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'Mad Men' recap: Trudy can't fail

April 15, 2013|By Meredith Blake

It seems to me things in Vietnam might have turned out differently for the United States if  only we’d had Trudy Campbell fighting on our side.  Because, as I’ve long suspected and as Pete discovered in Sunday’s “Mad Men,” hell truly hath no fury like a Trudy scorned.

Though she doesn’t get much screen time, Trudy has long been one of my favorite characters on this show. Her unique ability to be perky, gracious and utterly ruthless all at once, and to get alpha males like Don Draper to bend to her will without so much as mussing a hair is, in a word, inspiring.

And, unlike the many other unhappy housewives on “Mad Men,” Trudy is nobody’s fool.  When she agreed to let her husband keep an apartment in the city at the end of last season, she knew exactly what that really meant: that Pete wanted a safe place to carry on his various affairs. So when his latest dalliance, with a neighbor named Brenda, backfires violently -- a violation of their tacit understanding -- Trudy goes ballistic.

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Trudy being Trudy, she doesn’t want a divorce. “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,” she warns Pete, and there is every reason to believe her.

I suppose she could be accused of hypocrisy or gold-digging or caring more about her image than her actual marriage, but the way I see it Trudy is just a pragmatist: She knew Pete was cheating all along, but as long as he kept it discreet, she was willing to accept it. It was an open marriage, of a sort, and as long as she was the one “granting permission,” as she puts it, then she could maintain a sense of dignity and self-respect.

Personally, I was thrilled to see Trudy lay down the law.  By the time Brenda showed up at Pete’s gross under-stocked bachelor pad, I was dreading yet another Pete Campbell-has-an-icky-affair storyline.  Why lovely young women flock to the smarmy, wooden Pete like so many flies to honey  is something I will never understand. Seriously, it may be the least believable thing about this entire series. But I’m at least glad he’s not getting away with it anymore.

Trudy’s speech hints at the broader themes of loyalty, compromise, self-interest and collusion that run throughout this episode, “The Collaborators,” which, not coincidentally, is set amid the Tet Offensive in late January and early February of 1968. In that event, the Viet Cong violated the terms of a temporary cease-fire by launching surprise attacks on American targets; in the fictional world of “Mad Men,” the rules are murkier, the betrayals less explicit and the victories more pyrrhic.

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Take Don, whose New Year’s resolution to end things with Sylvia has faded as quickly as most. Not only is he still sleeping with her, but he’s now forking over pocket money once she’s blown her allowance from Arnie. It’s a small detail, but a telling one: He’s smoothing over a point of contention between husband and wife while quietly usurping Arnie’s role as provider. Talk about a sneak attack.

For most of the episode, Don refuses to feel guilt about the ongoing affair. Sylvia is more conflicted after a heart-to-heart in which Megan reveals she’s miscarried. The pregnancy wasn’t planned -- damned those marijuana cigarettes -- and so the miscarriage is something of a relief. At the same time, Megan is devastated to lose something she didn’t really know she wanted in the first place.

Her mixed emotions are perfectly understandable, which makes it even crueler when Sylvia drops a guilt trip on her. How dare she not want to go through with the pregnancy? Sylvia’s behavior can, in part, be explained by her own shock in learning that Don and Megan still lead an active sex life -- that they haven’t drifted apart, as he claimed. In her mind, the affair was justified as long as she could tell herself the Drapers were unhappy.

Don is less afflicted by guilt. When he and Sylvia wind up dining alone, he sees it as a happy accident. Her insistence on feeling bad right up until the moment when he’s taking off her dress is, Don implies, an act as dishonest as their infidelity. Why pretend to feel lousy about something that brings them both such obvious pleasure?

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