Before reading this post, enjoy dinner and a show at a Benihana restaurant, then watch last night’s Mad Men.
Sally Draper got a haircut, and Roger Sterling a dressing down, in the fifth and strongest episode of the fourth season. Streamlined compared with last week’s scattershot plot, the new hour, titled “The Chrysanthemum and the Sword,” focused on just two stories: one detailing Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce’s attempt to land the Honda Motorcycle account, the other of Sally’s troubled behavior and its effect on her mother, stepfather and adored dad. The first plot line showed something in little evidence lately — why Don Draper is a Mad Ave. legend — while the other indicated his limited understanding of, and control over, the two most important women in his life.
Written by Erin Levy (who began as a writer’s assistant and was promoted to scripter; she’s the show’s own backstage Peggy Olson) and suavely directed by series-TV veteran Lesli Linka Glasser (from Twin Peaks to Freaks and Geeks, plus E.R., The West Wing and, two weeks ago, a True Blood episode), “The Chrysanthemum and the Sword” inched the show’s timeline from late Feb. 1965 to mid-March. A New York Times front page and a Chet Huntley news report on NBC refer to civil rights marcher and Unitarian clergyman James Reeb, who died on Mar. 11, two days after men in Selma, Ala., cracked his skull. A few days later, Sally is watching a Man from U.N.C.L.E. episode, “The Hong Kong Shilling Affair,” which aired Mar. 15. There’s also an allusion to the Beach Boys’ hit “Help Me, Rhonda,” which appeared on their Mar. 1965 album The Beach Boys Today! and was released as a single the following month.
“A Deerfield chum” has brought Pete in contact with the Honda honchos, apparently restless at Grey Advertising and considering a new agency to handle their big motorcycle account. (The company had yet to introduce automobiles to the U.S.) Everyone at SCDP is a-slaver at the prospects. To read the minds of their inscrutable potential clients, the execs do a quick cram, dining at Benihana and skim-reading The Chrysanthemum and the Sword, anthropologist Ruth Benedict’s 1944 study of the Japanese character. Roger will have none of it. Blaming the Japanese for the deaths of his World War II buddies two decades before, he puts the kibosh on the courtship. The others proceed anyway, and when the Honda brass comes to visit, Roger bursts into the meeting and plays a one-man round of Get the Guests, ending with “We don’t want any of your Jap crap.” After Roger storms out, the other members of SCDP apologize for their ugly American and are invited to enter the competition for the Honda account.
Roger, still fuming in his office, tangles with Don and then Pete, who’s been getting bolder/snottier, and now gives his top boss a blast. “You’re wrapping yourself in the flag so you can keep me from bringing in an account,” he shouts at Roger, “because you know that every chip I make, we become less dependent on Lucky Strike and therefore less dependent on you.” Roger takes a swing at Pete, and Don disperses the fracas, telling Roger, “He’s right.” Pete is right, and cruel, and, typically, thinking of himself as the righteous man victimized. (Just a tad off-message, he also snaps, “I’m expecting a child.”)
Don’s been dogged lately by Ted Chaough (Kevin Rahm, the gay realtor from Desperate Housewives), a partner at the rival, same-size agency Cutler Gleason and Chaough. Ted has taken on SCDP’s old clients Clearasil and Jai Alai, and regards himself, publicly, as the new Don Draper. Now he’s fighting Don for the big new account; “Help help me, Honda. —Love, Ted Chaough” is his little taunt. Don, a whiz at corporate gamesmanship, has an idea. “Chaough said he’s in my rear-view mirror. Well, guess what? I’m going to make a left turn, right off a cliff.” He’ll run a variation on the old Potemkin Village ruse: get the word out that he’s making an expensive TV spot, then prove to the Honda bigwigs that he’s more observant of Japanese etiquette than they are. Thanks to Joan and Peggy, the trick works. And though it runs too smoothly by half, the stunt reminds viewers that, whatever his manifold failings, Don is damned good at his job.
And dismal at parenting. Back at the apartment, Don has his two elder children, 10-year-old Sally and seven-year-old Bobby, in his care for the weekend. But why stay and play with them when he can go out to Benihana with a standby date? That’s Bethany Van Nuys (Anna Camp, who as the sinister minister’s wife Sarah Newlin on True Blood had an affair with Jason Stackhouse), a sort of Allison, Don’s ex-secretary, but with a more complicated hair style. Bethany? “I don’t like that,” Sally tells Don. “You don’t have to,” he replies, and leaves them in the care of the nurse from across the hall, Phoebe (Nora Zehetner, who was Eden McCain on Heroes and Dr. Reed Adamson on Grey’s Anatomy).
Abandoned by her father often during the marriage, and more so when it broke up, and now in his weekend-dad duty, Sally slips away from Phoebe and Bobby into the bathroom and cuts her hair — not severely, but sloppily and noticeably. Sally wants, needs, pleads to be noticed. She also wants to know about her father’s sexual relationships, and whether Phoebe is one of them. “Are you and Daddy doing it? I know what it is,” she says, citing schoolyard wisdom. “I know that the man pees inside the woman.” Told to talk with her mother about such things, Sally says no. And Phoebe has short hair and Daddy likes her. Now the true confession: “I just wanted to look pretty” — obviously, for her dad. She’d fit in perfectly with the “girls” Dr. Faye Miller grilled last week about self-esteem and finding Mr. Right, except that for Sally the right and only man is her father. In last night’s upfront tease of scenes from earlier episodes, Sally confessed to Glen, the creepy neighbor kid, that “Every time I go around a corner, I keep thinking I’ll see my dad.” Cutting her hair is a way to make him notice her, as either a problem child or a budding woman.
Love. jealousy and a mulishness she inherited from both parents are all in evidence a few nights later, on a sleepover with her friend Laura. Laura is asleep; Sally is watching that episode of The Man from U.N.C.L.E., which features a tight two-shot of series costar David McCallum and guest player Glenn Corbett, whose swarthy good looks are close enough to her father’s that I half-expected the TV image to dissolve into Don. Instead, Sally touches her nightdress in a sensitive area. Laura’s mother enters, is shocked by what she sees and takes Sally home, where she confronts Betty with news that the girl was “playing with herself.”
Betty, hardly more mature than her daughter, had reacted to Sally’s DIY haircut by slapping her face; here, after a flummoxed consultation with her husband Henry, she warns Sally that if she finds her doing that again, “I’ll cut your fingers off.” When she calls Don to say that Sally “was masturbating, in front of a friend,” Don asks, “Boy or girl?” In fact the incident was slightly misreported, since Laura was sleeping at the time. Sally is no sexual exhibitionist; she was not showing off but playing out the confused and desperate urges inside her. On the cusp of precocious puberty, Sally wants to be a woman — Don’s woman. Subconsciously sensing herself in competition for her father’s attention with all his other women, from Betty to Bethany to Phoebe, she must both demean them and imitate them. (More on Time.com: See a gallery of the top 10 things we miss about the Mad Men era)
Henry convinces Betty to take Sally to a children’s psychiatrist, Dr. Edna Keener (Patricia Bethune, another True Blood alumna; she played Jane Bodehouse). In her initial interview with the doctor, Betty spills out her own psychograph through Sally — that the crucial source of the girl’s unease is not the divorce and remarriage but the death of Betty’s father! And because Betty feels little but hatred for Don, she can’t understand that Sally’s love for him might be driving her to act out. Instead, it’s all about Betty. “I feel like Sally did this to punish me somehow for everything,” she says, to which Dr. Edna replies, “Sounds to me like it wouldn’t be bad for you to talk to someone.” When the doctor leaves to schedule appointments, Betty looks across the room at a doll house, with father, mother and child: the perfect toy American family.
In the sundered Draper family, Don, though jolted by the news, remains a distant, disturbing figure. Betty may still be adrift as a mother and cocooned in loathing for Don. Sally, that beset blond darling who seems always to have been abruptly roused from a sleepwalk, has surely fallen into a perilous patch of preadolescence. But after four years of domestic disintegration, can the healing commence? Is there the hope of a breakthrough? Think of the final line of Portnoy’s Complaint, where the shrink, having listened mutely to a novel’s worth of neuroses, tells his patient, “Now vee may perhaps to begin. Yes?”
A fusillade of bullets:
- In a brief boardroom discussion of the Selma violence and Lyndon Johnson’s proposed Civil Rights Act, Roger is sympathetic to the protesting blacks, but Bert Cooper wonders, “Why aren’t they happy?” Pete gives an answer any upper-class ad man should appreciate: “Because Lassie stays at the Waldorf, and they can’t.” (Next week’s episode is titled “Waldorf Stories.” Does that presage the return of the man from the Waldorf Astoria, Conrad Hilton?)
- During the first visit of the men from Honda to the SCDP offices, Joan greets them graciously and knowingly, ready to give them a list of the best Manhattan steakhouses. The second-in-command mutters to his boss, in Japanese, “How does she not fall over?” Joan, seemingly reading the on-screen subtitle, observes, “They’re not very subtle, are they?” “No. They are not,” replies the translator.
- Ted Chaough may be a thorn in Don’s ego, but his wit and his barbs are sharp. He dreams up a smart pitch for Hondo: a macho motorcyclist who, when the helmet is finally removed, is revealed as a gorgeous “California blond.” (Ted’s got a Beach Boys fixation.) Then, calling into his office a young man who used to work at SCDP, he hears the kid praise Don fulsomely. Annoyed, Ted dismisses the guy, adding, “And give me 20 different words for pimples.” (CGC now has the Clearasil account, remember.)
- Why does Don tolerate the mouthy, incompetent Miss Blankenship as his new secretary? Why does the series put up with her — broad comic relief? For that we have most of the rest of television.
- Except for Miss B., Don’s rough on all his women, including his dates. At Benihana, Bethany has to do all the conversational lifting, plus teach Don to use chopsticks. Or she might be trying too hard because this is just their third date in five months. And when Phoebe tells him about his daughter’s haircut, he fulfills her prophesy to Sally — “Do you realize I’m in worse trouble than you are?” — with cool rage and a curt dismissal. When she waves aside the babysitter money he holds out, he says, “Consider it severance.” As the French would say, quel pricque.
- Poor Bobby Draper. As the good child, he’s quickly nudged out of every scene so the show can concentrate on Sally. (Maybe he needs to take up with Glen.) And poor Henry. A paragon of second husbands, he’s kind, sexy and wise. He doesn’t treat her as a trophy or a millstone, Don-style, but as a sweet equal; she is charmed by his affection and returns it. But every time we see them in an easy intimacy, the doorbell rings. Relaxing on the living-room couch, her head resting in his lap as he reads, they’re disturbed by the kids’ coming home. Starting to make love, they’re interrupted by the sleepover mom. Both times, Sally (coincidentally) has altered their roles from fond lovers to distraught parents.
- Finally, some warmth between Don and visiting sociologist Faye Miller (Cara Buono). Turns out Dr. Faye, who everyone at SCDP thought was Dr. Mrs. Faye, is actually Dr. Miss Faye: not married, not divorced. Over a bottle of sake in the office canteen (“I don’t know how people drink the way you do around here,” she observes; “I’d fall asleep”), Faye reveals a trick of her trade: “You’d be surprised what people will say to an interested stranger.” Instantly, Don opens up about his kids, and his particular concern about Sally. “Well, I can’t say I have any evidence to support this,” Faye says helpfully, “but I’m pretty sure that if you love her, and she knows it, she’ll be fine.” And so, like his daughter and his ex-wife, Don has made a date with a shrink. Of course he wants to make it a real date. In the all-time rudest invitation to an evening out, he asks, “Do you have dinner plans with your fake husband?” Faye: “Good night.”
- Mid-rant in his diatribe against the Japanese, Roger blusters, “Why don’t we just bring Dr. Lyle Evans in here?” Who is Dr. Lyle Evans? the staff asks. So did a few hundred thousand obsessed overnight bloggers, from Slate to the India Times. YouTube was also clogged with (bogus) Evans clips. Dr. Lillian Lyle Evans King, a Saskatchewan librarian, became a Google sensation. But the name is probably a Mad Man fiction. On Metafilter.com, iamkimiam wrote that series creator Matthew Weiner “just pinged his whole audience with a red herring.” Or maybe he’s Roger’s psychotherapist. Like nearly everyone in Mad Men, the white lion could use some professional help.
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