This season’s Mad Men takes place during one of the most chaotic years in modern American history so it is to no surprise that this chaos matches the troubles the main characters are going through. It is 1968. The United States is in the middle of the Vietnam War, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. will soon be assassinated and policemen will clash with protestors at the Democratic National Convention.
In the Mad Men world, we have two characters mired in affairs and clients at SCDP are telling Don what to do instead of the other way around. Here are five takeaways from the latest Mad Men episode, “The Collaborators.”
Are we beginning to see the roots of Don’s sex addiction?
Although it has never been explicitly said, I have always thought that Don has had a sexual addiction. Why else it been so important for Don to have multiple sex partners at any given time? In “The Collaborators” I think we are given hints as to why he is the way he is. We haven’t gotten a Don flashback in a long time, but this time we have Don (Dick) and his “stepmother” going to live in a whorehouse after his father dies.
The stepmother (clearly pregnant with Don’s younger brother) continues to pretty much swear off Don’s existence as the whorehouses’ owner’s wife says, “at least you got a boy out of it,” leading his stepmother to say “I don’t know if the baby is a boy or girl yet,” gesturing to her pregnant belly. At the end of the episode we see Don as a boy spying through a peephole while his stepmother is taken advantage of by the whorehouse owner. The viewer is to believe the sex with the owner is payment for Don and stepmother living in the whorehouse.
Peggy is slowly turning into a work version of Don
At Peggy’s new company, we see that Peggy is having a hard time striking a balance between have a good working relationship with her employees and getting the most out of their work. Peggy’s underlings are continuingly afraid to have morning meetings with her. Her secretary tells Peggy, “it wouldn’t hurt to be a little more encouraging.” All Peggy can tell them is, “The work needs work.”
The next day we see her co-workers screwing with and placing a women’s deodorant on her desk and writing a file that explains the products benefits such as making her nicer and other benefits like that. We then are witness to a phone conversation between her and Stan. Stan explains that Heinz ketchup is looking for an advertising agency, but Heinz beans does not want SCDP to be their agency because beans does not want them to enjoy the same success. Peggy tells the story to her boss, in which her boss tells Peggy to start gathering information about ketchup. Peggy sees this as a betrayal where her boss just sees it as the business they are in. At the end of the episode it is still up in the air whether or not Peggy will try to poach ketchup.
Don cheats as out of necessity while Pete Campbell cheats for fun
It is not new to the viewer that we see Pete Campbell having affairs with other women. In the first episode of the series we see Campbell and Peggy have a night of lovemaking on the couch that leads Peggy to have a baby. But his affairs have reached a whole new height in the past two seasons. When he is taking drivers education courses he tries encourage one high school girl to go into the city with him, and then he sleeps with a fellow commuter’s wife multiple times.
This season we learn that Campbell has purchased an apartment in New York City and has been sleeping with yet another blonde, the wife of one of his friends. When this woman comes to the Campbell’s home one night, face bloodied, Trudy finally figures out what is going on. After driving her to a hotel in the city, Trudy slinks back into bed, waiting until the morning for the fireworks to fly. At the breakfast table, Trudy goes in a speech that Pete will no longer go 50 miles without her knowing and refuses to get a divorce. It seems that Campbell uses these affairs just for fun and does a terrible job concealing them.
On the other I find Don’s affairs to almost be out of necessity because of his sex addiction. He is much better concealing them, even though he is sleeping with someone in his same building and someone who Megan turns to in discussing her miscarriage.
Everything said on the show seems to have a double meaning
Matthew Weiner, (the show runner) does a masterful job in writing each Mad Men episode. Each episode can stand on its own, yet adds to the continuing narrative to each character.
This week my favorite scene had to be when Don and Sylvia end up having dinner along together serving as a peak to what would happen if they got married. Originally a double date with Don, Megan, Sylvia and her husband, Megan end up not going because she does not feel well and Sylvia’s husband gets called in for an emergency surgery.
Directed by Jon Hamm, we see splices of Don and Sylvia making love and then back to their date at the restaurant. Sylvia asks, “what are we doing?’ pertaining to Don and Sylvia having dinner together but even going further to their relationship in general. Don answers with “is it dumb to think we could spend time outside the maid’s room? You just want to feel shitty until I take your clothes off.” It’s almost as if Don thinks Sylvia considers him to be a prostitute, giving further credence to his sex addiction. Sylvia apologizes and says, “I just want you all the time,” leading Don to tell the waiter, “We’re in a bit of a hurry.” The episode ends with Don slinking back to his apartment, leaning against the wall, not even going inside.
Is the Vietnam War an allegory for the end of an era for Don and his compatriots?
The Vietnam War was not only known as a devastating conflict that lasted for 10 years but also known as the end for many American’s trust in the United States government. Throughout the War there were many times when the US government said something that was either entirely not true or had shades of American propaganda infused. Of course this was not new, but this was a conflict that many American didn’t think we should be in the first place.
Throughout the episode, we hear clips of radio broadcasts talking about the Tet Offensive, but our characters continue to believe that everything will be alright. The same almost goes for their own lives, even though they keep telling themselves everything OK, Don is continuing to be depressed, Peggy’s job isn’t what she thought it would be and Pete Campbell’s marriage is completely falling apart. It seems that it is the end of an era for these Madison Avenue executives. I can’t wait until next week and keep wondering who the hell this Bob Benson character is.