Sunday, August 22, 2010

MAD MEN 4.5--"The Chrysanthemum and the Sword"

"Since when is forgiveness a better quality than loyalty?"

Last week, in what was a long-awaited moment for certain Mad Men fans, someone genuinely hurt by his behavior called Don Draper on his bullshit and said he was a bad person. Then, to add an exclamation point to things, she threw something at him. Don, already wounded by ever-accumulating amounts of existential angst that has his heart in such a stranglehold that he can't even articulate it, continued his slow-burn meltdown.

Don gets a break on the "constant personal disaster" front this week. Don't get me wrong--he's still remote, confused, and dickish. It's just that everyone else was more screwed up this week.

This week, things get awkward and crazy as holy hell. As we have frequently in this season so far, changes are coming fast and furious and our nominal protagonists aren't quite fast enough on the uptake. We've already had the advent of the focus-group marketing, a visit to the burgeoning world of Pop Art, and now Honda, on the eve of rolling out their automobile line in the US, is courted as client.

International relations in a world growing more global is something that's been primarily off-screen, but has been mentioned from time to time in the series, but this is the first time a wholly "other" culture has been courted. The Japanese roll in, and a lot is made of having to court them properly. Matters of protocol are discussed, the book from which the episode's title is taken is consulted, and rehearsed, plans are made and remade . . .

. . .and the Roger Sterling comes along and destroys any potential hope of landing the client with a brutally racist rant right in front of them. When you consider that Roger did a blackface number last season, let me say here that . . .yeah, this was probably more racist than that, as the blackface number did not include threatened nuclear attack. Roger, being a veteran of WWII has no time for this kind of change and no liking for them at all for the Japanese and can't see the point of courting them, especially as eve. There is an implication there's more than that at work (fear of irrelevancy was one of the things that spurred Roger to join Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce in the first place) but also, Pete says, as Lucky Strike is so much of SCDP's business, to court clients on equal footing (as Honda soon will be) it threatens Roger's position.

Pete may or may not be right about that. The problem he has is that even when he's right, he's such an asshole about it, you just want to punch him in the face. As Roger tries to do.

More on that later, as we have some other things to deal with. Don's eldest daughter Sally is not taking the divorce well at all, and it's leading her to act out more and more. She did a little of that last season, but now it escalates to cutting her own hair--badly--and . . .doing something she shouldn't during The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (apparently she has a thing for David McCallum. Who knew?) Betty's response to this is to beat the holy hell out of her and threaten to chop off her fingers (no, really--she did) and it's only after being talked down by both Don and Henry, she eventually decides to take her to see a psychiatrist (this despite her own recalcitrance given her own experience with psychiatrists) who then suggests Betty see someone as well. That both of them need to see shrinks is something that's been abundantly clear TO ANYONE CAPABLE OF EVEN THE MOST RUDIMENTARY REASONING for some time now, and in Sally's case, she needs all the help she can get, considering that the only person capable for screwing up her life more is Unicron.

Meanwhile, the Honda thing is not going well, and Don is being taunted a person at a competitive agency (CGC) who's declared himself Don's competition, by virtue of the fact they've been picking up accounts SCDP has dropped or had to resign. It seems a clinch after Roger's Pearl Harbouring of the Honda meeting that he will ad yet another notch to CGC gun, when Don has a brilliant idea and enacts a very subtle and amusing Xanatos Gambit that tricks the competition into bankrupting themselves, breaking the rules, and then hanging his competition on the letter of their own rules. Don's master plan and the handling of the Honda meeting is a gallant act of Magnificent Bastardness that recalls the Don who pulled out improbable wins in Seasons 2 and 3, and while it seems a small victory for now (EDIT: The didn't win the account, but they did beat the guy, and that still works out to a win. I am a flawed creature, and things get by me.) it's a much-needed return to form for a guy we've seen slowly collapsing like a flan in a cupboard for the past 5 weeks.

Also, Peggy whizzing around in circles in an empty set on a Honda scooter was just hilarious.

So, we had a win this week, and in between the utterly squicky awkwardness with Sally this week, we got a few funny lines, usually borne from the awkward situations the SCDP gang found them in (and also Don't new secretary, who is just hilariously incompetent and exasperated at all of them) and we really did need that as we'd spent so much time this season dipping into the characters' darkness and confusion, it was good to see them pull one out, even if it played up just how volatile things are . . .

. . .which may or may not be the focus NEXT TIME: Either it's all about Pete Campbell jockeying for more and more power and influence and pissing everyone off in the process, which is what he's done from frame one of this show, as I mentioned above. As I refuse to play the game of reading the tea leaves from AMC's woefully misleading previews, so I make up my own utterly dadaist thing and cap it off with a "next episode" tagline taken from something else, usually anime or other TV shows. Join us next week as Don learns he's the last son of Krypton, Betty develops a thing for white leather corsets and telepathy, Roger finds out his son is tarting around in powered armour, and Peggy is actually the daughter of the President of the United States Also, judging by the title, Muppets may or may not be involved. Join us next week for "Waldorf Stories." What did you see in the fire?

No comments: