Television Review: Mad Men, season 4, episode 5 — “The Chrysanthemum and the Sword”

Hooray! The bitch is back.

After a few great episodes centering on the happenings in and around the SCDP offices, we finally get a glimpse of life back in good old Ossining, NY, land of the repressed housewife. Betty and the former Draper clan take center stage this week to deal with one major, fairly disturbing familial issue: Sally is caught masturbating at a friends' sleepover, and now needs psychiatric help.

Wait, what?

Yes, Don's 10-year-old daughter Sally Draper apparently knows all about the mechanics of sexual intercourse, and is ready to try it out on herself.

Very strange, quite unexpected; and that's why I love Betty-centered plotlines. Don't get me wrong, I, like most of you, can't stand Betty. I realize that she has no redeeming qualities; she's shallow, childish and stubborn. For years she railed against her apparently boring, miserable life as a young suburban house wife, only to go off and marry another man (and, really, the first one of means to pay her any attention). She's infuriating. But I think her character is just fantastic. And January Jones always does a great job of being so convincingly ... terrible. Just pure evil sometimes. Enough so to make you think she must be like this in real life, some beautiful former model trapped in a 1950s hell of her own making. Jones' abilities seem to have grown this season, her consistently well-played Betty displaying some subtle (and on this show it's always superbly subtle, isn't it?) shifts in behavior. She is a very different woman with her new husband, Henry Francis. She is more honest than ever, and says what she wants as though she is talking a dear friend, or a parent. She is equally babied by this older Mr. Francis and more in charge of her own life. She smiles more, even has sex once in a while. Good for you, Betty, I thought.

And then she slapped her daughter.

Sally seems to have picked up at least one quality from a mother who was never very nice to her: No one's going to tell her what to do. She has  been consistently challenging authority this season; screw what people expect of her. At 10, she has already snuck around with a creepy neighbor kid, stolen Mom's cigarettes and smoked one (in a previous season), announced what is probably the beginning of an eating disorder at Thanksgiving Dinner, cut off her own hair, and played with herself. She really brings out the best in Betty, and it is fun to watch. Also interesting is the Henry-Betty relationship. What does he like about her? Her blond hair? Does she remind him of his terrible mother? He and Don share a moment of mutual insight over Sally chopping off her own hair. They both realize it's probably not a big deal; no reason to resort to child abuse, Betty. But her newfound ability to express things easily seems to have translated into blatant violence. After slapping Sally, she exclaims she wants Don dead and later tells Sally she will cut her fingers off. Um. Anyone else think Sally's need for professional "help" is soon going to turn into Mommy-Daughter Psyche Hour? And here I was thinking Sally's hair looked pretty cute.

Don is pretty oblivious to all of this, as fathers sometimes tend to be, especially when they don't live with their families. He entertains a ridiculously young, blonde date at the cook-at-your-table Japanese restaurant Benihana while his kids are visiting for the weekend. He responds somewhat typically when Betty brings up the "P" word in regards to Sally, questioning her need for a doctor. ("Can't she just talk to you?" Don says to Betty.)

But oh, Mr. Draper is the ever-ingenious creative force at work, playing a trick on the competition and securing a new client, Honda. Pete is the one to bring in the account, to Roger Sterling's chagrin. The white-haired 50-something is not too fond of the Japanese, having fought in World War II. Mad Men draws some really neat generational parallels here, as always by turning politics/world happenings into personal affairs for our characters. This is one of my favorite things that the show does. It gives some much needed perspective to situations that are vast and global and impossible to cover adequately in a television period drama. I do hope we soon get the perspective of people from other levels of society. Peggy's venture into the artsy beatnik world is promising, though I'd like to see our characters interact more with African-Americans, as the civil rights movement continues to grow. (A nice subtle scene between the SCDP partners showed them commenting on those who "still think they need a Civil Rights Act." Pete comments that they're just upset Lassie can stay in the Waldorf hotel, and they can't. Ouch.)

The back and forth with Honda defines the office scenes in this episode. Some staunch Japanese Honda representatives are welcome to the SCDP offices by the gang, and they begin negotiating. (And Pete gives the head Japanese honcho a cantaloupe. Really, a cantaloupe? What, were they a novelty in 1964? I think I'm missing something.) My favorite part of this whole thing was when Don described the office as modern and the company as "forward thinking." And then Roger nearly ruins everything by barging into a meeting he was conveniently not invited to and telling the Japs in no uncertain terms that he does not want to do business with them. So much for forward thinking. Pete is furious, and he delivers one of his best exclamations yet (seriously, someone is having way too much fun coming up with these every week): "Christ on a cracker!" he says to Roger. Indeed. Roger as a blatant racist who can't move on into this decade was kind of hard to watch, given he is usually sexy and affable and hilarious.

But the parallel between Roger serving in WWII and Joan's husband on the brink of serving in Vietnam served this episode very well. The Roger/Joan scene in his office was my favorite of hers this week. She was kind and soothing in her Joan way, but I love how time and again she brings herself up to this level, up above the men in her life to this place of wisdom and equality and extreme maturity (even when Japanese businessmen eye her breasts and ponder: "How does she manage to stand up?"). This has always been especially apparent between her and Roger, who was/is weakened by his attraction to (and probably undying love for) the red-haired hottie. They have a wonderful, steady relationship that continues to replenish itself with respect and compassion—in extreme contrast with Joan's marriage, to a man who clearly doesn't respect her and in whose presence she is uncharacteristically meek. Is it wrong of me to hope Joan shacks up with Sterling while the hubby is away?

After the Roger dust somewhat settles, Don devises a plan to squash his competition and grab the Honda account: fool an overly ambitious and egotistical Ted Shaw over at rival ad agency CGC into thinking the boys at SCDP are making a Honda commercial. This will provoke him to make one, draining his already low fund and causing him to break one of Honda's negotiating rules. Of course, it works, and we are given Sunday night's greatest Mad Men scene: Peggy riding around an empty studio on a Honda motorcycle. (Definitely in the running for best scene this season, along with last week's Bert Cooper eating nonchalantly in the background shot.)

One last note: I loved the interaction between Don and Dr. Faye Miller, who I am liking more and more each week. Their relaxed, revelatory conversation in the SCDP break room was refreshing. Can Don please fall madly in love with her? Or just go back to having inappropriate sex? I really can't handle any more of this dating stuff he's doing. It's a bit unnerving and, frankly, he doesn't seem any good at it. See you back here next week for "Waldorf Stories."

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