Wednesday, 13 October 2010

'MAD MEN' 4.5 – "The Chrysanthemum And The Sword"

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Great episode as we approach mid-season, appealing to the three things Mad Men does particularly well: dysfunctional families, business capers, and social unease. It was also nice to see Betty (January Jones) get some more screen time, as she's been a casualty of this fourth season because of her divorce from Don (Jon Hamm), and it was a pleasure to see Don back to his winning ways in business...

The thrust of this episode involved Pete (Vincent Karthesier) trying to win a lucrative Honda motorcycle account from some visiting Japanese businessmen, whose arrival didn't go down well with WWII veteran Roger (John Slattery), whose experiences 20 years ago fighting the Japanese hasn't forgotten or forgiven. His embarrassing interruption of their meeting, unsubtly alluding to Japanese actions in the war and the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki appeared to doom the company's chances of securing business from the Far East, with Roger's racism perhaps also mixing with his resentment that Pete's about to win an account to rival his own precious Lucky Strike custom.

However, Roger's sabotage heralded a neat bit of ingenuity from Don, who pored through the famous book "Chrysanthemum And The Sword" (designed to help Westerners understand the Japanese business mentality) and concoct an elaborate hoax advert, intending for rival advertising agency CGC, run by Ted Chaough (Kevin Rahm), to get wind of their intentions and create a competing spec advert... then chalk up a victory by reminding the Japanese of the dishonour in breaking their own rule that no agency can pitch a finished product to secure business.

The scenes of Don's hoax reminded me of season 3's wonderful finale, with the staff all pulling together and playing roles in a clever, risky, high-stakes deception. And it's always good fun when the show hits on a new way to make advertising seem more exciting than a group of men discussing psychology of a consumer around a board table with a flipchart. From Joan (Christina Hendricks) making an ad director believe they're filming in 5th Avenue and the subway, to Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) sneaking a scooter into an out-of-bounds film studio to drive it around in pointless circles, it was a fun escapade to watch unfold and eventually land SCDP the prized contract.

Elsewhere, this episode was another fine showcase for Sally (Kiernan Shipka), who caused a great deal of upset by cutting her hair while visiting her father at the weekend -- possibly in protest that her dad's chosen that same night to go on a date at a Benihana, or perhaps because she's beginning to have sexual feelings and just wants to look prettier. The two may even be connected, if Sally thinks her father only has time for attractive people, so she felt the need to copy babysitter Phoebe's (Nora Zehetner) cropped hairstyle. Regardless, Sally's behaviour caused serious ructions between Don and Betty when Sally was taken home, and things worsened when Sally was caught masturbating to The Man From U.N.C.L.E's David McCallum on TV during a sleepover with a friend, prompting an embarrassed Betty to agree to husband Henry's (Christopher Stanley) advice to let Sally see a child psychologist.

I'm not convinced a shrink is necessary myself, but it resulted in an intriguing scene with psychologist Dr Edna (Patricia Bethune) discussing Sally's behaviour with Betty, and quickly sensing that Betty herself may benefit from sessions. Betty's affectionate smile when she caught sight of a dollhouse was in Dr Edna's office felt like another reminder that Betty's something of a child herself, perhaps one who might have benefitted from a psychologist as an adolescent. Quite interesting to see this episode paint Betty as a rather unlikeable mother -- slapping Sally for cutting her hair in front of Don, then threatening to cut her daughter's fingers off for "playing with herself". She didn't even accompany Sally to Dr Edna's office in the final scene, instead leaving it to au pair Carla (Deborah Lacey). Harsh treatment of her character? She's definitely far from sympathetic this season, despite being the victim of Don's affairs and lies in all the seasons beforehand. It's a strange creative decision, I must say...

  • Is Betty looking to move out of Don's house soon? That was the bone of contention between her and Don earlier this season, but hasn't been mentioned since.
  • An internet meme was started by Roger's line "why don't we just get Dr Lyle Evans in here?", with fans trying to find out who Lyle Evans was. He was apparently a soap company executive in the movie Hucksters.
  • I seem to remember that Bert (Robert Morse) has quite a taste for all things Japanese – remember his office pre-season 4 and eccentric no-shoes policy? But I can't recall Roger ever mention his distaste for the Japanese in front of him before now, can you?
  • Very amusing scene with the Japanese clapping eyes on Joan and her, ahem, front assets.
WRITER: Erin Levy
DIRECTOR: Lesli Linka Glatter
GUEST CAST: Robert Morse, Christopher Stanley, Matt Long, Deborah Lacey, Anna Camp, Cara Buono, Nora Zehetner, Patrick Cavanagh, Patricia Bethune, Kevin Rahm, Sab Shimono, Amy Sloan & Christopher Sea
TRANSMISSION: 6 October 2010 – BBC4/HD, 10PM