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'Mad Men': Raw like sushi

SallybobbyMasturbation, motorcycles, and marches: Where do I begin?  Sometimes “Mad Men” proceeds at a glacial pace; other times, the speed of events is blistering.  Sunday night’s episode, as jam-packed as a Tokyo subway at rush hour, was most definitely an example of the latter.  

To simplify things, let’s get a little "Freshman English" and start with the obvious.  This episode is called “The Chrysanthemum and the Sword,” the name of a book that Don consults when trying to woo the executives at Honda.  Published in 1946, it’s an anthropological study of the contradictory nature of Japanese society.  Alas, I am on a deadline here so I haven’t read the book (yet).   But my secondary sources tell me that a major theme of “The Chrysanthemum and The Sword” is the difference between guilt cultures and shame cultures.  If you’re thinking to yourself, “Guilt and shame?  Why, that’s exactly what this episode was about!”, then congratulations, you've just fulfilled your English requirement. 

The downward spiral of guilt and shame began with Roger, who disgraces Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce with his racist outburst. Roger has never been exactly progressive when it comes to race (blackface, anyone?), but his bigotry has, until now, been just one facet of his buffoonery, not a symptom of any real antagonism. This time, it was different. Notice the immediate conversational pivot from Selma to the Honda account. Roger doesn’t have anything against black people, really; he probably doesn’t know any, either. That’s why he doesn’t particularly mind the Civil Rights Act, or the marches going on in Selma. 

RogersmokeIn contrast, Roger really, truly hates the Japanese.  This antipathy stems from the still-raw emotional trauma Roger experienced in the war; there’s nothing casual about it.  It was strange to see Roger, usually so flippant, care about something in such a visceral way. I am sure there were millions of men who felt just as Roger does, but the display of hostility was so out of character for him, I’m not sure I was convinced.  Like some other things this season (i.e. Don’s drinking), the depiction of Roger’s prejudice was a little too didactic for my taste. Still, I did love the way Pete stood up to Roger. You have to hand it to the preppy.  Pete’s attitude towards race has always been open-minded in a free-market sort of way: He doesn’t care where the money comes from.  Despite his Deerfield pedigree, Pete’s got a progressive streak, and I like it.

Last week, I talked about how this season of “Mad Men” has used comedy to balance out some very dark themes. Last night was no exception.  The show’s comedy continues to get bigger and broader.  There’s the amazing Miss Blankenship, whose ongoing difficulties with the buzzer and utter lack of tact (“Good afternoon.  Your daughter’s psychiatrist called,” she greets Don) are a source of constant amusement.  Then there was the scene in which the Honda executives joke about the “not so subtle” size of Joan’s breasts (“How does she not fall over?”).  Did anyone notice how Pete introduced Joan as “chief hostess”?  But the episode’s biggest comedic gambit was the elaborate plot to trick Don’s rival, Ted Chaough (Kevin Rahm) into filming a commercial.   My favorite moment was Peggy riding the bright red motorcycle around an empty studio; there was something almost poetic about the image. The trick was Don’s idea, which struck me as a little inconsistent.  Wasn’t he the one dismissing Peggy’s guerilla tactics (paying actresses to fight over a ham) just a few episodes ago? Oh, Don. So handsome!  So hypocritical!

Broad or not, let’s be thankful for the comedy, because otherwise things are a little heavy in "Mad Men." And yes, I am talking about Sally, who’s rapidly morphing into a 1965 version of a 1988 version of Drew Barrymore.  Or, to quote Betty, “You know what kinds of little girls do that?  Fast ones.” I feel a little creepy even divulging this, but I do wonder how the director handled the scene in which Sally was (implied to be) masturbating. (The director of this episode, Lesli Linka Glatter, is a woman.)  It was all done very tactfully, but still: Sally is one confused little girl, and she doesn’t have too many allies right now.  In a typically sensitive moment, Betty responds by threatening to cut off Sally’s fingers. Sally’s behavior has brought shame to the family, so she lays on the guilt.  “You don’t do those things.  You don’t do them in private and you especially don’t do them in public,” she says.  Chrysanthemum, meet sword.  

Betty gets a lot of grief for being a terrible mom, but let’s face it: Don’s pretty lame, too.  Henry was right to say that Don could have gone on a date any other night.  It appears that Don’s going through his very own guilt-shame cycle as a parent. “I don’t see them enough.  And when I do, I don’t know what to do…and when I drop them off, I feel relieved.  Then I miss them,” he tells her with uncharacteristic candor.  (Observation: Don seems to open up to people who, like him, are hiding something.)  But just because Don feels bad about his rotten parenting doesn’t absolve him of his sins.

HenryBettyThe real surprise this week was Betty and Henry’s relationship, which appears to be—dare I say it—functional.  Sure, their bond is mostly a manifestation of Betty’s considerable daddy issues.  But it could be worse, right?  Henry seems like a decent, reasonable guy, and he actually encourages Betty to do what she won’t do herself: that is, to rethink her behavior. When Betty slaps Sally, Henry “the softie” actually gets Betty to apologize for being impulsive.  In contrast, Don just yells, and probably would have done the same thing when they were married.  It’s a reminder that in addition to being not very good to Betty, Don was also not very good for Betty.

We’ve seen Betty infantilized before on “Mad Men,” (do I even need to mention her romance with Glen?) and we saw it again Sunday night, most notably in her visit with “Dr. Edna” (Patricia Bethune), Sally’s psychiatrist.   Despite Betty's misgivings about psychiatry—which are justified, given how her analyst betrayed her--she is immediately at ease in the warm, kid-friendly environment of Dr. Edna's office.  She is relaxed surrounded by dollhouses and murals of woodland creatures, and in no time at all she admits that, “I know the divorce is mostly to blame, but she’s been different ever since my father died.” Betty rarely displays such clear-eyed perspective, especially when it comes to Sally. Then without provocation, Betty begins to open up about her parents. It’s an interesting paradox: Only by reverting is Betty able to grow, however minutely.  

This episode was overflowing with the Google-able references that make watching “Mad Men” such a treat for the nerdier types.  It started with ‘The Chrysanthemum and the Sword,” of course.  There was also Don’s date with the insipid Bethany (“My hair smells like chicken”) at Benihana, which opened Manhattan in 1964. (Side note: I’m always amazed at how well the themes of each episode correspond so neatly with the cultural happenings of the time, even the less obvious ones; I wonder what comes first in the writing process? The idea or the event?  Matthew Weiner, if you’re out there, let me know!). While Don’s out on his date, Sally watches a news report about the death of James Reeb, a white minister murdered by segregationists in Selma.  On a lighter note, Pete calls the Honda meeting a “Margaret Dumont-sized disaster,” a reference to the sturdy actress who played the prim dowager roles opposite the Marx Brothers.  Finally, shrewd viewers will have noticed that Sally embarked on her voyage of discovery while watching “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”, a strange choice indeed, unless Sally has a girlish crush on Robert Vaughn.   In which case: it’s okay, Sally, I used to have a thing for Miles on “Murphy Brown.”  No judgments here.

More mystifying, though, was Roger’s reference to “Dr. Lyle Evans,” whom, as far as I can ascertain, was once the supervisor of school libraries in Saskatchewan.  Not exactly someone Roger Sterling would have been aware of.  Was the “Dr. Lyle Evans” mention just a red herring?  Is Matthew Weiner planting fake clues in the show, as a reminder that "Mad Men" is, after all, just fiction? How else to explain not just the baffling reference, but Pete's follow-up question, “Who the hell is Dr. Lyle Evans?” and Joan's response.  “I have no idea.” The evidence suggests that "Mad Men" is getting meta. There was the “furniture porn” tour of the new SCDP office in the season premiere, and now this.  Maybe I’m too immersed in all things “Mad Men,” but I think the Pearl Harbor references this week may have been a very gentle nod to “From Those Wonderful Folks Who Brought You Pearl Harbor,” the memoir by ad man Jerry Della Femina that has been cited as an inspiration for the show. In any case, I hope I am wrong.  I’d like all four walls on “Mad Men” to remain firmly intact. 

A few stray thoughts:

-When Ted Chaough asked for “that kid who worked for Draper,” was anyone else hoping it would be Kinsey?  My heart skipped a beat, I tell you. 

-I figured it out: Phoebe sort of looks like the little kid from “Love, Actually.”

-I love Betty’s “angry” turtleneck.  She always seems to tell it like it is when she’s wearing it.

-Don tells Phoebe he’s going to get a “river of [doo doo]” from Betty after the haircutting incident.  Have we heard Don curse before?

-Subtitles!?!

-Do any automotive enthusiasts out there know anything about Honda’s “little car"?  Could that be the precursor to the Civic? 

What did you think?  Do you have any theories about Dr. Lyle Evans?

--Meredith Blake

twitter.com/MeredithBlake

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Photos:  Bobby (Jared Gilmore) and a pre-"Mongoloid" Sally (Kiernan Shipka) hang out at Don's pad (top); Roger does his best thousand-yard stare (middle);  Betty (January Jones) curls up with husband/father figure, Henry (Christopher Stanley).

Credits:  Mike Yarish/AMC


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Comments () | Archives (38)

Sally was mooning over the dishy David McCallum, not Robert Vaughan!

I think that the man Sally was so ... ah, taken by, was actually David McCallum, Robert Vaughan's partner on "U.N.C.L.E.". He was apparently a bit of sex symbol during the period. Having grown up with Diana Rigg as Emma Peel on "The Avengers", there are no judgments here either.

It was posted late last night that Dr. Lyle Evans was a sort of McGuffin to get people talking about the episode. The National Review cited it as Tweet of the night. Yeah, it was meta, especially Pete and Joan's reaction to it.

CGC is the name of the firm Ted runs.

All 'tweens in the mid 1960s had a crush on David McCallum. Most 'tweens do a little self-experimentation. Sally's friend was asleep, Sally had the bad luck of the self-righteous mother walking in on her.

I was furious with Don for not taking Sally home with him after Betty slapped Sally. Even in the mid-190s, divorced fathers would have done this. Poor Sally - but at least she has Carla (I wish Deborah Lacey was higher in the credits) - and, hopefully, Dr. Edna. Did no-one escape from the Hofstadt family unscathed?).

Yes, Pete follows the money. I'd like to know more about his side of the Dykman family - it's been mentioned. Maybe in the last episode of the series, there will be a flash-forward, with Pete looking wistfully at the Dykman farmhouse in Manhattan.

Joan is grating on me - don't like how she still bosses Peggy around with just a look.

Poignant that Miss Blankenship couldn't get through to Anna. BTW - in real life, Randee Heller is actually kind of glamorous (and younger than Miss Blankenship). She's a trouper in the best sense of the theatrical world/word.

Am I the only one out there who suspects some sort of child molestation issue in Betty's past?

No mention of the failed calls to California? Is Anna dead?

Great episode! Loved the fast pace. And that empty studio scene was amazing.

However, has no one thought something else could be going on with Sally? Today when a little girl is found touching herself in public, people often think there may be a history of sexual abuse. She was awfully close to Grandpa Gene. I don't want to make it bigger than it may be - or make unfounded assumptions, but that is a possibility, and a very serious one at that.

I was 11 years old in 1964, and had a mad, mad, mad crush on David McCallum -- still do, in fact, thank you, N.C.I.S. for refueling that flame! At the time McCallum had an enormous official fan club of tweens just like me lusting after him -- his great turtlenecks, floppy hair, and wonderful accent.

@Ann C. , @Humanebean, @SusanNuccio: Thank you for pointing out that David McCallum (and not Robert Vaughn) may have been the real object of Sally's "affection." However, just to defend myself slightly: there were two men onscreen during the scene in question, one of whom had brown hair. I assumed that this man was Robert Vaughn, though it's not clear that it was. What can I say? I've just never been into blondes, and thought Sally might feel the same way. In any case, my point is that "Man from UNCLE" is an interesting and inspired choice for Sally's moment of exploration. Any other TV show would have picked a reference that was more "obvious" (at least to viewers show did not grow up in the 60s), and a scene that was more sexual in nature.

Phoebe looks like Winnona Ryder (and both of them look, as MB has astutely observed, like the kid from Love, Actually. After all, if A=b and B=C then A=C).

I always LOVE the digs at Phoebe's "elfin" looks. I never liked Winnona's freakishly childish comportement...

Rollo Tomasi, anyone?

You're not the only one, DrMom68...I think granddad might have been pervy with Sally. BTW, did anyone have a little chuckle when the song, "I Enjoy Being a Girl," played with the closing credits? Perhaps a little inside joke, considering the sub-plot.

Best quote: "You look like a Mongoloid" (said Brother when Sally emerges from the bathroom having cut her hair)

How did you miss the face of David MCallum -0- the Russian blond sex symbol on The Man From UNCLE? Sally would not be the only person with the hots for that guy back then.


Great reviews, but that was a massive slip up assuming Sally's hot for Robert Vaughn. I mean, it was McCallum's face on the tube!

Roger convinced me. I knew many otherwise laid-back WWII Pacific theater vets who felt the same way until they died. It was the most defining experience of their lives, filled with terror and the needless deaths of their brother soldiers. Even civilians who went through those years as adults never fully overcame the hatred that Japan engendered - after all the US was bombarded with messages of how evil and alien the Japanese were, the atrocities they committed in every country the occupied, etc . They devastated us with the surprise attack at Pearl Harbor, they dragged the war out long after it was possible for them to win and they were seen as particularly brutal. This was a war with equal opponents, truly one for our freedom and way of life. Not easily, if ever forgiven or forgotten.

No, Grandpa Gene did not get "pervy" with Sally; Matt Weiner clarified that back when Grandpa Gene was living with them and the question was raised then.

I suspect that Sally and likely Betty will be revealed to have been victims of Betty's dad. Both show some commonly known signs of that type of abuse and Betty's described relationship with her mother is consistent with a mother who is jealous that her daughter has "taken" her place (sadly that is how some mothers of victims react). That could also explain Betty's father issues. Going that way would certainly be a tricky subject to handle however. I kind of hope I am wrong.

One of my favorite comedic bits was the reaction of the Japanese executives to Joan's "build." It was so consistent with reactions at the time and yet it made it more tolerable when Roger went on his rant. I had no problem believing Roger's anger. I have a friend who fought in Vietnam and his hatred for "them" will never go away, no matter how much time passes.

I don't think Sally was actually touching herself - I think the mother was just overreacting.. Typical suburban 60s busybody....

And Don wasn't really on a "date" while the kids were at his place - visiting Benihana was research for his Honda pitch. He just couldn't go alone. Hence the 3rd date in 5 months....

Sally had the hots for "Ilya Kuriakin"--the sexy blonde Russian guy who was the sexy sidekick on The Man from U.N.C.L.E.....Vaughn was for the mothers, David McCallum (who played the Russkie) was for the teenyboppers.

Did anyone else find it interesting that Don asked if it was with a boy or a girl when Betty told him about Sally's "incident"?

-When Ted Chaough asked for “that kid who worked for Draper,” was anyone else hoping it would be Kinsey?

I was hoping it was Sal.

 
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