After last week’s sleepy start to the season, “The Collaborators” brought back the energy that makes Mad Men so great.
Don is in full fledged form, manipulating Megan, Sylvia and the Jaguar executives at will. Don’s ability to make whoever he wants feel what he wants, is juxtaposed with Peggy and Pete’s inability to, both doing a poor Don impersonation in alternate ways. Pete feels like he wants to be an adulterer for the same reason he got into the advertising business or married Trudy, to make him feel more like a real man to be taken seriously instead of an overgrown boy - to try and be what he sees Don as. But without the powers of manipulation, Pete will never pull it off, nor would it make him happy or complete if he did. The mistake Pete made is believing Don’s affairs are because he’s a great man, when in reality Don is fucked up in a way Pete can’t know and thus bears no resemblance to something Pete can emulate.
Likewise Peggy’s laughing on the phone with Stan showed her true colors. She needs advertising to validate herself, but deep down still loves the people she can’t connect with. Peggy, like Don, wants her work to be appreciated but does not have the hunger for power beyond that. Peggy isn’t going to war in the advertising game, she’s going to a artist’s workshop.
The breakout star of the episode is Sylvia. Like Fey from years ago, she has the intellectual cunning to challenge Don and be taken seriously. Perhaps this is what’s revving Don up. Sylvia is written with a seriousness and intensity enough to make me suspect she’s in this story for the long term. Don is so reckless with Sylvia that it’s as if he wants his marriage to go down in flames, the Megan excitement worn off long ago. Don wanted no part of a pregnant Megan no matter what he showed her on the surface. Megan showed more of the mess Don and her mother made her this episode, convinced she’s not good enough for them and is selfish to chase her acting dream.
Don’s mistake is while manipulating Megan and Sylvia is they know he’s doing so, but Sylvia is in too much of a trance to strike back for it for now while Megan doesn't have the courage, but these will only prevent a disaster so long. Don may be aware of this, but nothing is too precious in his life now to be burned down. In regards to his personal life, Don is all but saying “If it dies, it dies”.
“The Collaborators” is a sharp, funny episode with its broken characters both showing confidence and flaws. It’s Mad Men at its best.