Arnie: You know, we’re losing the war.”
Don: “You wouldn’t know it from looking around here.”
One of the themes running through The Collaborators is appearances. Pete is especially bitter on the notion of appearances when speaking with go-getter Bob Benson; deeply sarcastic about the notion that if things look good, they must be good. It looks like we’re winning the war from a ritzy New York City restaurant. Marriages look good from the outside. Abigail Whitman looks the very picture of Christian piety (my sister pointed that one out, and will be posting more about it later). Most painfully, Trudy wanted Pete to keep up appearances; she is angry, not about the adultery, but about Pete’s refusal to do a good job of hiding it. She lives on our block!
Here’s where I’m at with this episode: First, I want to watch it again, and second, I don’t think it’s destined to be a favorite (although my feelings about these things sometimes change on second viewing). It’s a second-of-the-season, ground-laying piece. Like Love Among the Ruins or Tea Leaves, it’s building towards later episodes more than a masterpiece in its own right. But there are themes worth exploring here.
I’m wandering through an criss-crossed maze of adultery, consequences, and “handling” people/things. Everyone is sleeping with everyone; adultery is a poison that infects them all. There is no question, at the Campbell’s party, that both of the other husbands were flirting with Trudy while both wives were flirting with Pete. Brenda (the woman Pete ultimately slept with) is clearly experienced at adultery–she wants to make a game of it. Sylvia, as Don points out, wants to feel shitty about it right up until he takes off her dress. She wants it to be French, which I take to mean, like a romantic foreign movie–Sylvia, like Brenda, wants the game of adultery as much, or more, than the adultery itself.
I’m thinking Sylvia has seen Belle du Jour, a major French release of 1967. Belle du Jour is a luminous French fantasy about prostitution, but Don and Joan have seen the real thing, and it’s much less pleasant.
Joan treats the man who prostituted her with cold fury. Don, the “whore-son” who “grew up in” a whorehouse (as we learned in Signal 30), doesn’t want Joan treated that way. He doesn’t want her demeaned, but he recognizes adultery as demeaning. When he learns his wife was pregnant, perhaps she became, not someone he was drifting apart from, but the Madonna side of his Madonna/Whore Complex.
Consequences. Pregnancy is a consequence (they always tell you that in high school sex ed, anyway). Violence. Separation. There are repercussions, and so you try like hell to handle things.
Don Draper: I wish you were handling the clients as well as you are handling me.
Everybody is handling somebody in this episode. “Handling” people; managing them so that their behavior will be predictable. Peggy is laughably bad at this, and the assholes at work who are pranking her are equally bad. Joan handles Herb by cutting him down, and Don handles him by appearing to give him what he wants. Megan fires the maid–she handles the problem, although she “doesn’t know how” to do it.
The opposite of “handling” sounds like it could be honesty, but honesty, too, has consequences. Brenda may have been honest with her husband, or Trudy, or both, and no one much likes those results. Megan tries to handle Don by not telling him about her pregnancy or miscarriage, but then tells him. For a moment it’s the Don and Megan of old; they spoke honestly about Dick Whitman at one time. But her honesty doesn’t bring him home–in fact, it leaves him sitting outside the door, feeling unable to come in. Peggy has an honest, let-your-hair-down conversation with Stan, and then honestly shared about it, and that moment of relaxation, of plain ol’ talking instead of “handling,” had consequences. Ted is cut-throat and competitive, and Peggy may just have burned some bridges. Don may be furious, but what I really hope is that she doesn’t lose her friendship with Stan.
In the end, it all comes back to prostitution and commerce. Everyone is paying for something, somehow. Don gives Sylvia money. Herb Rennet, the mercenary prick who “bought” Joan, tries to buy the entire ad campaign away from Jaguar. Tim of Heinz ketchup tries to buy away the prestige that Raymond brought to Heinz beans.
Some other points:
- Morgan Rusler played Uncle Mack in three episodes in S1; yep, same actor.
- Trudy’s lost her baby weight.
- It seems to me that Megan has a real depressive illness. We saw her spend a day in bed, and then drinking, in The Phantom, and now she’s in bed in her robe, feigning illness, after her miscarriage.
- There was some wondering, last week, about a big cross in Sylvia’s bedroom when her husband is Jewish. Now we understand it’s the maid’s room, not her own.
- The Tet Offensive was January 30, 1968.
- Quote of the week goes to Kenny: It’s Heinz ketchup, Don, it’s the Coca-Cola of condiments!