All words: Alan Zilberman and Peter Mergenthaler
Good morning, and welcome to BYT’s weekly MAD MEN hangover! In lieu of a traditional recap, I instead offer a somewhat edited, highly spirited debate between myself and a fellow TV junkie. Joining me is Pete, my old roommate who helped jumpstart my obsession with serialized TV dramas. Without further ado, let’s get into what’s new at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce!
Before we get into the scattershot commentary, let’s highlight a few important plot points:
- Pete scores an opportunity with Honda Motorcycles, but Roger sabotages it by immaturely recalling WW2 atrocities. This frustrates the partners, who believe Roger wants Lucky Strike to be SCDP’s only big account. Don saves the day through Machiavellian manipulations of his rival.
- Sally continues her unsure entry into adolescence. First she cuts her hair at Don’s apartment, then she touches herself at a friend’s house. This infuriates Betty, whose chief concern is how Sally’s behavior reflects on her. Henry and Betty decide it’s best to hire a psychologist.
Alan: After two episodes focusing on the more negative aspects of Don Draper’s new life, it’s refreshing to see him once again demonstrate his business acumen. The plotline regarding the potential Honda Motorcycle account is excellent on a number of fronts.
Pete: Not least of which was the bouncy heist vibe, and that fabulous shot of Peggy aimlessly riding a prototype crotch-rocket around an empty film studio.
Alan: The playful music highlighted Don’s clever subterfuge. Don’s rival at another agency seemed so beneath him – his lines and motivations were unseemly – so I’m glad the creatives at SCDP rose to the challenge. Shaw really is nothing more than a fly.
Pete: I loved most things about the episode, but it might as well have been called “Everybody but Don is Wrong.” Shaw was clueless.
Pete: I liked the scene in his office, with the former Sterling Cooper copywriter waxing romantic about Don’s genius. But watching Shaw take the bait so enthusiastically seemed a little on the nose.
Alan: It was a little one the nose, but i was consistent with Shaw’s prior behavior. His gloating and willingness to talk to reporters indicated Shaw has little interest in tact.
Pete: You gotta admit, though — his idea for the Honda commercial was tight. But he’s surrounded by yes-men, which SDCP execs increasingly are not. Let’s talk about the hilarious, awesome A-plot with the Honda guys.
Alan: Where to begin? I guess the most logical place is with Roger, who delivered one great line after another. His disgust with the Japanese is obvious, sure, but it doesn’t mean he can’t be funny about it.
Pete: Yeah, but how horrifying is funny when you’re dealing with honor culture businessmen? Watching Bert and Pete bend over backwards (and forwards) trying to please these guys was adorable. Then Roger comes in, and I cringed for the dishonor I knew was coming. I mean, having spent three years in college trying to please my Japanese professors, I couldn’t fathom that Roger would risk losing that much face.
Alan: Agreed. Not since “It looks like Iwo Jima out there” has Roger hilariously co-opted WW2 atrocities for his own amusement. It’s interesting to consider the behavior of the Japanese, for honor culture is important, yet they have no problem ogling the tits of a married woman.
Pete: They’re still middle-age businessmen, and honorific speech applies more to some people more than others. But yeah, let’s talk about the comic beats tonight. They were plentiful, and most of them were fabulous. Mrs. Blankenship, for instance. I laughed at her shtick, loudly, on three separate occasions, but I busted a gut when she announced to Don that Sterling and Cooper wanted to see him. After they had walked into his office.
Alan: I’m not sure how I’d describe her behavior. I wouldn’t say she’s incompetent. Clueless, maybe?
Pete: I’d say incompetent, or at least out of touch with the expectations of a modern executive. She knows how to ask a person’s name and how to schedule an appointment, but she can’t do anything else without prompting. It’s hard to say how long she’ll last — I think Weiner and co. know that comedy like that is valuable in small doses. The Blankenship humor is pretty broad.
Alan: I think Weiner et. al. will stop relying so heavily on her as the episodes continue. You’re right – it’s certainly broad, but she may be useful way to undercut a scene’s tension. Speaking of tact and the elderly, Burt had a number of memorable moments this episode. His analysis of the initial meeting was weirdly hilarious.
Pete: He clearly did his homework. It’s weird to watch what he’s willing to be progressive about and where he draws the line. He seems bemused, for instance, that black people want to be educated.
Alan: I liked his resignation and expectation for a gift. It alluded to the episode’s title, The Chrysanthemums and the Sword, an old anthropological tome of Japanese honor culture. Do you know anything about it?
Pete: Just that it’s kind of a keigo rulebook (Japanese honorifics and whatnot). Guidelines for gift-giving are an example. A gift was expected at the first meeting between the Honda guys and SDCP, but it would have been a major breach of etiquette for the Honda guys to accept the gifts right away. So you get the completely insincere refusal, then the insistence on the part of the gift-giver, and then everyone’s square. And of course, Westerners need to see the excitement and gratification right away, so Pete spills the details of what’s inside.
Alan: Thanks for the explanation! The honor machinations are complex, even to the point where I wonder whether they totally understand them, but I’m sure even the other Americans thought Pete’s behavior was a little too eager.
Pete: The title offers some insight for the B-plot, too. Betty is utterly consumed by fear of embarrassment, and her response to it ruins everything she touches.
Alan: Nice segue! I was a little reluctant to discuss Betty’s awfulness in previous recaps, but this time sealed the deal. The last shot, where Carla (ed: Thanks, Sal Romano’s Exl!) brought Sally to the psychologist, indicated just how selfish Betty is. Sally is changing, perhaps for the worse, and Betty only cares how it will reflect on her as a mother.
Pete: She’s a goddamn terror. She’s terrorizing Sally. Granted, not all of the things Sally is going through can be pinned squarely on Betty, but Betty has almost no interest in grappling with those changes. In her first meeting with Sally’s shrink, Betty offers this analysis of her daughter’s behavior: “I feel like Sally did this to punish me for everything.” Aaaand a few seconds later, said shrink suggests Betty get some help, too.
Alan: Indeed, Sally is just an excuse for Betty to lash out. The dynamics were interesting during the hair-cutting aftermath, in which Don frets over how Betty will react. At first it seems he, too, is being selfish, but then you realize he just knows his ex-wife too well. I don’t think Don was angry at Sally. And after Betty reacts by chiding her ex instead of figuring out WHY Sally is changing, you realize Don is right.
Pete: The Chrysanthemum and the Sword is about observations. It wasn’t composed by any sort of Japanese ministry of culture, and it’s controversial for that reason. It’s a collection of expectations assembled by an outsider. I think that’s what Don and Betty are seeing with Sally. Neither is an effective parent right now, but only one of them seems to regret that fact. If Don had a definitive child-rearing manual (supposing there is such a thing), he’d be a great dad. If Betty had one, she’d still be a terrible mother.
Alan: Interesting analysis. I’ve suspected Don might take a more active role as a parent, and I wonder whether this episode will confirm this. He acknowledges his biggest weakness as a father is his absence, so perhaps he’ll act on his instinct that Betty is poison. Shot in in the dark, but you have any idea what Sally was watching before she began to masturbate?
Pete: No idea. But I watched this episode with my friend, who volunteered the fact that she did the same thing when she was much younger. (I shouted her down and told her to go away, but she was in an over-sharing mood tonight.) Point being, this isn’t weird behavior. What I’m trying to say is, Glenn needs to be executed.
Alan: No way! I love his creepiness – I’m interested to see where it goes. So, unlike the past few episodes, this one has two main threads. We’ve discussed both with ample wit, so do you have any parting thoughts?
Pete: Pete busted out the blue suit. Benihana hasn’t changed in 50 years. The show should put Don and Faye Miller together and let them be a functional couple. I loved the pep talks from Miller and Joan tonight. And SDCP might get Honda? Pimp.
Alan: I agree – Faye’s scene with Don was a nice little interlude. It’s a reminder of how Don lost his mojo, but less cruel than previous episodes. Perhaps it was a little on the nose for Faye to discuss a stranger’s willingness to open up, and then have Don do just that.
Pete: They were drinking sake. Anything can happen!
Alan: On that note, my whiskey is almost empty. Let’s continue this next week!