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Equally Offensive


Mad Men
creator Matthew Weiner

This is war. If the reference to Dickens' novel didn't tip you off, the frantic trench-digging in Sunday's episode should have. It's a battle between men and women, between peaceful protesters and the police, between the two factions at the newly-named Sterling Cooper & Partners, between the East Coast and West Coast. 

On radios and television sets, the 1968 Democratic National Convention drones in the background. While Don, Roger and Harry fly off to California to have a meeting with Carnation over instant breakfast, Ginsberg and Cutler break into a political dispute in the creative department. Cutler has the upper hand from the beginning, but only because Ginsberg gets too fired up and calls his boss a Nazi. 

Joan has what begins as a date and ends as a business dinner with Avon's new head of marketing, when she sees an opportunity to stick her foot in the door in accounts. "What makes a good agency?" he asks her. Joan bullshits her way through the initial pitch, picks up the bill and charms the man's socks off. Feminists across America yelled in ecstasy.

But Joan's victory is short-lived when Ted wants to send Pete and Peggy to meet with Avon without her. "You'll get all the credit," assures Pete, but from the look on Joan and Peggy's faces, we know that's not how it's going to happen   even if Pete wasn't, well, Pete. Joan decides to take matters into her own hands and schedules a lunch with Avon, to which Peggy is invited while Pete is not. Peggy warns Joan that she's walking on thin ice, but it's too late: Joan's rocking her powder blue suit and ordering coffee for the whole table. 

Nobody's rooting for Joan or Ginsberg more than I am, but this week both of them underestimated what they were dealing with. While Ginsberg put up a good fight, calling Cutler a Nazi was just uncalled for. In general Ginsberg seems a little bit overwrought. I'm not sure what's happening, but his usual neurosis is being replaced by a sort of mental distress. Like Pete, he's the thermometer measuring the general atmosphere in the agency, predicting where the wind will blow next. His breakdown before the meeting with Manischewitz is troubling.

It's high time that Joan got to show off her skills over the table rather than under it, but she failed to take into account the fact that although she's been working in the business for a good number of years, she hasn't acquired all the know-how she needs in order to connect with clients. Joan has poise and confidence, and is immediately ten times more likable than any of SC&P's account reps, especially Pete. Yet the lunch with Avon is halting and awkward, especially when she swoops in and steals the limelight from the more-experienced Peggy and makes cringeworthy generalizations about the cosmetics business.

Peggy is right to be irked, especially when Joan accuses her of not being supportive and then (ugh) of having slept her way to the top. It's not the double standard that bothers me here (after all, Joan did sleep with the Jaguar client in exchange for a partnership) but rather the fact that Joan doesn't understand that you've got to start at the bottom and work your way up, even if you've been in the business for a long time or you've slept with Roger Sterling or you're a partner at the agency.

Not only did Joan jeopardize her chances of being trusted with future opportunities, but she might have lost SC&P's opportunity with Avon. In the end, as much as I (and everybody else) want to make this about womenz issuez, it's more about good business practices and understanding your own professional limits. Not everyone is cut out for every job. That is, unless you're Bob Benson, in which case you're being promoted for making mistakes and also becoming a sort of scary den mother to the unruly creatives. While I don't think Pete, Ted or Cutler were right in any of these incidents, I know that Joan and Ginsberg and pretty much every other old SCDPer need to watch their backs if they're going to make the inevitable cut. 

It seems like Don's been able to keep it in his pants since Megan's tearful injunction that "something must change" between them, and the two share a couple of cute, flirtatious moments over the course of the episode. But the internet thinks that Megan Draper is going to end like Sharon Tate, and it would seem that something sinister is brewing. Don, Roger and Harry attend a party in California and Don smokes hash; during his high, Megan shows up in a hallucination and leads him out to the pool where he falls in and stops breathing, at least momentarily. Megan's appearance is followed by Dinkins, the soldier Don met in Hawaii way back in the first episode, who has since gone to Vietnam and died. Don wonders at the man's missing arm. 

"Dying doesn't make you whole," replies Dinkins. "You should see what you look like." Don turns around and sees himself floating face-down in the pool. 

The references to death, particularly suicide, and the rampant drug use are what have been holding a rather disparate season together. The two go hand in hand; if the restless abandon of a high or a trip induces more creativity in some, it gives afterlife experiences to others. We've got to wonder what it'll do to Pete, who's so angry with the way things are going at the agency that he steals Stan's joint at the end of the episode. Hopefully he'll chillax, but it is more than likely that his descent into drug use is a sign of the end times; I'm starting to believe that Bob Benson (did I mention that he's a newly-appointed member of the all-important Chevy account team?) is the leader of a suicide cult.

An uneasy truce settles over the agency as the new name, Sterling, Cooper & Partners is chosen; everyone except for Roger Sterling and Cooper fall under the umbrella term "Partners". Seems a strange word for a group of people whose interests really only align when it comes to Chevy. At least that part of the business is going well. Chevy has finally signed off on creative, but so far, only Ted has been permitted to see the car that the agency must try to sell. It is as illusory as their future.

Kara VanderBijl is the managing editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Chicago. She last wrote in these pages about Mad Men. She tumbls here and twitters here.

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