Mad Men – 4×05: Konichi-waaaaaahhh

[I’m in the middle of moving so unfortunately I cannot go back and re-watch this episode as I’d like and laugh at all the witty remarks like Roger’s racist joke on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or analyze every little movement and line that intrigued me. But I’ve got plenty to say regarding where the series is going, and where its been…]

'My mother was right. You ARE as silly woman.' (AMC)

This episode, entitled “The Chrysanthemum and the Sword”, contained equal and abundant amounts of two traditional national sentiments. ONE: the prideful Japanese falling-on-the-pseudo-sacrificial-sword bit; TWO: some good ol’ modern American woe-is-me/victim-am-I crying and venting. Furthermore, there were attitudes of intellectual and moral superiority flying around which both countries traditionally have in common. Here are the three protagonists from Sunday night’s Mad Men who kept up to these patterns marvelously:

Don Draper

So Don finally musters up some dignity and gets I-ain’t-nevah-scared for all to see — this after weeks of embarrassing himself publicly. From the opening scene he was on top and in control, and all (paraphrasing here): “New York Times? What do you want?” and “Teddy who? Never heard of him.” He’s got people calling him a genius instead of a drunk all of a sudden!

Also, notice that the PR stunts continue to creep up in the advertisement industry, and this time it’s Don that’s pulling the reigns instead avoiding them. They may not be for the public’s benefit this time around, like they were with the canned hams in the season opener, but in last night’s episode SCDP made a very false and public display to both its competitors and Honda in setting up that decoy commercial. That is the kind of stuff great PR is made of.  Could this be a sign that Don is adapting just a little bit more to the times by thinking outside of the creative department in order to get ahead?

Don also decides to tell all his family problems to Dr. Miller (not “Mrs. Miler”, by the way) over some sake, and in no other place than the employee lounge. Have you ever seen Don open up like that to anyone other than Anna? We’ve heard him tell versions of the truth regarding his personal life in order to get into a woman’s pants but never like this — certainly never under the suspicion that he may not actually be trying to get into her pants — no, he just wanted to tell her. Don as a water cooler guy? This was weird.

It broke my heart when Henry told Betty how angry he was that Don had chosen going out on a date with Bethany on one of his only nights with the children because he, Henry, would have given anything for another night with his daughter back when he was divorced. Henry is so right, and unfortunately sometimes Don’s intelligence and charm makes me forget that he’s not such a great person most of the time. You’d think after all the recent unintelligent and uncharming moments he’s had, that I’d have been quicker to catch the flaw in his choice to go on a date that night, but no.

Roger Sterling

This guy went on and on pounding his chest about his war and his loyalty and his country and his sacrifice. He was racist and self-important and just an asshole. Roger whined and moaned worse than anyone else in the episode, too. In fact he did so three separate times: at the board meeting, then to Honda directly, and finally to Joanie. Talk about people stuck in the past. Everyone’s got issues. Geez.

Betty Francis

She’s “just MORTIFIED” and pretends she’s never masturbated and proceeds to slap the life out of her daughter for it. What a WASPy little bitch. Instead of talking to your child about something so new and odd to them and their bodies, you hit them? That talk with the child psychologist at the end was fascinating to watch because, as has been discussed before, Betty Draper is a kind of child herself. She plays dress-up, and she plays house, and she really wants to be good at it but she’s not realistic about what it takes. I’m looking forward to her sessions with this new psychologist, as I think it will reveal some demons that Betty has been hiding all along and will help us understand why she reacted so horribly to Don’s revelation about his past. I’m thinking she’s got her own tragic past repressed away somewhere.

Letting Go and Reality Check ’65

I want to talk about a change in tone in the series that I was finally able to put into words after watching Sunday’s episode. Perhaps some of you guys had noticed it too, or perhaps not. I’m talking about the immense change in the characters’ ambitions and attitudes towards the future. It seems to me that a prevalent theme creeping up all season and surrounding almost every single one of our characters, is the inability to just… let go, and move on. Sure it seems fitting and even obvious considering the revolutionary times which are a-stirring to talk about “moving on” and “letting go“… but that can refer to so much and on so many levels. So far we’d only directly associated the problem with the ‘old-fashioned’ ways of Don and Freddie Rumsen who can’t seem to shake their out-dated macho mentalities and get with the times. However, it would appear that Don and Freddie aren’t the only ones stuck in the past and feeling bleek about the future:

  • Sally can’t get rid of the ‘ghost’ of her father walking the halls of her house.
  • Betty is unable to shake the literal ghost of her own dead father as she never truly dealt with it.
  • Peggy, it would appear, has been holding on to the memory of Pete and her child more than we all thought.
  • Roger, one of the most progressive and adaptable employees of SCDP, clearly can’t let go his WWII hatred of Asians.
  • Joan is barely and miserably latching on to the dream of the perfect family and marriage she always wanted, due to her husband’s shortcomings.

Once upon a time however, these people only thought of the potential for greatness that lay ahead of them. The early 60’s were full of promise. It was a BOOM in every sense of the word and everything seemed to promise more and more (particularly the advertisements!). A perfect body, a perfect drink, a perfect family album, the perfect suit. Perfection was the goal, so the future was limitless:

  • Peggy sacrificed everything from her dignity, to her appearance, to her child for a career in advertising. Do you remember the stars in her eyes when they allowed her to pitch that lipstick? She only saw straight ahead…
  • Betty lived in a haze where her husband was the perfect man and the two were “a team” (remember that?), and they would continue to grow old together…
  • Joanie was a single but coveted woman, the perfect catch, and she knew it. She was on the verge of being caught, sorting through the good and bad until she found him and planned for “forever”.
  • Pete, similar but still different to Peggy, was willing to kiss all the ass on Madison Avenue to get an account and work his way up the Sterling Cooper ladder. He didn’t want children with Trudy and barely a marriage to her. So much so that he tried to leave Sterling Cooper once he thought he’d hit a ceiling. Up was the only way.
  • Roger’s heart attack was the eye-opening experience of a life-time. At that point he decided that he couldn’t be weighed down by his loveless marriage any longer. He was getting older and could die any minute, so he had to live for the possibility that there wasn’t much of a future left and make drastic changes.

It appears to me that with the exception of Pete, no one is really looking to the future the way they used to. They are being pulled back by the personal demons of their pasts, and its cause for a pretty downer of a season. I don’t mean it in a bad way but, its the truth. After the “high” of the beautiful lies that everything would be pitch perfect and dreams would come true because this is America and blah blah blah… it was reality check time. CRASH. Note: The draft hasn’t hit yet. The violent protests haven’t really hit yet. The war hasn’t even hit yet!

Mad Men has always been escapist television, and I’ve written about that here before. All the gorgeous furniture, and clothes, and hair. The Cadillacs. All the parties and the movie stars. All the sex without the STDs. The cigarettes before you knew they killed you. The alcohol before you knew you were an alcoholic. Some of it was real. Some of it was a lie. But even the real stuff was ephemeral, a promise of lasting beauty… but beauty fades. I’ve even heard criticism for this show, naming the same materialism that it portrays as a fault of the times, as the very thing which brings the series ratings. (Hypocritical?) After all, don’t we just love to LOOK at the show? Well, its still aesthetically appealing, but the joy isn’t quite there. I don’t blame the writers for this, in fact I praise them for going to the dark places which the 60’s eventually went to. Unfortunately, I’m going to be the reality check in this situation and prepare you: this is only going to get worse.

Someone is going to get lung cancer. Someone is going to get locked up at a civil rights protest. Someone is going to die in Vietnam. We’ve already got divorce and unwed mothers, so that’s two down. Who thinks Sally is going to come out as a lesbian in S6 (1971?) ?

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One Comment

  1. Time
    Posted August 25, 2010 at 8:03 am | Permalink | Reply

    I’m surprised you didn’t talk about Sally. She is one of my favourite characters since her outburst when the grandfather died. I was so amazed, I had to watch it twice back then.

    I think it’s also funny how they managed to shift the sympathies. As far as I’m concerned I drinft away from Peggy to Pete alot. But both of their stories are becoming more interesting.
    I think it’s also alot more interesting now where Don is going. In the last seasons it was always about Dons past and how he had to hide his past away. Now it seams he is hiding his present away on several lines. which is more difficult caus nobody knows where things are going.
    The Roger character is a bit too witty I think. He isn’t Colin Firth, I don’t quite believe it when he drops another one-liner out of the blue every time. And I don’t see why the new guy would marry Betty. They never showed him experiencing “Bettys good side”. I mean they made out in the car and then he married her? Wow.
    Christina Hendricks is overrated in my eyes. Will her story take us somewhere we havent seen somewhere else?

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