MAD MEN 4.5: The Chrysanthemum and the Sword

In an episode that hinged on preconceptions, prejudices, stigmas and more World War II references than you can cram into an expense account, Don pinned the agency’s future on a “Crazy Ivan” wildcard maneuver straight out of a Tom Clancy movie.

The first moment Don (Jon Hamm) realized he had a challenger came when a New York Times reporter asked him for a comment about his self-anointed rival named Ted Chaough (Kevin Rahm) who claimed to be constantly in Don’s rearview. “Never heard of him,” Don sniffed. At the ensuing partners’ meeting, Pete (Vincent Kartheiser) announced he had an inside track on Japanese motorcycle maker Honda – which held over 50 percent of the U.S. market. But Roger (John Slattery) put his foot down, refusing to do business with Pete’s “new yellow buddies.” Bert Cooper (Robert Morse) of all people, tried to remind Roger that the war was over, but Roger stormed out. Don wanted to pursue Honda, and Bert advised keeping Roger out of the loop.

Phoebe (Nora Zehetner), the cute nurse from down the hall, was watching Sally (Kiernan Shipka) and Bobby (Jared S. Gilmore) for Don so he could go on a date, when Sally decided to chop off her hair! (In another sign of the intolerance of the age, Bobby likened Sally to a “Mongoloid.”) Then she impertinently asked, “Are you and Daddy doing it?” She claimed to understand sex (then proved that she didn’t), and Phoebe advised her to talk to her mother. Meanwhile, Don took Bethany (Anna Camp) to Benihaha for Japanese cuisine, where he ran into Ted, who mentioned that he was pursuing Honda as well for CGC. “The minute he declared himself ‘the competition,’ we became equals,” Don groaned to Bethany. When he got home, Phoebe told him about Sally’s hair. Furious, done paid her for services rendered. “Consider it severance,” he snapped. Don knew he was going to catch hell from Betty (January Jones). And he was right – but so did Sally. Betty slapped Sally’s face and then canceled her sleepover. Don and Henry (Christopher Stanley) protested, but Betty explained how she herself had always dreamed of having long hair, and her mother used the threat of cutting Betty’s hair to control her. So, naturally, it was really all about Betty. After Don left, Betty screamed, “I want him dead!” Henry stoked her rage (for his own purposes), but at least he tried to direct it at Don, not at Sally.

The next morning, Don escorted the team from Honda around SCDP’s mod offices, but visitors were clearly most impressed with Joan’s (Christina Hendricks) architecture. One of the execs asks (in Japanese) “How does she not fall over?” drawing leering laughs. “Not every subtle are they?” Joan groaned. “No,” replied the translator. Still, the encounter was going well, reaching the stage where businessmen exchange gifts in a stylized ritual. But then Roger entered, complaining about how he wasn’t told about the meeting, but then again, their guests like surprises. He made a number of other thinly veiled references, like “dropping the big one.” When the Honda executives tried to lay out the rules for a competition between SCDP and two other ad firms, Roger cried that he wanted an
“unconditional” contest. Then, dropping all pretenses, Roger growled, “We beat you, and we’ll beat you again!” insisting he didn’t want any “Jap crap.” Once again, he stormed out after dropping a bomb – so to speak. Don chased down Roger, who held his ground, noting that as long as his name is in the lobby, he gets to decide whom he does business with. He compared it to Don throwing Jantzen out of the office, but Don insisted that was different. Then Pete arrived and freaked out, thinking Roger was trying to keep Pete from landing another huge account and further diluting the influence of Roger’s precious Lucky Strike. Roger lunged at Pete, but Don kept them apart. “The rest of us are trying to build something,” Pete shouted. And then he stormed out.

Turned out Betty let Sally go to her slumber party at Laura’s after all. Sally was the last one still awake. She stayed up to watch THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., clearly enamored of star David McCallum. (He plays “Ducky” on NCIS now, but I understand he was quite the sex symbol back in the 60s.) A little too enamored, as it turned out. As in, she was touching herself. Laura’s mom caught her and dragged her home. Naturally, Betty was mortified! She actually threatened to cut off Sally’s fingers! Henry suggested sending her to a psychiatrist, and Betty revealed that she went to one, but it did her no good. Henry said he sent his daughter to one, and it helped. The next day Betty told Don about Sally’s little problem, and that she wanted to send her to a psychiatrist. He wasn’t sure she needed a doctor. Then they bickered over who was the more wanton parent, who set the worse example, and who was more responsible for corrupting their daughter. (Hey, either one of you remember that this is really about Sally?)

At the office, Bert brought Roger into Don’s office (practically at gunpoint, it seemed to me) to apologize and admit he was wrong to try to limit the kind of business SCDP does. For all the good that does now. Pete said his contact at Honda called their meeting “a Margaret Dumont-size disaster,” (Really, a Marx Brothers reference in 1965?) but SCDP was still invited to make a presentation. When Bert pointed out that they did not receive the customary gift, the guys realized they were dead in the water. A defiant Don wanted to continue to fight the war; he was willing to exceed the $3,000 limit imposed by Honda, to go out of pocket to pay to create a finished commercial. But no one else was willing to go along with this almost kamikaze approach. Maybe they suspected that Don was might have been motivated by the joke gift from Ted with the note, “Help me, Honda.” Maybe they weren’t Beach Boys fans. Don came up with a plan to decoy CGC into thinking SCDP was making a commercial. Since Ted is Don’t self-appointed shadow, he would make a commercial, too. Only for real, eating up CGC’s development budget. He got Joan and Peggy to decoy CGC.

In the office pantry, Don located some sake and invited Faye (Carla Buono) to share some. “I don’t know how you people drink like you do around here,” she sighed as he poured. She mentioned that she wears a wedding ring even though she’s not married as a “stop sign” to fend off the wolves at the various offices she visits. He confessed he’s divorced, and feels conflicted about the kids. He misses them, but he’s also relieved when they leave. He told her about Sally needing a psychiatrist. Faye suggested that Sally will be okay as long she understands that Don loves her. She pointed out that people like to talk, and when they’re done, they usually feel better. As she was leaving he asked her out, but she slapped him down. Meanwhile, Betty met with psychiatrist, Dr. Edna Keener (Patricia Bethune). Betty claimed that Sally has been different ever since Betty’s father died. She has started acting out, and this stunt was the final straw. “I feel like Sally did this to punish me somehow, for getting divorced.” Right, Betty, it’s all about you… Dr. Keener suggested that Betty talk to someone, but Betty scoffed. Dr. Keener thought the situation was serious enough to see Sally four days a week.

Don kept the meeting with Honda. On the way in he passed Ted on the way out, crowing about his finished commercial. Don met the Honda execs, but resigned from the competition, writing Honda a check for the $3,000 advance. The translator explained that Don was withdrawing because Honda “did not honor your own rules.” Back at the office, Joan found Roger drinking. “Since when is forgiveness a better quality than loyalty?” he bellowed. Joan said “You fought to make the world a better place, and you won.” This is a clever way to use the audience’s modern perspective to create a feeling of unease. Watching the program, we cringe at Roger’s xenophobia – but we have the benefit of years of perspective and a clear understanding of Japan’s role in the world economy. But Roger fought the Japanese in the Pacific, and lost many a buddy to that enemy. His perspective is informed by blood and personal experience. “I used to be a man with a lot of friends,” he noted, before they were killed by the Japanese. He doesn’t have a global long view.

When Don returned to the office, he learned that Honda is not leaving their regular agency for motorcycles, but when they introduce cars, SCDP is first in line for the account.

ETA: After researching for quite a while, it appears that the “Dr. Lyle Evans” mentioned disparagingly by Roger — “Why don’t we just bring Dr. Lyle Evans in here?” — is a fictional person. Perhaps the reference was groundwork for some character to be introduced further down the road, or maybe it was just a winking attempt by creator Matthew Weiner to melt down the Internet’s search engines? I have seen several blogs suggesting that Weiner was just having a little fun. It definitely does not appear to be a mistake, like that anachronistic appearance of the Gamera movie earlier in the season.

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