Mad Men, “The Chrysanthemum and the Sword”

I’m actually glad that graduate school started today and I had more time to think about the latest episode of Mad Men, even if my opinion didn’t really change with that time.

Thematically, it seems like this episode wanted to discuss how people act out when they’re still uncomfortable with some sort of new equilibrium that everyone around them is dealing with much better. The usually unflappable and funny Roger Sterling is surprisingly angry and unwilling to work with Honda because of his residual feelings from the World War II era. We know that Roger isn’t always racially sensitive (see the black face in “My Old Kentucky Home”), but lame ignorance is one thing, pure hatred is a different one. Meanwhile, Sally Draper is still having trouble with the divorce and is surely dealing with the normal ups and downs of being a pre-teen, so she cuts her hair and then starts to masturbate during a sleepover. Not totally ridiculous behavior for someone her age in her circumstances, but as soon as the cut shut to her legs, I started to cringe.

With Roger and Sally acting out, Don spends the episode as sober and as productive as he’s been all season. Though he is seen drinking on a few occasions, Don is not a sloppy drunk unable to complete his tasks at the highest level or bumbling around making awkward passes at female counterparts. So, step up! But even in his improved state, Don can’t necessarily stop Roger from acting a fool in front of the Honda people (though he, along with Pete, eventually put Roger in his place) and actually admits that he has no idea how to handle Sally, or being a father in general. Although this is certainly not an “Everything’s okay!” episode for Don, there is something to be said for his ability to admit his problems as a father and seems to be refocusing on his work thanks to the competition with Teddy Chaough. Could it be that Don is on the way back? Maybe.

While Don might be finding himself, Betty, who re-appears for the first time in two episodes, seems to be as lost as ever. She freaks out over Sally’s haircut, but can only relate the incident to her own childhood (where she wanted long hair), instead of recognizing that Sally might wanted a shorter hairdo because of her mother’s look. So of course, she resorts to violence after the trim job and is more concerned about her image among the other mothers when Sally is caught touching herself.

However, things might be turning around for Betty thanks to her prescribed counseling sessions that will go along with Sally’s time. I found it very funny to watching Betty sit on the small couch, surrounded by toys and images of youth as she babbled on about her issues because she’s still such a child at heart and I think in a way, acting out in her own right when she’s hitting Sally. Of course, Sally’s been down this road before but had the experience falsified by Don. Maybe allowing her to deal with a child counselor, someone who would probably be best in fitting her needs, will help Betty grow up. Or, as hinted at by her questioning of whether or not Sally would hear her comments, she’ll just trash her daughter and avoid any blame like the spoiled brat that she is.

Now, with all that out of the way, I have to say that I didn’t fully enjoy this episode. Like “The Good News,” it was tonally awkward in spots, but unlike that effort, wasn’t so cut in half between the two tones. However, I’m not sure what to think when we go from Peggy test driving the Honda motorcycle in the empty lot to the heavy discussion about Sally’s issues. I know the series isn’t required to stay on one path or keep with one tone, even within an individual scene, but this week, it clashed a little bit. I was especially taken aback by Roger’s anger towards the Japanese. His actions here were certainly in the realm of possibility for the character, but like I said before, he’s oftentimes more blissfully ignorant and this did feel sort of like a way to introduce tension into the agency. And while it does accomplish that, it painted Roger in an awful light to get there, unfortunately.

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