Mad Men: The Chrysanthemum and the Sword

Posted on August 23, 2010

It is impossible for us to sit through an entire episode without shouting out encouragement and support to these characters, as if we were watching a prize fight. When the chips were down once again for the SCDP crowd and they stood in their gleaming Potemkin village of an office at each other’s throats, we cried out to the one man who could pull it all together. The one man who needed to pull it together more than any of tPinhem. “Come on, Don. Get your mojo back.”

Things are still looking pretty bad in Don’s world. Not only does he have the ongoing horror that is Mrs. Blankenship (“You’re always asleep in here.”) a form of penance dictated by Joan for making a good secretary cry, but he also has to deal with rival creative director Ted Chaough of Cutler Gleason and Chaough publicly shaming him. CGC got both the Jai Alai and Clearasil accounts in the wake of their departures from SCDP’s client roster. Ted’s been bragging about it to anyone who will listen and apparently the advertising reporter for the New York Times was willing to listen. He quotes him to Don as saying, “Every time Don Draper looks in his rear view mirror he sees me.” Don gives him a pissy on-the-record retort, “I never heard of him,” but it doesn’t have the bite of Ted’s comment. Between his erratic work behavior and increasingly messy private life, Don is awash in shame at the moment. The man who pitched that brilliant Carousel ad to Kodak is nowhere to be seen and all those around him are aware of it. For a man so desperately private, his flameout has been embarrassingly public.

Possible salvation comes from the unlikely direction of Pete Campbell, who has snagged them a meeting with Honda, which is tapping into the burgeoning motorcycle culture of the time. “I’ve seen them, they’re cute,” says Joan. Roger makes it quite clear he has no intention of doing business with any Japanese client. “I don’t expect you to understand this,” he condescendingly tells Pete, “because you were a little boy ” back when he was watching friends die in the Pacific. He sneeringly refers to them as “your new yellow buddies.” Roger’s Pincasual racism reared it’s head back when he performed in black face to somewhat mixed reaction at his Kentucky Derby party.

In fact, the racism that permeated the episode could be seen as a commentary on the Selma to Montgomery marches, which were occurring over the month of March 1965. Bert doesn’t understand why “they” can’t be happy since they got what they wanted, referring to the Civil Rights Act. “Because Lassie can stay at the Waldorf,” Pete tells him, “and they can’t.” Bert, like Roger, is part of an older generation for which casual racism was a part of life. But that world is crumbling around them and Roger will have to be shamed over and over again before sheepishly admitting his offense.

And offense it was. One thing about this show, it’ll go there when it has to. After the gentlemen from Japan receive a hilarious tour of the office – “I don’t know what this room is for.” “How does she not fall over?” “They’re not exactly subtle, are they?” – Roger stumbles upon the meeting he wasn’t informed about. “Then again I know how some people love surprises,” he says, referring to Pearl Harbor. “They won’t know it’s over until you drop the big one. Twice.” Not satisfied with stopping there, he takes it to the point where no interpreter is needed, getting in their faces and loudly declaring, “We beat you and we’ll beat you again. And we don’t want any of your Jap crap.” “If you could only know my embarassment.” says Bert to the businessmen. Shame.

After the meeting, Pete is livid and because this isn’t the old SC, he’s willing and able to give Roger a piece of his mind. “Will you shut up?” He reminds him that it’s been almost 20 years since the war, a statement that only illustrates to us how recent it was for some of these characters. The first Gulf War was 20 years ago. But then he goes for the jugular, humiliating him by suggesting he just wants to sabotage accounts in order to keep the agency dependent on Lucky Strike, and therefore, him. It’s an accusation that literally sends Roger lunging at Pete’s throat. We’re still trying to build something.,” Pete says with disgust. To our surprise, Don backed hPinim up. “He’s right.”

It takes Joan to snap Roger out of it. He tries to tell her about the men he knew who died but she cuts him off, having no desire to go down this road with a husband about to put on his uniform for the first time. “You fought to make the world a safer place and you won and now it is,” she tells him. “You think so?” he asks. “Really?” “I have to. Anything else?” Everyone in this world is believing what they have to in order to get through their day.

While Roger is being shamed into admitting that the war is over, Don’s life continues to be messy and humiliating. “You’re going to see a girl aren’t you?” asks Sally as Don gets ready to leave her and Bobby with Phoebe, the nurse from down the hall. “I don’t like that.” “You don’t have to,” he replies. A typically Don thing to say. He rushes out the door for a repeat date with Bethany, the wannabe actress and friend of Jane Sterling. She chides him for only taking her out 3 times in 5 months. Clearly, he’s not feeling Bethany, but he needed a date so he could go out to Benihana’s and get a little taste of Japan via New York City. Slimy Ted Chaough shows up and after taunting him about Clearasil, calls Don out for being there for the same reason he is: because of the Honda pitch. “The good news is I think it’s gonna bePin between us. The bad news is the best man is gonna win.” Bethany asks who that was and Don responds, irritated, “A fly I’ve been swatting away.”

Meanwhile, back at his bachelor cave, Sally is acting out. “You look like a mongoloid!” yells Bobby in delight at the sight of her hacked hair. “I just wanted to look pretty,” she tells Phoebe and asks her if she’s “doing it” with her father. Phoebe is stunned. “I know that the man pees inside the woman,” says Sally to prove she knows what “doing it” means. “Do you know the river of shit I’m going to get from her mother?” asks Don when he finds out what happened.

It was weird seeing Betty and Henry all cozy in the former Draper living room with baby Gene on the floor. Does Don ever see that kid? Betty of course provides the predicted river of shit, going ballistic on Sally when she sees her hair. “Jesus Betts, is that necessary?” asks a horrified Don when she slaps her daughter across the face. Even Henry was appalled at that one.

It seems they’re also going there with Betty, making her into far more of a unquestionably bad mother this season. Not because she slapped her kid, lots of parents did back then. But because of why she slapped her. Among her outbursts, she reminds Sally that picture day for school is coming up.Pin It’s all about appearances with Betty. “All I ever wanted was long hair!” she yells, when Don asks her if she didn’t do the same thing as a kid. “My mother would threaten to cut it off!” That explains a lot. She tears into Don for being negligent. “Because you’re so good with her,” he counters. Unfortunately, the only decent parent in the room is Henry, who talks Betty down and gets her to realize this isn’t the worst thing in the world.

No, the worst thing in the world (at least in Betty’s eyes) was yet to come. It seems little Sally Draper has a thing for Illya Kuryakin and just wanted to enjoy being a girl. Unfortunately, she picked the wrong place to do it and Betty got a full blast in the face of what it feels like to be the divorced woman in the community. In other words, she got the Helen Bishop treatment. “I don’t know what goes on here but that kind of behavior is not allowed in my house and certainly not in the presence of my daughter.” Faced with another woman making insinuations about her morals, Betty rushes to assure that she’s just like her. “I would have done the same thing.” This is humiliating to Betty. “That woman will tell everyone,” she complains to Henry. She foists some of that shame on Sally, shaming her for doing “those things. “You don’t do them in private and you ESPECIALLY don’t do them in public.” She threatens to cut off her fingers in retaliation.

Henry thinks Sally needs to see a psychiatrist, which causes Betty to admit that she once visited one. “I wasn’t happy,” she tells him by way of explanation. “Can we leave it at that?”

Back at SCDP, Bert clues the partners in on the fact that there’s no chance of getting the Honda account after Roger’s outburst. Their honor would prevent them from going forward with such an agency and they would be expecting SCDP to do the honorable thing and resign. Don thinks they should break the rules of the competition and do a full-blown commercial for them. Bert advises against it. It would cost too much money and it would Pinoffend the client. Pete says they’re dead in the water. Another disappointment to add to the pile.

Betty calls him to inform him that “we” decided Sally needed to see a psychiatrist. Don is once again skeptical but even he can’t hide his shock that his little girl is masturbating. “With a boy or a girl?’ “Jesus Don, what difference does it make?” “You know what kind of little girls do that?” she asks him angrily. “Fast ones!” She turns it around and places the blame squarely on him. “I don’t care what you do but just don’t do it there,” she tells him. “Jesus, do you ever hear yourself?” he says with disgust.

But Don has had enough with disappointments and humiliation. “A man is shamed by being openly ridiculed and rejected. It requires an audience.” From the depths of his own shame, he comes up with a plan to regain a little of what he’s lost and publicly shame a rival at the same time.

Later he shares a little sake with Faye in the SCDP kitchen (where she’s barefoot, by the way). They open up a bit to each other. “Why does everybody need to talk about everything?” A quintessential Don statement. “I don’t know, but they do,” she tells him. “When they’re done they feel better.” She admits she’s not married and then admits that she never tells anyone what she just told him. He admits he’s confused by his own children. “It’s not going well.” “When I drop them off, I feel relieved, and then I miss them.” “I’m pretty sure that if you love her and she knows it, she’ll be fine,” assures Faye.

Neither Don norPin Betty are likely to seek the psychiatric help they both clearly need so they’re going to do it in roundabout ways. Don by opening up to Faye and Betty by making her meeting with Sally’s psychiatrist all about her. In fact, everything is all about her. “I feel like Sally did this to punish me somehow for everything,” she confides to Dr. Edna. “I know the divorce is mostly to blame but she’s been different ever since my father died,” she says, shifting blame. “I wish he had met Henry. They would have gotten along.” She barely talks about Sally at all and when she does, it’s in comparison to herself. “My mother was very strict. My goodness, if I ever did what Sally did. ” “You have to believe me, I had to get divorced. She’s doesn’t understand that it’ll be better,” she pleads. Dr Edna, because she has two eyes and a brain, suggests that Betty might benefit from a little psychiatric help herself. Betty demures, insisting she’s fine. Dr. Edna suggests she meet with her once a month to discuss Sally’s progress. Betty agrees, and when the doctor leaves her alone for a moment, Betty looks at a dollhouse and smiles. She will have that perfect house and so what if she switched the daddy doll out for one that was more to her liking?

In the end, Don pulled a classic Don move and turned adversity into triumph, shame into honor. He shamed the Honda men into admitting that they had allowed an unfair contest (“You did not honor your own rules.”) and he beautifully manipulated a rival into shaming himself by breaking the rules. They don’t have the Honda account because Honda has no intention of taking their motorcycle business away from their current agency, but by eliminating a rival and making himself look honorable and strong in the eyes of a potential client, he got SCDP first shot at getting their automobile account. It’s not a definite win, but considering where he was, it’s a major step in the right direction for Don.

Unfortunately, poor Sally is still wallowing in the depths of shame, forced to see a Pinpsychiatrist and without her mother even there to see her off. Carla had to be the one to push her gently toward the door. On the other hand, therapy of some sort can only be good for the girl and Dr. Edna, God bless her, seems to be horrified by what Sally has for a mother.

Bullet points and we’re out:

* “Fake dinner plans with your fake husband?” The door is wide open for Don and Faye and he’s getting his mojo back bit by bit. Good idea or disaster? Or are we off base and he’ll hook up with Phoebe. It’s like playing Mystery Date!


* Closing out the episode with Doris Day singing “I Enjoy Being a Girl.” That is hilariously sick.

* “Any luck on that call to California?” “I’m sorry, no answer.” Just what is going on with Anna?

* Nice to see Smitty again. Wasn’t expecting that. We loved the way he described Don. The old Don that was worshiped as he walked the halls of Sterling Cooper. “Definitely doesn’t think the rules apply to him He once disappeared for a month. Always thinking on the edges of where you are. I don’t know, he’s a genius.”

* Watching Peggy ride her little Honda around and around that sound stage, all we could think was “She must think she has the coolest job in the world.”

* “Have a drink. It’ll make me look younger.” Even when he’s being appallingly racist, Roger still gets some good lines in.


[Photo credit: AMC TV]

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