Your ‘Mad Men’ Season 6, Episode 2 Talking Points: The Return of the Repressed

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No current TV show generates more Monday morning conversation than Mad Men. With that in mind, Flavorwire is recapping Season 6′s Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce by giving you a handful of talking points to spark your own water-cooler debate. A substantially lower-key episode than last week’s showstopping season premiere, “The Collaborators” took us deeper into Don Draper’s latest affair — and, for the first time, gave us a painful glimpse at his childhood in the brothel.

It seems crazy that it’s taken six seasons to see firsthand the past that has been chasing Don for decades, so it’s a shame that what we do see isn’t anything we weren’t already imagining. Awkward young Dick Whitman moves into the whorehouse where his aunt lives, a place that’s run by a lascivious and self-righteous type named Mack, who wastes no time bedding Dick’s pregnant mother. Of course, it’s Don’s trysts with Lindsay Weir — sorry, Sylvia Rosen — that seem to force him into these flashbacks, with Matt Weiner and co. making a rather unsubtle connection between Don’s compulsive infidelity and the environment in which he was raised, one that shrewd viewers will have picked up on seasons ago and don’t necessarily need to see spelled out. But regardless of the clunkiness, by the end of the episode, our antihero is having a meltdown in front of his apartment’s green double doors, and (in case we didn’t get the message last week) it’s clear he’s heading for another identity crisis.

To Weiner’s (and this episode’s director, Jon Hamm’s) credit, there may be a second, less obvious trigger for Don’s dissolution: his memories of war. Not only is “The Collaborators” (a title that presumably refers both to the show’s various working relationships and wartime collaborationism) studded with references to North Korea and Vietnam, but it’s war metaphors, from Munich to Chuchill, that the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce executives use to discuss Don’s controversial handling of their eternally problematic Jaguar client. Taken together with his night with the soldier last week, this means we’ve got a second less than honorable period of Don’s life that’s coming back to haunt him. What remains to be seen is what the result of all this obsessing will be, whether he’ll muster his resources to morph into yet another new person or if he’ll finally have to come to grips with a past that’s made him incapable of finding happiness in the present.

Additional talking points:

  • Pete Campbell as Goofus to Don Draper’s Gallant: Lest we begin to hate Don for cheating on Megan and undermining his colleagues, Weiner has jump-started Pete’s Season 6 storyline with an incredibly indelicately conducted affair with an apparently mentally unstable neighbor. She ends up bloody and beaten, and Trudy connects the dots and announces that she’s not putting up with Pete’s nonsense anymore. In what is indisputably the best line of the episode, she tells him, “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.” Trudy Campbell: hero.
  • Peggy’s unexpected job challenge: Her underlings may be so intimidated by her high standards that they’re spooking her with faux products designed to address her feminine crankiness, but this episode found Peggy getting uncomfortable, too. After her boss overhears her candid chat with Stan about SCDP’s Heinz client, he forces her to go after ketchup, and she has to decide once again between her loyalty and her ambition.
  • Don’s high-functioning crises: One of many frustrating aspects of this character is the fact that he tends to do best in life when he’s the most personally unstable. After a frustratingly uncreative fifth season, most of which was spent in relative marital bliss, he’s back to the old Don Draper boardroom voodoo, talking his Jaguar clients out of their colleague’s own bad idea by exaggerating its commonness to a point he knows will revolt these snobs. Meanwhile, as he’s cheating with Sylvia Rosen, Don’s also handling Megan’s miscarriage with perfect sensitivity.
  • For the second time, where’s Joan?: Oh, sure, we see her hide from repellent Herb in Don’s office, pouring herself a drink, but we’re two weeks into a 13-episode season. When will Weiner finally deign to take us back inside the life of one of Mad Men‘s most fascinating characters?