Mad Men: Don Can't Escape the Brothel

Our roundtable discusses the second episode of the sixth season.
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AMC

Every week for the sixth season of AMC's acclaimed series Mad Men, our roundtable of Eleanor Barkhorn (Sexes editor, TheAtlantic.com), Ashley Fetters (editorial fellow for TheAtlantic.com's Entertainment and Sexes channels), and Amy Sullivan (National Journal correspondent) will discuss the latest happenings at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.


Sullivan: Tru-dy! Tru-dy! Tru-dy! I can't be the only one who stood up and cheered when Trudy Campbell laid into Pete after discovering he had slept with their neighbor. We haven't seen anything that satisfying on this show since Lane Pryce (may he rest in peace) decked Pete in the conference room last season.

Let's pause just a moment to watch that once again.

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Trudy's rage was satisfying because: a) This is Pete, who has always been in a close contest with Betty for Mad Men character with the fewest redeeming qualities; b) With the amount of cheating and other bad behavior we've seen on this show over five seasons, it's about time a spouse gave one of these jerks what-for.

Confirming that she's just as smart as we thought, Trudy let Pete know she always understood the real reason he wanted a bachelor pad in the city. "Somehow I thought there was dignity in granting you permission," she fumed. "All I wanted was for you to be discreet." But Pete, who got caught essentially because of his own jerkitude, couldn't even respect Trudy enough to be discreet. (What was worse? Pete's look of pure disgust when his lover, beaten bloody by her husband, flees to their house for help? Or his post-tryst sweet-talk: "That's sweet. I really have to get back. Can you move it along a little?")

I love that Pete thinks Trudy is asking for a divorce and is starting to sneer back at her when she sets him straight. "I will not fail at something. This is how it's going to work. You will be here only when I tell you to be here," she says, before going off about Pete staying 50 miles away or something I didn't catch because I was too busy cheering. And if Pete doesn't abide by her demands? "I will destroy you."

Tru-dy! Tru-dy! Tru-dy!

Pete can't catch a break at work, either, where Don completely undermines Herb's attempt to use Jaguar's ad dollars to drive customers to his dealerships. "Why can't you play by the rules?" Pete sputters to Don after the meeting. (Roger's reaction—"That was the deftest self-immolation I've ever seen"—was one of the episode's many references to the escalating war in Vietnam.) Pete isn't playing by the rules either, but even when he tries to be bad like Don, he can't pull it off with anything close to Don's smooth style. That's one of the reasons we cheer Pete's comeuppances but don't yearn to see Don punched in the face.

And yet the window we got Sunday night into Don's compartmentalized soul and mind gave me chills. We've seen him move from mistress to wife with ease in the past, but the fact that he can do so in just one flight of stairs verges on sociopathic. When Sylvia asks how Don can be comfortable sitting at dinner with her husband and his wife, he shrugs like it's the easiest thing in the world. "This didn't happen," says Don. "It's just in here," pointing to his head. Yikes.

Sylvia isn't nearly as serene about the whole situation, especially when she ends up in their apartment, listening to Megan cry about being "a horrible person." When Don comes home from work to find his wife and mistress together, and his wife obviously wiping away tears, for a moment he must have thought Sylvia had unburdened herself. She's clearly shaken by their intersecting lives. Meanwhile, Don is careless as we've seen him—even knocking on the maid's entrance when the good doctor is already home—but it's hard to know if he even thinks about it. Or if he's hoping to get caught.

Perhaps the only emotion we see from Don in this episode is in the initial meeting with Herb. Joan walks into his office, goes directly to pour herself a drink, and says, "He's here." Clearly, this has happened before and Don provides something of a safe space for Joan. Don says nothing as Joan stares out the window and looks about to cry. But he walks into the meeting ready to do battle, and that's before he hears Herb's stupid idea about local radio spots.

I'll let you two tell me what the heck those flashbacks to Dick Whitman's adolescence in a whorehouse meant. But it was hard to miss the utter sadness in the final scene, with Don unable to make himself enter the Draper apartment, instead slumping down against the wall as Louis Prima sings, "I'm just a gigolo..."


Fetters: Trudy Trudy Trudy Trudy, rockin' everywhere. Couldn't agree more with your assessment of the fabulous Mrs. Campbell, Amy. This is the necessary verbal thrashing that, in the early seasons, I always hoped Betty would one day dole out to Don. Alas. But still: Trudy Campbell, everybody. What a champ.

In a broader sense, this episode felt like it found many of its characters playing the dirtiest card in their hand—ditching each other, shaming each other, and generally making one another "feel shitty," as Megan and Don put it (in separate scenes). In the most metaphorical of terms, Trudy pulled the rug out from under Pete; a client from one division of Heinz threw another client from another division under the bus in Don's office; Don, in turn, sabotaged Herb from Jaguar under the bus by making his idea backfire in a pitch meeting, and the episode ended with Peggy contemplating whether to throw Stan under the bus by snatching an account that he mentioned Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce was pursuing.

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