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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

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Michael Yarish/AMC

Mad Men

TV Show
Current Status:
In Season
run date:
Jon Hamm, John Slattery, Elisabeth Moss

The first breath of adultery is the freest; after it, constraints aping marriage develop.” – John Updike, Couples.

Updike published his racy novel, about the sex-fueled indiscretions of the upper-middle class, in 1968 and it was a big hit. Times were changing, swingers were on their way in, and the uptight sexual mores of yesteryear were giving way to a new frankness. Mad Mens latest episode, set only six months after the Summer of Love, has more sex on its mind than a 14-year-old boy watching a yoga class from the back of the room.

It’s the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, after all. Pete has seen Hair, which he warns (or promises) is “filled with profanity, marijuana smoking, and simulated sexual acts.” He offers to procure tickets for the wives attending a get-together he and Trudy are hosting. (I kept expecting someone to pull out a fishbowl full of housekeys.) Trudy holds her own against the open flirtations of the men, but Pete practically hands the girls a pamphlet and map to the Pete Campbell Manhattan Sex Pad. After the sticky emotional entanglement of last season’s affair with Beth, Pete has learned to adulter like a pro, with his own well-appointed city apartment and everything. “I’ll throw in a hot dog,” Pete offers suggestively, doing all he can not to nudge them with his elbow, waggle his eyebrows, and add, “…with relish!” Later, in the swank safety of the Sex Pad, he’ll whip out, “Is the temperature okay? It’s been known to get hot.” Oh, Pete, you’re slicker than oil on an ice floe.

Pete’s affair is almost a pathetically comedic counterpoint to Don’s. He’s always been Salieri to Don’s Mozart when it comes to manhood. Don lives and breathes seduction and oozes self-confidence. He comes to it naturally, where Pete is always calculating and self-questioning. Don sleeps with women to fulfill some need, to temporarily caulk the Rosebud-shaped hole in his soul that prevents him from ever being content. Pete’s problem is more that he needs the need. He wants success, and success is synonymous with Manhattan Sex Pads and meaningless affairs. But where Don chooses a collaborator who values discretion as much as he does, Pete’s fling (Collette Wolfe) shows up on his doorstep and ends up telling Trudy about the whole she-bang.

It’s always nice to see the words “Guest-starring Alison Brie” in the opening credits and Brie gets to show off in a particularly fantastic scene in this episode, laying down the law on her wayward husband. Trudy has never been the unsuspecting wife obliviously tending the hearth. She’s as iron-willed and unambiguously ambitious as he is, and she’s been pushing him up the social ladder from behind for a long time. She and Pete have always been portrayed as partners in crime, and they treat his career like it’s their first-born child. We’ve seen her strategically rip an RSVP out of the slippery Don Draper, so it’s no surprise that she approaches this incident with a level head and steely determination. “I refuse to be a failure,” she tells Pete acidly, informing him that she’ll be putting him on the short leash from now on. “I’m drawing a 50 mile radius around this house, and if you so much as open your fly to urinate, I will destroy you.” Holy crap. You go, Trudy.

NEXT: O come, all ye unfaithful…