In the third episode of Season 6, “The Collaborators,” Don Draper and Pete Campbell are both keeping their aspiring homewreckers way too close to home, but so far, only Pete has met his comeuppance. And how.
Shortly after a painful-to-watch daytime fling with his Cos Cob neighbor in his Manhattan mistress pad, the desperate housewife comes knocking at the Campbell’s door, her face bloodied and beaten after “a terrible fight” with her husband (who she presumably told about the affair.) Pete can’t get her out of there fast enough, but he’s not quick enough for Trudy -- and he never has been: Under all that hairspray, Trudy’s got eyes in the back of her head, and she’s known all along what the pied-à-terre is really for. “I thought there was some dignity in granting permission,” she tells him. “All I wanted was for you to be discreet.”
Though the precarious illusion of their happy marriage is shattered for good, Trudy’s not letting Pete get off easy with a hasty divorce. Instead, she lays down the law: Pete will be home when Trudy tells him to be, and he’ll keep his dalliances at a safe distance: “I’m drawing a 50 mile radius around this house and if you so much as open your fly to urinate, I’ll destroy you.” Momma don’t take no mess, y’hear?
For all of Pete’s haughty insistence on discretion (“don’t linger in the hallway,”) he prefers women who can get him in the most trouble in the shortest amount of time. Before the neighbor, there was Rory Gilmore, the wife of his commuting buddy, and before that, a failed attempt to bed a teenager in his driver’s ed class. His defiance is of the pathetic, attention-seeking kind, like the kid who forgets to put the lid back on the cookie jar, subconsciously hoping for a scolding.
But Don, despite being a first-class dirty bird, usually knows not to foul his own nest. That’s what makes his affair with the neighbor (“Freaks and Geeks” star Linda Cardellini) so perplexing. Though Don’s friendship with Dr. & Sylvia Rosen offers him a certain degree of protection, it feels like only a matter of time before Megan and/or Dr. Rosen catch them in the maid’s room, or before Sylvia’s jealousy of Megan gets the best of her and she gives herself away. Don's pushing the emotional envelope like we haven’t seen him do in a while; you can’t blame Sylvia for thinking he might actually have feelings for her. Still, we know better than to see Don’s cash donation as a pure act of generosity. It’s been said that when a man gives a woman money for sex, he’s really paying her to leave.
Speaking of prostitution, we got a closer look at Don/Dick Whitman’s life at his step-aunt’s brothel: In a flashback scene, we see him spying on his pregnant stepmother having sex with her sister’s husband, the man of the whorehouse. Perhaps this is supposed to shed some light on Don’s emotional damage; it certainly helps explain his enduring disgust for Joan’s closed-door transaction that won SCDP the Jaguar account.
Herb shows up again this week to “darken her door” and demand the creatives pitch a new campaign. He gets exactly what he deserves: Don artfully throws the pitch, and Joan gets one of the episode’s best lines: When Herb insists to Joan that he knows a part of her is happy to see him, she says, “And I know there’s a part of you you haven’t seen in years.” (For those just tuning in, she was talking about his manhood-to-gut ratio. Zing!)
When Don and Roger equate the Jaguar account’s demands to Munich -- if you give them what they want, they only ask for more -- they could be talking about any number of power struggles on the show: Don vs. Sylvia, Sally vs. Betty, Pete Campbell vs. the world; or more generally, the simmering gender warfare that's always threatening to reach a boiling point. We’re in 1968 now, and while the women in Don Draper’s world will always have an expectation of subservience, it’s not always going to be Don's world.
It can’t be insignificant that the closing song of an episode that trafficks in women selling their bodies and souls is a dirge from the point of view of the closest male equivalent. Sex and death are hardly strange bedfellows on “Mad Men,” and when the end comes for this gigolo, like Louis Prima (and all manner of contextual cues in preceding episodes) promises it will, life will go on without him. But who will have won the war?