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Mad Men Season 6, Ep. 3 Recap: 'The Collaborators'

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As always, spoilers lie ahead…Last week’s double-header season premiere “The Doorway” used lighters, Hawaii, Dante’s Inferno and one train wreck of a funeral to dredge up old demons to illuminate how unhappy Don (to an extent Roger) are with their lives. This week’s “The Collaborators” pulls back a bit more of the Don/Dick curtain via a few flashbacks to a whorehouse he grew up in. No doubt the experience has had a lasting affect on his relationships with women, along with knowing his birth mother was a prostitute. But more than that, “The Collaborators” was about all the alliances people make in their personal and work lives every day to meet various ends, more often than not selfish ones.

The private and public places where secrets are shared, plans are made, and true feelings are poured out and laid bare. The episode also showed how those same alliances can wreak havoc on other relationships. But most importantly, we learn Trudy Campbell’s personal anthem should be “It’s Not Right, But It’s Okay.”

Let’s start with Pete and Trudy shall we? We find the former Manhattan dwellers at the tail of end of a night entertaining two couples. The women are asking Pete questions about the musical Hair and asking for tickets, with one being particularly flirty. Meanwhile Trudy is fending off leering stares and bunny costume fantasies from the women’s husbands. The second the couples leave, Trudy and Pete lapse into their bored suburban couple routine and grumble about having to feed every new face that moves into the neighborhood.

What’s telling though, is Pete isn’t even the slightest bit irked by another man flirting his wife about skinny dipping in his own pool. Then again, Trudy didn’t seem all that bothered by her husband chatting up the other women–in fact, compared to last season’s “Signal 30,” dinner party, where Trudy held court with the wives and Pete showed off his toys to Ken and Don, the two are mismatched in who they’re supposed to be entertaining, at least in the traditional sense. If anything their disinterest in each other shows their collaboration doesn’t go beyond keeping up appearances. Or, as we’ll shall, it’s on the verge of breaking down entirely.

In that context, Pete bringing one of the women, named Brenda, to his Manhattan abode is hardly a shock. Though Pete still went out and did his thing when he and Trudy were happy, so maybe the only surprise is the woman in question is the one who was all flirty and obvious. The apartment certainly has made Pete more secure in his douche baghood, as he responds to Brenda’s excitement over the affair–buying toilet paper for the place, arranging secret phone messages and the like–with a flippant “Can you move it along a little?” post-coitus. Last year’s dalliance with Beth brought him to the brink of absolute desperation; now it’s simply “NEXT!”

If you’re like me, you probably thought the writers were going to drag this Manhattan/cheating arc over a few more episodes. But surprise! Brenda’s husband finds out, gives her a bloody nose and kicks her out. Naturally she ends up at Pete and Trudy’s doorstep. Pete is/acts concerned at first, though Trudy had to be wondering what the husband’s “hey Campbell! She’s your problem now,” comment meant. He momentarily freezes when Trudy asks him to get something from Tammy’s room to treat her wounds, scared of leaving his wife alone with his latest tryst but also afraid to draw too attention to himself by not doing what his wife asks. Later on, they try to call a friend or relative for her to stay with. While Trudy goes to get ice, Pete and the Brenda make small talk:

Pete: “What did you say to him?”

Brenda: “Take me to the city. I wanna be with you.”

Pete: “Absolutely not.”

Personally, I would have gone with a “chick please. Are you insane?” But that’s just me. Pete finds a hotel room for Brenda, and she asks to take him. Pete then fumbles his last attempt to come off as chivalrous instead of suspicious by offering to call a cab. Trudy offers to drive Brenda herself, and even though Pete tries to backpedal and offer, it’s too late. The look Trudy shoots him a look as they leave that says “I know that you know that I know, and that’s all you need to know.”

The next morning Pete tries to Don Draper the situation by kissing her on the cheek like nothing has happened. But Trudy is no Betty and she calls him out immediately for his indiscretion, as his lack of it–sleeping with a neighbor less than two blocks away–is what bothers her the most. As twisted as that idea is (bang whoever you want honey, just make sure it doesn’t make me look bad) it was their own unspoken agreement, and now Pete’s broken it.

The two trade barbs, and Peter asks if she wants a divorce–and, forgive me while I pull up a chair and gorge on popcorn–opening the door for Trudy snaps back with an epic read that would make Joan weep with joy. “This is how it’s going to work.  You will be here, only when I tell you to be here. I am drawing a 50-mile radius around this house and if you so much as open your fly to urinate, I will destroy you.” Game, set and match. Pete tries to save face with some crap about her going to bed alone and being unsure, but who is he kidding? If any woman on this show fit the definition of The Good Wife, it was Trudy, and just as Don destroyed whatever was good about his life with Betty and the kids, so did Pete lay waste to his family.

Of course, Don can’t exactly lay claim to the moral high ground right now. The man who just pulled up his pants on the world a season ago has let them drop once again. He’s being just as reckless as Pete with his affair with Sylvia and the end result could be just as disastrous.

A brief flashback to the whorehouse of his youth cuts to him in bed with Sylvia. She asks about whether their affair makes him feel bad, but true to form, he responds with an “I don’t think about it.” Of course Don’s “don’t think about it/move forward” approach to living is well known at this point, but what’s fascinating about their conversation is they the both talk about their spouses as if Arnold and Megan are a random, annoying couple (Don: “They’re good company.” I think I just felt the temperature drop) they’re forced to hang out with and as if he and Sylvia have been together for years. It’s an interesting peek into the private, alternate universe in which affairs take place and flourish.

However, in the light of day–or in a crowded restaurant–things are much different. “Just because they cleared their place settings doesn’t mean we’re alone,” Sylvia snaps at Don once Arnold leaves to treat a patient. Don though, refuses to feel bad either in private or in public and calls her on it. “You only want to feel shitty up to the point I take your dress off,” he says in a tone both sexy and just a bit menacing. “Don’t pretend.” Though for Sylvia, what’s eating at her is the fear that if Megan showed up to dinner, she’d be the one getting her dressed ripped off. Don reassures her that’s not the case and her top does indeed drop after dinner. Mid-kisses/heavy breathing, she apologizes for being jealous and tells him neither of them can fall in love. “This is just us here tonight,” Don whispers, offering further evidence that’s he regressing back to compartmentalizing his life and the people in it.

The other half of the Drapers isn’t having that great of a week. Megan suffered a miscarriage and confides in Sylvia, who’s supportive up until the point Megan expresses relief over not having to get an abortion. She tells Don, who says he wants she wants, which seems like the right thing to say. But when you think about it, his response really sounds more like he’s placating her, keeping a safe emotional distance from her/their problems without having to get his hands dirty by answering how the news makes him feel and what he wants to happen. Maybe if Megan weren’t so vulnerable at the moment, she’d pick up on this detachment disguised as sensitivity; but given her state, it’s understandable she’d rather be reassured than mull over suspicions.

While all’s fair in love and philandering, Don’s a model of loyalty at work. “Dance with one that brought you,”  he tells Ken when Raymond from Heinz beans brings in Timmy, a coworker who’s interested in bringing Heinz Ketchup to SCDP. Though he makes it clear via a tirade that Don is to give Timmy none of their business. Raymond, weak and mercurial as he is, believed in the company when they were at a low point, and like Mohawk and Freddy Rumsen before him, Don’s got a soft spot for the underdog. But he still has a rebellious streak, as seen when scuzz bucket Herb from Jaguar makes an appearance (earning him a hilarious put down from Joan–”I know there’s a part of you, you haven’t seen in years”).

When Herb suggests SCDP shift the marketing from the upscale clientele Don’s pitch centered around to a radio-driven one targeting middle of the road customers, Don seems like he’ll reluctantly tow the line. But in the meeting he snuffs out the idea via a subtle, horrible pitch (the used car bit was a nice touch) that on the surface extols Herb’s idea but reinforces to his partners that Jaguar’s marketing should target men of some means. Don’s main reason for bucking the plan was most likely his hatred of Herb, and it was great to see him in screw you mode, particularly after watching his Hawaii pitch go down in flames (or drown in the depths of the sea) last week.

Though his victory looks to be a temporary one. After another flashback to the whorehouse, during which young Don witnesses his Uncle Mac consummating things with his stepmother, we cut to him standing at the door to his apartment, Instead of turning the key, he simply slumps down and sits in the hallway, looking utterly exhausted. It’s worth remembering that Don once said he liked Uncle Mac “because he was nice to me.” Don’s mother issues are always front and center, but if the only versions of manhood he had growing up were his abusive, alcoholic father, a random hobo and kindly, gigolo stepfather, his daddy issues still have plenty of fertile soil to be tilled.

Peggy’s story was pretty similar to last week’s–she’s the Don of her agency, instilling fear, admiration and loathing from her underlings, etc. But now that Ted has asked her to use the information she got from Stan about Heinz Ketchup to land the account for their agency, the lengths she’ll go to honor her professional and private collaborations while keeping both intact could provide some exciting moments.

–Other Notes

–More Joan. Now! Granted, we’re only three episodes in, but I’d like to see how being partner has affected her life outside of work.

–Peggy has her own Dawn, or in this case, Felicia!

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–Am I the only who thinks Ted Chaough looks a bit like a grown up Bart Simpson?


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