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Worldly Distractions: Mad Men 6.3 - The Collaborators


crazyforkate

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Worldly Distractions: Mad Men 6.3 – The Collaborators

After an intriguing if not terribly eventful premiere, we are back with Don and the gang in early 1968. The “previously on†reminds us to remember the following: Heinz beans, Joan being pimped out for Jaguar, Peggy getting a job with Ted Chaough, Pete being miserable in a cab after he and Don went to the whorehouse last season, Sylvia grabbing Don’s hand at the end of last week’s episode. Gotcha. After the beautiful opening credits (this episode directed by Jon Hamm!), we join Pete at some boring married couples’ party. One of the wives advises him that he must see Hair. Heh. Vincent Kartheiser’s forehead. Pete utters the line “marijuana smoking and simulated sexual actsâ€, sounding like a preacher who is trying to seem hip. The woman hits on him and suggests that he grab her the theatre tickets in secret. Uh-oh. Then the other wife hits on him. Seriously, ladies, it’s just Pete.

Trudy is chatting up the husbands, and also getting hit on, much to her delight. Alison Brie is looking a lot more mature this season – for the first time I can believe her as a grown-up married woman rather than a girl playing house. The hideous dress she’s wearing does not make her look girlish, let’s put it that way. I love how Janie Bryant can costume these guys in all different kinds of 60’s wear. Most movies and shows set in the era design costumes that could look just as good now – which lends it a false feeling. Bryant is not afraid to make them look ridiculous. That, my friends, is a gift.

The Campbells are still keeping up their happy married couple appearance, and it is revealed that the apartment is theirs – they have moved, though Pete mentioned getting his own apartment last season. Do they still have the place in Greenwich? Did they forget Tammy under a shrub somewhere? It’s actually their house; Pete has a solo apartment in Manhattan. All in all, they seem reasonably cheerful but stagnant underneath. I can’t help but think they’re going to explode sometime soon.

While riding in the elevator one day, Don observes the Rosens arguing in the hallway. Weirdly, Don and Arnold seem to be becoming friends, as much as Don can be anyone’s friend. A moment later, he knocks on the Rosens’ apartment door. Suddenly we get a – ready, guys? – DICK WHITMAN FLASHBACK!  A gramophone plays old-timey music while Dick and his stepmother Abigail(who is pregnant, so it must be soon after Archibald died) move in with Abigail’s sister and brother-in-law, AKA the famous Uncle Mack. They live in some kind of skeezy boarding house that appears to have at least a couple of prostitutes hanging around. Abigail is not impressed, especially when one of the hookers starts flirting with Dick. This is going to get Oedipal fast, right?

On the way upstairs, Mack advises Dick that he’s the rooster around the place. SUBTLE.

Back in the present – the past – er, the ‘60s, Don and Sylvia are in some sort of post-coital tangle. She feels wrong about a dinner they have planned as a foursome later that week, what with the adultery and all. Don says “What for? They’re good company.†Suave. He instantly follows it with “This didn’t happen,†which should send chills down the spine of any devoted Mad Men fan. While the radio blares news of the Tet Offensive (um, I’m not 100% with my Vietnam War history, anyone want to confirm that?), Don gives her some smooth talk and makes a non-committal exit. Not before handing Sylvia some money, ostensibly for their dinner later on but – well, Don, what did you learn in Season 4 about handing money to women you’ve recently slept with? Sylvia does not appear ashamed, however, so clearly it’s cool on some level. Yet another glimpse into the twisted Madonna-Whore psychology of Draper.

Peggy, looking very busy and important, is told by her secretary Phyllis (who is African-American – eep! The times are changing!), that a bunch of creatives are here to see her, and hints that she might want to not behave like a crazy Don Draper clone. Peggy dismissively says “I’ve had their job,†but brave Phyllis persists, saying “And you’ve had mine.†Go Phyllis! I like her already. Naturally, Peggy treats her like dirt. My dear, there is such a thing as overcompensating, you know. I get that there is a ton of stress with her position, especially as a woman in the 1960’s – but it wouldn’t kill her to be a bit nicer.

The creatives fare slightly worse than Phyllis as Peggy berates them for not being super-geniuses like her. Picking apart their ads for the pettiest of reasons, she terrifies them into another rewrite. Then taking her secretary’s advice, she tries to be encouraging, which is somehow even scarier. The perfect mixture of condescension and fumbling puts Pete in mind, which begs the question – is smarminess an incredibly slow-acting STD? The creatives slip away looking as indistinguishable as the Season 1 Sterling Cooper staff.

Back at Casa Campbell, Pete escorts the first of the blonde neighbour wives he was chatting up into the apartment. What does this gorgeous, lively woman see in him? It’s Pete. Flippin’ Pete. Don, maybe Roger I could understand, but this is the guy Lane Pryce was driven to punch in the face. Beware, Blonde Lady of Doom. Smarmface tries to seduce her with music, food and drink, but she is having none of it. He asks if the temperature is okay. PETE, YOU’RE A SKEEZE. She’s into it, though. They start making out. He leads her into the bedroom with his most ratlike expression. Seriously?

As one might have guessed from the opening, we are dealing with Heinz again. Raymond of baked beans has brought along Timmy of ketchup, who is impressed with the current sales but is not so sure about SCDP – or at least isn’t falling for Don’s act. When he’s gone, Raymond tells the reason: he’s totally jealous of Timmy’s ascent to the top and wants the glory of SCDP to himself. If they keep contact with Timmy, there will be dire, presumably account-related consequences. Ken and Don argue over the opportunity of Heinz ketchup vs. Raymond’s loyalty when the company was suffering.

Brenda the Neighbour walks out of Pete’s bathroom in a lacy black-and-red underwear set. She and Pete begin to set up more encounters. Turns out the apartment is his, Trudy was just helping him set it up? Okay. Peter gives her some sexy talk, then tells her to hurry up because he has to get going. Ever the charmer.

Down in the laundry room of the Drapers’ building, Megan is fussing at the maid because her inferior housekeeping skills are, like, totally ruining her vibes. She is also wearing a fabulous green sweater, but I digress. In the midst of this whining, Sylvia walks in just in time to see someone get fired. After the maid leaves, Megan and Sylvia begin to chat. Suddenly Megan bursts into tears. Fired? Pregnant? Thinks Don’s totally cheating on her...with someone else?! Dun dun DUN!

Turns out that she’s upset about having to fire the maid. Oh. They go upstairs and Megan dishes about all the upcoming storylines on her soap opera. Then all of a sudden it gets serious. Turns out Megan had a miscarriage two days ago. So...I was kind of right? She has been looking a little – off this episode. Kind of unhinged and not herself. A good performance from Jessica Pare, who is not normally at the top of my list (not her fault – she’s just surrounded by too many other talents!). Anyway, Megan messed up her pills in Hawaii and was clearly not happy about the pregnancy to begin with, which makes me wonder if “miscarriage†is a code for something else. Oh, and she never told Don. Of course.

This revelation is enough to bring Sylvia’s Guilt Factor on, as it compounds her sins. Megan starts talking about her Catholic upbringing (her own as well as Sylvia’s), during which it becomes clear that she was considering an abortion (mostly because of her career) and that she was relieved not to have to decide. At Megan’s prompting, Sylvia shares her own experience and gets all Judgey McJudgerson about Megan’s uncertainty. By her logic, the strong feelings about the miscarriage are an indication that she TOTES WANTED THE BABBY AFTER ALL. Because ambivalence can’t truly exist, of course. Pro-lifers, amirite?

Don gets home in the midst of this to find Sylvia looking upset and Megan clearly in tears. He puts two and two together and gets five, and gets this brilliant “OH CRAP†look on his face. Don and Sylvia exchange a Look. Sylvia excuses herself pretty fast. Megan starts in about the maid without picking up on what seems pretty obvious. Look to your left, Megan. Like, right there? That look on their faces is something you should notice. Turn your head, dammit!

Peggy is at her office (of course) looking over some kind of product called Quest, which Google isn’t helping me with. Turns out to be “feminine hygiene powderâ€. Hilarious discussions ensue. Peggy was sent this as a prank, presumably by the creatives, with the label “Kills overly critical bacteria. Target: Professional women and other Olsens.†Ouch. I’ve got to say, the prank atmosphere on Madison Avenue is really something. Peggy flips, understandably, and remarks that they can’t be funny when she wants them to be. Zing.

We finally get to Joanie, who is ruling over SCDP as always when she is interrupted...by Herb the Perv! That’s right, everyone’s favourite Jaguar creep is back and as gross as ever. He immediately assumes Joan is looking pretty for him. It turns out he’s been aiming for her to go and get a Jaguar (free) and presumably do other things. This gives Joan a few good snark opportunities, including a killer one-liner.  WE LOVE YOU JOAN, DON’T EVER CHANGE. Pete shows up just then, followed by Meredith the Incompetent and acting like he totally didn’t pimp Joanie out a year ago, and escorts Herb away.

In a rage, Joan runs off to Don’s office and pours herself a drink. Don is all understanding of their cool platonic friendship and lets her work through his liquor cabinet without a word.

We go to the Jaguar meeting, where Bob Benson (remember him from last week? Pete 2.0) introduces himself as “part of the team.†Ha ha sure you are. The men get down to business. Herb is not happy with the Jaguar ad, and wants it to be more relatable to the ordinary American man rather than the lofty ideas of the first campaign – more focus on local rather than national. Don patiently explains that the work has been signed off on. Herb continues with more terrible ideas and PETE OH MY GOD DO NOT EVER SMILE LIKE THAT AGAIN. The man gets creepier every season. They come to an agreement without really coming to an agreement and Herb asks Bob Benson to show him the sights. My hunch: either that means checking out the secretaries or getting poor old Benson to do something unorthodox in a bathroom stall. (Okay, okay, not seriously, we all know he’s into redheaded advertising partners with an acid tongue.)

Don and Pete argue about the ad campaign. Pete is still a douche, Don is still suave. It’s the age-old client v. quality debate, which is ultimately unsolvable. We do get another installment of Pete Campbell’s Bitchface, however.

Drinking alone in her office, Peggy calls Stan to complain about her job. They exchange some silly banter. Stan points out that he worked with her, which is totally different. He tells her about Raymond of Baked Beans and Timmy of Ketchup. She’s laughing her head off when Ted Chaough walks in. Peggy rapidly tries to cover her tracks, which totally doesn’t work, but Ted lets it pass. She tells him the saga of Heinz. They behave all friendly-like (and kind of flirty-like) with each other. It’s nice to see that at least one person at CGC accepts Peggy.

Ted’s exit is contrasted with a great shot of Don walking into his apartment. Excellent composition there, Hamm. Megan comes out of the bedroom looking like shit and tells him she’s not feeling well. Don is concerned and goes up to feel her forehead. She kind of suggests she’s on her period and BOOM! Away goes the hand. Don Draper does not deal in female concerns, I suppose. He’s still concerned and asks whether she cancelled dinner. She ends up convincing Don to go alone, then curls up in bed looking absolutely miserable. Poor Megan.

Pete and Trudy are at home lazing around when they suddenly hear a woman screaming for help. It’s Beth, isn’t it? Tell me it’s Beth. And...it’s Brenda, the woman Pete slept with earlier in the episode. Her husband has beaten her badly and screams that she’s Pete’s problem now. Shit, Pete. The Campbells usher her into the house, where Trudy starts First Aid and Pete wants to call the authorities. She insists that they shouldn’t. Trudy insists that she stay with them, or at least away from her husband, even though she likely has guessed what happened. Worth her weight in gold, that woman is – Pete, you’re a cheating jerk.

At the restaurant, Sylvia looks blank while Arnold is oblivious. They discuss Vietnam, with the line “You know surgeons are arrogant†from Arnold. Oh, boy, Arnold, if you met the surgeon on this show... Anyway, this is the first mention on the show that the war is being lost. Sixties reference! Take a drink! Just then the good doctor gets a call and Sylvia goes to powder her nose, leaving Don alone with his drink.

Pete and Trudy are frantically calling people for Brenda to stay with (note Trudy does not suggest that she spend the night at there place). When Trudy leaves the room, Pete demands to know what she said to her husband. Brenda insists that he take her to the city apartment for some good old-fashioned shagging. Seriously. Pete suggests they call a cab to take her to a nearby hotel, but Trudy comes in and offers to drive her. As the women leave, Trudy gives his this awesome “This is not over†look.

Turns out Dr. Rosen has to leave (oh, yeah, never saw that one coming) and Don is left with Sylvia. They begin an innocent conversation about the menu which turns into thinly veiled sniping. Masterful writing here. Eventually they get to the heart of the matter. Don is mad they can’t spend time together without the adultery thing getting in the way, because Sylvia gets mopey and ruins the mood right up until they get naked. Intercut with scenes of Don seducing her later in the evening, he gives a speech that is basically a rundown of what he’s going to do to her later, ending with “Don’t pretend.†Sylvia is not taken in. “Weren’t you telling me you were drifting apart?†she asks. Oh shit she’s going to tell isn’t she? The waiter cuts in asking “So, have you decided?†Dead on, there.

Then they go back to her apartment and fuck. Greeeaaaat. She’s afraid she’s falling in love. These scenes are honestly very well set up – I haven’t seen such a good Don-and-a-Woman scene since – Season 2 with Bobbi Barrett, maybe? Sylvia is certainly a nice contrast to Don and a strong character in her own right, just like Bobbi. And they do have a great amount of sexual chemistry. That much is obvious.

Pete is at home watching TV and awaiting the music. Trudy has a Look on her face, but quietly gets into her nightclothes and into bed beside him. She’s letting it slide – for now. My guess is Pete behaves himself at least until the last scene of the episode.

Megan is on the couch when Don gets back and immediately says that she needs to talk to him. She comes straight out with it. His first thought is for her, did she go to a doctor, that sort of thing. When he asks why she didn’t tell him, she says she didn’t know what he would want. “I want what you want,†he tells her. They decide to have “the conversation†at Megan’s discretion. Don is giving her space, trying to put her at ease, and if he’s a little forceful with the “you should have told me†he is at least acting out of concern. It’s a surprisingly good move, from him. Maybe he isn’t going to fail at this marriage? (HA. Not likely.)

At breakfast the next morning, one look at Trudy tells you that Pete is Fucked with a capital F. She has sent the nanny out of the house with Tammy. Uh-oh. Trudy erupts. She let him have the apartment in the hope that he would be discreet. Obviously this has failed if he’s shagged the neighbour. Other issues get brought up, such as moving out of New York. Trudy says they’re done. Fiiinally. And she didn’t even have to find out about Peggy while she was at it. But wait – turns out she wants him to stop shagging in the neighbourhood and appear at her home only when necessary. Okay, so they’re keeping up some kind of sham? Or does she want a total divorce? The language is a tad confusing. Either way, Trudy has finally taken a stand. Pete rants and insults her, but she holds firm – especially since she clutches a bloodstained towel from the night before.

Ted Chaough has decided to go after Heinz Ketchup in earnest. Peggy is edgy about taking a tip that Stan has accidentally offered her. Ted tells her to go for it and damn friendship. Peggy is on the prowl. BOOM, competition with SCDP.

We have another meeting with Jaguar, where Pete proposes a strategy favoured by all (mostly radio ideas). Is it just me, or does Vincent Kartheiser sound especially nasal in this scene? Jaguar is skeptical and Don is clearly not on board, but tries to explain it away and gets caught up in it. Direct sales on a luxury car? It’ll never catch on, right?

Jaguar is not convinced. They want to stay elegant. The new idea fails, despite their pleas that it will bring up sales. Herb, Pete and Roger are all pissed at Don. Extended analogy for the Nazi surrender occurs. Roger misattributes a Churchill quote to his mother. Beautiful.

Bob Benson (who looks so late 60’s with that hair) and Pete have their first interaction! If they don’t discover they’re long-lost siblings by the end of the season I’ll eat my hat. Benson kisses some ass while Pete demonstrates his bitchface. Benson is hopelessly naive about the business, Pete jaded. “It’s all about what it looks like, isn’t it?†he asks. Then he asks Benson to pick up some toilet paper for him, because a true gentleman does not purchase his own Charmin.

Don shows up at Sylvia’s door. They flirt and agree to meet in the morning. DON, YOU RAT. Just when I thought he could maybe – just maybe behave a little better, he demonstrates that he has learned nothing. So of course we get a glimpse into his complicated past to explain it away.

As Sylvia closes the door, young Dick Whitman spies at a keyhole long ago. Uncle Mack is seducing Abigail, the only mother he has ever known, who is pregnant with the child she always wanted. Madonna/Whore alert! Madonna/Whore alert! The blonde prostitute who teased him before walks by and calls him a “dirty little spyâ€.  She takes another man away while Dick watches longingly. And – would you believe it – her voice is incredibly similar to Betty’s. Eek, leave the scene, leave the scene.

We move to Don in the hallway of his own building. As he is about to enter the apartment, he stops and sits down. He might be drunk – he’s certainly remorseful. Like the finale of Season 1, he simply stares ahead. He stares and thinks while the gramophone music plays without ever opening the door. Cue the closing credits.

At the beginning, I still felt Jon Hamm needed to prove himself as a director. “Tea Leaves†was my least favourite episode of the last season. It’s not that it’s bad, it’s just...not quite Mad Men. John Slattery tends to fit in a much better manner. Something about Hamm’s style is muted, softer. He doesn’t take as many risks as some of the other directors on the show. I’d like to see a movie of his, but as part of the show, it’s not there. So I was worried about this one.

It is an improvement on Tea Leaves, to say the least. A lot of interesting stuff happens, old touchstones are recalled, many more potential stories are set up, and the writing is solid. Some neat graphic compositions occur. Overall, the stories and characters gain layers. It is an extraordinarily complex balancing act and all concerned handled it well. I think we’re already shaping up to be better than Season 5 (which was by no means bad!). But would it be too much to ask for a proper Joan storyline?

Next week: “To Have and to Holdâ€. The preview, which of course never tells us anything, shows a lot of Joan. There’s hope. Pete starts with “so you haven’t officially told†and is cut off. The ad men nod sagely. Stan walks down a hallway. Don and Megan flirt. Joan asks someone not to involve himself. Pete says “What’s that supposed to mean?†Bert Cooper tells someone that something’s not going to happen. Don says “I don’t know how that solves my problem.†He gets into an elevator...and SCENE. Oooh, mysterious. I guess we’ll have to wait on that coveted zombie apocalypse Halloween special. Until then, there are more than enough ghouls coming out of Madison Avenue.

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      On 5/16/2024 at 12:36 PM, JDuggs said:

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