Thursday, April 18, 2013

Review: Mad Men "Collaborators"

Non Spoiler Review:
Collaborators continues to play on the ongoing similarities and rivalry between Don and Pete, whose respective affairs grow ever more complex and dangerous. Client difficulties exacerbate the tension. Meanwhile, Peggy is drawn into a conflict of interest with her late night chats with Stan. Megan reveals a secret to Don.

This episode was directed by Jon Hamm and it wasnt' the most spectacular Mad Men. But it certainly carried on with the dark and messy themes of infidelity. I can't say I enjoyed this one, but it's more from the unsettling feeling it left me with, and no fault of the writing itself. Perhaps I'm lamenting the return to the old Don after what seemed to be so much progress the last few years.

Pete and Trudy's story was interesting, as was Peggy's ongoing arc that looks to be leading to trouble at her job. We got a brief but memorable moment with Joan, but otherwise the focus remains primarily on Don and Megan and their neighbours Arnold and Sylvia.

Spoilers Now!
It's the end of January, 1968. Pete and Trudy are hosting a party for their neighbours, and both flirting with their respective guests. Back in Manhattan at his apartment, Pete greets one of the women, Brenda, as he promised her tickets to Hair. After their tryst she is interested in carrying on their relationship.

Don heads down in the elevator but encounters Arnold and Sylvia having an argument. Arnold comments that Sylvia must be sending all his cash to her child and Don is lucky his wife works. After Arnold gets off, Don returns to Sylvia's floor. As she greets him at the door, Don flashbacks to his youth, when he and his mother were being taken in by her sister, who ran a brothel. Max, the sister's husband, informs Don he's the rooster around there. Don has dinner plans with the couple later in the week and Sylvia muses that Don doesn't mind sitting across the table from his wife and her husband. He replies that it's good company. And this didn't happen, just in his head, he explains dismissively, referring to their liaison in the maid's bedroom.

At work, Don and Ken meet with Raymond from their Heinz account—the bean division. He's brought another more youthful rep, Timmy, from their ketchup side to refer them some business. The pitch seems to be going well, and when Raymond sends him out he abruptly turns the table and tells them not to communicate with Timmy or his division at all. He's angry he's not gotten any respect from his company and he's not about to help Timmy out in any way. After he leaves, Ken realizes it was all a waste of time. Don disagrees, and suggests it was an opportunity to later exploit, but he refuses to step on Raymond's toes, even if it means giving up the lucrative Heinz Ketchup.

Sylvia encounters Megan in the laundry room in the midst of firing the housekeeper. Megan apologizes for the scene and breaks down. Megan admits she had a miscarriage two days before and Don doesn't know. She didn't want to be pregnant and now she feels guilty. Sylvia confides in her she had a miscarriage after her son, as well, but doesn't relate to how she's feeling about not wanting the child. Don returns home, unnerved to find Sylvia there. Megan explains she had to fire the maid and Sylvia leaves them alone.

Herb from Jaguar drops in at SCDP, but pays Joan a visit first, but she doesn't indulge in his flirting. Pete finds him and leads him out to the meeting. Joan walks in to Don's office, advising him he's here and pours herself a drink. Don leaves her to join Herb, Pete and Bob Bensen, who is now part of the team and taking notes. Herb is there because he wants foot traffic to get people in the door to his local Jaguar dealerships, so wants some additional radio spots. But he wants that to come at the cost of the national campaign, just redistribute the proportions. And he wants them to recommend the plan to his superiors. Pete seems agreeable, but afterwards Don is angry that he's gutted the national campaign. Pete points out he's no different from any of the other clients walking through the door, including Raymond.

Peggy's secretary suggests she should be as encouraging to her creative staff as she's been to her. So Peggy tries a new tact but ends up criticizing their artwork. Then she awkwardly adds she's happy with all of them, it's just their work that needs work. It doesn't help.

Stan and Peggy share their late night phone session and she confides in him that everyone hates her there. Stan tells her about the ketchup and bean controversy and how Ken was telling everyone he was getting Heinz Ketchup, only to have his hopes dashed. She's interrupted by Ted, who overhears her on the speaker phone, but assures her personal calls are fine after 5:00. She explains the funny story, but when his interest is piqued in making a play for Heinz, she assures him they aren't going anywhere. 

That doesn't stop Ted. In the morning he advises Peggy he's found out Heinz Ketchup has got their ears open for new campaigns so he's putting her on the creative. Feeling like she's betraying Stan's confidence, Ted reminds her he's the enemy, and maybe she needs a friend more than a job. Peggy points out it was a private conversation. Ted ignores her concerns and tells her to blow their minds with a campaign.

Megan tells Don she's not feeling well to go to dinner with Sylvia and Arnold. It's too late to cancel, but she wants him to go and have fun. Don joins the couple and they discuss the state of the war currently in the news. Arnold is drawn away to a call, and Sylvia goes to powder her nose. 

Arnold is called back in to work, and that leaves Don and Sylvia to finish the evening. Sylvia is unusually short with him until Don sarcastically remarks that he was foolish to think they could spend time together outside her maid's bedroom. Don points out she just wants to feel shitty up until the point he takes her dress off. Sylvia suggests it would be someone else's dress if she wasn't there. Don wants her, he explains, and if she wants something more than that then that's news to him. They go back to her apartment with Sylvia apologizing for being jealous, but she tells him they can't fall in love.

Don comes home to Megan who needs to talk to him. She confesses to the miscarriage and didn't know how he would feel. He tells her he wants what she wants. She wonders if it's time to have the conversation about children, and he assures her he's fine with whatever she wants. 

Pete and Trudy are alerted to screaming outside and find Brenda beaten up at their door, with her husband yelling that she's Pete Campbell's problem now. She doesn't want him to call the police, but has nowhere to go so Pete tries to find her a hotel. Trudy goes to get some ice and Pete asks what she said to him. Brenda wants him to take her to the city so she can be with him. Trudy offers to drive her to her hotel and Pete nervously waits for her to return home, but she doesn't return until he's in bed.

In the morning Pete finds her sitting in the kitchen, and she confronts him about his affair. All she wanted was for him to be discreet. That's why she allowed him the apartment in the city. But Brenda lives on her block. Trudy firmly declares it's over and doesn't care what he wants. He will be there only when she tells him he can be there, otherwise he's to stay away, and she'll destroy him if he doesn't do as she says. Pete storms out.

At the Jaguar meeting, Pete sells Herb's idea as his own to the Jaguar executives, just as Herb intended. They're curious if Don is in favor of the new direction. He agrees, but less enthusiastically, suggesting a mailer or circular in the paper. The others want the Jaguar to be something rare, not like a normal car advertising for business. So they firmly decide to stick to the original campaign, annoying Herb. After they leave Don gives Herb a handshake and departs, leaving Herb to berate Pete for letting Don talk.

Pete storms into Don's office wondering why he can't just follow the rules. Don warns them to stop appeasing clients like they appeased the Germans at Munich. Pete reminds him they won the war and storms out, leaving an amused Roger to point out Don chose dishonor this time but still might get a war.

Don has another flashback to the brothel, when he spied through the keyhole and watched Max have sex with his pregnant step-mother, but he's caught by one of the prostitutes who calls him a dirty little spy. Don returns home after mistakenly going to see Sylvia when her husband was home. She quietly sends him away. Rather than go inside, he sits on the floor outside his door.

The Verdict:
Pete has been trying to emulate Don since the beginning, and Collaborators shows how miserably he seems to fail at it, while Don goes on and on and never seems to suffer blowback. That may be about to change, given Roger's warning that his appeasement may backfire.

Pete's bit off more than he could chew with Brenda and it revealed that Trudy has known all along about his dalliances, but was fine with it as long as he wasn't throwing it her face. The moment she laid down the law did much to redeem what has been a shallow character, and I was happy to see that this multi-seasonal habit of Pete's is now blown wide open. In contrast, Don seems to play his affair very recklessly. I wonder if he wants to be discovered so his marriage to Megan will end. Her discussion with him about children was very apathetic, amounting to whatever you want.

Pete and Don's disagreements spilled over into their troublesome clients. Don has no issue taking Raymond's side in the Heinz dispute and costing them more business, yet is unable to let odious Herb direct the course of the campaign (though that was likely due more to wanting to punish him for damaging Joan).

Peggy's scenes with Ted had some underlying tension that made me uneasy about her future. Not only does she find it difficult to relate to her subordinates, but Ted appears to be treating her as less than an equal, as well.

Overall, Collaborators wasn't the most uplifting episode. I hope the affair plotline moves quickly rather than stretch out over the season. It does appear to be inevitable that Arnold or Megan will discover it.

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