Monday, August 23

Mad Men "The Chrysanthemum & the Sword"

Another nifty episode of Mad Men, mostly centered in the SCDP office and the ruins of Don’s former family life.

Pete Campbell who began his Mad Men life as a major putz has transmogrified into a mensch. “If Bernbach can work for Volkswagen” we can do Honda, he says to Roger who is still fighting Guadalcanal twenty years on. The silver fox’s rudeness to the Japanese executives was quite shocking. And considering what a Nipponophile Bert Cooper is, I find it interesting that his anger hasn’t been seen before. Not while having to remove his shoes and sit under Bert’s Japanese art did it ever surface. Just now when they have a shot at the motorcycle company and their future move into cars.

On the other hand, while Bert Cooper is sensitive to the sensibilities of the Japanese and their protocols, he can’t understand what black people want. In contrast, Roger sees that there is still a need for a civil rights law but Bert doesn’t know why "they" aren’t happy. Pete gets to make the best retort: “Because Lassie can stay at the Waldorf and they can’t.”

Pete also challenges Roger’s attempts at sabotaging the Honda pitch by accusing him of wrapping himself in the flag to cover his real motives: to keep Campbell from bringing in business because that will make Lucky Strike and consequently Roger himself less important.

With the benefit of hindsight we know how Americans embraced both Japanese and German products and what a dinosaur Sterling is. What was really fun was watching Don turn Roger’s lemons into lemonade with a devious scheme to make Ted Chaough, the competitor look bad. He’s using the newly won Jai Alai and Clearasil accounts as a ginned up race with Don to promote himself and his fictional agency CGC. And look who’s on his team: Smitty!

Don creates the illusion that they are producing a commercial for Honda which has stipulated “no finished work” to induce Chaough to spend funds unnecessarily and violate Honda’s rules.
And by the way, I love Miss Blankenship. Her cluelessness is great comic relief: she mangles names and announces loudly that Don is “always sleeping in here" and "Your daughter's psychiatrist called."

Back at the ranch, it’s Don’s visitation. Bobby and Sally get Phoebe the nurse across the hall as a babysitter. Don’s got a date with Bethany. WTF? He sees them a few days a month and he has a date?? Ridiculous. No wonder Sally chops her hair off. Phoebe is concerned about how she’ll catch hell from Don. And Don for the “river of shit” he’ll get from Betty.

And Betty’s reaction? She slaps Sally! Her acting out isn’t a cry for help, an expression of rage but a challenge to her authority that has to be squashed. Jeez Louise! As my mother would say, “It will always grow.” But Betty prefers to play Mommy Dearest. A shrink is only called in after Sally is caught masturbating at a sleepover. It wasn’t “in public” and her hostess-friend was sleeping while Sally was overcome with the urge during an episode of “The Man From UNCLE.” Now I loved David McCallum as Ilya Kuryakin, too, but all I ever did was paint his portrait in oils. Still this opportunity for growth was turned into an occasion of shame.

It was pretty predictable that the ticking time bomb that is Sally would make life miserable for all the adults in her life, but most especially, and most deservedly, Betty. Not a coincidence that from the tastefully understated masturbation scene they cut to Henry and Betty’s writhing in their marital bed.

Betty reminds Don in his “bachelor pad” that she is married, unlike him and his “whores.” She wants to blame him for Sally’s behavior. But who drove Don out of the home. Betty attributes Sally’s problems to the death of her grandfather --and that wouldn’t be her fault, would it? But it seems to me that we were seeing issues back when the baby was born.

Sally’s psychologist, “Dr. Edna” tells Betty that maybe she could benefit from talking to someone. Ya think? Only Betty won’t do that ever again, we infer from what she tells Henry (who’s surprised she was in therapy) that it doesn’t help anything. And she saw a psychiatrist because she was “bored.” (Hey, Betty! Only boring people are bored.)

And by the way, Betty and Henry are still living in the Draper house. Are they paying rent or is Don still wimping out?

Don shares a few nice moments with Faye Miller, who it turns out, is not married after all. The rings? A “stop sign.” Don confesses that he doesn’t see the kids often enough and when he does he doesn’t know what to do with them, that he’s relieved when they leave and then he misses them. That’s the dilemma of the divorced dad in a nutshell.

I’m more convinced than ever that they will have a romance. Not a fling. Not a date. A Rachel-style romance. She’s up for the challenge. She turns down his appeal to have dinner with him. “Fake dinner with your fake husband?”

Don’s “unseemly stunt” was a success—CGC is out of the running for the Honda car biz. And SCDP is first in line.

With this episode, Mad Men is definitely back on track.

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