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Popcorn & Prejudice: A Movie Blog

Seattle Times writer Moira Macdonald muses on moviegoing. Email Moira: mmacdonald@seattletimes.com.

June 3, 2013 at 9:26 AM

Mad Men Monday: ‘A Tale of Two Cities’

Is it wrong that I’m getting just the wee-est bit tired of Don this season, and of trying to figure out whether he’s changed? Some interesting Don/Megan stuff in last night’s episode, but what I was far more fascinated by this week was the Joan/Peggy dynamic. One of the very first scenes of “Mad Men” was the coolly efficient Joan showing awed new secretary Peggy around the office; it was clear who was in charge and who wasn’t. Over the years, their positions have changed, and their relationship, always prickly, has shifted a bit as well. Peggy, quickly moved from secretary to creative, struggled to find her way in the boys’ club; Joan, expecting no more than her position as leader of the girls, faced her own disappointments when she was briefly given a non-secretarial assignment (helping Harry, seasons ago, with reviewing TV scripts), excelled at it, and was promptly swept aside for a less-qualified male. Now Joan’s a “partner,” but it comes with quotation marks; despite her years of outstanding service for the company, she gained her promotion with her body, not her mind. When an opportunity comes to develop business on her own (she thought it was a lunch date, but watch Christina Hendricks’ face when she realizes this is a potential client), Joan jumps at it, deftly squeezing Pete out and inviting only Peggy to the client meeting. Though the breakfast presumably goes well (we don’t see much of it), Peggy’s infuriated by Joan’s disregard for protocol, and she and Joan have a terrific scene in which both hurl painful innuendos at the other: Joan implies that Don lifted Peggy to the top; Peggy hints that at least she didn’t sleep with him to get there. These two have never been close — each sees her own insecurity mirrored in the other — but I loved how, in a crunch, Peggy came through for Joan last night. Sisterhood isn’t always powerful at SCDP (or, I guess, SC&P now), but it’s nice to see it briefly flickering.

Elsewhere: California is no longer the haven it once was for Don, as we saw an eerie echo of his ad, earlier this year, of the man in the water, leaving everything behind. Stoned on hash, Don saw a fantasy Megan (who loves him so much she’s giving up acting, and is pregnant), as well as the young soldier he met in the hotel bar early this season, who’s dead. (We get bits of the real Don, and what’s haunting him, when he’s in an altered state; this is what he’s always wanted of Megan, but he’s just modern enough not to ask her. And I loved how he told the blonde, at the party, that Don wasn’t his real name.)  Just as Joan, back home, is disregarding the “rules,” Don and Roger are finding that the game is being played a little differently; their meeting doesn’t go well, and Roger’s on the receiving end of a well-placed punch from Danny (who’s now — who knew? — powerful). It’s 1968, there are riots in the streets, and everyone’s changing — even Pete, a young fuddy-duddy who doesn’t want anything to change, finds himself smoking a joint in the final scene, wondering what happened to the world he thought he knew.

A few more stray thoughts:

— The episode was nicely directed by John Slattery, who continues to steal every scene as Roger. (You wonder whether another actor could succeed in making Roger, who’s really pretty much a jerk, so weirdly lovable.) “Pick an eye and stick with it,” is his idea of business advice.

— My eternal thanks to Cutler, who asked the question of Bob Benson that all of us have been dying to ask: “Why are you always down here?” This week we finally got a glimpse of BB’s office: eerily bare, as he sat listening to a motivational recording. What’s this guy up to?

— For some reason I’m having a strong craving for Carnation Instant Breakfast this morning.

Only three episodes left. I think someone’s going to die this season. Who might it be?

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

Christina Hendricks, long this show’s quiet MVP, had an amazing episode; she’s made Joan so outwardly calm, and yet if you watch closely you can see waves of discontent and sometimes devastation, particularly in the scene where Pete tries to dismiss her. And I loved the glimpse of her, at home in her very un-glam pajamas, folding laundry; Joan’s work is never done. (Photo by Michael Yarish, courtesy of AMC.)

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