Mad Men 6-3

The existential play No Exit by Jean-Paul Sartre first introduced the world to the concept that hell is other people. After all, where else would torment come from?

In Mad Men’s latest episode, “The Collaborators”, the misery comes fast and furious – from Herb Rennert’s asinine and self-serving amendment to Jaguar’s national ad campaign to the jealousies felt by Sylvia Rosen (Linda Cardellini) and Trudy Campbell (Alison Brie). It even manifests itself in flashback form as a teenaged Dick Whitman watched through the knothole of a brothel as his Uncle Mack defiled his pregnant stepmother.

Undoubtedly heapin’ helpings of unhappiness were traded from one character to the other throughout this episode. But in the end, it turns out that hell is less about other people and more about one’s self.

After an season opener in which the characters – or at least some of them – were able to find at least a modicum of contentment, we once again bear witness to plenty of self-loathing. Once again Don Draper (Jon Hamm) remains his own worst enemy. Not long ago, he opined to Sylvia that his wish for the new year was to stop being a philanderer. Yet here he is “forgetting” his cigarettes as a pretense for an interlude with his latest mistress.

Lest you think Don has a monopoly on shame, behold Megan (Jessica Paré) rationalizing the miscarriage that prevented her having to make the difficult decision to terminate a pregnancy that could have derailed her budding career. Look on as Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) denies having any culpability in the brutal instance of domestic violence that literally ends up on his doorstep in the form of a bloodied paramour that has wishes to run away with him to the city – despite his obvious disdain for her outside of anything sexual.

Even this far into Mad Men’s existence, there is still so much about Don Draper that we have to learn. But every glimpse we get into his past gives us more of an idea about why he can’t ever make a solid connection with another human being. Yet it makes you wonder … what’s everyone else’s problem?

Then you wonder whether everyone’s problem is Don Draper. He has pollinated those around him with the dysfunction he has collected all during his lifetime like a defective honeybee. It’s being closed off enough that his wife doesn’t know how he’d react to having another child – or losing that child. It’s leading Sylvia to believe that there could possibly be anything more to their relationship than clandestine trysts in the maid’s quarters (then throwing cold water on that idea during a dinner for two that ran the gamut from inelegant to erotic). It’s even giving Pete the wrongheaded idea that there is freedom in spreading your love around to many women. Don Draper has spun quite a spectacular wheel of misfortune.

As the episode closes, Bing Crosby croons “Just a Gigolo” while Don slumps to the floor outside of his front door, either unable or unwilling to go inside. Hell is other people. Hell is yourself. Hell is Don Draper.

Mad Minutes

  • Huzzah for Joan (Christina Hendricks) giving Herb a verbal smackdown after his advances. The women of SCDP had made such huge strides over the years, mainly because of how far down the pecking order they started. That’s why it was so disappointing to watch Joan debase herself last season for the sake of grabbing a larger slice of the pie. Good on her for regaining that leverage in just a few terse responses.
  • The same can be said for Trudy Campbell. For so long, she has played the good hausfrau. Her confrontation of Pete didn’t hit quite a hard as Betty’s takedown of Don in Season 3’s “The Gypsy and the Hobo”, but it still packed quite a wallop. One that the wayward Pete will be certain to feel.
  • Some lessons have to be learned the hard way. Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss) is about to find that out after spilling the beans (pun intended) about the division in Heinz’s divisions. It won’t be long before word gets back to SCDP that Cutler is making a run at ketchup and it will definitely put a strain on her friendship with Stan. It’s also likely to halt any progress in any fence-mending that was going on between Peggy and Don.
  • I’m feeling a little deprived of Harry Crane (Rich Sommer). It’s not so much about his individual storylines or his additions to the overall narrative. It’s the glorious sideburns and the suits that look like he raided the dressing room of Herman’s Hermits. Please, please, please give us more.