It's another episode of Season 6 of Mad Men, and we're back to full-on, no apologies Don Draper-style adultery in "The Collaborators," which brings a soap opera-like focus to the marital infidelities of three couples, and the snaking, deleterious repercussions those infidelities have for a range of others (slowly, surely, Mad Menningly). Plus, there's a side show of Peggy's trials and tribulations as the "mean lady boss" at her agency; we get to see Joan deliver one delightful, cutting remark; and there are scenes from an introduction of the youthful Don Draper/Dick Whitman to the whorehouse he grew up in. A lot of men are pretty awful in this episode, and some of the women are, too. Let's take a peep through the keyhole, shall we?
We begin at a party Pete and Trudy are throwing in their outwardly respectable suburban neighborhood of Greenwich, Connecticut. Pete's flirting with the ladies, talking Hair, and sharing his business card for, clearly, future liaisons. Trudy is doing her own flirting with the men of the neighborhood, who are certainly interested (one is "insistent we all go skinny-dipping," she tells Pete later). We have no reason to suspect that Trudy's not faithful; we are fully aware that Pete isn't. Yet at the skinny-dipping comment, it's Pete who says scornfully that the man should "Get his own pool." The man doth protest.
In Manhattan, Dr. Rosen is leaving for work and Sylvia is asking him for money when Don arrives at their floor in the elevator. Dr. Rosen gets on, and they make some small talk, but when he departs Don takes the opportunity to ride right back upstairs and grab a quickie with Sylvia, whom we learned he's been having an affair with, and for some time, at the end of the season premiere. There's a flashback to young Don/Dick in the whorehouse he was brought to as a child, "Uncle Mac" telling him, "I'm the rooster around here." Don and Sylvia engage in a bit of bed-talk after they have sex. The two couples have planned a dinner party, and Sylvia doesn't understand why this isn't awkward for Don. "You don't mind sitting across the table from your wife and my husband?" she says. "I don't think about it," he says. "They're both good company." Don leaves, giving her some money—he's the rooster around here—and she takes it and smiles.
Peggy's having some work troubles, as we noticed last episode. She's not very, well, nice, and her underlings don't want to come into her office. Her secretary Phyllis tries to give her a bit of advice—be "as encouraging to them as you are to me," and Peggy tries, and pretty much fails. Later, she gets to her desk to find that there's a feminine hygiene product that's been left for her. She assumes it's for a pitch and asks her boss Ted about it, but, no, it's actually that she's being made fun of: "Kills overly critical bacteria," reads the note with the product. Ted laughs and she tries to laugh too, saying, "When you want them to be funny they're useless." I am loving all of Peggy's late-night in-the-office BFF phone calls with Stan, her friend from the other agency, but by the end of this episode it seems clear that he's divulged too much to her (client gossip that's now industry leverage) and she, prompted by Ted, may do the wrong thing and lose that friendship. Ted tells her of Stan, "he's not your friend, he's the enemy. This is how wars are won." All for success, a desire at all costs that may be Peggy's fatal flaw.
As expected, Pete ends up at his Manhattan "bachelor" pad with one of the neighbor women. They sleep together, but she's not as experienced in extra-marital dallying as he is, or refuses to cooperate with the unspoken rules. She thinks it's serious, the start of something. "This place could use a woman's touch," she says. Rooster Pete asks her if she can "move it along a little" as he has to get back to work.
On the client side, there are two ripples at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce worth noting. Raymond, the Heinz baked beans client, brings in his "buddy" Timmy, who is in charge of ketchup, for a meeting. Don and the team are eager for the business, but it turns out, Raymond won't let them go anywhere near Timmy and ketchup—it was all a little oneupmanship tease. "I'd rather retire than watch that guy screw my girlfriend," he says, charmingly. Don, Mr. Hypocritical, says, "Sometimes you gotta dance with the one that brought you," after Ken suggests they go after ketchup anyway. Later, Herb, Jaguar Herb, wants more local ads in the Jaguar campaign; Don does not want this, not in the slightest. Best line of the show goes to Joan when Herb appears in her office and says, "I know there's a part of you that's glad to see me." She retorts, without missing a beat, "and I know there's a part of you you haven't seen in years," then stonily makes herself a drink in Don's office. It's not forgotten that she was prostituted out to this guy by a bunch of roosters.
And then there's the Megan-Don-Sylvia storyline. We see Megan in the laundry room, criticizing the maid, who ruins something each day Megan leaves for work (to have it all or not to have it all while working on To Have and To Hold?). Megan, who seems newly innocent in this episode, fires the maid, then bursts into tears, and Sylvia, who'd happened to come into the laundry room during the interchange, tries to comfort her. They go back to the Draper's apartment where Megan begins to entertain Sylvia with her soap opera storyline; then she confesses she recently had a miscarriage, which Sylvia assumes is also part of the soap. It's not. Catholic Megan feels guilty because she's not sure she wanted this baby, guilty because she's thrilled with successes that don't have to do with being a wife or mother. "To be pregnant now, at this moment," she says, referring to her career which is just getting off the ground, "I was so relieved that I didn’t have to do anything." Sylvia tells her that though she can understand some of what she's feeling, having had a miscarriage as well, she wouldn't have felt the same way—whether she's lying in this instance or not, she's lying already, and she cannot bring herself to be kind to her lover's wife. She's got her own soap opera she's living. "I just feel so shitty," says Megan. Don comes home and the secrets among the three of them are palpable.
The next night when Don comes home Megan's there in her nightgown and tells him she can't make the dinner. It's too late to cancel, so he goes anyway. As a soap would have it, Dr. Rosen is called from the dinner, and it's just Don and Sylvia. Sylvia had thought that Don and Megan were "drifting apart," and confronted with the knowledge of the miscarriage, she's not going to play the happy date role he expects of her. It hardly matters. Don gets his way, telling her he understands now: "You want to feel shitty, right up to the point where I take your dress off. Because I'm going to do that." And he does. After dinner they're back in the maid's room (more flashbacks and forwards here), where she says, "I'm sorry. I have no right to be jealous," and warns him (and herself) that they can't fall in love. The lady doth protest...
When Don arrives home Megan tells him about her miscarriage, and they have an elliptical, confusing conversation about how she should have told, but she didn't tell, because she didn't know if they were ready to talk about this, this being having children. "You have to know I'd want what you want," he says. "I should have told you," she says. "Yes, you should have," he responds. She hugs him. "Now I can go to sleep," she says, somehow soothed like a child, though absolutely nothing is better.
The woman Pete slept with arrives at their door, screaming for help; she's been beaten by her husband and has a bloody face. Outside, the neighbor shouts, "She's your problem now." Everyone knows, and remarkably, this woman with the brutalized face still wants Pete (perhaps because she thinks she must want someone), but it's capable Trudy who takes care of her and drives her to a nearby hotel and, yes, knows everything too. In the morning, pleasant Trudy is no longer pleasant. "All I wanted was for you to be discreet," she tells Pete, fury brimming over. She'd known the whole time. "I let you have that apartment, somehow I thought there was some dignity in granting permission." And now he's crossed the line. "There's no way for me not to be an object of pity while you get to do whatever you feel like," she says, the most powerful we've seen her (and possibly any woman on this show?) as she tells him it's over. "I refuse to be a failure. 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?" He tells her she'll go to bed alone and realize she doesn't know anything. She says she'll live with that. I hope she will.
Don gets what he wants in the end with Herb, the Jaguar campaign staying national, but of course angers Pete (and also Herb) in winning. And has he won? He's growing more and more careless. At the end of the episode he shows up at Sylvia's door when the doctor is home and tells her he'll see her in the morning. This scene is bookended with the young Don/Dick staring through a keyhole as his stepmother has sex with Uncle Mac. Back at the agency there's Pete, alone again, asking the sycophantic Bob Benson to buy him toilet paper, because "My wife asked me and I forgot," he says. Bob is eager to help out.
In the end, like Pete, Don can't even go home. He arrives outside of his door, stands, and then crumples to the floor, where he sits. And just as he can't muster the energy to go inside, I can't really muster the energy to feel sorry for him.