With "Mad Men" airing its second episode last Sunday, the psychologizing of Don Draper continues, although this week's episode ("The Collaborators") made that task a bit easier than usual -- at least according to the consternation of some critics. A flashback of Don watching his widowed stepmother sleep with Mack (Morgan Rusler) has been interpreted in several reviews as an answer to Don's business-like approach to relationships.
"But there's more than affairs — or perhaps less — going on in 'The Collaborators,'" writes Alan Sepinwall at Hitfix. "We get another flashback to Dick Whitman's childhood relationship with prostitution — here finally explaining previous references he's made to having been raised in a whorehouse."
Maureen Ryan at The Huffington Post took issue the framing device. "At what point does Dick Whitman's life story become so utterly filled with horror and tragedy that it tips into some kind of parody?" she wrote. "His life is like 50 country songs condensed into one long litany of rejection and pain."
It's understandable that some critics feel let down by what could be seen as an easy explanation for Don's troubled psyche. But for a majority of those who reviewed Sunday's episode, it was far from detrimental to the overall experience; many pointed out the irony of Don's comment that "sometimes you gotta dance with the one that brung ya," while others questioned his constantly shifting stance on prostitution. The flashback is just another piece of the puzzle, not the big picture.
Elsewhere, critics have united against Pete but reached a fork in the road with Peggy. Indiewire's Alison Willmore condemned the character, stating that Peggy "betrayed Stan's trust" and "didn't require much finessing from Ted to let go of ethical reluctance on her end, still anxious to prove herself in terms of talent (though she's not much of a manager)."
Conversely, Ryan wrote sympathetically of the charger, arguing that "her employees find her intimidating, and that's sad and frustrating, because the problem is more their inferior work than her management style" and that the saddest thing would be for Peggy to think that their perception is reality, and for her to begin thinking that her lively mind and strong will limit her romantic possibilities."
All in all, critics seemed to agree that this was a weak episode of "Mad Men," with Willmore calling it "one of the series' weaker installments" and New York Magazine's Matt Zoller Seitz declaring it "one of my least favorites episodes of 'Mad Men' overall." Notably, however, Seitz and Karmen Fox of the Baltimore Sun noticed themes of mortality running through the episode and echoed a prediction Willmore made last week.
Seitz wrote that "television characters never state opinions on abortion unless somebody on the show is going to consider having one," and concluded that the episode foreshadowed coming events, while Karmen Fox of the Baltimore Sun commented on a continuation of death and suicide imagery from the season premiere, highlighting Raymond's admission that he is on a "suicide mission" and Roger's comment about "self-immolation."
Next: Critics weigh in on the season premiere of "Veep," the historical fantasy "Da Vinci's Demons," and the latest installment of "Game of Thrones."