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Mad Men @ the Movies: The Age of Aquarius

Hi all, this is Deborah filling in for Nathaniel for our mutual favorite TV show. It figures that while I'm filling in there are no explicit movie references. However, I think I can keep you engaged with some juicy Broadway and implicit movie references.

Linda Cardellini guest stars on Mad Men

Episode 6.03, The Collaborators, is directed by Jon Hamm to dirty perfection. Make no mistake, this is a very dirty episode, concerned with adultery, broken promises, and things not being what they seem. 

We open with a party at the Campbell home; Pete is offering tickets to "Hair" to two neighbors. It’s a flirtatious conversation, Pete tells the ladies that hair is full of drugs, foul language, and “simulated sex acts.” Flirting is not the subtle art of yore in 1968, we say “sex acts” right out in public! (Spoilers ahead.)

Hair opened on Broadway at the Biltmore Theater in April of 1968 and ran for four years. The Collaborators takes place on and around January 30, 1968 (we know this because of the Tet Offensive in the news), so Pete has tickets to an Off-Broadway production.  I was surprised that Pete didn’t mention nudity among the shows offenses, but Wikipedia helpfully tells us  that the Off-Broadway productions had none.  Pete also disdainfully says the show has a few songs, so it’s helpful to learn that the Broadway production is much more musical than the version he’s talking about.

Hair in 1968... Off Broadway and On

Hair is a perfect reference to encapsulate the way this episode (and perhaps this entire season) is full of anxiety about the encroaching world. 

Arnie Rosen: You know, we’re losing the war.
Don Draper: You wouldn’t know it from looking around here.

People look around, and things seem normal, they seem fine, but they’re not.  A scarier, dirtier world is moving in, and people Don’s age are feeling lost and left behind. Hair baffled an older generation.

I promised an implicit movie reference, one you have to look closely to find.  Don is having an affair with his neighbor, Sylvia (wife of the above-quoted Arnie).  The affair is of a piece with the themes of dirtiness and of appearances being deceiving; these two “happily” married couples sneaking around the service entrances in the most sordid way.

Sylvia Rosen: We can’t fall in love, it wouldn’t be so French anymore.

When Sylvia says their affair is “French,” I wondered if that was a movie reference, especially given Don’s love of foreign films (mentioned way back in Episode 2.05).  Since this is January of 1968, I looked to French films of 1967, and found, of course, Belle de Jour

Belle de Jour stars the magnetic Catherine Deneuve who Don has already salivated over in a past episode. She plays a bored housewife who becomes a prostitute during the day, while her husband is at work. She works at a high-end brothel, submitting to any bizarre fantasy a client might have, thereby fulfilling her own unmet erotic needs. Although never named, quoted, or directly referenced, Belle de Jour’s footprints are all over this episode, right up to the very end, when Don can’t meet with Sylvia in the evening, so she suggests the following morning (Belle de Jour translates to “Daylight Beauty”).  

In The Collaborators, ostensibly happy couples have secret erotic lives. This is also the first episode in which we see that Don really did grow up in a whorehouse (as he said in Episode 5.05), and young Dick Whitman spies on the goings-on there. We also see the return of Herb Rennet, the vile head of the Jaguar dealership association who got SCDP the Jaguar account in exchange for a night with Joan. Now that Joan has experienced the real thing, she has no prostitution fantasies; she is no Severine and will not be sweet to Herb by daylight. 

Further Mad Men Reading
Basket of Kisses: The Coca-Cola of Condiments
Maureen Ryan: "Going Too Far and Not Far Enough"
HitFix: Just a Gigolo

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Reader Comments (13)

That scene between Jonan and Herb was so conflicting for me. On the one hand I was glad to see Joan putting down that dirty man, but on the other hand their history made it so incredibly sad at the same time!

April 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterConrado

Conrado -- totally. I felt for Joan so much. That follow up coda with her drinking silently in Don's office was PERFECT.

Deborah -- i don't think i would've seen Belle de Jour in there but totally interesting read on it. I'm glad you did this one instead of me.

April 15, 2013 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Don and Joan's silent exchange regarding Herb was perfect. To them, the whole Jaguar account is tainted, which is balanced by Don's loyalty to Heinz Beans. Pete, however, could not give a flip what anybody thinks or questions the Jaguar account and will bend over backwards for them. Don flipping Herb's bad idea back in Herb's face is basically showing Herb how he felt finding out how meaningless his work on the Jaguar account was when Herb's carnal desires were priority.

Also these early episodes feel super Catholic. And also super-brunette. When Don has flashbacks of Uncle Mack with his brunette step-mother is that it may have confirmed the 'real' Don always had a type and that maybe Betty was the escape in clinching the blonde, sophisticated beauty. But deep down his first vivid carnal memories were with brunette women and not the blonde ideals. Most of his affairs and dalliances though are heavily brunettes.

Don with Sylvia on one hand is an old pro but on another hand very sloppy. Did anybody think Sylvia finding out that Megan had a miscarriage and revealed to be anti-abortion foretells of Don leaving a bun in the oven with Sylvia (who I am certain would not consider birth control)?

Also those flashbacks do confirm that mythology Dick Whitman said in "Signal 30" that he was raised in a brothel, which I know at the time a lot of

April 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCMG

I'm still recovering from Trudy's "I will destroy you" to Pete.

That's my girl.

April 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDerreck

derreck -- i absolutely love Trudie and that scene read so welll because Trudie is always played so squeaky nice that you can almost see it being the well heeled carefully cultivated disciplined upper crust just asking for "discretion" and so i bought that maybe Trudie has known all along.

April 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

Joan's silent drink in Don's office was perfect; they understand Herb the same way, and differently from the rest of the office.

Nathaniel, I was SO PROUD of myself for seeing Belle du Jour in this episode, and once I saw it, I couldn't stop. It's everywhere.

April 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDeborah Lipp

Dang. Late night commenting made me forget to finish this one:

"Also those flashbacks do confirm that mythology Dick Whitman said in "Signal 30" that he was raised in a brothel, which I know at the time a lot of people thought was Don mythologizing the fact his birth mother was a prostitute. Nope, it seems he was surrounded by men and women who were playing into the same roles that he and Sylvia are now and by none other than his parental figures at that."

April 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCMG

I'm loving Linda Cardellini as much I thought I would. Her scenes with Megan were so tense and full of shifts and her romance with Don is just so hot and wrong.

Isn't "Belle de jour" more about perversions than adultery? I believed she was referring to "La femme infidèle", but it came out in 1969 so I guess you're right. After all, it's not a rare subject in French cinema!

Glad to see Kip Pardue is still around.

P.S. Not happy with teen Don. No one changes (for better) that much!

April 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Great article

When I lived in France, Belle du Jour also meant the pretty woman of the day...like soup du jour is soup of the day...which when Deborah made that reference made me think that Sylvie is just another entre for Don and he'll be on to "the next one"....the next belle du jour. I wonder how she will react when Don tires of her...don't shit where you eat Don (I mean she's just down the hall)...but then again he had the affair with his daughter's teacher too so i suppose he figures he's a dab hand at handling the End.

in considering Don (Dick's) flashbacks from his childhood in Seasons 1-6 so far...I just find his childhood so thoroughly depressing it is like he didnt have one.

April 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKate

Sorry--I should say...I know the film Belle De Jour is a different spelling but in France where I was living a comment Belle du Jour would be referring to that movie,.

April 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKate

Kate -- i always thought it was Belle Du Jour myself but IMDb insists it's Belle De Jour so... any Frenchies want to help me out?

April 16, 2013 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I don't think Sylvia will get pregnant. She is Catholic and anti-abortion. She would have a lot of children. She revealed she had a miscarriage, too, so I think that stopped her from getting pregnant again.

April 17, 2013 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

Although the Broadway version of Hair had more music, the off-Broadway version had enough songs for a cast album, which is the first version of the show I heard as a kid.


April 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAle-Alejandro

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