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Recapping the Mad Men Recaps: A Tale of Two Cities

Each week PAPER will help you sort through your feelings about Mad Men by rounding up the best and brightest of the MM recaps. Read below so you can compare, contrast, and ponder while listening to the audiobook of How I Raised Myself From Failure to Success in Selling.

Nobody knows what the hell to call the firm: SCDPCGC? SC&P? Let's call the whole thing off.

The merged firm still doesn't have a name. No one but Jim Cutler seems terribly worked up about it, which... really, guys? Aren't you supposed to be all about image, perception and all that jazz? Whatever. -- TV Line

The alphabet soup of SCDPCGC finally gets pared down to the simpler and more elegant SC&P." [Ed note: The "P" stands for "partners"] -- EW

But whiny wittle baby-waby Pete Campbell doesn't like "SC&P!" Don tells him to STFU.

The SCDPCGC merger has never been settled, and things came to a head (and then cooled off) this week over the superficial crux of the problem: that blasted name. In the end, perhaps Pete was right that to give up the fight and allow Sterling Cooper to return to, more or less, Sterling Cooper, was a defeat. Though Pete didn't have a direct complaint about losing name space, there was something somewhat regressive about allowing the firm to return to its original title, given how far they had all come. -- Collider

Pete makes a good point, though, about the new agency's name effectively erasing their work from the industry's consciousness; besides reminding us that even a punchable stopped clock like Pete is right at least twice a day, the moment feeds back into the notion that every encounter, whether it occurs in a boardroom, a bedroom or on the streets, is ultimately about power, about the future, about legacy. -- Vulture

Don, Roger and Harry go to L.A. Don kind of behaves himself and seems to be making some effort with Megan?

It was a nice touch that as soon as he was back in the office (he went straight from the airport) that he had Dawn get Megan on the phone. I'm cynical enough to know that their marriage is doomed, but I do enjoy seeing Don trying to do the right thing every now and then. -- Rolling Stone

At the hotel, Don turns down Roger's invitation to check out the Strip and instead talks on the phone with Megan, who's upset by the Chicago police's use of force on protesters outside the convention. He jokes about it but stops when he realizes she's about to cry. Because she's Canadian, "You can't even vote," he teases her. "But I still live here," she points out. The cute, attentive way Don's talking to Megan, it's like he actually misses her - could it be that his promise to be a better husband is actually taking effect? -- TV Line

Meanwhile, Jim Cutler tries to fire a bunch of people while they're away.

Back at the office, after a political argument with Ginsberg, Jim Cutler is agitating for a Cutler Gleason Chaough takeover. With Don and Roger away, "Just lock the gates and leave Pete Campbell as the doorman," Jim advises, but Ted says he has to play nice now - and that the first step will happen when he brings Ginsberg with him during the client meeting with Manischewitz. -- TV Line

The Chicago riots are happening and everyone is freaked out, including Ginsberg.

The sirens that literally sounded the alarm on the increasing violence in New York last week have made their way west to Chicago, where the Democratic National Convention (signifying that we've now hit late August 1968) and the accompanying riots have everyone from Don to Megan to Joan to Stan to Ginsberg glued to their TVs and radios. The schism between the Establishment and the younger generation has begun to spill over into the workplace as Ginsberg tears into Jim Cutler for supporting the war in Vietnam (playing fast and loose with the term "Nazi," which may just be the result of his harrowing upbringing). -- Rolling Stone

At first [Don and Megan] are horrified and enraptured by televised footage of cops and protesters violently clashing at the 1968 Democratic convention. The contrast between Megan's despair at the images and Don's more blasé - even "cynical," to quote Megan's term for him earlier - attitude summarized the political friction within the American middle class, which pitted soft liberal attitudes against soft conservative ones, and prompted the sorts of arguments that would power Norman Lear's sitcoms a few years later. -- Vulture

Don smokes hash and hallucinates that he sees Megan, who tells him she's pregnant. Later, he hallucinates a conversation with Dinkins, the soldier he met in Hawaii on this season's premiere. Dinkins is missing an arm and tells Don he's dead.  Then Don falls in a swimming pool. Does this mean Don will die soon, etc. etc. etc.? 

At this point, Don is not only a downer to hang out with, but he's slipped past our reach entirely. After all, he's lost all touch with his own humanity. Even the threat of death can't save him. "Dying doesn't make you whole," the (hallucinated) soldier tells him at the party, right before his near-death experience. Without any salvation or promise of redemption ahead for Don, all we can look forward to is more denial and more alienation. Or as Roger puts it, "He's fine. Everybody back away." -- Salon

Megan tells Don "Everybody's looking for you." A nod, perhaps, to the government closing in on his ID switch-up? Dinkins says, "My wife thinks I'm MIA, but I'm actually dead." During their terrace talk last week, Megan noted that Don had been so emotionally absent, she missed him "all the time."  And on the plane on the way home, Don has a rough-sounding cough - the same cough we saw a few episodes back, perhaps? Maybe something's more wrong (in this chronic smoker and hard-liver) than we thought?  -- TV Line

In case this wasn't clear, Don tried to kill himself in last night's episode. He smoked some pot at that Hollywood party, hallucinated a hippie, barefoot-and-pregnant version of Megan that showed he's, like Avon, caught between groovy and nostalgic, and then saw Pfc. Dinkins, who said he died in Vietnam and informed Don that Don, too, was currently deceased. At that point, we realized Don had gone all facedown and Sunset Blvd. in the swimming pool, but that Roger -- who thought Don was simply a bad swimmer -- successfully resuscitated him. The fact that Don tried to end it and failed suggests he probably won't die this season, purely for reasons of redundancy. But I stand by the notion that, as mentioned in the recap of the Grandma Ida episode, the death of Don Draper as Don's identity is imminent. It's notable that his name was the first one deleted from the agency's new title, Sterling Cooper & Partners, no? -- Esquire

But is Don's perma-meltdown/mid-life anxiety about death getting tiresome?

The whole season has played out like the end of the second act of a movie, when the protagonist hits rock bottom. The big difference is, Don's rock bottom will last 13 hours - or even longer. After watching this guy slip out of countless tight spots with his pride intact, his money untouched and a bevy of lady admirers always waiting in the wings, we now have to see him shatter into a million pieces in slow motion. That might be fine if it happened all at once, but having his damnation play out over the course of a full season turns out to be pretty anticlimactic. We can see that Don's going to flail and grow increasingly confused and never learn a thing about what he's done wrong, possibly even after he's lost everything.  -- Salon

I said I was going to go into Don's falling in the pool, and I guess I should, but...I'm just not really feeling it. I'm less interested in Don right now than I've ever been, notwithstanding the possibility that the writers are setting him up for some sort of horrendous tragedy. Hey, he died for real, then came back, which is sort of like what happened figuratively in Korea, and sort of like what happens to him every time he re-invents himself as an ad man, a husband or a father; great. Nice work. Now show Roger getting jabbed in the nuts again, please. -- Vulture

The Sharon Tate/Megan dying paranoia continues.

For those, such as Slate's June Thomas, who believe that Megan is turning into Sharon Tate, this episode provided more fodder. At the end of the hallucination Megan pats her belly and implies that she has a surprise coming. Tate was 8½ months pregnant when she was murdered. -- Slate

In fact, as unlikely as the Sharon Tate predictions might seem (Megan was wearing a Vietnamese red star T-shirt like Tate once did, and will therefore end up murdered), it is tough to imagine the season wrapping without Megan dying or Don almost dying or both. -- Salon

Let's take a minute to unpack Don's dream/drug fever/near-death experience/whatever you want to call it. Megan tells Don "Everybody's looking for you." A nod, perhaps, to the government closing in on his ID switch-up? Dinkins says, "My wife thinks I'm MIA, but I'm actually dead." During their terrace talk last week, Megan noted that Don had been so emotionally absent, she missed him "all the time."  And on the plane on the way home, Don has a rough-sounding cough - the same cough we saw a few episodes back, perhaps? Maybe something's more wrong (in this chronic smoker and hard-liver) than we thought? Or maybe, between the Megan Is Sharon Tate theory and trying to decipher Bob Benson's intentions, I've just got a bad case of Matt Weiner-induced paranoia. -- TV Line

Tate was pregnant at the time of her death. If Megan, who already miscarried this season, mentions next week that she's again with-child, expect her Death Watch drumbeat to get much louder. -- Esquire

Joan tries to land an account with Avon and goes around Pete, who condescendingly tells her he'll take it from there. Unbeknownst to Peggy, Joan goes rogue and sets up a meeting for them with Avon's head of marketing sans Pete or Ted.

Joan is on what she thinks is a blind date orchestrated by her friend Kate, but it turns out all Avon's new head of marketing, Andy Hayes, was after was a little advertising advice. Joan's hardly bummed over this failed shot at romance...But when Ted orders Pete and Peggy to take the initial meeting instead, Joan takes matters into her own hands, which is pretty easy considering that she was told to make all the arrangements (again, still the secretary). Pete is deliberately not invited to the power breakfast, putting Peggy in a superawkward position that leads to an incredible scene between the two women in the office lobby after they both worked their advertising magic on Andy. Peggy reprimands Joan for going over Ted's and Pete's heads...But what was more powerful about this scene was how Peggy finally got to unleash eight years of frustration on Joan for her passive-aggressive treatment once she became a copywriter: "You made me feel like I couldn't do it," she tells Joan. Seeing people break the rules, be they male or female is a nasty thorn in Peggy's side because, as she reminds Joan, she worked her way up. Except Joan reveals she always thought Peggy's success was the result of having slept with Don. Peggy sets her straight, but Joan is firm in her resolve: "I have to do it myself, Peggy. This is the only way I could do it." Given how everyone at the company views her after Jaguar, Joan is right. She could only prove her worth by overstepping her bounds. -- Rolling Stone

As Joan is reamed out in the conference room by Pete and a much-calmer Ted, she is just about to be forced into admitting her transgression when a quick-thinking Peggy sends Meredith in with a fake message from Andy Hayes, effectively saving Joan's ass. To Ted, what matters is new business was brought in, no matter how it was done. "Pete, we're all working together," he says, still cool as a cucumber. -- Rolling Stone

I love how the script establishes right off the bat that Andy is recently divorced but still feels married, and therefore has not a smidge of romantic or sexual interest in Joan. She wins his interest by being confident, smart and resourceful; in some ways it's the opposite of her career-and-reputation-defining date with Herb the Jaguar dealer in "The Other Woman," and the fact that the actor who plays Andy Hayes physically resembles Herb makes me think this is the entire point. This scene is Joan's professional redemption. Not that she truly needs to be redeemed - but the men in her office, and even the women, apparently, see her as somebody who slept her way to the top, and totally disregard the years of hard work that led up to the partner-making date with Herb. Pete alludes to the supposed "stain" on Joan's reputation, and even Peggy does. The reflexive urge of the few powerful women to undermine each other in a male-dominated workplace really comes out in this episode, even though Joan and Peggy basically like each other. Each woman views the other as the beneficiary of a sex appeal-based shortcut rather than of merit and hard work, and Joan's skeptical reaction to Peggy's insistence that she never slept with Don suggest that this entire time, Joan assumed that she did. -- Vulture

The breakaway the show wants us to care about most, however, is Joan, who flouts the rules and tramples over the hierarchy in order to keep control of her lead with Avon...Peggy's appalled that Joan's gone rogue, leading to one of the great office girlfights, with each dredging up long-held resentments: "You were so brave, letting Don carry you to the deep end of the pool," Joan says, to which Peggy replies, "I never slept with him." (So much for the theory that powerful women should be friends.) -- Slate

Pete is still a total prick but, after getting yelled at by Don, goes into the break room and smokes a joint. Has he officially removed the stick from his ass?

It's unlikely Pete will head out to Wichita, as Duck Phillips suggested last episode, but one thing is for sure, he's had enough of the daily grind. He walks into the creative lounge (a.k.a the anti-Establishment clubhouse), relieves Stan of his joint and takes a long, slow drag as the opening chords to "Piece of My Heart" wail in the background. The slow-motion effect of the smoke exhaling from his lungs as he ogles a yellow-minidress-wearing office girl walking by signals that even the most straitlaced members of the older generation can't escape the allure of the omnipresent counterculture. -- Rolling Stone

The instances of men in suits getting high are getting frequent enough to fill a Tumblr. I loved the image at the end of Pete, smoking Stan's joint, sitting under that pin-up board in creative. Cats are living with dogs, the world is coming apart, and all he has is a sunny yellow dress to distract him.  -- Slate

And what is Bob Benson's deal?

I laughed out loud when Ginsberg quoted Oppenheimer's "Now I am become death" and Benson could only respond with a genial "Come on buddy, you're not Death." Something about this semi-comic interaction made me wonder if Bob's secret is that he's actually the protagonist of his own show, a much happier and upbeat show than Mad Men about a good-guy worker bee who climbs his way to the top of an ad agency, and all of our favorite characters only have supporting roles. Or maybe I'm wrong and he'll just turn out to be a crazy killer like some are predicting. Maybe the reason he knows Ginsberg isn't Death is because he is. Who knows? The mystery remains. -- EW

So, Bob Benson. What did we learn this week? He likes to listen to the audio version of the self-help book How I Raised Myself From Failure to Success in Selling. Does this mean he's on his second career? And he's succeeded in winning over Jim Cutler after he chastised Ginsberg for being insubordinate toward his superior, so much so that even after a botched meeting with Manischewitz, Jim puts Bob on the Chevy account. If anything, judging by this episode, he's just a nicer version of Pete Campbell. -- Rolling Stone

Questions about Bob Benson abounded on Twitter this week, one suggestion being he's gay. Mad Men doesn't need to be cagey with a gay character after Sal, so I think that Ginsberg asking if he was a "homo" was a red herring. There is something really weird about Bob though, especially this week. He's like a robot approximation of a human. -- Collider

Bob's niceness to Ginsberg, like his niceness to everyone, is unnerving somehow - plus he's apparently listening to self-help records in his office, which on a TV drama pretty much screams "future office massacre perpetrator." -- Vulture

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