Scenes from Mad Men: “A Tale of Two Cities”
I’ve been a very bad Mad Men recapper. This one’ll be short, but at least I got it in this week.
“A Tale of Two Cities” is one of those necessary gear-shifting episodes of Mad Men. This show tells so many stories, so intricately, that sometimes an entire episode is needed to set the table for bigger things. Such episodes are rarely bad (this one was quite good) but they never rise to the level of Mad Men’s finest hours.
That said, there are certain pairs of characters with too much electricity when paired together to make for uncompelling television. Peggy and Joan are two such characters. One of the pleasures of Mad Men has been observing how little the personality dynamics of the characters shift even as they rise and fall within the hierarchies of SCDP(CGC). Joan and Peggy are both risers of high degrees; Joan from queen bee secretary to partner, Peggy from worker bee secretary to head of creative. And yet these two just can’t help but spar, even if they have a grudging respect for each other. It’s episodes like this that remind us how in touch the show is with its own lineage. Joan pegged Peggy as a naive little thing from the first episode, unaware of the competitive beast Peggles had within the whole time. Peggy, like others have cruelly done so this season, weaponized the fact that Joan slept with head of Jaguar’s accounts (never mind that it wasn’t her idea, she was pressured into it, and the co-partnership with the company was thrown in as incentive; she wasn’t sleeping her way to the top, the partnership was the tradeoff for her). Both Peggy and Joan are capable of needling each other where it hurts most. But at the end of the day, they also both know just how hard it was for the other to get as far as they’ve gotten in this hyper-chauvinistic workplace.
Which is why Peggy bailing out Joan at the end of the episode was so damn satisfying. Peggy is not a spiteful person. In the end, she sympathizes with Joan, because she’s been there: looking for any opportunity to make a move into a world that had previously seemed impossible to approach.
And really, anything done at Pete Campbell’s expense is worth it.