“Beyond the age of innocence…into the age of awareness.” – Tagline for Medium Cool.
There are multiple versions the most formative era of the mid-20th-century: A tale of two Sixties, as it were. One is the hippy-dippy version: the Summer of Love, Woodstock, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” The other, like the bad patches of a good trip, is the penny’s darker flip-side: Vietnam, Altamont, “Helter Skelter.” Mad Men this season has partly been concerned with depicting these two visions of 1968 and how they dovetail into each other. That’s what I think last week’s whole Sharon Tate shirt hullaballoo was about. I find it hard to believe Weiner would be so symbolically blatant as to use the shirt to mark Megan as a murder victim, but I can see him using it as yet another visual reminder of the turmoil and darkness existing just under the surface of these times.
As that tagline from Haskell Wexler’s cinéma not-quite-vérité classic Medium Cool implies, the period brought with it a certain loss of innocence. We watch the characters in this week’s episode as they grimly follow footage of the protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, the setting for Wexler’s film, and pretty much everything is underlined by a current of uneasiness. People may still be going to parties in L.A. where they hang out and smoke hash, but elsewhere in the country things are in upheaval. We’ve heard a lot of bad news delivered over the radio and television in the past ten episodes.
But while Chicago experiences political turbulence in the background, “A Tale of Two Cities” focuses mostly on differences between the two coasts. Don and Roger head to Los Angeles along with Harry to take some meetings, hoping to use TV airwaves for less depressing, more marketable, purposes, and discover what many stand-up comedians have since confirmed: the culture is different over there. Back in New York, Joan puts her foot down but nearly manages to shoot herself in it in the process, and the alphabet soup of SCDPCGC finally gets pared down to the simpler and more elegant SC&P.
The topic of an acronym change is broached at the start, with Cooper offering to chisel his name off the door along with the “deceased parties”—that is, the tragically departed Frank Gleason and Lane Pryce—but the motion is tabled when Don and Roger have to leave. On the plane ride, Don is surprised by Roger’s lack of preparation, but the Silver Fox has always been the kind to improvise his way through any sort of trouble. “We are conquistadors,” he says. “Our biggest challenge is not to get syphilis.”
NEXT PAGE: To hash and to hold…