Mad Men: “The Collaborators” (Episode 6.03)

TV Reviews Mad Men
Mad Men: “The Collaborators” (Episode 6.03)

All’s fair in love and war—but what about when you’re not sure which one you’re dealing with?

The lines between the two are often blurred, and “The Collaborators” sought to remind us of that with plenty of broken alliances, tactical moves and references to the Tet Offensive, the USS Pueblo incident and Munich thrown in just to hammer it all home.

We open on the Campbells entertaining at home. The women are flirty with Pete, and the men are drooling over Trudy. They’re both encouraging it—or at least not doing anything to put a stop to it—despite being several feet away from each other. These two know how to work a room, and to them, being a good host and hostess is winning. Divide and conquer.

Elsewhere, Don’s still carrying on with Sylvia, the wife of his friend Dr. Rosen. As he enters her home seconds after saying goodbye to her husband, we flash back to young Dick Whitman arriving at his Uncle Mack’s brothel with his stepmother—only Dick’s not so young anymore. He looks to be about Sally’s age, in his early teens, certainly old enough to figure out what he’s looking at. As he scopes out the whorehouse, a prostitute smirks at him and says, “Little boy, find your own sins.”

To say that Don inherited a few vices would obviously be a huge understatement. While last episode he seemed tortured by his own actions, declaring that he wanted to “stop doing this,” this week he seems to have completely reverted to his old ways. When Sylvia expresses some guilt about their affair to him and asks how he can bear to sit at the same dinner table with her, Megan and Arnold, he shrugs and says “I don’t think about it. They’re both good company.” Later he gives us a few flashes of season-two, it-will-shock-you-how-much-it-never-happened Don by reminding her “This didn’t happen” and giving her some cash before heading to work.

Meanwhile, neither Pete nor Peggy have found their own sins. They’ve both climbed the ladder of success by emulating Don, and it’s finally come back to bite them in the ass. Pete spent much of last season following in Don’s footsteps, chasing skirt because he’s unhappy, searching for another “temporary bandage on a permanent wound.” That big moment of self-awareness last year seems to have been for naught; now he’s sleeping with his neighbor in his apartment in the city—and unlike his affair with Beth—he has zero emotional investment in this one, as he seems pretty eager to get her out of his place afterwards. Peggy, on the other hand, has been faithful to Abe (save for that movie theater handjob to a stranger last season) as far as we know. She’s doing her best Don impression on a daily basis at her new job, however: demanding perfection, berating her underlings when their work doesn’t meet her expectations, making them work holidays. In many ways, she’s winning—she’s producing good work—but she’s bothered by the fact that everyone hates her. She tries to smooth things over with her team, but it comes off awkward and forced. She can’t help it—Don trained her to be a drill sergeant.

Herb from Jaguar makes his return this week (as Joan tells him in a not-so-subtle allusion to the imagery and title of last week’s episode, “I had no idea you’d be darkening my doorway”). He wants to cut back the scope of Don’s beautiful national campaign to make room for more tacky local radio ads, and he wants SCDP to be the ones to suggest it in their next meeting. It’s a strategic move on his part—he knows his bosses won’t go for it if he’s the one to bring it up, and the only way he can win this battle is if Don’s the one out there in the line of fire. Don’s not about to let his precious campaign get chopped up, and what Herb doesn’t count on is the counterattack he cooks up: a suicide mission. He does as he’s told and “sells” the idea, but he tanks it, saying radio ads will appeal to truck drivers and housewives and assure people in New Jersey that a new Jaguar is cheap and right around the corner. It’s the exact opposite of the luxury image the brand is going for—he should know, he’s the one who sold them on it to begin with—and with that, it’s settled. Don remains the victor.

That’s about as clear-cut as the battles get this week, however. There’s no love lost between Herb and Don, but everywhere else the lines between friend and enemy, between that L-word and full-blown war, are blurred. Peggy’s confronted with that boundary when Ted makes her pursue Heinz ketchup after she relays what Stan told her about their meeting with SCDP. She’s reluctant to use Stan’s information against him, explaining he’s a friend and he told her that in confidence. “He’s not your friend,” Ted tells her. “He’s the enemy.”

Sylvia toes that line too when, after Megan confides in her that she had a miscarriage two days earlier, she’s wracked with guilt about her affair with Don. Things come to a head when the two find themselves alone at dinner (Megan’s still reeling from the miscarriage and cancels, and Dr. Rosen gets called away to deal with a patient—but not before discussing all the goings-on in North Korea and Vietnam and declaring “We’re losing the war”). She must decide if she’s going to end things with Don or keep sleeping with him. Turns out some wine and Don insisting he’d be tearing off her dress later that evening was all the convincing she needed.

The biggest dust-up of the episode, however, comes from Pete and Trudy. Brenda, the neighbor Pete slept with, shows up at their door bloodied and crying, as her husband yells “Campbell, she’s your problem now!” in the background. Pete’s freaked out that he’s caught, but Trudy swoops into action, tending to Brenda’s wounds and driving her to a hotel. It seems as though Pete may have dodged a bullet, until the next morning, when Trudy reveals she knows more than she let on. “Couldn’t you have just pretended?” she asks. “All I wanted was for you to be discreet.” After six seasons, she’s finally had enough, and she insists their marriage is over. “What, you want a divorce?” asks an incredulous Pete. “No, I refuse to be a failure,” she responds. Like Pete, Trudy’s a slave to appearances, and she realizes that—love him or hate him—Pete’s on her side. Her whole facade, her seemingly idyllic home life hinges upon his presence. For her, that charade is winning, and any sign of weakness can be pounced upon by the enemy, so rather than risk that, she tells him he’s not to be within 50 miles of the house except when she tells him to be—presumably for the odd dinner party to keep the illusion going. It’s obvious how much this means to her when she lets him know what’ll happen if he doesn’t comply with a growl of “I WILL DESTROY YOU.”

Pete will likely go along with this arrangement because, as we all know, being seen in a certain light by people is what he lives and breathes for. When that brown-noser Bob Benson comes in to compliment him about his job, he responds with “I’m glad it looks like that to you” before adding “It’s all about what it looks like, isn’t it?” and sending Bob to go pick up some toilet paper for him. What he should realize, however, is that things are never entirely what they look like. Don’s sins haven’t exactly worked out so well for him, either, and we close the episode with him slumped in front of his doorway. Is he overcome with guilt and unable to enter? Simply too exhausted from all the lying? One thing’s for sure: love is a battlefield, and—whether anyone else can see it or not—he’s deep in the trenches.

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