Mad Men: “Collaborators”

*Spoilers Everywhere*

I guess “Collaborators” is technically the third episode, and the premiere was considered the first two. That’s stupid because the premiere was a complete story unto itself not two, which should constitute a single episode as far as I’m concerned. Whatever. I’m over it.

My first impression of “Collaborators” was that it was a return to form – much more subtle and nuanced than “The Doorway.” I especially liked how this episode handled the ideas of guilt and performance. The idea of guilt is put into play when Don discusses it, but not in the ham-fisted way death was handled in “The Doorway.”

In “Collaborators,” Don’s affair with Sylvia, his neighbour’s wife, is getting more intense. However, she is having a hard time keeping face, being confronted with Megan almost daily. Moreover, in one of Mad Men‘s most awkward scenes (awkward in a good way) Megan opens up to Sylvia about her own feelings of guilt. Megan has had an miscarriage and is feeling the old Catholic guilt. She brings it up with Sylvia, who is also a Catholic. Megan is relieved, but also feels bad because she’s more concerned about her career than traditional wifely duties. Together they get all kinds of tangled up. Oh, Catholicism.

With this on her conscience, Sylvia confesses to Don some trepidation about continuing with their affair. “You enjoy how foolish they both look,” she says. Don dismisses it outright. In another of his great dramatic monologues, he tells her, “you want to feel shitty right up to the point I take your dress off.” Don’s implication is that what Sylvia finds distasteful isn’t the act itself but the performance: acting as if there’s nothing going on around their respective spouses. Don doesn’t feel such shame.

MM_603_MY_1128_0111a-610x429(Don shits where he eats. Apparently literally.)

Although Don’s amoral womanizing is by no means new territory for Mad Men, “Collaborators” gives new insight into why Don feels no shame, or at least shows none. When Don’s father died, he and his stepmother moved into a bordello. Here, Don, or Dick, is introduced to “Uncle” Mac, the “rooster” who runs the whorehouse. He explains to Don that having worked on a farm is great prior experience for working with prostitutes. What a great role model! Interestingly, after one of their trysts, Don hands Sylvia some money.

Towards the end of the episode, young Don is shown peeping through a keyhole, watching his stepmother laying with Uncle Mac. One of the other prostitutes catches Don peeping. “Find your own sins,” she says. Don feels the gaze and comes up some excuse. It’s one of those hell-is-other-people moments brought to you by Jean-Paul Sartre. From a young age Don thus understood the nature of shame and how to hide it. You hide shame with performance. Don’t let people see behind the mask and you can continue sinning with near impunity.

Don’s complicated relationship with sex, guilt, prostitution and performance plays out again when Herb, the sleazy Jaguar dealer, darkens the office’s doorway. Herb wants SCDP to cheapen their national ad campaign, which is built on the idea of exclusivity and prestige, with a more local approach. Don refuses to give in. “So we just keep saying yes, no matter what?” he says to Roger and Pete. Don appears to be haunted by the specter of Joan’s prostitution on SCDP’s behalf.

However, instead of confronting Herb directly, Don hams (Jon Hamm *hamming* it up, huh huh?) up the idea of a more localized approach to the Jag execs, effectively sabotaging Herb’s plan. Nonetheless, as Roger points out, “you chose dishonour, but you may still get war.” By this, Roger means you cannot outrun your debt. Don may have won this battle against Jaguar, but he has yet to win the war, and this stunt may come back to bite him in the ass; that asshole is their client, after all.

Likewise, when Don comes back to his apartment after one of his visits with his new mistress, he collapses in front of the door, unable to enter. For all his rhetoric, Don still feels guilt slide into his heart.

MadMenTrudyPeteHeader

“Collaborators” also has an interesting contrast between Don and Pete. Mad Men has always done well by playing these two off each other. On the one hand, Pete thinks he is Don, or at least can beat Don at his own game – note the hint of smug on Pete’s face when Don exclaims “I wish we handled clients as well as your handling me,” when things boil over with Herb. On the other hand, Don thinks he hates Pete, but he really hates the part of himself that Pete reflects.

Of course, it is plain to the audience that Pete Campbell is no Don Draper. There’s just something missing. And that missing piece is Don’s genius for performance. This is played out in a moment that fans have been waiting for since the first season: Trudy kicking Pete’s dick in the dirt.

Pete has convinced his neighbour’s wife to come back with him to his wife-approved apartment in the city. However, this blows up when she catches feelings for Pete, resulting in a beating from her husband. When she flees to Pete and Trudy’s house, bloodied and crying, Pete growls, “What did you say to him?” Nice one, Pete. Nonetheless, she insists she wants to be with him. *sigh*

This is the straw that broke the camel’s back for Trudy. She kicks him out of the house and lays down the riot act.”I refuse to be a failure,” she says. She’s not divorcing him, but he is not allowed in the house unless she says so. “I’m drawing a 50 mile radius around this house,” she tells Pette, “and if you so much as open your fly to urinate I will destroy you.”

Interestingly, Trudy’s anger isn’t directed at the act of adultery itself; it’s about Pete’s lack of discretion. Like Don, Pete shits where he eats, but unlike Don, he lacks the ability to mask it. “It’s all about what it looks like, isn’t it?” complains Pete, effectively summarizing the entire theme of the series.

57799-Mad-men-6x03-collaborators-Tru-aIPy(Can we all just take a moment to appreciate Allison Brie?)

I also really liked how “Collaborators” resonates with “The Doorway.” The ideas of death and suicide that were present in “The Doorway” are repeated in “Collaborators” and given new dimensions. We see this most explicitly with Raymond, the beans dude from Heinz. Raymond is so frustrated with his lack of upward mobility at Heinz that he is openly considering suicide.

In another awkward but great moment, Raymond brings Timmy, Heinz’s ketchup dude, into SCDP. Timmy is curious about what SCDP could do for Heinz ketchup. However, Raymond insists that SCDP not do any business with Timmy. Ken Cosgrove can smell blood and wants to gobble up all that delicious ketchup money.

Don, however, is hesitant. “Sometimes you have to dance with the one who brought you,” he says. Strange that Don would pick this instance to be faithful. Perhaps after the suicides of Lane and his little brother, Don is feeling some guilt? Chances are, this sole act of honour will probably bite Don in the ass.

Don is creating one time bomb after another with Megan, Sylvia, Herb, and Heinz. If they all blow up simultaneously, you have to wonder where these ideas of suicide will take us.

jpeg(Ken’s “WTF” face is priceless)

Cheers,

-B

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~ by braddunne on April 15, 2013.

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