Commentary

Episode 603: The Trudy Pact -- Or, He'll Have The Steak Diablo

Mad Men Season 6
Episode 3Called “The Collaborators,” the third episode of "Mad Men"’s sixth season illustrated the politics of appeasement and double dealings, as seen in love, war, and the corporate sale of beans. A chewier episode than the opener, it did suffer from some visual weaknesses (Jon Hamm himself directed!) and musical clichés (the use of “Just a Gigolo” was a little too on-the-nose in the end, when Don crumples at his front door).

But there was also some magnificent stuff. Both Pete and Peggy have developed into mini-Dons. Trudy's reaction to Pete's betrayal (boy, can that Alison Brie act!) made for top-notch theater, while  Peggy, in an unguarded  moment, was set up to betray Stan.

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And the way the verboten happened, and the mistresses and wives of Don and Pete actually talked and interacted at parallel moments, rang true.

Some of it felt very timeless: With the Pueblo incident fresh in the news, North Korea is acting aggressively against the U.S.; after The Tet Offensive, Americans have lost faith that their government is telling them the truth about a disastrous quagmire of a war.

Mad Men Season 6 Episode 3And some of it felt very ancient: Don is totally turned on by seeing his mistress dressed in an arresting, Lucy Ricardo-style house dress, topped off by the type of head schmatta women used to favor while out at the clothesline, beating their rugs. Talk about a stereotyped housewife -- all Sylvia needed was a rolling pin while arguing with her doctor hubby about money, in an otherwise private scene that Don observed through open elevator doors.

And there was a nice double meaning in a line leading to the daytime assignation: Don feigned forgetting his cigarettes as an excuse to go back to Sylvia, while her husband, Dr. Rosen, told him: “You need to stop.”  

Don’s pathological need to cheat -- in this case, spurred by Sylvia’s otherwise testosterone-deflating getup -- was explained in a stilted, but very sad, flashback that filled in another snippet of his impossibly tough early life: When you've lost your mother at birth (and grow up being called a “whore child” named Dick), and have seen your father killed before your eyes (kicked by a horse), and then watched through a  keyhole in the door as your pregnant stepmother was "taken" by ole’ rooster Uncle Mac in his cathouse in return for rent payments, a person could become a compartmentalizer!

So Don used his standard line on Sylvia when she asked how he could face his wife and her husband over dinner: "This never happened.” Similarly, he said to Peggy after the delivery of her baby: “You won’t believe how much this never happened.”

Mad Men Season 6 Episode 3I thought the idea of giving Sylvia money when it was all over was a bit too obvious, but she didn’t seem to mind. Also, what’s with the good doctor, a heart surgeon, running out of money?

Last week, it seemed the only happy person around was Megan. She had achieved everything she wanted: a role on a soap opera and a modicum of fame, all while still smoldering and married to Don. This week, we saw the other side of that story. Don had barely spoken to Megan in Hawaii (although they did have marijuana-mediated sex).

The scene of the two women in Don’s life meeting in the laundry room, over their plastic baskets, looked just like a setup for a detergent commercial at the time, with housewives comparing the whiteness of their laundry loads. But it was far more complicated than that. This time, Sylvia witnessed an otherwise private scene: Megan firing the maid, and then crying. If you recall, Betty also cruelly fired Carla. In each case, the dispirited wife’s anger, and attempts to fix her household by firing the maid, were misdirected.

TMad Men Season 6 Episode 3he emotional chasm between Megan and Don becomes clear when she tells Sylvia about her miscarriage before she works up the nerve to tell Don. The Megan/Sylvia exchange was another conversation filled with double meanings and guilty feelings. Sylvia is shocked to learn that the couple still has sex, since Don had used the usual line that he and his wife were “moving apart.” And Megan has no idea that she is confiding in the enemy.

What was Megan trying to say about being brought up Catholic? Is it possible that she’s doing some dissembling of her own, and that she had an abortion rather than a miscarriage?

Earlier, Don kisses off Megan like a daughter, not a wife, when she says she’s too ill to go to dinner. When she finally does come clean, Don’s reaction is hardly warm and tender, although Megan takes what she can and cuddles up to him.

Before he had to leave the dinner, Dr. Rosen, who seems in the dark about his wife’s affair, talks about the events in Korea and Vietnam, and is up on every nuance. Don is not. It seems he couldn't care less about current events -- all of his references, including the ones he makes in ads, are about himself and his own internal needs.

Mad Men Season 6  Episode 3As for Pete, I knew with the first offer of “throwing in a free hot dog” that things would not end well. But I thought the group would be more into “swinging” (vintage "Ice Storm"-type key-exchanges) than the unfortunately timeless walloping-the-wife-style marital abuse. Ever the gentleman, Pete was quick to blame the victim, while Trudy showed that she's whip-smart and iron-willed. She doesn’t want to fail -- and divorce, in her circle, is failure -- so she will keep Pete on a string as she destroys him.

The episode was about housekeeping in every sense, even for the Heinz Beans client. And Don does a brilliant sabotage of Herb the Jaguar guy’s brutish plans. There was no Betty, and way too little Joan in this episode. But Joan really had no credibility in getting on her high horse about Herb’s shortcomings.  Was there a victim in that crime? She got what she wanted out of that hard bargain.

Mostly, the episode was about defining the enemy, which is sometimes very hard to do -- especially the one within.

 

So Mr. Heinz Beans doesn't want to share his agency's insights with Mr. Ketchup. Here's an English Heinz commercial (for a "tin" of beans) from the 1960s: it's not a bean ballet, but offers a different kind of poetry with the line "beans, beans, beans."

10 comments about "Episode 603: The Trudy Pact -- Or, He'll Have The Steak Diablo".
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  1. Jonathan Hutter from Northern Light Health, April 15, 2013 at 10:56 p.m.

    Am I the only one who thinks Megan had an abortion, and is simply afraid to tell Don? I know you suggested it but it seemed clear as could be to me. And Don always seeming to defer to Megan (I couldn't count how many times he said, "whatever you want") to me shows the total fear he has of the two women he is currently sleeping with actually getting together to compare notes (or worse). The parallel of Pete's women actually doing this shows Don's skill at this game and Pete's posing. Don's choices are spiraling lower and lower. His only redeeming feature in this episode was the great Jaguar un-sell. But to what end? Eventually they will have to own up to how they got the account. And it will not end well.

  2. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com, April 15, 2013 at 11:24 p.m.

    Absolutely, Jonathan. Why would she says that she didn't know how to start the conversation about the conversation otherwise?
    Also agree with the downward spiral, as depressing as it is.
    The only really likeable person is Stan, and he's stoned all the time!

  3. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER, April 16, 2013 at 10:52 a.m.

    I think at that time Steak Pizzaiola would have been the name for a less than prime steak covered in tomato sauce. But this is supposed to be a haute (or alto) Italian restaurant. Weren't many around then. Perhaps Romeo Salta midtown or Parioli Romanissimo uptown, not Luna featured in the Godfather with Clemenza just before Paulie got whacked. Maybe Giordano's (so-called Northern Italian on the West Side), but branzino definitely either an anachronism or a restaurant ahead of its time. BUT...I keep repeating this...Barbara's review better than the show. No one thinks the good doctor has a girlfriend on the side? His emergency calls seem to be strategically placed. Truth is reading about it here is better than watching it there. Something has collapsed with this show. Roger, who brightens things most shows with a decent line, is now reduced (or elevated) to appreciating Don with knowing looks while the other dummies can't (as my old partner Barry would say) read the room, a skill that Barry foolishly thought he possessed. As for what they ordered in the restaurant since the screenwriter seems to forcing coincidences and double-meaning: "He'll have steak diavolo" of course means I gave him Dante's Inferno to read and isn't Don such a little devil?

  4. Jonathan McEwan from MediaPost, April 16, 2013 at 11:07 a.m.

    Nice write up. I think though that there were these cool parallels in the story line. And this was an episode all about the old broad and the sweet young thing, the rules of the game and getting around them. About Heinz: Don says "Sometimes ya gotta dance with the one that brung ya." And that is telling, as both clients in this episode are old relationships. In one, the belle of the ball (ketchup, the Coca-Cola of condiments) must be set free to keep the missus happy. In the other, unreasonable demands are met by following the letter of the law to the bluntest extreme. Savvy manipulation keeps the old relationship in check, while getting what Don wants. In the personal front, both men are breaking the rules - playing too close to home and in Don's case, with a friend who likes his wife. The rule thing couldn't have been more clear than in Trudy's diatribe. Wow. She blew me away. She knows what's up in the unspoken rules of at least 1960s society. I couldn't help wondering just how much territory was covered in her 50-mile radius. Solid episode all around. I think Jon's getting better behind the camera. Looking forward to next week.

  5. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, April 16, 2013 at 11:33 a.m.

    Change is poison to Don. And then he poisons everyone else. How relieved was he that there was not another screaming kid to deal with ? But compassion is not one of his strengths because he avoids feeling. "It didn't happen." He needs a wife. He doesn't want one.

  6. Rob Frydlewicz from DentsuAegis, April 16, 2013 at 11:58 a.m.

    I've tired of Megan - her depressing story arc reminds me more & more of "Valley of the Dolls". And what about that dress Joan was wearing - it was draw-droppingly garish! Of course, it was perfect for her scene with Herb, as it was an outfit that would look more appropriate on a prostitute. In the Mod 60's, Joan's looking more & more like Delta Dawn. For me, Trudy's furious dictate to Pete was the highlight of the show (bringing to mind the beating he took from Lane Pryce). Finally, I'm surprised the Jaguar client didn't fire the agency on the spot for making such an off-target media recommendation.

  7. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com, April 16, 2013 at 5:04 p.m.

    @tom--great connection between the steak diavolo and Dante's Inferno. That woman is full of the devil.
    @Rob-- I agree with the Valley of the Dolls-ishness of Megan. Remember how much we all hated her in the beginning? But she's another one who will never be happy, and Don hardly enveloped her in understanding and love when he found out.
    Given that Joan is a partner, it's surprising that she still sits in the open, at a desk, where she looks (and dresses) like the office manager.

  8. Kat Gordon from Maternal Instinct, April 16, 2013 at 11:41 p.m.

    Love your recap, Barbara. For a while, I wondered if Megan and the Doctor were cavorting while Don and Sylvia were known to be stuck at the restaurant. Wouldn't that be karmic?

  9. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com, April 18, 2013 at 5:44 p.m.

    @Kat-- Yeah, there are all those possibilities, and some viewers thing that both the Doc and Megan know about the infidelity. I think it's more about Megan having an abortion alone, and then being afraid to tell Don. And interesting that Sylvia gets on her high horse while having sex with a pregnant woman's hubbie! There is a big "who is the prostitute, anyway?" storyline going on here.
    And one of my friends suggested that Don is actually having sex with Sylvia as a substitute for his new idol and love, Dr. Rosen.

  10. Helen Klein Ross from Making It, Novel of Madison Avenue, April 23, 2013 at 6:31 a.m.

    Great review, Barbara. And I love that Mrs. Rosen is righteously anti-abortion, but nookie with a pregnant woman's hub-- that's ok! So French Catholique.

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