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"Mad Men" -- "The Collaborators": I'll Tell You What I Want, What I Really Really Want

By Sarah Carlson | TV Reviews | April 16, 2013 | Comments ()


Trudy6.3.jpg

After a slightly exhausting two-hour premiere, full of table settings and societal angst, “Mad Men’s” third episode of Season Six, “The Collaborators,” wasted no time in shifting the chess pieces around for its characters. It not only shed insight into Don’s affair with Sylvia, his friend’s wife, but provided several fan-service moments of great zingers from women taking slimy men down a notch. Too many players underestimated their partners, professional or personal, and Don and Roger spelled out the theme in the final moments: appeasement can be a dangerous game. Give someone what they want, no matter what it is, just to make them happy, and chances are they will only want more — and then some.

Most satisfying first: Pete Campbell’s arrogance finally caught up with him. His assumptions regarding his extramarital flings in his tacky Manhattan bachelor pad were wrong on many levels, from thinking the women he beds will be happy with a casual affair to believing his wife, Trudy, is ignorant to his fooling around. The doe-eyed blonde he seduces on the prospect of “Hair” tickets, Brenda (Collette Wolfe), isn’t even dressed again before she starts daydreaming how the two will continue a clandestine affair. Pete’s “I really have to get back — can you move it along a little?” doesn’t even deter her, nor does the brutal beating she receives from her husband after her presumably learns of the tryst. She wants to be with him; he can’t believe what he sees as his bad luck (and has the audacity to blame Brenda for the assault); and Trudy can’t believe she has put up with the charade for so long. “Somehow I thought that there was some dignity in granting permission,” she tells him. “All I wanted was for you to be discreet.” If he can’t keep up the pretense, neither can she — and she doesn’t want a divorce. “I refuse to be a failure. I don’t care what you want anymore. This is how it’s going to work: you will be here only when I tell you to be here. I’m drawing a 50-mile radius around this house, and if you so much as open your fly to urinate, I will destroy you. Do you understand?” “You know,” Pete says, “you’re going to go to bed tonight and you’re going to realize you don’t know anything for sure.” “I’ll live with that,” Trudy replies.She wants him gone, and that’s good enough for now.

Peggy’s mistakes are rookie ones, from assuming her creative team doesn’t need encouragement to not seeing from a mile away her boss, Ted, swooping in to try to steal the Heinz account from SCDP based on her tip. Although her frustrations with her lackluster team are understandable, Peggy hasn’t put enough effort into remembering what it was like to be one of the creatives and to work for a hard-to-please boss. More importantly, she appears to have forgotten the nature of the business — that it is every man out for himself. Stan sharing the story of Heinz baked bean’s Raymond Geiger (John Sloman) warning Don and crew to stay away from Heinz ketchup’s Timmy Jablonksi (Kip Pardue), who may be shopping around for a new agency, was friendly and funny — a laugh between two friends. Stan and Peggy trust each other, but Peggy telling Ted the news as a way to explain her personal phone call wasn’t smooth. Or did she subconsciously know Ted would jump on Heinz? Perhaps she is craving a win more than she realizes, not to mention desiring acceptance and admiration from the peers that play a “joke” on her by leaving feminine hygiene product on her desk. “This is how wars are won,” Ted tells her. “Your friend’s mistake was underestimating you.” This will likely pit her against SCDP — namely Don — to win over Heinz. That’s what she really wants, whether she realizes it or not.

Pete’s other blunder came from thinking his partners, namely Don, are interested in the same game he is when it comes to accounts. Herb Rennet (Gary Basaraba) from Jaguar wants the agency at his beck and call, just as it was last year when SCDP landed the account in turn for him landing Joan. She isn’t amused by his presence — Him: “I know there’s a part of you that’s glad to see me.” Her: “And I know there’s a part of you you haven’t seen in years.” — and Don isn’t interested in kowtowing to his demands to advertise locally, not so much nationally, for the brand. In true Don fashion, he blows up the pitch meeting with Jaguar execs by pretending to agree with Herb while pointing out the flaws of his idea. Herb is left out to dry, and so is Pete, as the other executives politely balk at the go-local pitch. “Why do we care what that guy wants?,” Don asks later to Pete and Roger, who answer with “because he’s the client.” “And so we just keep saying yes no matter what, because we didn’t say no to begin with?”

That idea of saying yes because you didn’t first say no perfectly translates to the triangle of Don, Megan and Sylvia, which is growing more complicated. “You don’t mind sitting across the table from your wife and my husband?,” Sylvia asks Don early in the episode. “I don’t think about it,” he says. “They’re both good company.” Sylvia had assumed her affair with Don was spurred in part by his declining relationship with Megan, but guilt has made itself known now that she is spending more time with the couple. Megan confiding in her about a recent miscarriage also unnerves Sylvia, who says she can’t relate to Megan’s feeling of relief, not so much of not having a child but of not having to decide right then if she wants to have one. Stuck at dinner with Don, Megan having stayed home and Arnold called away to work, Sylvia tells him she doesn’t know what they’re doing. “You want to feel sh*tty right up until the point where I take your dress off? Because I’m going to do that. You want to skip dinner? Fine. But don’t pretend,” he says. “… I want you. I want you all the time. If you’ve suddenly decided you want something more than that, well then that’s news, isn’t it?”

Sylvia retreats from confronting Don on their sins, telling him she is sorry and that she has no right to be jealous. “This is just us here,” he tells her, and her only caution is that they shouldn’t fall in love — it wouldn’t be “so French” anymore. Afterward, it is Don’s turn to change tunes once he returns home to Megan. She tells him of the miscarriage and says she is sorry for not telling him sooner. She didn’t know how to talk to him about it because she doesn’t know what he wants in terms of starting a family with her. Where Don was forceful with Sylvia, telling her point-blank that no matter what, they will still sleep together that night because that’s their arrangement is, he is more conciliatory with Megan. “You’d have to know I’d want what you want,” he tells her. “Is that what you want?” “Do you want to have that conversation” about kids, she asks. “Whenever you want,” he replies. The next night, however, he stops by to see Sylvia, but Arnold is home. He ends up outside his own door, slumped against the wall.

The use of flashback created interesting parallels in “The Collaborators,” as we saw a young Dick Whitman move into what is essentially a brothel. His stepmother, Abigail, is pregnant and desperate, turning to her sister Ernestine for a place to stay. Ernestine is quick to give the credit to Mack, the man she is with — “So he’s your uncle,” she tells Don. “All I said was, ‘My sister’s coming with her boy.’ Mack’s the one that brung ya.” “I’d do the same for mine,” Mack says. “And of course Ernestine told you we could always use a little help around here,” he says to Abigail. She knows what it is she is being asked to do, and she is repulsed and resigned to her new situation. Back in 1968, Don echoed his aunt’s words when summarizing the Heinz situation for Ken. Raymond doesn’t want SCDP courting Timmy, and Raymond was loyal to the agency when they were struggling and needed clients. They owe him their allegiance, Don says: “Sometimes, you gotta dance with the one that brung ya.”

So why is Don associating his affair with Sylvia with his time at the brothel? He did give her money after sex one time, responding to an overheard conversation of Sylvia and Arnold’s in which she asked for extra funds. Sylvia took the cash from Don with a smile. His “relationships” with so many women are merely arrangements, as if they are prostitutes. Don wants them, and he’s going to get them. So he has to put up with hurt feelings occasionally? Perhaps he has to shell out extra money? OK. That’s part of the deal. His affair with Sylvia is transactional, while his marriage with Megan is more emotional. But is he translating the idea of sticking with someone no matter what to his marriage? He was prepared to stay with Betty no matter what; she is the one who ended the marriage. His plan appears to be to stay with Megan as well, even if it means more children. He didn’t say no, so he essentially said yes. He wants her to have what she wants, whatever that is. But what he really wants in life remains unclear, although I think Dustin hit the nail on the head in his parsing of the premiere. Don’s main desire just might be to disappear — not to kill himself, but to leave his life as Don Draper behind. That may be his only escape.

Sarah Carlson is a TV Critic for Pajiba. She lives in San Antonio. You can find her on Twitter.



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  • Chilira

    I was literally off my chair yelling, "You go girl" at Trudy when she put Pete in his place. A storm was going to blow in the following morning, so I went into my office at DISH Sunday night to take care of a few things. I brought my iPad with me just so that I could stream Mad Men live using DISH Anywhere since I wasn't going to be home while it aired. I may have scared a few people with my cheering, but I'm just glad that I didn't miss Trudy's awesomeness despite having to go into the office.

  • Morgan_LaFai

    Even escape won't make Don, or whatever he would be calling himself, happy. Turning himself into Don certainly didn't do the trick. He has spent his life searching for happiness outside himself (in a bottle, in women, in a new identity) but until he can find it within nothing will change.

    Before I go on my drinking soap box, I would like to take a minute to look at Pete and Trudy. Don't you just hate it when all your well kept secrets turn out to not be secrets at all. Go Trudy for knowing what was up and not choosing to live in a world of denial, though she might relent as Betty did simply because she doesn't want to be alone. I hope not, but it could happen. The only moment that was as close to satisfying was the scene with Pete and ??? (the new guy who I am happy to see on tv again and loved in Lonestar and his stints on Happy Endings and Shameless). Pete always wanted to be like Don and now he is, complete with someone wanting to be him. But as long as it looks good that's what matters.

    Now to my drinking hi horse. As someone who has only recently joined AA and is working my way through the Big Book and other literature, I never really noticed the impact that his drinking had on Don's life. I always knew it was part of the problem, but I never noticed how much of the problem it is. He is self medicating, but the damage his particular medication throws off his brain chemistry and not in a way that will lend itself to recovery. This is seen day in and day out, but is most clearly seen when anything that is particularly painful (death, funerals, etc.) happens and he gets even more drunk than usual.

    Now I don't want to be one of those people who judges and preaches just because I have found a solution that works for me, but sometimes it is just so obvious it is hard for me to keep quiet, and that is how I feel about Don's drinking.

    They had one executive go through rehab, though we didn't really see much of it. I think it would be interesting if they had a more important character going through it. Especially as this is still the early days of AA and is ripe for interesting study. Unfortunately, the only two characters I think really need to go are Don and Rodger, and I don't think that is going to happen.

  • Melissa Doucette

    If you recall in Season 4, he started making a conscious effort to control his drinking more (which is probably a big sign that he's got a big problem). I remember one moment when all the people in his office were having a drink and talking about work and all he could do was stare at the drink in Peggy's hand. And you know, last season when he was so happy, I think we only saw him drunk once (when he took Joan out for a test drive), and even that wasn't stinking drunk like he was before.

    On a personal note, I know I don't know you, but I do have many alcoholics in my family, including one that got sober after 50 years. He's a much happier person today. I was very proud of him and happy for him to make such a huge step, and I hope you feel that way about yourself too.

  • Morgan_LaFai

    I do recall Don cutting well back on his drinking and being much happier. But something happened and he went straight back to the self medicating well, and now he seems to be back where he started.

    And as to your personal note, thank you very much. Personally I feel much more content with both myself and the world. The first bit was hard as my brain chemistry evened out, but now I feel so much better and while I do miss drinking, I don't feel like I need to drink.

  • I was not a fan of the flashbacks in this episode, it seems like they walked on familiar ground: "Yes yes Dick/Don's childhood was as weird and twisted." I understood the practical reason behind it since Hamm directed the episode and the flashbacks are a good way to develop Don without Hamm on screen. But the snapshots into the past make less and less sense when trying to paint the picture of a man who is always moving forward.

  • Obsidiandog

    Draper is a sex symbol? Draper is a pig. Women apparently want pigs.

  • It's a fact that hasn't gone unnoticed by Jon Hamm himself when he hears about how men want to "be Don Draper." In a different time and different place, Don Draper would most likely been a target for Dexter's dark passenger. It's part of what makes the series fascinating that during the 60s a man with a little charm, a nice suit and sociopathic tendencies can bend the world to his will more often than not.

  • BWeaves

    Unfortunately, that's true.

    My husband used to loan out the book "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman" about the physicist. Everyone loved the book. It's amusing. UNTIL they got to the chapter on how to pick up women, and then the women who read it would throw the book back at my husband.

    Feynman's technique? Act look you're too busy to talk to the woman you're trying to pick up. Don't buy her anything. Ignore her once you've got her. She'll sleep with you. She'll die for you. It tends to work better if you're good looking.

    There's another guy who wrote a book about how to get women, with pretty much the same information in it. Unfortunately, it seems to be true for most people. My sister in particular was notorious for dating men who treated her like crap and she loved them. I can't understand why. I prefer a man who treats me like an equal and is loyal and kind and attentive. But I see it all the time, some woman just pining for some guy who is totally ignoring her.

  • Obsidiandog

    I read that book too, and I was taken aback by his tactics, " I spent money on you, what are you going to do for me?" Caveman stuff.

  • John W

    Alison's Trudy won the month of April with that scene.

    I wonder where that ranks in the pantheon of great verbal smackdowns.

    I can only think of when Buffy tells the Watcher's council that she will allow them to work with her again IF they behave.

  • I'm just loving the Peggy/Stan BFF thing going on right now.

  • MrsAtaxxia

    I love this too. And I really hope the Heinz thing doesn't lose Peggy her friend, because while they do talk shop, they have both been in the business too long not to know that that kind of tip off isn't worth a LOT. Heinz ketchup is, after all, the coca-cola of condiments.

  • BWeaves

    Yes, and I think it's going to be a big problem for Stan when Peggy lands Heinz ketchup, despite the fact that there was no way in hell that SCDP was going to get it.

  • Yeah, I feel a disruption to this friendship coming.

  • becks

    "Oh, yes...your wig will be ready tomorrow, ma'am."

  • Sasha

    Just a quick clarification to your otherwise excellent recap: Abigail is Dick's stepmother, not his mother (who died in childbirth).

  • Sarah Carlson

    Great catch! Thanks!

  • But was also a prostitute.

  • MrsAtaxxia

    Trudy Motherfucking Campbell. It was so wonderfully satisfying to see her nail Pete's ass to the wall. That and Joan cutting Herb off at the knees made my night.

    I am less and less interested in Don's home life (mostly meaning Megan). However it is clear that this season is going to deal with his mother issues, from his reaction at Roger's mother's funeral to his memories of his stepmother's treatment of him. This episode was all about Madonnas and whores. And Sylvia, in all her catholic glory is all wrapped up in that for Don. Don is a man who wants to be the Rooster (just like Uncle Mack) and "protect the hens" to some extent - as with Joan last season - but he never really manages. And this Sylvia thing is going to blow up spectacularly. Pete, who has always been trying to be Don but only ever manages to be a bargain basement copy, only ever sees women as whores, so it will be interesting to see what he does in the wake of Trudy well and truly fucking him for a change.

  • katy

    I've been thinking about the Madonna and whore theme all morning. Although I found myself wondering what it is about Peggy and Joan that put them into the former camp. I wouldn't quite go so far to say that it's because he sees them as equals, but something close to that. Can't quite put my finger on it.

    And speaking of the Madonnas, Anna being his ultimate one, I would love to see Don eventually end out his time on a beach, maybe dying alone in his beach house in some poignant yet unsavory manner. More of Don at the beach is good in general. I loved the episodes where he would visit Anna, and suddenly the whole show would be flush with color in a way it usually isn't. I really enjoyed the season opener in Hawaii too, because it evoked that same Don that I like so much better. He can go whore around all he wants, just do it on a beach somewhere, and preferably without an unhappy wife in the background.

  • Don needs to hook back up with Joy and the wandering Eurotrash jet set crowd. That way he can just wander the Earth and nail any women who come within the group's orbit.

  • BWeaves

    I think one of the differences between Don and Pete regarding women:

    Don sleeps with women. Full grown women who understand that they are having an affair.

    Pete sleeps with girls who don't understand the consequences of their actions -- Peggy has a baby, the girl he met who lived with her mother, he barely knows Trudy before he marries her, that German au pair girl he diddles, the woman who gets the shock treatments and forgets, and now the nutso neighbor.

  • windupbirdy

    Pete didn't "diddle" the au pair. He raped her.

  • Indeed he did, thus enforcing the theory that he preys on vulnerable women.

  • MrsAtaxxia

    I think you are totally right. I think the other thing worth noting is that while Don has affairs with women, he has married girls. Betty is remarkably child-like and the last shot of Megan is framed like she is daughter leaning on Daddy (and their age difference is only going to get more visually exacerbated as the series goes on and she becomes ever more the swinging 60s gal and he stays the brill creme guy he's always been). Pete on the other hand inadvertently married a veritable battle-axe in Trudy - though he probably didn't know it at the time. They are both escaping what they have at home. However your point about Pete sleeping with girls is well taken especially when I think that Beth (the woman who got the shock treatment) actually signaled something more sinister which is that Pete likes damaged women. I don't know if he knows it consciously, but being the kind opportunist that he is, I think Pete seeks out damaged women because they are the most vulnerable and therefore the easiest to exploit. When Don looks outside his marriage it's for someone who is his equal, or a challenge to his norm. Pete is just looking for the lowest hanging fruit with the greatest power differential in his favor.

  • BWeaves

    MrsAtaxxia: I think you're right about Don sleeping with women but marrying girls, and Pete sleeping with girls but marrying a woman (although he didn't know it at the time).

  • logan

    So Dons affairs with smarter/stronger women are ok but Petes affairs with dumber/helpless women are bad? I see your point but its a fine one.
    It always amuses and amazes me that Don gets a pass for being a womanizing drunk because of his looks and ability. The same behavior from a less gifted character would be despised.

  • MrsAtaxxia

    I don't give Don a pass in any way. But it is interesting to look at the characters through the kinds of women they tend to gravitate towards. Don was an utter shit to Betty. He was a terrible husband and a terrible person throughout much of their marriage.

    In many ways you're right though. Don and Pete are so similar and Pete is Don without the charisma (and with a different host of issues). And even within the show I think they are talking about what you are talking about, does having a better face make the drinking and philandering come off, maybe not better, but less awful? And sometimes I think the answer is yes. Being a charming, handsome drunk DOES come off better than being a sneering petulant one. Don does get away with a lot that Pete can't because he looks like Don and talks like Don and it drives Pete fucking crazy because he never figured out how to mimic it (because you can't really, it's one of those you have it or you don't things). It's also why Roger is so easy to forgive. Cause he's just so damn charming.

    They are all asshats but in the end, I'd much rather get a drink with Roger or Don then with Pete. So I think Don is more liable to get a "pass" from viewers - or at least from me - not because he is less culpable but because despite his guilt he is still likable, though as the series goes on, that is getting less so. At this point I'd much rather drink with Trudy, Joan or Pegs.

  • logan

    Really a lot of people on here think Bettty was a bitch and kind of gloss over Don whole drinking, cheating and fraud.

  • MrsAtaxxia

    Betty is a deeply troubled woman. And she isn't very nice. She probably should not have had children and as a result of that she hasn't been the best mother. But Don's transgressions are just beyond the pale and I don't blame her for leaving him. Doesn't mean she was blameless in the whole mess - these are two deeply fucked up people - but really the whole "I lied about who I am" thing? That is some fucked up shit.

  • BWeaves

    Logan:

    NO NO NO. I Never said Don's affairs with women were OK! I never said Don gets a pass. I think he is wrong, too.

    I'm just pointing out the different types of women they are drawn to for their affairs.

  • logan

    Fair enough. But it seems to me that your comment makes Dons behavior more palatable than Petes when they are both cheats.

  • BWeaves

    Logan: You're reading way more into it than I wrote.

  • IngridToday

    It's a shame we don't get to see Betty before she married Don. She's obviously not very maternal and only had kids because at the time women were expected to.
    I think it was season 2 or 3 when a flashback had Don was telling (who was his originally fake wife?) that he met this woman named Better who's always smiling which is such a far cry from the bitter emotionally dead Betty. Her confession to her therapist (who Don was creepily working with to manipulate her to be happy) that she knows Don has affairs and sometimes she feels like he's treating her like a different person was heartbreaking.

  • BWeaves

    I loved this episode much more than the 2 hour season premier. Stuff happened this time.

    So much to love about the women, this time.

  • Bea Pants

    Our kitten stepped on the switch on the powerstrip, thereby shutting off the cable box, so I missed Trudy's beautiful smackdown of Pete while it was restarting. Thankfully, her capacity to be devastatingly cute and fuzzy outweighed my anger.

  • Best line, on Heinz ketchup: "It's the Coca-Cola of condiments!"

  • I felt so much empathy for him, as an actor, having to say that line. It must have been brutal to get through.

  • BWeaves

    And yet, when he said it, I heard, "It's the Coca-Cola of condoms."

  • toblerone

    What I loved:

    Joan's kicking Herb out.

    "I will destroy you" (even though that could be the last of Trudy / Brie's appearances).

    Don's sabotage of Herb's radio campaign.

    More Peggy is always good (and Stan).

    Collette Wolfe (mostly because she was in H.T.T.M with Pare and I would love to see more of the movies cast in M.M).

    Hated:

    Megan's miscarriage subplot / Sylvia's reaction.

    I already didn't like where Don's and Sylvia's affair was going to the premier and this episode sealed it.

    Thanks for the review Sarah.

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