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Honor, dishonor: A ‘Mad Men’ recap

Posted by Swati Gauri Sharma  April 15, 2013 12:14 AM

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"You were given the choice between war and dishonor. You chose dishonor and you will have war."- Winston Churchill (or Roger's mom)

The episode opened up in a creepy scene at Pete Campbell’s home, when wives were hitting on others' husbands and husbands were hitting on others' wives, all in present company, of course. (And, of course, the scene was unpleasant. It involved Pete.)

Last week’s episode centered around death (and Hell, as one commenter wisely put it). Yet somehow, this episode left me more disturbed than last week’s.

January 30, 1968, was the launch of the Tet Offensive, where the Viet Cong violated a cease fire that was to be observed for the Tet Lunar New Year and attacked South Vietnamese and American bases. It was widely seen as a dishonorable act of war (for the Americans, at least).

Honor, dishonor, and shame were the central themes of “The Collaborators.” We heard Roger refer to it after the amazing scene of Don foiling attempts of drifting away from a national Jaguar campaign and heavily focusing on local car dealer ads. (Was Herb thinking of something like this?)

We saw Trudy’s fear of dishonor the driving force in her way of dealing with Pete’s infidelity. I wanted to stand up and applaud when she told Pete it was over. Finally! But then, she kept talking. She wasn’t going to divorce him. She doesn’t fail, she said, but Trudy also expected Pete's cheating to be "discreet" and not insert itself into her suburban life. Even now, after his betrayal led to a bloody scene in her kitchen, she wanted to save face.

We saw shame in the way Megan was coping with her miscarriage. What did she want? What was she supposed to want? You can see the stark contrast in Megan vs. Sylvia, in the two generations, so clearly here. Both women may have been raised with the same values, but they are far from the same generation. Sylvia has a son in college, whereas Megan is of the era that in just five years from now will make Roe v. Wade happen.

A look at Don’s (I mean, Dick’s) past was ripe with these themes. He explored firsthand what is was to be from a place that was looked at with scorn. He was from that world, and he rejected it the first chance he could. Now, that past is haunting him. He doesn’t seem necessarily thrilled to be with Sylvia -- he could barely smile when she happily welcomed his presence. Yet he says she’s all he wants. He repeatedly goes to her, gives her money in a way that alludes to his past (his mother was a prostitute, as we were reminded), and in what was somewhat a reckless manner that we haven’t seen him do before in regard to his adultery. And all this seems to be torturing him.

Peggy was asked to stab her friend Stan in the back for an account, something she tried to fight, but then eventually gave into (far too easily, in my opinion). It’s obviously a dishonorable move, opposite to Don’s refusal to let go of the Heinz baked beans campaign for ketchup. "Sometimes, you gotta dance with the one that brung ya," he said.

No character shined in this episode -- they all seem to be falling deeper in despair.

Some other thoughts:

Domestic Abuse. Even though “Mad Men” was in a bygone era, sometimes the show doesn’t feel so distant. Take last week’s episode, for example. A vacation in Hawaii, a family member’s death, an affair, newfound stardom -- all are happenings that are easily relatable in 2013. Other times, the show leans heavily on using the time period as a stark, heavy reminder on how different things once were.

This episode drove that point home. I felt it the most during the episode with the reaction to Pete’s latest fling’s encounter with domestic abuse. Trudy and Pete reacted to it almost as though it was commonplace, something that just happened. Pete did offer to call the cops, but the whole reaction to the violence was almost understood. Maybe it was given the circumstances of Pete’s affair, but either way -- that was without a doubt horrifying. Also, since when do women want Pete? Is it because of his apartment? Is it the lure of his Manhattan life? I don't get it.

North Korea. Just as Weiner cleverly inserted a comment about George Romney and called him a clown during the 2012 presidential election, here is a clear reference to the Pueblo incident, in which a US Navy ship was captured by North Korea. Guess what? It’s still captured by North Korea. It’s the only Navy ship that is in captivity right now. Maybe some things never change.

Peggy. I find it adorable that she has formed a bond with her receptionist but is struggling with her subordinates, and is at a loss as to why.

Harry. Although he only had one line, he still cracked me up.

Betty. We had enough of you last week.

Joan. We are still waiting for more.

In this episode, we saw Don crumble further (yet he had some epic one-liners). We saw Pete's evilness reach new, horrendous levels. Last season we saw him lusting after Rory Gilmore (I refuse to call her anything else). This time, we saw him fighting women off.

We saw international world events affect these characters, and we watched them cope with a tough question: What does honor mean, what is its cost, and is it worth it? (Peggy and Trudy are at odds with this one.)

I'll end with the song that ended this episode, and I'll leave you all to decipher its meaning. What did you think of the episode? Who is your current favorite character? What did you think of this episode in comparison to last week's? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

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