Mad Men Season 6 Episode 3: The Collaborators

It’s classic Mad Men – swagger, secrets, sex – misbehavior of the sort we love, reinforcing the theme in Episode 3, “The Collaborators.”

Behind closed doors, and not very distant ones, uneasy alliances emerge and parallels abound. Don and Sylvia’s illicit affair is progressing, but she’s oh-so-close to home, just one floor below Don and Megan’s homestead.

And shall we include Pete in his own less discreet version of the same, a dalliance with a blonde neighbor that ends with her bloodied face and Trudi on the rampage?

A few more uncomfortable twists? Arnie, Sylvia’s husband, genuinely likes Don. The two seem to be buds. When Don discovers Megan and Sylvia exchanging confidences, it’s clear the friendships of this foursome are growing more problematic, and obviously, riskier.


Did I say “classic” Mad Men?

Yes indeed, as Matthew Weiner entertains the viewer on multiple levels, intersperses scenes at a more languid pace, and focuses on the stories and behaviors we love most: Don’s skillful manipulation in the workplace, his equally adroit (and self-destructive) juggling of the ladies, and his murky relationship with the past.

Moral relativism is featured everywhere in this episode – personally, professionally, and murmuring in the background of world news and war.

Is there an innocent on the premises? Or shall we chat on the topic of collaboration?

So many uneasy alliances, rival friends and smiling enemies; Vietnam and the U. S. S. Pueblo. War moves in and out of the spotlight as Arnie and Don converse, the former more involved in the news than the latter, though Don later mentions Munich after sabotaging Jag-Jockey Herb’s desire for more local ads.

Roger clarifies the Munich reference: we said yes to the Germans when it came to Munich, and all that accomplished was their wanting more.

Peggy, Stan, Heinz Ketchup

A side of intrigue with your hotdog?

Raymond from Heinz pops by Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, seemingly bringing an “in” for Heinz Ketchup, and he introduces Timmy who may be looking for new creative. Once the Ketchup Kid exits, Raymond tells Don in no uncertain terms that he can’t stand Timmy, he’ll pull his Baked Beans business if they go for ketchup, and though Pete wants to pursue, Don points out that sometimes you have to dance with “the one that brung ya.”

Just another example of everyday “collaboration” among corporate divisions? The elder statesman of Baked Beans “cooperates” with the young stallion of Ketchup, but behind those closed doors, Timmy is the enemy. Just as Joan and Don consider Herb the enemy, though they deal with him for the Jaguar account?

Meanwhile, Stan spills Heinz gossip over the phone with Peggy in a late night schmooze session. She lets it slip to Ted that Ketchup may be seeking new creative. Her boss makes it clear that any information he comes by is fair game. Peggy protests (weakly?) that Stan’s her friend, but Ted makes their position clear:

He’s not your friend, he’s the enemy… This is how wars are won.

Playing With Fire? Old News

Don may feel guilty about Megan, but not guilty enough to stop his affair with Sylvia. Then again, it’s hardly the first time he’s played with fire, though it’s amusing that Pete, attempting to pull off the same hijinks fails miserably.

As for Don, let’s see… The list is long, but off the top of my head, he dallied with client Rachel Mencken, Sally’s teacher, the comedian’s wife… Oh, too many to name and all close to home!

Hello, Inferno? Dick likes his descent into Hell.

Speaking of Dick, our flawed and faithless hero has been dropping back into boyhood recollections, including arriving with his pregnant step-mother at a whorehouse run by her sister and husband Mac. The Whitmans need a place to stay, and this is it. Curious, Dick peeks through the keyhole as he sees his sleazy uncle having sex with his stepmother.

A strawberry blonde prostitute saunters by with a client and says to him:

You’re a dirty little spy.

Sleeping with the enemy? Collaboration? Boundaries… What boundaries?

Don, You Dick

Don’t we notice that Don is far more Dick in appearance and behavior when he beds Sylvia in the opening scene? He’s disheveled, hair in his face, his expression showing disdain, his chest a pasty white in contrast to the his bronzed appeal in Hawaii. When he pulls a wad of cash from his pocket and counts out bills which he hands to Sylvia who happens to need money – nice touch!

After sex, she says “I feel bad,” and referring to the dinner to two couples have coming up, she goes on: “You don’t mind sitting across from your wife and my husband?”

Don says: “I don’t think about it.” And he clarifies, pointing to his head:

This… didn’t happen. It’s just in here.

Right. It never happened, Dick.

Powerful Peggy, Jag-Jangled Joan, Moping Megan

Peggy wears powerful purple in this episode, in a one piece dress that suggests she’s solid, if occasionally humorless. Joan is understandably cold to Herb, the slimy Jag franchise owner she bedded so the agency could land the account.

Don, decked out in his uniform of dark suit and white shirt, perfect pocket square neatly in place, clearly despises Herb as does Joan. Occasionally, Don shows signs of loyalty that we find appealing. Nice juxtaposition to Don descending a floor each time he visits Sylvia to do the deed, and the delicious detail that her apartment’s doors are red (like Hell, like playing with fire, like Don’s reminiscence of the prostitute in a red robe).

Megan is drained and vulnerable; she’s been keeping a secret of her own. She was “sloppy” in Hawaii, got pregnant, never told Don, and miscarried at six weeks. Ambivalent about a baby as her career is taking off, she only shares her news with her hubby – equally ambivalent? – a few days after the fact.

War Wounds? Mood Music?

Ah, what tangled webs we weave… individual relationships that carry on with both surface and behind-the-scenes alliances, friends who don’t know the whole story, broken rules and the ways we get around them, enemies collaborating when they must – war wounds from childhood.

Note that our one (seemingly) unflawed character, Arnie, says over a drink and discussion of Vietnam: “We’re losing the war.” True that. But sitting in that restaurant reminiscent of an earlier time, two “middle-aged” men in their suits, what other wars are they losing? And the image of Don alone at that table? Striking, isn’t it – how quickly we can find ourselves going it solo?

Why not go out on mood music conjuring Don’s persistent merging of past and present?

Just a Gigolo, a song with a variety of versions and mixed heritage – including Austrian and German, both WWI and WWII – harkens to earlier battlefields, not to mention an apt and more contemporary interpretation: the tale of a soldier who returns home to find he’s no longer useful after the Army, except as an escort for the ladies.

After arrangements for another assignation with Sylvia, our very own walking wounded Gigolo slumps to the floor in front of the door to his apartment. Is he feeling the weight of his deceit? Perhaps. But that doesn’t mean he’ll stop, now does it…


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© D. A. Wolf



  1. says

    I always “see” more after reading your Mad Men recaps. This week’s episode has me weighed down emotionally. I fear for Don. His two worlds are going to collide and then what?

  2. says

    Great recap that provides clarity I couldn’t muster on my own. Now I’ll have to read your first review because I’m still confused about the different versions with the doorman. I’ll have to re-watch this season another time to really see what I’ve missed on first watch. Now about the use of color. I definitely noticed the use of more subtle muted tones in connection with Megan. Wondering if Don’s feelings changed once Megan pressured him into getting her that commercial. And why not Joan and Don? They really do seem like peas who should nestle in the same pod in many ways.

    I’ll have to keep up with your great reviews to seek help figuring it all out.

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