Mad Men Season 6, Episode 3 Deconstructed

by: L.P. Hanners

We continue our weekly Mad Men recaps with a look at the Jon Hamm directed “The Collaborators”…..

Why was this episode entitled “The Collaborators?”  A thought which deserves some examining.  The entire episode is about the arrangements that people are having, or have had.  Besides the surprisingly intense explorations of the sexual misadventures of Don and Pete (which we will get into soon enough), the episode gave us more flirtatious telephone conversations between BFF’s Peggy and Stan. The relationship here appears important to Matt Weiner, and thus to us, and we can expect it to go places, either professionally or personally.  The scenes are a refreshing enhancement of their relationship over the past two seasons1. We’re seeing both of them at their best when they’re talking to each other.  They miss each other, and it’s great to see a relationship happening on this show, sexual or not, that you don’t have to be skeptical about – an idea dampened the moment Peggy’s boss Ted pushes her to make a run at Heinz after overhearing one of these late night gossip session2. These scenes bring the entire experience of the show to the forefront, and into perspective, as it’s just Stan dishing gossip to Peggy, who’s more than all ears. They are, so to speak, just talking around the water cooler, much like our discussion here today…..

The remainder of “The Collaborators” was about the two slow-motion train-wrecks that are Don and Pete3. A poignant, and ultimately cringe-inducing scene, occurred when Don comes home to find Sylvia4 having a conversation with Megan.  Don has no idea that he has just interrupted a dearly needed sisterly moment between the two girls.  Don shoots Sylvia a dirty look, perfectly effective in intimidation.  Just before she leaves, Don adds “See you tomorrow.”, throwing her off completely;  just a friendly reminder that Don Draper has nerves of steel5.  Worlds are colliding for Don, and Sylvia’s Catholic guilt is bubbling to the surface, yet he appears confident he can handle it.

Don is flying very close to the sun at this point. He believed Megan would make him happy enough to maintain his fidelity; yet he is now carrying on an affair almost literally right under her nose. There’s a moment in the episode where Don and Sylvia are lying in bed talking, and Sylvia asks Don how he deals with sitting at the same table with her in front of her husband and Megan. “I don’t think about it.  They’re both good company,” he responds.  The hope and loyalty that Don stuck to in Season 5 is long gone.  Something has disappointed Don so much that he’s twisted himself further into an egomaniac.  He’s losing reason not to be cynical. I think one sign from last season that predicted this unfortunate worldview was the end of “Lady Lazurus”, when he abruptly cuts “Tomorrow Never Knows” off, a song Megan specifically wanted him to listen to. I always took something from that scene.  I think it’s symbolic as to where Don is in life.  He’s set in his ways and he doesn’t really have to give a shit about what’s important to the next generation.  He thinks he doesn’t need to be cool if he’s already getting what he wants.  He thinks he doesn’t have to be proud of Megan if she’s not in his office working for him anymore.  He’s still bitter she didn’t like the orange sherbet at the Howard Johnson in “Far Away Places”.

“Little boy, find your own sins.”

Something very special, that I have been eagerly anticipating, finally commenced: flashbacks to when Don got his mojo.  It played better than I had imagined, and featured the same young actor who played Dick Whitman as a kid, and he’s barely a child anymore.  A very powerful transition happens when Sylvia opens up her door one morning for Don, and the sight of her triggers the flashback. Specifically, he flashbacks to the very first whore he saw when he first moved into Uncle Mac’s home – our first look at the man who perversely led Don into adulthood.  You can see the beginnings of the mischievous gleam in his eye as he stares at her.  Later on, we see him peeping through a keyhole on his nephews making love. “You’re a dirty little spy” a whore passing by on the staircase says to him, the same one he was staring at from before.  These flashbacks offer welcome insight into where Don came from, and why he is the man he is today.

If Don is flying to close to the sun – then Pete took dead aim and flew straight into it.  I don’t think it’s a stretch to claim that this is the worst we’ve seen Pete Campbell. Even before we saw the depths of Pete’s immorality, it seemed apparent that there was something pretty dysfunctional about the way both Trudy and Pete were flirting with their neighbors.  They have a warped sense of love if this type of behavior is the status quo.  In fact, love is a strong word to use here as they are simply keeping up appearances6. Their unfortunate disrespect for each other was signaled in Season 3’s “Souvenirs”. Trudy turned her head when Pete admitted to cheating on her while she was away on vacation, and here we are now with Pete risking it all with a woman who lives on the very same block.

 “That’s sweet.  I really have to get back, can you move it along a little?”

Sometime after Brenda7 and Pete meet up to have sex at his apartment in the city, Brenda shows up at the Campbell residence, beaten and in hysterics.  In the blink of an eye, Pete Campbell finally gets a full dose of reality – the downfalls of being a home wrecker.  “Hey Campbell…she’s your problem now!” everyone hears clearly before a car drives away.  Once again, Trudy presses forward and only acknowledges the help she needs at the moment.  She ends up driving the girl to a hotel.  When she comes back home, she is visibly aware and disturbed as to everything she knew, or had figured out, at that point.  The grace and swiftness in her movements thoroughly display her confidence, or this is an occasion that she’s been waiting for for.  Later, in the kitchen the next morning, she indeed mentions that she was willing to turn the other cheek regarding his indiscretions, but as long as he was discreet about it.  Starting neighborhood drama disqualifies him, and Trudy doesn’t stutter, nor cry, as she tells Pete that they’re getting divorced.  She audaciously attempted to create a system that could work for Pete, to give him what he wanted while keeping up these appearances, but the man couldn’t even operate within these set of rules.

The idea of infidelity, and of prostitution, was everywhere in “The Collaborators”.  We visit the whorehouse Don grew up in, follow Pete as he fumbles through his attempts at morphing into a Don-Draper like lady-killer, watch Don happily give Sylvia money after they sleep together, and we experience Joan’s public shame when Herb “darkens” her doorway. Herb’s continued presence is the penalty for her partner-making decision8.  Regardless of her gross, yet bold, actions I’m sure we were all cheering in unison when she finally got the chance to say something nasty to the scumbag propositioner.  Later in the episode we see Don impressively, and flawlessly, sabotage an idea brought to the table by Herb. This righteous anger directed at Herb9 shows he is still agitated by what his partners put Joan through, and we see that both Joan and Don are not at peace with the arrangement.

As the episode comes to a close10, and the final flashback ends transitioning us back to 1968, Don is coming home from work and approaches his front door.  Just before unlocking the door he collapses with his back against the wall in a moment of realization and despondence.  The flashbacks, his actions, and the affects of these actions overwhelm him….and he is not even able to walk through his own doorway11….

Despair, Depravity, and Deception are thick as mud, and we are merely 2 episodes into the season…..

  1. Peggy: “Everyone here hates me.”  Stan: “Well it was bound to happen.” []
  2. “He’s not your friend, he’s the enemy.” -Ted []
  3. I’m interested to see video or read about Jon Hamm at work directing mini-epics like this one.  He has big talent behind the camera. []
  4. One of the better lines this week was Sylvia’s: “We can’t fall in love. It won’t be so French anymore.” []
  5. Jon Hamm’s sharp comic timing, usually reserved for NBC, comes out for this moment. []
  6. “It’s all about what it looks like, isn’t it?” – Pete, later in the episode []
  7. Played by Collette Wolfe. Once again, an obscure actress whose work I’ve been randomly following for years landed on the show, and they, again, ended up dramatically impacting the storyline of the show. []
  8. In the episode “The Other Woman”. []
  9. “We just keep saying yes, no matter what, because we didn’t say no in the first place.” []
  10. The episode closes with Bing Crosby’s “Just a Gigolo”. []
  11. Multiple doorway references can once again be found littered throughout the episode. []

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