Mad Men Recap 6.3: Sexual Collaborations as Trade Secrets

“We consider it quite a vote of confidence,” Ken Cosgrove says, smiling awkwardly at the Heinz Beans representative named Raymond. The younger, more successful Heinz Ketchup Guy has just strolled out of the office. Ken and the gang have been led to believe that they are on the verge of landing Heinz Ketchup as their next central product for advertisement. Secretly, though, Raymond is ragingly jealous of his younger colleague’s meteoric success and tells Ken and Don Draper that they’re not to pursue business with Heinz Ketchup, because, as Raymond puts it, he’s not about to let that guy screw his girlfriend.

Of course, one variation of “a vote of confidence” is when a person shares sensitive information in confidence in such a way that suggests trust. In this particular situation, it’s notable that Raymond confides in Ken and Don so as to preclude a humiliating situation that he likens metaphorically to sexual infidelity. More notable, though, is the irony that Don appears compliant in ensuring that fidelity. For it’s as evident as ever in this episode that sexual deviancy is one of the primary secrets of the trade when it comes to both ads and madness.

Within this purview, it makes sense, then, that Weiner would bring Herb around the offices. In case you forget, Herb is the sleaze who Joan Harris decided to sleep with to not only secure Jaguar for the agency, but to secure a spot as a partner in what is now presumably “Sterling Draper Campbell Harris.”  It was a business move all around, but the sexual encounter didn’t remain much of a secret–at least around the office. After exchanging barely masked unpleasantries with Joan, Herb proceeds to tell Don and Pete Campbell that he wants to gain an advantage in selling Jaguars by having them shift the advertising from a national emphasis to more of a local one. But, in the meeting with the Jaguar big shots, Herb wants Don and Pete to be the ones who are presenting the shift in advertising as the supposed right move without the genesis of the idea being traced back to him. Manipulating the situation to his personal satisfaction is still clearly Herb’s business model.

Herb’s sexually charged power-posturing then cuts to a scene featuring Peggy stuck at the office late, phoning her old pal and former colleague, Stan, who answers the phone with a quip about being a condom salesman. Classic Stan. But, also, classic Peggy and Stan, for looming over these endearing and friendly little cross-company conversations is that they’ve had their “let’s just have sex and get rid of the sexual tension,” moment. Given this intimate familiarity, the condom joke is less awkward than it is palling around. It’s against this backdrop that Stan, for kicks, confides in Peggy, a business rival, about the Heinz fumblings at the office that day. Otherwise willing to maintain a sense of fidelity to Stan and, to some degree, her former associates, Peggy finds herself in an awkward position when her boss walks in on the secret conversation and wishes to leverage it into a shrewd business move. For Peggy, fidelity is at stake one way or the other.

All of this complements the focal point of the episode, though, which is the obvious parallel stories of Don’s and Pete’s respective unfaithfulness to their wives. The episode begins with Pete and his wife Trudy hosting a dinner party for neighbors, each of them engaged in separate flirtatious exchanges; having just found reason to exit the elevator he was sharing with his mistress’s heart surgeon husband, Don is shown in the subsequent scene in bed with the heart surgeon’s wife, Sylvia (yes, the heart surgeon metaphor is on the nose). The episode routinely interweaves Pete’s and Don’s infidelity. For much of the episode what seems to stand out about the parallel stories is that Don seems masterful at eluding consequences–at performing a fake identity–in a way that Pete is barely amateur.

When Sylvia feels uncomfortable about maintaining her affair with Don in front of their spouses, Don’s response, as they lie in bed together, is to say that “this didn’t happen,” and, as he points to his head, he continues, “it’s all in here.” It’s the epitome of madness, perhaps, to be under the delusion that one can inconsequentially bury secrets like sexual infidelity, but Dick Whitman is banking on his ability to “play shuttlecock with all of existence” even while he continues to vomit up his past like “Don Draper” is a virus he can no longer stomach. Pete’s situation seems to counter Don’s in that Pete’s mistress gets discovered and beaten by her husband, which leads to Pete’s wife–not ignorant to her husband’s infidelity–kicking him out of their house. The consequences find Pete almost as soon as his eye goes astray; as it turns out, Pete’s infidelity did happen and it wasn’t all in his head. In short, his deceit mattered as deceit.

Near the end of the episode, a staffer comes by Pete’s office and expresses admiration for Pete’s determined work ethic and suggests, that, even if Pete is tired, at least he loves his job. “I’m glad it looks like that to you,” is Pete’s reply.

“It’s all about what it looks like,” Pete mutters, still wounded from the exposure of his secrets.

What of Don, though–is his affair real or all in his head? Does the master of false identity have the power to exchange the truth for a lie without destructing? Of course, we know the answer, but things seem to be catching up to Don himself at a rapid rate. Don discovers Megan’s secret miscarriage (the continuing theme of death, made sexual), and, what’s more, when he goes to alleviate his anxiety, he can’t enter his mistress’s apartment because the heart surgeon is home–a real obstacle as it turns out. And so by the end of the episode, Don’s posture isn’t one of delusional confidence–it’s a slumping against the wall and down to the floor, feeling anything but at home in the world.

Try as they might to put a false advertisement on their sexually charged power plays and identity mutilations, these ad men can’t keep their Madison Avenue trade secrets from haunting them. As such, perhaps a sane existence goes much deeper than surface appearances. Perhaps sanity is about much more than “what it looks like.”

Mad Men Recap 6.1 & 2: The Hawaiian Dark Wood

About Nick Olson

Nick Olson (Associate Editor) loves the Triune God, his family, the arts, and culture. In 2010, he graduated with his MA in English from Liberty University. He now resides in central PA with his wife, Eliza, and their young son. When he’s not reading, watching films, grading papers, or enjoying his backyard, he’s plotting in hopes to pursue a PhD in American Literature with socio-philosophical emphases. He takes a James Hunter-approach to culture: affirmation and antithesis, but always in love. He watches the Pittsburgh Steelers and the NBA, and thinks that Colbert is often right, but always funny. Nick strives to live day-to-day in the eschatological Light that is the hope of the resurrected Christ. He’s written for Filmwell, Books & Culture, Christianity Today, Think Christian, Curator, and Literature & Belief.
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