Mad Men recap: What a Piece of Work is Man

The focus shifts from death to sex in this adulteriffic episode that sees Pete and Don misbehaving
Ep. 03 | Aired Apr 14, 2013

GUESS WHO'S NOT COMING TO DINNER Don is left alone with Sylvia after Megan and Dr. Rosen cancel.

Michael Yarish/AMC

"That man is not a salesman," complains Herb, the sleazy toad from Jaguar, of Don, a statement that should have been immediately printed, framed, and labeled as the Wrongest Thing Ever Said. Don could sell fridges to Eskimos in the dead of winter. His gift for telling clients not just what they want to hear, but what they need to hear, has led him to seal more deals than Monty Hall, and he doesn't leave the skill at the office at the end of the day. Don's always selling something, even if it's just the idea of Don Draper, and in "The Collaborators," there is hardly a single moment where he's not winding up the pitch. As Dr. Rosen might say, the man's got a great spiel.

Megan may be the aspiring actress, but Don is a master at the profession. When he comes home to find Megan talking alone with Sylvia and crying, he slaps on the most neutral face imaginable, knowing that he's walking on eggshells in a minefield. He'd be amazing at poker. "Oh...hello," he says nonchalantly as he tries to figure out exactly what's been said between the two women. The storytelling of Mad Men has always been so compartmentalized that you sometimes get the feeling that a lot of shallowly buried secrets might be uncovered rather quickly if you just stuck a couple of people in a room together and had them talk it out. While Don managed to dodge this bullet, he's still got the gun pointed directly at himself and the life he has built with Megan.

Don and Sylvia end up alone together again after their respective spouses drop out of dinner plans, farcically leaving only the two cheating hearts at the table. They bicker over the menu like a bitter married couple on vacation, Sylvia peeved at how easily Don can shut her out when he needs to. Kudos to Jon Hamm, as I've never heard the words "eggplant rollatini" said with such sarcastic venom. The spontaneity of their affair appears to have given way to the mundane obligations of couplehood, that is, until Don gives her a speech as good as any he's made in the conference room of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, growling "I want you, I want you all the time." This performance is matched only by his words of reassurance to Megan later that night when she tells him about her miscarriage. Don is able to look her in the eye and tell her he's ready to have "the discussion" even though he has only just returned from seducing another woman. His salesmanship is impeccable; he can be whatever you need him to be. The song choice at the end of the episode was wrong. He's not just a gigolo, he's the gigolo.

Don wasn't always this way, and he certainly wasn't always the lantern-jawed ladies' man. We see a rare full-on flashback to Dick Whitman as a gawky teenager sporting a haircut borrowed from the head of Moe from the Three Stooges. The scenes at the brothel carry a whiff the show's cousin-on-the-Sopranos-side Boardwalk Empire. It's easy to see where Don's lifelong relationship with women might have gone awry. He hands Sylvia a wad of bills after they finish up, ostensibly helping with the Rosens' cash troubles, but really he's just signing the bill of receipt for their encounter, echoing his earliest experiences with transactional sex. Don relies on women for affection, but can't return that affection fully or monogamously. He'll always end up betraying them, and if there's one thing he should know thanks to Sylvia's literary recommendations, it's that there's a special place in hell for those that betray.

NEXT: Playing ketchup...

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