23
Aug
2010
Mad Men: Season 4, Episode 5
The Chrysanthemum and the Sword
Jordan
Mad Men is one of the most serialized television shows of all time, so much so that i often forward the idea that it may shape up to be one of the few tv series that can actually be called novelic (a level of praise I think it unwise to bestow before a series ends, because its impossible to judge a novel, or a novelic series, from the midpoint). So, while "The Chrysanthemum and the Sword was hardly a stand alone episode, and gave us some good progress on a few of the storylines that are shaping up to define this season, it also gave us a fairly self-contained story about Don Draper getting enough of his mojo back to pull one over on the competition and place SCDP at the front of Honda's list to represent their new car line (and we al know how that will turn out).

The attempt to land the Honda motorcycle account (which in the end is just a ruse to test out future candidates for the car line) without spending any of the money they don't really have, and also forcing their main competition to spend money they don't have was just plain fun. Don is annoyed from the first when a reporter calls him to ask his opinion about the competition ("On the record?" "Please." "I've never heard of him." he quips), and even more so when his seemingly brilliant idea of dining at Bennihana's seems to have been thought of by not just his direct competition, but probably every ad agency in the running (this pays off especially well when Joan assures the Honda businessmen that SCDP would never take them anywhere near a Bennihana's). After Roger torpedos the account (which I'll discuss in a moment), its left to Don to ensure his increasingly capable competitor (who has taken Jai Alai and Clearasil from SCDP) does not land this very lucrative account. So Don pulls a fast one, drafting all of his closest confidants to create the illusion that SCDP is filming an expensive commercial when in fact its spending next to nothing. Then, Don swoops in to be the man of honor, resigning from the competition because he heard that "others" had broken the rules and made a commercial. This was the closest we've seen DOn get to his old self this season, and if nothing else, it was a joy to watch.

On Don's personal front, tonight gave us a pretty good run down of all of the women in his life at the moment, when he took Bethany to Bennihana's and still seemed bored by her, left Phoebe at home with the kids and was disappointed in her failure to keep Sally from cutting her hair, and engaged Faye Miller in another scintillating conversation. It is interesting to me that after spending three seasons setting up Don as the man who wanted a blonde trophy wife for the public, and a brunette who could match him toe to toe in private, Don is faced for the first time with a blonde woman who can match him quip for quip and insight for insight in Faye Miller. While Bethany still plays like a younger Betty, and seems to bore Don as much as I'm sure Betty used to, and Phoebe just seems like an annoyance, it seems that Don and Faye's conversations form the philosophical backbones of this season so far. Each week there is at least one exchange between the two that succinctly gets at the point the show is making that week, and this week it is the monent in which Don asks "Why does everyone need to talk about everything?" in disgust at how easily people open up to Faye, only to find himself talking about everything seconds later. If Faye's prediction that Don will be married inside a year comes true, my bets (and my hopes) are on her as the new Mrs. Draper.

Sppeaking of people needing to talk about everything, that seems to be Roger's problem this week, as he refuses to shut up and allow SCDP to land the Honda account because he fought in the war and still holds a grudge against the Japanese. The show has always played Roger off as a man who is less useful to the modernizing world than even he realizes, and less helpful this week than even the older and more out of touch Bert Cooper. Roger has always been the man at the end of his golden era who isn't ready to let go of the good times yet; his skill has always been at concealing his unhappiness and insecurities about his worth behind a wall of cynicism. That wall started cracking last year when Don saw through his veneer after he married Jane (and now seems to me to have been the root of the Roger-Don conflict that I never really wrapped my head around last season) and tonight showed a more desperate and sad side of Roger that he rarely lets out. The Pete-Roger conflict is one the show has been setting up subtly for quite some time, even hinting I think that Roger may have been quite a lot like Pete in his younger years (though definitely with the added bonus of Don-like charm and probably a lot less rapey), and tonight when the two almost fight (and Pete, of course, cowers behind Don immediately) it feels like Roger lashing out at the younger generation who has come up and taken his place much more quickly than he expected. When Joan scolds Roger in one of their increasingly frequent solo chats, he asks, almost forlornly, "Since when is forgiveness a better quality than loyalty?" Roger is a man out of touch with his time, and not ready ot make the changes he needs to if he is to remain relevant at SCDP.

Looking at another subplot in which people "need to talk about everything" Betty sends Sally to a psychiatrist after Sally cuts her hair and dabbles in masturbation. Before discussing Sally briefly, it seems an apt time to address one of the potential problems for Mad Men going forward: the utility of a Betty Draper who is no longer married to Don. I have read a lot of complaints that her character can go nowhere now and will just languish on the side lines, mothering Don's kids so he can continue living his swinging life, and becoming less of a character and more of a monster in the psyche of Sally Draper. We see this a bit in the first half of "The Chrysanthemum and the Sword" when Betty slaps Sally and screams that she wants Don dead, but I think the Betty in the back half of the episode may give us a hint as to where the character is headed from here. Yet when Betty talks to Dr. Edna, Sally's new psychiatrist, we get a hint at the where the character stands now. Betty wrote therapy off to Henry, saying it didn't work for her, but its clear to both Dr. Edna and to us in their scene together that Betty still needs some serious help. As she stares sadly at that dollhouse Dr. Edna keeps in her office, it seems to me a reminder that Betty Draper was raised almost as a doll herself, told to find a husband, create a family, and then to pretty much exist (as her father told her in a dream last season, "You're a housecat. You're very important and you have little to do."). Perhaps deep down inside Betty wants more than the lot she's been dealt in life, but her upbringing so repressed her that she feels she must be content with her newlywed sex with Henry Francis.

Another interesting side ot the character is her relationship with Don, the center of her role in the first three seasons, and, I would argue, still a large part of how Betty can be viewed as a character. Betty was Don's trophy wife, and as long as she didn't have to hear about his indiscretions and lies, she was okay with that role. The problem in their relationship arose when Don couldn't lie any longer--when Betty discovered the truth and they got to a place in their relationship where they could just be honest with one another. It can be noticed that the only character Betty comes out and says the word "masturbation" to tonight is Don, and this is likely because Don is the only person in her life she feels she can be honest with. In every other relationship she must be the doll she was raised to be, tiptoeing around the word, and even the act, of masturbation, yet with Don, she can be herself. The problem this brings up is that Betty doesn't know herself, and doesn't really want to. She knows who she is supposed to be, and she plays that part well, but the reason she left therapy and won't go back, and the reason she left Don and wants him dead, is because she doesn't want to live with the idea of finding herself when she could just try to live like a doll in a dollhouse, replacing Don when she realizes he isn't a very good "husband Doll" and battling cruelly with Sally when she refuses to be a little Betty-doll in a pretty dress with a vacant stare (maybe New Bobby, fuck New Bobby, is around only to show how docile he is in his relationship with Betty. They get along fine, because he's a pretty blank surface).

And, because I say it every week, poor, poor Sally Draper. She cuts her hair in an act of rebellion and an attempt to attract Don's attention, but is immediately regretful because she knows she's broken her mother's idea of her as a doll. And she masturbates to The Man from U.N.C.L.E. which I won't read too much into since I had to look up what show it was (but perhaps it has something to do with the espionage and the character's abilities to seem to be normal people but also exist as spies). There is no question that Sally is troubled, and that she needs help, possibly from a psychiatrist, but for the love of God what this girl really needs is some actual parenting. Don leaves her with a sitter, because even though he actually cares for her he has rarely known how to express it, and Betty slaps her and threatens to chop her fingers off because she refuses to deal with a daughter who isn't a carbon copy of her prim and proper self. Sally does need a therapist, but more than anything else, she needs an adult in her life, like she had with Grandpa Gene for such a brief period, who will try to understand her, communicate with her, and help her navigate the very troubled waters of her relationship with her parents, and of her life in general.

Grade: A

Notes:

-Sally also knows what sex is. "I know the man pees inside the woman!"

-"We don't have to do anything but not criticize them and avoid giving advice."

-"How does she not fall over?"-Honda businessman, on Joan.

-Blankenship calls Pete Campbell Mr. Peters. Her incompetence was played for a lot of laughs tonight, and most landed, but she is going to get old fast.

-Its March of 1965 already! Holy crap that went fast!

-When Betty says Sally masturbated in front of her friend, Don asks "Boy or Girl?" and Betty responds "Jesus, what's the difference?" I think its actually an important question...

-"Do you have dinner plans with your fake husband?" Yep. I'm officially onboard the Don-Faye ship.

-"I know it seems fast, but I felt that children have no conception of time..."and "I feel like Sally did this to punish me" were two huge Fuck off Betty moments for me. She is so unbeliavably self-centered.
Tags: Mad Men
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