Sunday, August 22, 2010

Mad Men, Season 4, Episode 5: "The Chrysanthemum and the Sword"

This week's episode was particularly phenomenal, packed full of great scenes from end to end like a string of pearls, each as wonderful as the last. I loved it so much I had to write a note about it.
- The trickery with the Honda bid displayed shades of last season's finale, both in style and in concept – it's another caper pulled off by team Draper (rather than stealing, they are deceiving. Kind of like INCEPTION - Don plants ideas Ted Shaw's head). Great musical accompaniment to the scenes of Don and co. pulling off their misdirection: Don knocking on Joan's door with the motorcycle, Peggy making sure the competition sees them sneaking the bike into the studio – I love Love LOVE the shot of Peggy just riding around in circles on the empty set. There 's also a great cut from a close-up of the commercial director saying he'd love to do Don's commercial but that right now he's too busy, to another close-up of him saying to the competitors that he'd much rather shoot their Honda commercial. The episode also deftly established Ted Shaw as a rival who is "drafting" off of Don; this is the first time we've seen him, but in a few easy steps he becomes so unlikeable that I wanted Don to squash him like the fly Don describes him as (Ted became very easy to dislike the moment we realized he was preying on one of the only sympathetic qualities still remaining to Don at the this point: his genius).

- Roger's reaction to the Honda bid brings out an ugliness that we don't too often see, although there was a hint of it in the first season when he compared war experiences with Don. The scene where he interrupts the Honda meeting has the liveliness of a downed power line thrashing on the ground (or perhaps a better metaphor would be to say it was like watching a car accident), and the scene that follows it is even more explosive, when Roger almost attacks Pete after being chastised by him and Don. And as usual, Roger still has all the sharp (albeit racist) barbs. Don: "You do not get to kill this account." Roger: "Maybe I won't have to. If we're lucky they'll do it themselves." This story is also given a nice resolution (for now) through Joan's sympathy for Roger in her scene with him in the end.

- After spending most of this short season being loathsome, Don actually resembles a sympathetic character this episode. The only time he approaches being shitty to someone is when he's upset by the news about Sally's hair, and here he has a reason to be upset and is measured in his response.

- On the other hand, my antipathy toward Betty reached new lows in this episode. Has she bottomed out yet? She can't get much more awful than she is here without her character becoming a problem for the show, a black hole of shrewish negativity and terrible parenting. However, we're offered a glimmer of hope as well – she realizes that she shouldn't have slapped Sally,and thankfully starts listening to Henry's advice on how to best deal with her (although it seems that both Henry and Don still accede to Betty in all parenting matters - a relic of past parenting practices, perhaps?). Furthermore, Betty slips right into receiving treatment herself from the child psychiatrist without really even realizing what is happening, and then seems to agree to see a her regularly (at least, that was my understanding of the psychiatrist wanting to meet with Betty once a month in addition to seeing Sally). This is an absolutely perfect development, since the psychiatrist Betty sees in season one diagnosed her as having psychological makeup of a child, which was more or less confirmed through the age-inappropriate relationship she formed with creepy-neighbor-kid Glen. So, I have hope that this will make Betty a better, or at least more sympathetic, character.

- The psychiatrist represents hope for Sally as well, an outlet for her to vent her understandably large frustration over her monster mom and her relatively absent dad, which might prevent her from turning into a terribly messed up person. So perhaps some good will come of Betty and the sleepover mom's stiflingly repressive (although era-appropriate) attitudes toward sex (although Sally would be better served by showing a little more discretion).

- As for Henry, he's clearly a much better parent that Betty (not hard to do, really - my dead dog is a better parent), and if he's going to be a part of the Draper family, it's nice to see him try to insert himself a little more into the Draper household as a parent figure for Sally.

So many beats to hit, and the episode nails them all!

Other random, wonderful things about this episode:
- On top of all of the above developments, the episode was able to work the hilarity of Mrs.Blankenship's incompetence into the margins.
- Sally: "I know that the man pees inside of the woman." Kiernan Shipka is a revelation.
- Pete trying to dispose of all the chrysanthemums."Apparently they symbolize death. So much conflicting information."
- Loved the music during Don's tour of SCDP for the Honda representatives. Joan gets a great character beat at its conclusion, when she immediately and irritatedly picks up on their comments on her figure. Joan: "Not very subtle, are they?" Translator: "No, they are not."
- Also nice was the scene between Don and market researcher – Don seems to be getting her to lower her guard a bit. As my roommate noted, stay tuned for another chapter in the book, "Don goes after another icy blonde but should really be looking for an emotionally adjusted brunette."
- I admit I chuckled at Pryce's joke about Honda demanding to know when they get the other 50% of the American market.
- Once again, Pete demonstrates a better understanding of the next generation than anyone else in the office: Bert asks why blacks aren't already happy, and Pete responds: "Because Lassie can stay at the Waldorf and they can't."