The season opener looked at internal tensions. “Collaborators” progresses to interpersonal relationships. Like Britain and France in “Munich,” the characters believe their personal issues navigated and compartmentalized. They find, when those issues rear back, they are anything but.
Pete thinks he handled his philandering with a physical barrier. His domestic life with Trudy is at home in the suburbs. His other transactions happen at his pied-à-terre in the city. His cordon sanitaire is hardly as hermetic as he thinks. Pete flirts with a neighbor at a dinner party and invites her to his apartment for a discrete affair. She “wants to be with him,” confesses the indiscretion to her husband who beats her. She, physcially, brings the issue into Pete’s home by fleeing there.
Trudy kicks Pete out. This returns us to Pete’s constant attempts and failures to assert his authority and masculinity. He thinks he is managing Trudy. It turns out, though, Trudy knew everything and had been managing him. He’s now thrust out of his domestic sphere and at the “end of his toilet paper.” He can no longer wipe the slate clean, so to speak. The parallels between him and Don become more palpable by the episode.
Peggy has separated her personal and professional lives. She moves agencies, but keeps the personal connection with her late night conversations with Stan. When Stan, trusting her, lets slip some inside information, her wall crumbles. She now has to choose between those personal ties and furthering her career.
The partners at SCDP know how they got the Jaguar account. This returns to haunt all of them when Herb shows up. Joan has him in her office hitting on her. Herb forces the other partners to sell his lame local advertising campaign as though it is their idea. Don kills the campaign, with his own masterful, ironic touch of deliberately overselling it like a car salesman. He can’t erase what happened with Herb and Joan, but he can score enough of a victory over Herb, at least temporarily, to shake his hand.
Don can still play this suave, moral savior at work. But that’s just one of his many roles. Don compartmentalizes his affair with Sylvia. He compartmentalizes his affair with Megan. He compartmentalizes his past. His whole life (and this show) is a series of compartments. We see him slipping as they bleed together.
He arrives home to Sylvia with Megan in his apartment. Unlike Pete’s confluence of sexual partners, no conflict happens. He wants to end the affair with Sylvia, but keeps getting drawn to her. Fated to have dinner with her alone, she gives Don the chance to end the relationship or push it further. He can’t resist doing the latter.
Don keeps going through the husband motions with Megan. But this neat cohabitation becomes more complicated. Megan reveals she had a miscarriage and wants to have children. Don, so masterful with words in his work life, can only respond with a non-committal “you have to know I’d want what you want.”
We also get more flashbacks to his past, which delve a bit deeper. He had mentioned his “Uncle Mack” before who was nice to him. He also discussed growing up in a whorehouse while he abstained inside of one. Here we see him arriving there. His Uncle Mack is the proprietor of the whorehouse. Don watches him have sex with his stepmother (pregnant with Adam) through the keyhole.
One of the prostitutes instructs Don to “find his own sins” and “stay away from Mack’s.” He cuts ties with that life. He changes his identity. But those formative experiences are a compartment he can’t keep closed. Don stands at the threshold, about to enter one of his artificial worlds, and crumbles to the ground.
“When the end comes, I know. There was just a gigolo. Life goes on without me.”
* Noteworthy in the background: the Tet Offensive and another sports on television reference with Pete Campbell watching Willis Reed on the Knicks.