirade to Cuttler to the riots at the convention Meghan and Don watched while in separate cities (and having different reactions to them), this episode dealt with the fact that the young see things in a different way. Meghan is clearly distraught over the riots, even though she can't vote, but Don's reaction is more conservative; he is the one who points out that the protestors started throwing rocks and the police are doing their job whereas Meghan is concerned with the emotional and physical brutality of the police. This theme is summed up perfectly, and perhaps unintentionally, by the Avon marketing head who says, "Should we be groovy or nostalgic?" He's discussing the ad campaign but all around the episode people find themselves trying to decide if they stay with convention for if they dare branch out.
--Rumors have been circulating this past week about Meghan and if she is going to die. Thanks in large part to the picture on the right, which is an exact replica of Sharon Tate's outfit, who was murdered by Charles Manson. Meghan's costuming this season has been getting progressively more Tate (see the Tom and Lorenzo "Mad Style" blog ) and these all could be signs that Megan is going to die. Of course it could all be red herring's too. Last season, Don was drawing nooses in his margins and Pete was man handling his rifle and people laid odds that one of them would die, and it turned out to be Lane.
--The new company name is ridiculous. Sterling Cooper and Partners? Man, overly offensive to half the staff. And totally ironic as Roger Sterling and Bert Cooper are the two people who do very little in the company anymore. Roger's job is to drink and Bert's job is to occasionally become a Zen philosopher with his jarringly resonate wisdom, but neither of them actually do the job of the company. And of course Pete is livid about this; I highly suspect he will be leaving SC&P before the seasons end.