Mad Men: The Collaborators

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It’s all about what it looks like and it doesn’t look so good anymore.

Mad Men isn’t what it used to be. As we skirt the edge of the 1970s, I’m still not used to the plainer attire. The voluminous aesthetic of the earlier 1960s is still firmly lodged in the part of my brain marked Mad Men.

Now everything seems a lot less romantic and a lot more sleazy.

Set against the backdrop of a dejected America failing badly in Vietnam, the characters of Mad Men seem pretty crestfallen themselves, however much they try to hide it. Or are they even trying to anymore? It seems their inadequacies are plain for the entire world to see. And they’re barely bothering to keep up the pretense.

As if they know they’re fighting a battle that they can’t possibly win, a desperate sort of prolonging the inevitable.

Indeed the war metaphors came thick and fast in this episode, entitled: ‘The Collaborators’, which centered around Pete and Don, two characters, whose lives seems to mirror each other’s. As Don shed his uncomfortable suburban skin and moved to an apartment in the city with his new wife, Pete assumed his and moved out to Montauk with his wife and baby.

Pete, though never happy with this new arrangement, begrudgingly accepted the situation when Trudy finally acquiesced to him having an apartment in the city. At the time, it seemed so naïve of her to consent to such a thing; wasn’t it obvious what he wanted it for?

But in this episode she confesses that she did, in fact, know all along, and had hoped that by appeasing Pete that she could expect discretion on his part and a peaceful life free from his constant complaining.

However, as the quote from Winston Churchill, which Roger mangles, goes:

“The government had to choose between war and shame. They chose shame. They will get war too.”

Pete repaid her subtlety by having a brazen affair with one of his neighbours, who arrives upon their doorstep one evening with a bloody nose, after her husband, distinctly lacking in moral fibre himself, has presumably discovered their affair. “She’s your problem now, Campbell”, he cries.

At this point, Trudy refuses to turn a blind eye any longer and confronts him. She confirms what Pete has known all along: they’re both miserable, but instead of divorce, Trudy says: “I won’t be seen as a failure,” so on they will limp on with their sham marriage, Pete in total lockdown, with Trudy, in a declaration of war, threatening to destroy him “if he so much as opens his fly to urinate.”

Later on in the episode a young SCDP executive tells a morose Pete who is drinking late at night, alone in his office, and not going home, that, “he looks like he has it all.”

“It’s always what it looks like, isn’t it?” replies Pete.

There’s still no glory in collaborating with patent falsehood.

Don too is having an affair with his neighbour, one Sylvia Rosen, the Italian wife of a Jewish surgeon who Don openly admires, but who he can’t resist betraying by stealthily sneaking around with his wife.

It doesn’t seem that he derives much pleasure from this, or guilt either. Rather it seems an inevitable part of his character, as was established last week. And which we’re given a little bit more insight into this week, when a flashback to Don’s childhood takes us back to shortly after the death of his father, when he and his unloving stepmother, Abigail, obviously struggling to survive, are forced to stay with his aunt and her husband, Mack, in a bordello. His stepmother orders him to “keep your eyes down and mind your own business here”, but it’s difficult for the young man to deny what’s going on around him. Mack calls himself “the rooster around here” and perhaps this is where Don first learned to “help the hens.”

Indeed, playing the peeping tom one evening, reveals to Don, a heavily pregnant Abigail’s own relations with Mack. Entirely voluntarily or not is left open to suggestion, there has to be some way of paying the rent…

Collaborators, all of them. With their own misery, their own moral dissolution, their own destruction.

It’s difficult to tell who the enemy is anymore, loss and victory almost entirely indistinguishable.

See last week’s review: Mad Men: Don’s Inferno

Image: Episode 3, Season Six, Mad Men

Candice Holdsworth

Candice Holdsworth is the founder and editor of Imagine Athena. It is mythologised that she sprang fully formed from its pages. Candice has an MSc in Political Philosophy from the London School of Economics, and thus can be most commonly found discussing ideas and culture. Her writing can also be found on Thought Leader and On Netflix Now. Follow her on Twitter @CandiceCarrie and Instagram @candicecholdsworth

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