Jim Cutler is trouble. Behind that dapper façade beats the heart of a man who has only his best interests at heart. Sure, that pretty much sums up anyone on Mad Men, but the series has been playing with overt concepts of duality this season and the moment Jim Cutler beat Roger at checkers it was clear that the head of accounts for CGC was more than some pale imitation of SCDP’s wisecracking Lothario.
Worse yet, there seem to be enough people among the remaining SCDP and CGC camps who think of Jim as someone suited to help run the place while most of the other partners (i.e., Don, Roger and Ted) are otherwise engaged in attracting new business or the never-ending conflict that is Chevy. Jim’s idea of running the place, however, is securing clients for his side of things (well, his and Ted’s) and continuing to think of this conglomeration of advertising minds as two separate entities battling for control of the whole.
That’s a fairly fitting description of where Mad Men has seen the social and political discord of 1968 take the country. And since the series has seen fit to throw in an all-pervading sense of anxiety, paranoia and general distrust among not only the staffers of the newly christened Sterling Cooper & Partners, but the United States in general (and Mad Men viewers, if you’ve had the pleasure of reading one of the countless theories on Megan Draper’s link to Sharon Tate or the posts attempting to unravel the enigma that is Bob Benson), then, naturally, when someone like Jim Cutler is left to tend to the flock, things start heading toward an inevitable revolt.
It’s not a full-on insurgency at the office; it’s more like a culture clash with Ginsberg railing against what he sees as Cutler’s inexorable ties to the establishment, linking Jim and all men of his ilk to the continued horrors of the Vietnam war and the other societal woes permeating the late-’60s landscape. Ginsberg’s outspokenness and “insubordination” is enough for him to stage a sit-in, rather than join newly appointed Manischewitz account-man Bob Benson at a meeting. Ever the go-between/opportunist, Benson uses what lessons he’s learned from his ‘How I Raised Myself From Failure to Success In Selling’ record to end Ginsberg’s non-violent demonstration and get him out the door.
Bob’s rise to prominence is practically meteoric. After hanging around all season, slavishly handing out cups of branded with “We are happy to serve you,” securing Pete Campbell some toilet paper and a well-bred Spanish nurse for his mother, or convincing mulish nurses that Joan had swigged some furniture polish, it seems there’s isn’t a single situation the chameleonic Bob Benson can’t see an opportunity in. If anything, he parlayed Joan’s minor medical emergency into continued employment and the chance to break out a truly spectacular pair of shorts for a day at the beach with the otherwise sun-deprived Ms. Holloway.
The morning after protests outside the ’68 DNC turned into utter turmoil, finds Roger, Don and Harry in California, drinking tall glasses of Carnation Instant Breakfast and discussing the brand’s favor amongst adults and its ability to stand out (or lack thereof) next to the youth-centric cereals, while glib comments regarding hippies and police batons cause one Carnation exec to brand Nixon an opportunist. This mix of powdered power breakfasts and divisive political opinions yields fewer positive results than one of Harry Crane’s brightly colored ascots, but what’s $27 million in potential billings when Harry’s been invited to a lush party in the Hills?
So much of season 6 has been marked by specific references to the many horrific events that marred 1968 that Mad Men has felt more explicitly about the ’60s than it has in seasons past and ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ is as guilty of this as any other event-laden episode this season. But aside from Joan asserting herself by trying to land the Avon account, the episode’s bright spot also brings about the return of Danny Siegel (a mustachioed Danny Strong), which sees Roger, unfettered by any familial obligation of politeness, release a barrage of insults that result in a vicious groin-punch by the diminutive copywriter-cum-movie producer. But it also brings us back to the perplexing duality of Don.
In the past, California has been a place where Don could shed his guise and disappear into anonymity, have a meditative swim or walk out into the ocean and be washed clean among the waves. This time, however, Don disappears into drug-induced hallucination of Megan which transitions to a one-armed and dead PFC Dinkins before he realizes he’s face down in the pool. That moment of comprehension, followed by resuscitation from Roger, speaks to just how out of control everything is, and how things that were once a source of comfort and stability (e.g., SCDP, California, the status quo) have all pretty much gone out the window, or, as Pete Campbell demonstrates in the closing moments, up in smoke.
Mad Men returns next Sunday with ‘Favors’ @10pm on AMC. Check out a preview of the episode below:
Photos: Jamie Trublood/AMC, Michael Yarish/AMC