Monday, August 23, 2010

Mad Men - "The Chrysanthemum and the Sword"

Bobby (Jared S. Gilmore), Sally (Kiernan Shipka), Don (Jon Hamm) and Betty (January Jones): an American portrait of understanding and compassion.
Photo Credit: AMC
Review by Paul Steven Brown

'Mad Men'
Season 4 - Episode 5
"The Chrysanthemum and the Sword"

Far be it for me to criticize an episode that gave us the euphoric moment of Peggy Olson riding a red motor bike in circles against a white backdrop on an empty sound stage, but I think it's too soon to have another "caper episode" so soon after the season three finale. While the finale was a fun homage to a certain film genre of that period and it was executed fantastically, the Honda plot just seemed too formulaic. Hell, Don, Pete, and Layne got to have their 'A-Team' post mission "I love it when a plan comes together" moment at the end, too. Still, this it 'Mad Men' and even a cliche plot idea is better than most television out there.

The real meat of the Honda plot centers around Roger's attempts to torpedo the account before SCDP ever gets it. Twenty years prior, Roger fought the Japanese during World War II and he obviously lost some friends during it. From his perspective, it's hard to see these potential clients as nothing more than the enemy or, at least a symbol of the people he went to war against.

Pete accuses Roger of using this as an excuse to make sure that the younger account man doesn't outshine him. I'm the last person to ever defend Pete Campbell, but it's not hard to see the reason in his accusation. SCDP has most of it's revenue coming from one of Roger's accounts, Lucky Strike. They are completely dependant on it and it does give Roger an even increased level of importance. But, as we've seen this season Pete has been working really hard, even resulting in a rift with his father-in-law, to bring in new clients. Sure, he's much younger than Roger and hasn't gone to war with another country, but we recognizes that there's a market beyond white Americans.

Speaking of Pete Campbell, next to Peggy, he has become one of the more progressive members of the SCDP team. Now, I don't think he's ever going to drive anybody to a voting center in Alabama anytime soon, but over these last two seasons, he's been the one to recognize changing trends and that minorities are a viable market. Last season, he was confounded by the rejection he got from the television manufacturer when he proposed they target the black market through advertising in Jet and Ebony. When Harry quipped last week that the paper tint made the model look Puerto Rican in an underwear ad, Pete pointed out that they wear bras, too. When Bert questions what more do blacks want now that the Civil Rights Act has been signed, Pete points out that "Lassie can stay at the Waldorf, but they can't." Pete isn't a saint, but he knows the times, they are a changin'.

Though Bert Cooper is lacks some empathy when it comes to the social changes happening within his country's borders, his knowledge of eastern culture certainly came in handy when dealing with the Honda clients. Also, Don is smart enough adapt and learn the dance steps when courting a client with a very different set of professional ethics. In the end, despite Roger's efforts, he is still able to keep SCDP, while eliminating a competitor that has been recently dogging at his heels.

After a two episode absence, Betty, Henry, and the kids make a reappearance. Poor Sally Draper; both Don and Betty have failed her as parents. I can't really comment on Bobby since he always seems oblivious to everything around him. But, it's sad that on an evening that Don has his kids over, he hires a sitter so he can go out on a date with Bethany. Sally's world has been crumbling around her ever since her grandfather died and her parent's divorce only adds to her growing sense of nihilism and isolation. She cuts her hair and gets a reaction. Even though Don yells at her and Betty slaps her, they are at least acknowledging her presence.

The sad thing is that Betty is just as guilty of acting out of a desire for recognition back when she and Don were still married. Even Dr. Edna can tell that Betty could benefit from talking to some as much as Sally could. Despite marrying a more attentive husband Betty still doesn't seem fulfilled. She continues to be suffocated by the expectations imposed on her, most likely from her own mother at an early age. Sadly, she can't recognize that she's perpetuating the cycle with Sally.

So, in spite of the whole caper nonsense, "The Chrysanthemum and the Sword" was still another quality hour of 'Mad Men'. I'm glad to see more office politics and Don was a little less subhuman this week. All the regular actors were definitely on their "A game" (stand-out moments being scenes when Pete and Joan confront Roger with varying methods and results). Elizabeth Moss was short-changed for screen time, but she at least got to ride around on a sweet bike.

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