Has everyone recovered from the Mad Men premiere? So many mixed emotions this week about that double-dose first episode this season — some great moments, but a dark way to open the new season. This week though, “Collaborators” settled back down into the show we maybe expect it to be. We actually spent some time in the Sterling Cooper Draper (Pryce?) offices, and were treated therein to a Reverse Don effect. There was still plenty of Don staring off into the past and into keyholes (Jon Hamm directed this episode and did an admirable job) and lots of questions about the future, but we also got a healthy dose of office politics and another comparison of Pete’s life versus Don’s. Hit the jump for why “if you come within 50 feet of this house and so much as open your fly to urinate, I will destroy you.”
Whenever we get a slice of life from Don’s past life as Dick Whitman, it’s always for an important reason. Dick had a lot of connections to prostitutes and whore houses (his mother, after all, was a prostitute), and now we find out that “Uncle Mac,” who was referenced once by Don to Betty as “he was nice to me,” was more or less the pimp of the brothel where Dick grew up. It’s of little wonder that Dick would want to leave his life behind, one where he was never wanted and never loved until he became Don, and it’s clearly left him with innumerable scars. “Find your own sins,” the prostitute tells him as he ascends the stairs behind Uncle Mac. But perhaps it’s not surprising that boy who grew up in a whore house would have an insatiable desire to bed women, or is that too on the nose?
While Don’s affair with Sylvia is working out to both of their favors (even though Don claims to want to quit doing it and Sylvia begins to feel guilty as she accidentally grows closer to Megan), Pete’s began and ended terribly. At the Campbell’s party, both Trudy and Pete were popular with the spouses of the opposite sex, though only Pete (as far as we know) took things further by inviting both of the women into the city and to his apartment where they could conduct an affair. But Pete picks a clingy, overeager housewife who wants to send him secret signals to show her affection (“Men don’t care about that shit,” as my friend Martha commented during the scene), and when her husband finds out sends her to Pete a bloody, bawling mess.
The differences between the affairs and the home lives of Don and Pete could not have been more different this week. As Don reassures Megan after her miscarriage/abortion, and strengthens their bond to end the episode, Trudy breaks things off with Pete immediately. Don gives Sylvia that what’s what: “this is how it is, this is how you will respond,” and she did. In a gender and power swap, Trudy did the same with Pete, telling him that the apartment was for his discreet affairs, not for him to sleep with women from their block. Pete, emasculated, has just lost all of the good things he had, just like Don warned him. Pete has always had a strange relationship with Don and has attempted, it seems, to emulate him, but always failing miserably.
The idea of prostitution was everywhere in “Collaborators” — Don gives Sylvia money after they sleep together, Joan’s public shame Herb comes into the office and ignites Don’s protectiveness of her because of what she did for the company to ensure Jaguar as a client. It’s a theme that has been every-present in Don’s life, and he deals with it sometimes in conflicting ways. The shot of him looking in the keyhole as a young Dick might suggest the way he continues to always be on the outside looking in — even when he’s got what he thinks he should want, it’s never enough.
Peggy, tethered to SCDP through Stan, has her own complicated issues of femininity (though not prostitution as such) to deal with. Having to compete and struggle for her position has left her unsure of how to treat her male subordinates, and after a botched pep talk she’s the brunt of a discouraging female-centric joke about sanity products. But Peggy, though channeling Don, seems relieved to be working under someone like Chaough who does recognize and nurture her talent in a softer way, while still standing firm about the importance of the work. In the end, Peggy has to sell out her friend — her only friend? — for that work, another take on the work/life (im)balance of successful people that the show often illustrates.
Perceptive (soothsayer?) commenter “sloan” last week mentioned that perhaps the show will end with Don Draper’s death, though not him jumping from the office window or going out into the ocean. Instead, it might be the death of the “false” Don Draper and a rebirth of either a new identity, or a reclamation of his old one. Don seems to be a great odds not only with his current self but how he got there, and a name change doesn’t dismiss the shadow of Dick Whitman that follows him always. The final song was damming: “When the end comes I know / There will just another gigolo / And life goes on without me.”
Episode Rating: B+
— Sometimes I get caught up in my critical bubble and forget to ask the important question: did you like it? I conducted a straw poll all week and found that most everyone I know who loves the show did not find the premiere satisfying. Entertainment isn’t the only thing, but it’s an important thing. This week, despite my lower rating (because stylistically and thematically “The Doorway” was great), I liked “Collaborators” more than “The Doorway,” (although on a second viewing “The Doorway” did grow on me just for its sheer bizarreness).
— North Korea has been messing us around for a long time.
— On the Collision podcast this week we talked about race in shows like Mad Men, and how it’s a background issue (should it be more in the forefront?). The war is, too. A newscast plays in the background when Don is with Sylvia, and he doesn’t listen. Pete tunes in to the nightly news, but his mind is elsewhere. It hasn’t really hit home, but it’s also inescapable.
— Trudy is my hero.
— Peggy: “Everyone here hates me.” Stan: “Well it was bound to happen.”
— I also loved the SCDP moment this week where Heinz baked beans battled ketchup.
— I still hate that it always has to be Don who defends Joan, and not Roger. Sigh. They should never have put her in that position.
— I really, really loved Don “giving Herb what he wanted” by making it sound horrible and cheap to the Jaguar bigwigs. He can woo them, and he can scare them away!
— I had a weird thought this week that Doc Rosen might be having an affair of his own … is it always the service calling?
— Megan dealt with some supremely difficult issues this week. This was also the first time I really felt sorry for her. It’s a long way from the Megan who coddled Don’s kids, the one seeming to want to be a surrogate mother to his kids and have her own. How have they not had that conversation? Her goals have escalated a lot more than Don ever suspected, I think. I’m not sure he even thought it was a conversation.
— “It’s all about what it looks like.” – Pete
— Roger confusing his mother and Churchill was hilarious.
— “Sometimes you gotta dance with the one that brung ya.” – Don