Beginning as it does just after Memorial Day, a holiday created to celebrate those who have died in war, one of the motifs strongly presented in A Little Kiss is the idea of conflict. The battles depicted are not graphic as the vivid imagery of spilled blood and guts resulting from warfare described by a Heinz executive/Korean veteran while discussing the public’s perception of kidney beans. But, they are nonetheless discernible.
This idea first appears in the opening scene showing civil rights protestors. Battle lines are clearly drawn when African-Americans on the sidewalk (along with an “embedded” reporter) carry signs demanding equal opportunity are mocked by Young & Rubicam employees looking down from an open office window above. These Y&R employees have signs of their own (“Goldwater in ’68”) and drop water bombs on the unsuspecting crowd.
Later, during Pete Campbell’s train ride to the office, he has a conversation with a fellow commuter about that man’s domestic battles. The man shares one particularly bad incident that drove him to violently punch a hole in a motel room wall. Pete’s marriage seems to be less combative because, even though he loves the city, he has opted for a strategy of appeasement with Trudy regarding the location of their suburban home. The other man, implying infidelity, concludes that there’s nothing wrong with a troubled marriage that “a little piece wouldn’t fix.” One could replace the word “piece” with “peace.”
Throughout A Little Kiss, Pete also finds himself involved in series of tactical maneuvers when dealing with Roger Sterling. Everything about their interactions suggests a battle for territory. Pete’s insistence on taking Roger’s larger office is the younger executive’s attempt to storm the castle. Roger suggests that they decide their differences with a literal fight “outside.” While that suggestion is ignored, by hijacking Pete’s meeting with the Mohawk executives (fellow veterans) Roger does manage to draw blood. The incident upsets Pete so much that he loses his composure and bloodies his nose by slamming face-first into his small office’s support beam. Pete gets the last laugh with a shrewd counter attack that makes Roger’s reconnaissance work backfire.
The centerpiece of the episode is a surprise fortieth birthday party for Don organized by Megan. Although decorum is maintained at all times, the event subtly becomes a virtual of theater of war as members from each side of the generation gap gather within their own respective camps. At one point, a uniformed
soldier sailor bound for Vietnam is present to hear Bert Cooper argue the “domino theory” to an anti-war party guest. More pointedly, because Don likes to figuratively keep his head down at all times, having the spotlight thrown on him at this soiree creates a great deal of conflict between he and Megan. Their apartment, still a mess from the previous night’s activities, could very well be viewed as the aftermath of a skirmish (“I love the smell of party favors in the morning!”).
The strained situations of both Joan and her mother and Lane and Rebecca seem to mirror each other. Each respective household experiences conflicts arising over offspring. Joan’s mother (there to help with the newborn because Joan’s husband is in Vietnam) does not think it right for Joan (now also a mother) to return to work. Rebecca argues about the timing of paying their child’s tuition bill. That these conflicts are related would seem borne out by two quick moments which bookend the episode. At the start of A Little Kiss, Joan gives her mother ten dollars for groceries. Near the end of the episode, Lane gives Rebecca ten dollars to do her own shopping.
Although Pete is unsuccessful in getting the territory he sought (Roger’s office), the African-American protestors win a small victory when their proxies are able to storm the castle of SCDP seeking job opportunities advertised in the newspaper. The ad was a meant to be a humorous salvo fired at rival ad agency Y&R. However, as the episode ends, the small prank results in the SCDP executives feeling hoisted on their own petard.