Monday, August 23, 2010

Mad Men recap: Flora and bladed weaponry

Roger Sterling expresses some mild displeasure over WWII with Mr. Saito.
 Spoilers for this week's "Mad Men" below. Don't click through if you don't want to know.

First of all, there needs to be a moment of full disclosure here -- our usual cathode ray tube doyenne "TV Writer" is on holiday with her betrothed. She's ground out a set of keys for me, Bill Scurry, a kindred spirit in matters of flickering images, to use on the metaphorical "Mad Men" Ferrari, a la the parking garage guys from "Ferris Bueller's Day Off." That said, creator Matt Weiner has given us much to much to chew on with an episode titled "The Chrysanthemum and the Sword." (The name refers to a book about Japanese culture written in 1946 by an anthropologist named Ruth Benedict, who was looking to explain the finer points of the former's shame-based culture -- but more on that a minute.)
In this ep, Sterling Cooper Draper Price are reeling from losing jai alai and Clearasil, a point ground in by a New York Times reporter pinging Don Draper for answers about the agency's performance. Lo and behold, a wonderful opportunity (and the A-plot) drops into SCDP's laps in the next sequence when Bert Cooper, Pete Campbell, and Lane Pryce announce that Honda (then a fledgling presence in the U.S., as compared to what they will become) are angling to leave competing agency Grey. As the gang converges on a strategy session to nail the account, Roger Sterling exhibits some of his world-class sensitivity (cue "My Old Kentucky Home") as he damns the effort to win the Japanese company's business, still harboring some resentment over that minor border skirmish in the Pacific back in the 1940s.
Later, on the domestic front, Don is entertaining a visit from Bobby and Sally by ditching them with that Rachel Bilson-looking nurse down the hallway (now moonlighting as a babysitter for Don's kids, and not just his own drunken keester). He takes that blonde from a few episodes ago, Bethany, to Benihana to watch the guy flip shrimp tails into his toque. Meanwhile, at his apartment, unmonitored Sally absconds to the bathroom to chop her hair Jean Seaberg-style off with scissors, engaging the second plot line of the evening: "What's Wrong With Sally This Week?" (Sally did it because she thought that might make her more attractive to daddy, a man who clearly favors floozies with bad coiffures.) Don comes home to discovers the sitter's negligence, and knows that he will have hell to pay from his pouty scarecrow of an ex-wife Betty. Important to note: While on the robata date, Don comes across weaselly competitor Ted Shaw, who mentions he also has a sit down with Honda.
Don brings the kids home to Betty and her new husband Feckless Freddy (Henry Francis), wherein Betts hauls off and belts her newly-shorn daughter, exhibiting an astonishing lack of self awareness when it comes to matrilineal impulse control issues. Sally's issues drive the B-plot from here on out, culminating in another shame-filled incident on the way for Betty to repress as her daughter is caught "playing with herself" whilst watching David McCallum essay the role of Napoleon Solo on T.V.'s "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." at a sleepover. You see what I see coming? The ’70s are going to be a fun hornet's nest for the Draper family!
The SCDP crew engages the Honda team (sans Japanophobe Roger), having crammed on Japanese culture by distributing the aforementioned anthropological text. Don and the gang offer the whole cultural schmear to the Japanese, with the bowing and the gifts, and everything goes well enough until Roger shows up unannounced to exchange some friendly banter with Honda chief Mr. Saito in regards to "dropping the Big One on them. Twice." This subtle jibe alters the tone of the meeting, alienating the potential client and putting Don on the defensive. Postgame, Don recognizes the need to dazzle the Japanese to make up for the Silver Fox's rudeness and thereby joust with Ted Shaw for their dollar. He then does what Don does best -- he formulates a labyrinthine scheme to outfox Shaw and win back Honda. To whit: Honda issued each competing ad agency $3,000 to put together a minimal platform containing "no finished work," meaning only storyboards and type. Don concocts a grand lie about a SCDP "spec commercial" for Shaw to swallow, knowing full well the weasel will try to mimic the effort, thus alienating Honda and their vitally modest requests. Sure, it's a complex scheme, but this is what Weiner and his crew have Don Draper do best. (Spoiler alert: Shaw takes the bait and torpedoes his agency's pitch. Score another one for Lex Luthor!)
Back in Ossining, Betty makes the decision to have Sally see a child psychiatrist, a decision met with lukewarm enthusiasm by "Dad Of The Year" candidate Don. In the process, Betty meets with Dr. Edna, who does a little plumbing in Pouty McPouterson's grey matter with regards to her own unhappiness. The flaxen mannequin agrees to come in once a month herself, just to hear about how Sally's head shrinking is going. This fifth episode ends on one hand with Don scoring a coup with the big motorcycle account, and on the other with Sally starting therapy.
As mentioned earlier, byzantine Don Draper schemes are when "Mad Men" really opens up the accelerator on the highway (to use Honda imagery). Like that great sequence in last season's finale, "Shut the Door. Have a Seat," where Don recruits Ocean's Eleven to open the new SCDP, there were a great deal of snappy ruse sequences employed to trick Ted Shaw into insulting the shame-minded Japanese clients. Unrelated, an exchange between Don and marketing analyst Faye reveals that her prominently-presented engagement ring is a fake, a "stop sign" as it were, to throw potential Drapists off her scent. Set your watches, because it should only take mere seconds until Don has had his way with her market data.
I think what's most interesting about this episode, however, is not the pyrotechnic competence of Don at work, but rather, the criticism Weiner is making of his parents' generation. Don and Betty watch helplessly as Sally acts out and breaks down, without a lick of awareness of how their own deplorable behavior affects her. In the same way Weiner's former series "The Sopranos" dealt with children inheriting bad behavior from mom and dad, I'm glad to see that similar theme get the marquee here. If Peggy Olson is on her way to becoming an archetypal second-wave feminist, then Sally Draper is on the road to becoming an archetypal Me-Generation casualty.


IScreen said...

This is excellent! One note: Sally's psychiatrist is played by Patricia Bethune, who also plays drunken slag Jane Bodehouse on "True Blood." Thus, I don't have high hopes that she'll have a positive impact on Sally's mental health. But perhaps that's an unfair judgement.

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