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Monday, April 15, 2013

Mad Men: "The Collaborators"

The Collaborators is basically an hour-long reminder that Don is still better than Pete at everything. Especially at conducting an affair. If I had to lead a seminar in the Draper method of giving your wife the run-around, the syllabus might look a little like this:

1. Don't have an affair with a crazy woman: Pete is so eager to cheat on Trudy that he doesn't notice that Brenda, his partner in this affair (played by Collette Wolfe, who was Travis's college girlfriend on Cougar Town) is more than a little disturbed. You could argue you'd have to be a little touched to be so into Pete, but I'll refrain. Compare Brenda to Sylvia Rosen, who even when she's petulant at her and Don's awkward, unplanned dinner for two, is still a smart, reasonable woman.

2. Confidence is Key: When Collette is at Pete's pied a terre in Manhattan, Pete goes overboard trying to make her comfortable, offering her food and drink and even trying to get the music just right for her. If she wasn't so determined to step out on her husband, it's probable she'd have been turned off by Pete's neediness. Compare that to Don, who is so confident in his ability to seduce a woman he essentially wins an argument with Sylvia by merely informing her that he's going to tear her dress off at the end of the night.

3. Don't Overthink Things: Pete conducts his affair in an entirely separate residence miles away from his wife and he gets caught. Don is literally one floor below his wife and he gets away with everything, even though he has a history of adultery.

To emphasize just how much better Don is at these things, the episode gives us scenes where both Don and Pete are confronted by situations where there wives and mistresses are together. Don is worried when he catches Sylvia and Megan commiserating, but he passes an assured glance to Sylvia and manages to act as though nothing is wrong. From the moment a beaten Collette pounds on his door Pete is a nervous mess, too afraid to leave his wife and mistress alone to get her a first-aid kit. He's also just an asshole to her, and his suggestion that she take a taxi to the hotel must be a final tipping point for Trudy.

Thus we get two more parallel scenes. In the first, a righteously pissed-off Trudy delivers an all-time ultimatum to her philandering husband, in which she orders him to not come home unless she orders him to in order to keep up appearances. He can go stay in Manhattan and sleep with the world for all she cares, but if he so much as opens his fly to urinate in town, she makes it clear there'll be hell to pay. Meanwhile, in the Draper residence, Don is the protective, caring husband when Megan finally tells him about the miscarriage she suffered from after accidentally getting pregnant in Hawaii. He even gets to act a little condescendingly disappointed in her for not telling him sooner. Don is the one in command of the situation, where Pete can't even pretend to have a say.

The Collaborators pretty evenly splits into two halves, adultery and advertising, and in the advertising section some intriguing developments take place. Don, despite having no way of knowing that Pete's marriage has collapsed, seems to be driving the final nail in the coffin when he expertly derails Herb's (Jaguar's sleazy head of the dealerships) efforts to prioritize radio ads for the luxury car. It was a nice way to bring back Herb, in that we get to see Joan re-assert herself in the aftermath of her corrupt bargain, and we get to see Don's barely-veiled contempt for him (contextualized by a new peek into his background as a child raised in a whorehouse, where his mother slept with his uncle to pay for their stay.) This is a professional contrast between Don and Pete, as Pete had been willing to give Herb exactly what he wanted even as he knew it was a bad idea and potentially bad for business. Pete is eager to please, while Don is better at getting what he wants.

We also get a look at Cutler, Gleason and Chaough, where Peggy's high standards are leading to fairly open revolt on the part of her subordinates. (Peggy's dismissive: "When you need them to be funny..." is a candidate for line of the night.) Peggy also has a little trouble going along with Chaough's cutthroat business practices, when an overheard phone call between her and Stan leads to her firm pursuing Heinz Ketchup (The Coca-Cola of condiments, according to Ken Cosgrove) from out under SCDP's shadow. It will be great to see Peggy competing against her old firm and trying to reconcile her notions of being a good friend, a good person, and a good boss.

Other thoughts:

-Alison Brie did a tremendous acting job in her tell-off scene

-Bob Benson is in both big meetings at SCDP, and he also buys Pete toilet paper. He was a little more bearable this week, but I want to see what he's up to soon. It's probably just becuase he played Max's boyfriend on Happy Endings, but I did feel a gay subtext to his interaction with Pete. I'm sure I'm just reading too much into his eager-to-please demeanor.

-Precious little Roger this week, but he does awesomely attribute a Churchill quote to his recently deceased mother.

-I don't buy Pete not understanding the Munich reference. Especially since he's so up on the news. This is probably the impetus for the episode's title, however. Pete is behaving like the collaborators in Don's Munich analogy, giving in too much and not realizing this only inspires more want.

-Pete watches a Tonight Show where Johnny Carson's guest is Jim Garrison, the New Orleans ADA whose investigation into the Kennedy Assassination was the subject of Oliver Stone's film JFK.

-The North Korea references this week were very well-timed.

-Don and Dr. Rosen's conversation at the restaurant places this episode in the area of February 1968, in the wake of the Tet Offiensive. We're coming up on the assassination of Martin Luther King, and LBJ's withdrawal from the presidential campaign.

-The always cryptic "next week on" clips do seem to portend bad things for Stan, which would make sense considering he let the cat out of the bag.


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