Ben Tanzer can’t shake the brutal “Red Wedding” episode of Game of Thrones, and wonders whether the end is coming for the old guard of Mad Men, too.
I am supposed to be writing about Mad Men.
Episode Ten, “A Tale of Two Cities” specifically.
But I can’t stop thinking about Game of Thrones and the Red Wedding.
Spoiler Alert: It’s fucking brutal.
Still, assignment is to ruminate, possibly even pontificate on Mad Men, so that’s my plan. All that said, obsessing over Game of Thrones does not have to be an exercise in avoiding the task at hand.
Hear me out.
In a world full of endless war, corruption, incest, murder, and what appear to be ice zombies from the other side of the wall, the Stark family strive for goodness. They make the right choices and they believe that honesty and fairness will ultimately rule the day.
It doesn’t. And they all die. Horribly.
The characters on Mad Men, however, are not so taken with character per se, or at least with doing what’s right. They do what they want, and while they are not always cruel, they are mainly just selfish, they rarely strive for goodness, and they are certainly not caught up in doing what’s right.
But that’s every episode, right, and that’s not a complaint either, it’s their world.
More specifically though, “A Tale of Two Cities” is an episode which riffs on any and all of this, but also happily riffs on one of its own favorite themes, the duality of human nature, and how we can have so many contradictory impulses occurring at one time.
But we know that already as well, right?
Look at Megan in her red star T-shirt last week. Is that a shout-out to Sharon Tate’s murder or Abe’s stabbing, both, or neither? Is it mean to be explicit, or just a conscious recognition that America was slowly be subsumed by spasms of violence, halting changes in leadership, youth asserting themselves, and cultural shifts that those long in charge (white males) were no longer sure they could contain.
And that wedding scene. Fuck.
Yet, I digress, sort of, back to Mad Men, and maybe even some joy?
Because what makes “A Tale of Two Cities” an especially interesting episode despite its somewhat trippy, fragmented, end of the season table-setting mode, is that it is an episode where Mad Men takes one of its sporadic jaunts to Los Angeles, a place and setting which allows the characters’ behaviors to be mirrored against that of the loose, and louche, sunny, stoner vibe oozing across everything not corporate there.
We also get Joan stepping far outside of her normally pragmatic character’s otherwise outwardly rule-following countenance to make a move calculated to advance her career, if not her pride.