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Fiends and neighbors

April 15, 2013 - Ray Eckenrode

“Mad Men” 6x03

Episode title: “Collaborators” (Blogger’s note: There’s no “the” in the title as we’ve seen widely and in some pretty high-profile places.)

Significance: Overtly, a reference to the moral breakdown exhibited by just about everyone involved in the episode’s two bizarre love quadrangles. But we can’t help but point out that “collaboration” is a term most often associated with wars (both World War II and the Vietnam War showed up in the subtext in this episode with Don and Roger’s “Munich” conversation and the angst of the USS Pueblo incident providing radio background noise) and there’s clearly a war brewing between Sterling, Cooper, Draper, Pryce and Teddy Chough’s agency, and it was fascinating how the moral codes observed (and ignored) in business mirrored the ones being flaunted in all the personal lives.

Time passages: This episode takes place in the last week of January of 1968. The North Koreans have just captured the USS Pueblo and the Viet Cong are on the verge of launching the Tet Offensive in Southeast Asia.

Episode essay:

Given two opportunities in Episode 6x03 to behave unscrupulously in his business life, with the Heinz and Jaguar accounts, Don Draper doesn’t bend an inch, his professional moral code is too strong. But his personal life, of course, is a different story, as Don brazenly, demandingly and consciously ups the ante on his dalliance with Sylvia Rosen, a woman now close to his wife both by proximity and emotion.

It’s not fair to say Don acts without conscience. The gorgeous closing scene of him sprawled on the floor outside his own apartment tells you he’s guilt wracked. But the conscience that is so evident in Don’s business life is literally the last thing that affects his personal behavior.

“Collaborators” provides some more flesh to answers about how Don’s cathouse morals were formed (in a cathouse, of course!) as we learn alter ego Dick Whitman watched his own mother trade sex for shelter with his Uncle Mack, who told the boy earlier, “I’m the rooster round here. I hump all the hens and I bring on the day.” It’s no wonder sex is transactional for Don Draper, a point driven home when he hands his financially strapped mistress a wad of cash after a morning tryst. “You found it in the cookie jar,” Don says, letting all of us know exactly who is the rooster now.

But roosters don’t have consciences and they don’t have social and moral codes to follow. They have instinct and action. In Don Draper’s case, there’s a very real question as to what makes him happy: Following his conscience or following his instinct?

Quick hits

+ Pete Campbell, meanwhile, continues to mirror Don’s bad behavior with all of personal fallout but none of the flair. His painfully awkward affair with a neighbor blows up in his face with an act of domestic violence across the street and one of domestic warfare in his own home. In Pete’s case, though, it’s not that he had an affair (Trudy was willing to accept that), it’s who he had it with (“She lives on our block!”). Trudy won’t divorce Pete. Appearances are too important to her. But their sham of a marriage is now totally exposed.

+ While the Pete/Trudy/Neighbors quadrangle is just ugly, the Don/Meagan/Neighbors one is much more complex, yielding two truly beautiful and painful scenes. In the first, Meagan decides to confide in Sylvia about her recent miscarriage and the guilt she feels about being “relieved” about it. “What do you have to feel guilty about?” asks the woman who is sleeping with her husband. Later, Don and Meagan talk about having children without once saying the word and ending with one of Don’s most disingenuous, but heartfully delivered, lines ever: “You have to know I want what you want.”

+ Wow, Christina Hendricks packed a lot of subtle emotion into Joan’s two brief scenes in 6x03 exhibiting the continuing fallout from her own personal decision to trade sex for power. There’s gotta be a Joan-centric episode coming soon, right?

+ Peggy was faced with her own business ethics question in “Collaborators” and we’re still not sure how she’s going to fare. She obviously knows right from wrong here, but Teddy Chough is very persuasive and Peggy is ultimately a people pleaser. If CGC does end up going after Heinz ketchup, you have to wonder what kind of toll that might take on Peggy – and if it might not result in a second defection from SCDP.

About last week: We read some pretty pointed criticism over the past week about “Mad Men” in general, and the how character of Don Draper has been written, in particular, in terms of how little the show’s plot (and Don’s actions) have evolved, something along the lines of “same stuff, different year.” Now, usually we’re not one to try to refute anyone else’s point of view, but in this case we’ll make an exception and say in our best John McEnroe voice, “You cannot be serious.” Dick Whitman is a white trash orphan, a liar, cheater and deserter, who created a new life by willing himself to become Don Draper and created a new living by showing an uncanny knack for helping millions of Americans delude themselves into measuring the value of their lives by the car they drive or kitchen cleaner they use. If there is anyone, ever, in the history of the world, who absolutely cannot afford to be self aware, it’s Don Draper. If you’re watching “Mad Men” and expecting a story of personal growth, hoo boy, are you in the wrong neighborhood.

Historical note: The Heinz ketchup guy (“Sunshine” from “Remember the Titans,” btw) referenced the Steelers regular-season win over the Green Bay Packers in December of 1967.

Sweet tweet: From @jimshi809: Every time Don Draper orders an Old Fashioned, an angel gets his wings.

Lines of the night:

“Now I understand. You want to feel shitty right up until the point where I take your dress off.” –Don, to Sylvia

“And I know there’s a part of you you haven’t seen in years.” –Joan, to Herb

“They gave me a suicide mission: Vinegar, sauces and baked beans.” –Raymond from Heinz

“It’s the Coca Cola of condiments!” –Ken Cosgrove

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Don Draper's old-fashioned business values don't carry over into his personal life in "Collaborators."


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