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Mad Men Recap: The Chrysanthemum and the Sword

August 22, 2010
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Something Wicked This Way Comes, And Its Name Is Betty Draper

Don's new secretary

I’m stepping in for your regular Mad Men guide Grace this week, so be gentle in comment land.

The episode begins with Don getting a little payback for his caddish ways via a decrepit and incompetent secretary who hasn’t quite mastered the art of holding phone calls and being discrete.

You reap what you sow, and this one’s a doozy. Don impatiently tells the old broad that he does not need to be buzzed to ask if he wants a coffee refill, but it would be advisable to buzz him when he recieves a business call.

She loudly announces that a reporter from The Times is on the line. Don takes the call, and is informed that a competing firm landed the Clearasil account. Don feigns ignorance, saying he doesn’t keep track of companies after they resign an account.

The reporter then taunts Don with a tidbit about nemesis Ted Shaw, explaining that Shaw says Don sees him every time he looks in his rear view mirror.  Don lies and says he has never heard of Shaw.

The firm holds a meeting, with Joan presiding. Roger makes a few off color remarks about a laxative company that make everyone a little uncomfortable. That’s nothing. Just you wait.

Pete enthusiastically explains that Honda is taking meetings to represent their motorcycle division, which boasts 50% of the market share.  It’s a big opportunity for the firm.  Everyone is excited, then Roger goes off on a tirade about how they are not doing business with the Japanese, too many of his friends were killed by Pete’s “yellow buddies.”  Everyone is shocked by his vehement speech.  Roger storms out of the room.

The rest of the group decide to proceed as planned with Honda, and are advised to keep Roger “out of the loop” by Burt.  Pete suggests that everyone bone up on their Japanese business knowledge by reading a book called The Chrysanthemum and the Sword.

A little quick research divulged that this book’s complete title is The Chrysanthemum and the Sword: Patterns of Japanese Culture. The book was published in 1946 by an Anthropologist named Ruth Benedict, and was written solely to use Japanese culture contradictions to predict behavior during WW ll.

On one hand, it seemed nice that Pete was making an effort to find out more about their culture, but then, when you find out what the book was truly about, it seems a little more sinister, doesn’t it?

Meanwhile, Don has somehow talked his sweet neighbor, Phoebe into babysitting his kids while he takes Bethany to Benihana’s, no doubt hoping to run into the Japanese businessmen.  Bethany is none too pleased that they are in a decidedly non-intimate Hibachi restaurant.  Don is annoyed to see Ted Shaw.  I really wanted him to snarl and say “Shaw,” like Seinfeld used to say “Newman.”

Betty is horrified by Sally's haircut

Back home, Sally point blank asks Phoebe if she and Don are doin’ it.  She knows that men “pee” into women.  I’ve got to admit, that is a first for me, but bonus points for originality, Sally. Phoebe is shocked and somewhat taken aback.

A few moments later, Sally emerges from the bathroom with newly shorn locks.  Her brother guffaws, while poor Phoebe is terrified about getting in trouble, which indeed she does.  A horrified Don throws some money at her, “Consider it severance, ” he tersely says.  It’s telling that his first and only concern is the grief he will catch from Betty.

When Betty sees the haircut (which isn’t all that bad), she slaps Sally.  You would think the girl was caught torturing animals or commiting arson.  We really get to see how absorbed Betty is with appearances.  She is so, so cold, even more so than in past seasons. Her behavior is completely unwarranted, as her husband points it out, much to Betty’s chagrin. Betty says she wants Don dead.  Yikes.

Back at the office, Pete is hurriedly transporting Chrysanthemums out of the office, muttering about mixed messages and how they symbolize death to the Japanese. The Honda team is taken on a tour of the office, and poor Joan can’t get a break from anyone. The men flat-out gawk at her figure, transfixed by her breasts, which does not go unnoticed by her.

Pete gleefully doles out hand-picked gifts to the men, who seem to be embarrassed by the gesture. To make matters worse, Roger crashes the party.  Seems he was intentionally otherwise occupied, and was furious to find out the men were meeting with the team.  He is rude and insulting, telling the men “We don’t want any of your Jap crap. ”

Afterward, Pete comes in shouting “Christ on a cracker! It has been twenty years.”  He then goes on to accuse Roger of fabricating a campaign against the Japanese in order to keep his Lucky Strike account more valuable.  The men nearly come to blows.  It seems that Pete has hit a nerve.  Don backs up Pete, a rare happening.

Despite all this, the team is given a chance to come up with a campaign for Honda, with some very strict rules-no final product (completed ad), and $3,000 to do accomplish their pitch.

Sally is having a sleepover at a friend’s house, and her friend is sleeping while Sally is watching a show (sorry, didn’t recognize it.)  The mother of the household is horrified (and I mean horrified) to find Sally diddling herself, and promptly escorts Sally home.  She confronts Betty, and tells her she will not have that sort of behavior in her house.  Betty is humiliated.

Did anyone else notice that Betty was actually interrupted during the act of sex to tend to this matter?  The irony runs thick.   Obviously,this is immediate grounds for a psychiatrist, which was quite scandalous during this era.

Poor Sally is sent off to the therapist, but mom Betty meets with her first.  Guess what?  Betty ends up talking to her most of the time.  However, Betty refuses to admit that she might need help,and Sally is carted off to the therapist by the long-suffering housekeeper.

I don’t think that we can ever call Mad Men carefree or fun, but watching the office come up with a scheme to defeat their competition was quite fun.  They decide to trick the competitors into thinking they shot a commercial. Anyone else love seeing Peggy putt about an empty lot on a motorcycle?

The competition fell for it, and was ultimately disqualified, after Don gave a dog and pony show about resigning due to the rules being broken.  It was a nice touch of whimsy in a fairly dour hour.

Finally, Don fires on Dr. Miller, to no avail. He quickly fills her cocktail when he finds out she only wears her ring for effect.  My favorite line tonight, besides “Christ on a cracker,” was, ” I don’t know how you people drink like that around here.  I’d fall asleep.”  No kidding, sister.

So, what did you think of the episode?  Is Betty truly wicked, or am I overreacting? Did Pete hit a nerve with Roger?  And will Dr. Miller succumb to Don’s advances?

You can read our previous Mad Men recaps here.

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14 Responses to “ Mad Men Recap: The Chrysanthemum and the Sword ”

  1. Captain on August 23, 2010 at 12:09 am

    Fantastic write up to a fantastic episode!!!

  2. Betty on August 23, 2010 at 12:11 am

    Wasn’t the show on TV The Man From U.N.C.L.E.?

    This seems like the start of the trajectory that will be Sally. That girl is gonna be trouble!

  3. rose on August 23, 2010 at 12:12 am

    I think the show Sally was watching was the Man From Uncle. Everyone love illya kuryakin (but maybe not that much!)

  4. Euphorbia on August 23, 2010 at 12:38 am

    The tv show they were watching at the slumber party was “The Man From U.N.C.L.E,” a weekly spy show. David McCallum was the blond agent. He spoke with an accent and always wore a black turtleneck. I thought he was the height of cool. So I can’t blame Sally a bit.

  5. Stanley C. on August 23, 2010 at 12:39 am

    The show that Sally was watching was “The Man From UNCLE.” My favourite line of the night was the one about how they wondered how Joan doesn’t tip over.

  6. cindylou on August 23, 2010 at 12:52 am

    Sally actually cut her hair before she asked the neighbor if she was “doing it” with her dad. I distinctly remember because the neighbor says that she’s just trying to distract from the subject at hand (her haircut) in order to avoid answering.

  7. Steven on August 23, 2010 at 1:37 am

    Great episode. Don’s ex is suffering from child sex abuse from her father (clue’s abound). While her father was living with the Draper’s , he molested Sally (clue’s abound). Betty suspects why Sally is acting out and her madness stem’s from knowing what her father was and the guilt from inviting him into the Draper home. Just a hunch.

    Great job Shannon!

  8. Shannon on August 23, 2010 at 4:37 am

    @Steven I agree something fishy was going on with Betty’s father. I wonder if we will have flashbacks?

  9. Shannon on August 23, 2010 at 4:41 am

    Thanks to everyone who caught the Man From UNCLE as the show Sally was watching. I have never seen it.

  10. SteveP on August 23, 2010 at 5:04 am

    “You reap what you SEW”? Where did you learn to farm?

  11. Shannon on August 23, 2010 at 5:12 am

    @steveP clearly, I am not a farmer. My bad.

  12. Floretta on August 23, 2010 at 5:35 am

    The only problem with the possibility of Grandpa Gene molesting Sally, at least, is that this question has come up before and Matt Weiner says “not so.” Betty’s issues lie more with her mother than her father (Mom was the one who nailed her brother’s nudie mag to the bedroom door.)

    Mrs. Blankenship, Don’s secretary, was introduced earlier this season.

    Can you imagine the psych bill if Sally’s seeing the doctor 4 days a WEEK? Now BETTY he’d be happy to pay for. Note also the difference between doctors in 1960 and 1965 (aside from gender): Sally’s doctor, unlike Betty’s Dr Wayne, does NOT divulge to anyone else what is said in session. Whether this is because she’s a child psychiatrist versus adult, or there has been enough shift over the last five years in the notion of confidentiality, I don’t know.

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  14. lillian on August 23, 2010 at 9:08 am

    Poor Sally doesn’t have a chance with Don and Betty as divorced parents still sparing like they are still married. And how come Don never even asks to see his second son, Baby Gene? Was this really 1960′s parenthood? Were divorced fathers of the 1960′s really that distant to their children? All their children seem to do is watch tv.

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