Monday, April 15, 2013

Mad Men Season 6, Episode 3: “Collaborators”

As expected, this week spends a lot of time focusing on Pete, who continues the trend from last season of becoming a poor man’s Don Draper on an accelerated timescale. Like Don, he’s grown restless in his marriage to a beautiful woman and life in the suburbs.* Like Don, he’s tried his hand at a string of affairs with other women, and now, like Don, he’s decided to start sleeping with his neighbor’s wife, Brenda (in showing how foolish such a liaison turns out to be, perhaps this is a way of the show hinting at later season developments for Don and Sylvia). Pete even has the same corner office on the second floor of SCDP as Don has on the first floor (and with the furniture arranged in the picturesque way the photographers wanted Don’s furniture arranged in the premiere – Pete’s never happy, but at least he’ll maintain the image of being happy).

*Although considering how routinely awesome Trudy proves herself to be, his malaise is much harder to justify than Don’s. Select instances of Trudy’s awesomeness prior to this episode:
- Her and Pete’s choreographed Charleston in the third episode of season 3.
- Her preparing lunch for everyone at the newly minted SCDP as they work out of a hotel suite after clandestinely stealing the firm away from Putnam, Powell and Lowe in the season 3 finale.
- Her cajoling Don into attending a dinner party last season.

However, despite these surface similarities, differences between Pete and Don persist, largely because of Pete’s sociopathic tendencies, which were on full display in this episode: After the party, he turns up the volume on the television after Trudy asks him to turn it off; Rather than subtly encourage Brenda to enter his Manhattan apartment, he anxiously beckons her in, afraid others will see her in the hall; After their afternoon tryst, he rather gracelessly tries to get rid of Brenda, and then later is disgusted with her for showing up on his doorstep with a bloody, beaten face, concerned principally with how Trudy will react to his wife-beating neighbor shouting that Brenda is Pete’s problem now (Pete’s furtive glances toward Trudy in this scene are wonderful). Don might be a scoundrel, but at least you get the sense that he genuinely cares for the women with whom he has lengthy affairs. Pete, on the other hand, can’t muster any sympathy for Brenda as she sits sobbing in his kitchen or bleeding on his couch. He feels only anger over the risk she poses to his marriage.

Happily, however, Trudy uses Brenda’s plight as an opportunity to finally kick Pete to the curb. I greatly enjoyed the matter-of-fact way in which she dynamited their marriage. She reveals once again that she’s no fool, and that she was fully aware of what she was agreeing to when she let Pete have an apartment in the city at the end of last season. She was willing to put up with Pete’s dallying so long as he was discrete, but now that he’s brought it home with him (in the most calamitous way possible), she’s done with him. Trudy angrily voices what I think about Don’s affair with Sylvia: “All I wanted was for you to be discrete. She lives on our block!” Later, she continues by saying she’s never said no to Pete, and Pete, ever the petulant child, responds by asking what they’re doing living in the suburbs. This proves to be the tantrum that snaps Trudy into an avenging angel: she dictates the terms of their relationship going forward, and tells Pete that if he violates them, “I will destroy you.” It’s a pretty righteous moment that speaks to the strength her character has always shown. I’m only saddened because it might mean we’ll see less of Trudy now (unless she starts dating someone else at SCDP to get back at Pete – something I can’t really see happening, both because she’s better than that, and because whomever she dated would instantly lose their job, given Pete’s power in the company now. I can dream, though). In any case, I doubt the end of their marriage will signal a spiral for Pete similar to Don’s lost weekend in the first half of season 4 since Pete was already miserable and broken to begin with, but I am left wondering what the show will end up doing with him this season.

After years of hearing about Don being raised in brothel, we finally see a glimpse of this part of his life in a flashback: we see him and his stepmother move in, and then later, we see him spying on his stepmother having sex with Max, the resident pimp. Given all we’ve learned of Don over the years, it comes as no surprise that this part of his upbringing has been extremely influential for how he ends up treating nearly all of the women in his life (Peggy included – recall him throwing money in her face last season), thus these scenes would have struck me as a bit redundant had they not been paired with the ones immediately following and preceding them, especially the first one, where Don sleeps with Sylvia, and then hands her money before departing. Different contexts (Don overhears her asking for money from Arnie on his way downstairs in the morning), but the connection is rather obvious.

In addition to the explosion of Pete’s marriage potentially foreshadowing what could happen with Don, Sylvia, Arnie, and Megan, this episode also provided other evidence for why Don’s affair with Sylvia is a Bad Idea. Sylvia asks Don if looking at Megan bothers him now that Sylvia and Don have started sleeping together, and Don replies with the common refrain we’ve heard him use over the course of the series (most memorably when consoling Peggy after her pregnancy): “This didn’t happen.” I can’t help but think Don will finally discover the chief pitfall of this coping mechanism: others have failed to master the art of denial as thoroughly as he has. Things that never happened for Don certainly do happen for others. Previously, Don has always relied on either the relative mental stability of his
extramarital sex partners, or on their physical distance from his suburban life in order to keep them and his wife separate. That’s next to impossible when your lover is your neighbor, and indeed, Sylvia starts to develop a relationship with poor Megan, consoling her on her miscarriage. Just look at Don’s alarm when he comes home to find Sylvia talking with Megan. If he were a cat, his hair would be standing straight up.

Sylvia seems stable enough, although in this episode we learn – somewhat disconcertingly – that she appears to relish the guilt she feels for sleeping with Don. Her relationship with guilt was hinted at through the excessive Catholic imagery associated with her in the season premiere (she wears a cross, has a crucifix hanging on the wall of the room where she and Don have sex, crosses herself when Jonesy keels over in the lobby, and as Tom and Lorenzo pointed out in their two-part analysis of the costuming (first post here, second one here), she was dressed in white and black, like a nun). Here, however, we get more insight. In her conversation with Megan, Sylvia states that she wishes that watching TV during the day didn’t make her feel so guilty, but as Don will later insightfully ferret out, she actually loves feeling guilty – it’s one of the main reasons she’s attracted to Don, and something she’s extremely preoccupied with, especially once she learns of Megan’s miscarriage. Megan tells Sylvia she feels guilty for the miscarriage, and thinks Sylvia knows how Megan feels,
given their similar Catholic upbringing. Megan says she feels like a horrible person, and when Sylvia knowingly replies, “You’re not a horrible person,” her own self-loathing is written all over her face. Further evidence that this affair is dangerous territory is Sylvia’s later apologizing to Don for feeling jealous of Megan, and her bemused caution about being careful not to fall in love.

Also interesting was the insight we get into the beginning of Sylvia and Don’s affair. We learn Don told her that he and Megan were drifting apart, and we also learn that thus far, Don and Sylvia have decided that their affair was only going to be about sex (although it’s clearly about more than that for Sylvia), and that this holds appeal for Sylvia because it is so “French.” Certainly, there’s truth to Don and Megan’s drifting apart. When Megan tells Don about her miscarriage, she says she was concerned about not knowing if Don wanted another child, and he replies, “Megan, you have to know I want what you want.” However, the end of the episode reveals that this is clearly not what Don feels. Don returns from work, and knocks on Sylvia’s back door. Arnie is home, but he leaves Sylvia with a promise of “Tomorrow morning.” Sylvia is a gown somewhat similar to robes of the prostitutes in the flashbacks (which we are reminded of at this point, in the episode’s second flashback to the brothel). When the episode then returns to the present, Don is on the verge of entering his apartment, but he sets down his things and sits down in the hallway, sparing himself from entering his home for just a few more minutes. Megan has become complicated, much more so than the carefree spirit who cleaned up Sally’s spilled milkshake way back at the end of season 4. Even though her needs, emotions, and insecurities are perfectly normal (and in this episode at least, somewhat healthy), Don just doesn’t want to deal with it. What he really wants is what he saw in that brothel as a child.

In other developments, Peggy continues to parallel Don as well: she even has a black secretary named Phyllis (continuing the alliterative motif). That’s about as far as the parallels go this episode, however. From the moment in which Phyllis walks in, differences start to appear. Peggy seems to have piled on the criticism a bit too thickly, as her subordinates are so sick of hearing what a disappointment they are to her that they don’t want to come to her office when summoned (moreover, she makes them stand while she dishes it out – the staging and framing make it appear as though
she’s a school teacher scolding misbehaving students). Later, she’ll discover that they’ve played a relatively tame prank on her by placing a fake hygiene product in her office, one meant to “kill overly critical bacteria.” To our knowledge, Don was never pranked this way. As contemptuous as he can be sometimes, Don also doles out praise on occasion, and motivates others to work hard for him. Peggy lived in fear of him, but also looked up to him, and it’s a balance she’s struggling to achieve with her underlings, as evidenced by her awkward attempt to encourage her creative team (“I don’t want you to think that just because I have high standards, that means I’m not happy with you. Especially, you know, the way you are.”).

Peggy also revealed herself to be somewhat green in terms of the ethics of business competition, specifically in reference to how she dealt with knowledge of SCDP’s meeting with Heinz ketchup. Her greenness is twofold here: first, she didn’t realize that Teddy Chaough would seize upon even the smallest possibility of being the first to get a foot inside one of the doors that Don Draper might even be thinking about knocking on. Second, rather than displaying Don’s moral certainty regarding the pursuit (or not) of new business, she does not yet have the courage of her ethical convictions. Don refuses to consider a ketchup campaign when Raymond from Heinz beans forbids it (“Dance with the one that brung you”), but even though she’s acting on knowledge she shouldn’t have, and taking advantage of the candid comments of a friend, she agrees to start working on a ketchup pitch at Teddy’s insistence (no matter that SCDP is apparently not going to purse ketchup). Peggy has yet to demonstrate that she’s as classy as Don in her competition.

Another series of nice touches in this episode stem from the appearance of Herb, the lecherous Jaguar dealer, at the SCDP offices. The first nice touch is Joan’s reaction to Herb’s surprising her in her office: he asks if she got dressed up for him, and she responds with false cheer: “I had no idea you’d be darkening my doorway.” She’s frigid toward him, and he pushes: “I know there’s a part of you that’s glad to see me.” She replies: “And I know there’s a part of you that you haven’t seen in years.” Burn! The second nice touch: Pete’s breathless arrival in Joan’s office mere moments later, and his quickly whisking Herb away. I can imagine with crystal clarity Pete’s spit-take and frantic rush down the stairs upon learning that Herb was in the office and visiting Joan. Pete knows Joan will not be happy to see Herb, and that Herb needs to be ushered away as soon as possible to douse the fire Joan will start if put in a room with Herb for an extended period of time. Third nice touch: After Herb’s
visit, Joan immediately enters Don’s office and pours herself a drink, and Don gives her three sympathetic looks on the way out. The rapport these two have in the wake of Joan’s decision last season (and Lane’s suicide) is obviously still strong. Fourth nice touch: Don’s wide-eyed, shit-eating
expression as he shakes Herb’s hand after deliberately tanking the local marketing campaign idea. Not only is he protecting the integrity of the campaign, but it’s a way for him to continue to lodge protest about the others’ agreeing to let Joan earn a partnership this way (as evidenced by his later sarcastically telling Pete “Something about that guy makes me sick.”) Joan made her own choices last season to get where she is now, but that doesn’t mean Don won’t shit on the other partners for agreeing to it.

Other thoughts:

- Some nice editing in this episode. Sylvia consoles Megan in the laundry room after Megan fires their housekeeper. Sylvia suggests they go upstairs, and Megan says she doesn’t want to return to the apartment until the housekeeper is gone, to which Sylvia replies, “You’ll leave her alone with your silverware.” Immediately, the episode cuts to Sylvia and Megan sitting at the counter in Don and Megan’s apartment.

- Another instance of excellent editing: the flashforwards from Don and Sylvia’s dinner scene to their  sex scene. Don says, “You want to feel shitty right up until the point where I take your dress off.” Sylvia responds with a look equal parts shock and arousal, and right when I thought she was on the verge of slapping him in the face, the episode slapped me in the face by cutting to a shot of the two of them slamming open the door to the maid’s room, whereupon Don starts to take her dress off.

- Linda Cardellini killed it this episode. You can see layers upon layers of guilty thoughts zinging
about behind her eyes in her scene with Megan (just look at her face when she gives Megan a long look after asking what Megan has to feel guilty about). Also, I like the way she occasionally buries her words, dropping the beginnings and endings of sentences. The line about the silverware is one
example, and another occurs at the end of the episode, when Don knocks on her back door and she mumbles “He’s home!” and drops the "s" in "he's." Also, the hair and makeup on her are fantastic – last week I didn’t even realize I was watching Lindsay Weir have an affair with Don Draper until I read about the premiere after the fact.

- I’m thoroughly enjoying Stan’s reinvention as junior court jester (second to Roger). Peggy: “Everyone hates me here.” Stan: “Well that was bound to happen.” Then, when Teddy stops by Peggy’s office while she’s on speakerphone with Stan, Peggy improvs, “Tuesday is perfect.” Stan catches on, and replies, “We’ll have your wig ready then, ma’am.”

- Gotta love Pete, ever the wannabe smooth-talker. When Trudy angrily accuses Pete of not be discrete enough, Pete plays dumb: “Trudy, don’t jump to conclusions.” Pete, it works for people who don’t have to put up with your bullshit every day, but not with Trudy.

- A lot of allusion to war in this episode, both figurative and literal. We hear about the Tet offensive throughout, and it’s somewhat paralleled in Peggy’s storyline – she’s being coerced into throwing together a covert ketchup campaign, which would be much to the surprise of SCDP. Teddy tells her that this is how wars are won. Later, after Don tanks the Jaguar reconfiguration, Roger tells him he had two choices, war or dishonor, and that in choosing dishonor, he might still end up with the war.

- Boy does Don make the Jaguar radio pitch sound stupid. “Why are you limiting yourself? Wouldn’t you rather cast a wide net so you can sell Jaguar to the average guy? You know, truck drivers, house wives?” Don has pretty much arrived at the exact opposite intention of all luxury brand marketing campaigns (also a nice touch: Roger figures out what Don is doing and smiles in reaction). Harry Crane is great in this scene as well – Don throws him a question, and Harry is totally unprepared to answer it. It’s unclear if Don was banking on Harry’ bumbling, but I like to think it was premeditated, because it makes the idea look all the more stupid.

- Pete doesn’t know what “Munich” refers to, and is sick of Roger and Don talking about it all the time. Temper tantrum! Hilarity. Pete's disastrous bumbling through his latest affair strikes me as a parody of what would happen were someone to deliberately set out to achieve in real life what Don Draper does on the show. See, for instance, a list of his partners, or attempted partners: a teenager in his driver’s ed class, a woman who routinely undergoes shock therapy, a woman who naively thinks telling her husband about their affair is a good idea, etc.

- Trudy tells Pete she doesn’t want a divorce because “I refuse to be a failure,” and elaborates further that she doesn’t want people to look down on her and pity her. Pete, it seems agrees with her about the importance of appearances. Near the episode’s end, Pete sarcastically tells Bob Benson, “It’s all about what it looks like,” and then immediately puts this into practice by telling Bob that his wife asked him to pick up toilet paper for the apartment, when it was Brenda who mentioned this to Pete.

1 comment:

  1. Let's not forget the beautiful hypocrisy of Don's righteous loyalty to Heinz Beans, ("Dance with the one that brung ya") juxtaposed with his willfully guiltless seduction of Sylvia that same episode, and of course his chronic infidelity problem.

    I guess it's not all that surprising then when, in the next episode, he reverses positions on Heinz and sets up a clandestine project to pitch to Ketchup. (And did you notice how we first learn of that business betrayal while Don and Pete are meeting in Pete's Infidelity Pad??? Great setting choice! What better place to talk about breaking promises?)