Friday, August 27, 2010

Review: Mad Men "The Chrysanthemum and the Sword"

Non Spoiler Review:
SCDP entertains a bid for Honda, requiring all the partners to brush up on their Japanese culture, but Roger is not about to put his war years behind him.

Betty is now the living embodiment of pure evil, with mothering techniques best left to the Spanish Inquisition. She and Henry must deal with Sally's ongoing rebelliousness, while maintaining a vitriolic relationship with Don.

This was a great episode, full of corporate and family tension. Some scenes were very shocking to watch unfold. The Draper family storyline is starting to move along. Yet the whole episode continues the great sense of humor we've grown accustomed to this season.

Spoilers Now!
Betty has managed to destroy any ounce of sympathy we might have had for her coping with Don's shenanigans the first four years. She is nothing but a child herself these days, slapping Sally across the face rather than actually discuss a problem with her daughter. Her conversations with Don are pure invective as if she's trying to purge herself of all the anger she accumulated over the last five years rather than deal with matters productively.

Sally's sad state begins when she cuts her hair while under the care of Don's neighbour Phoebe (nice to see her again, but she's a nurse, for heaven's sake...can't she stand up to Don just a little bit?). Don chews her out and takes Sally back to Betty and Henry, and Betty alternates between shouting at Sally and insulting Don. Surprisingly, creepy Henry continues to be a quiet rational voice to her.

Sally then commits her most heinous act by playing with herself while at a slumber party, shocking everyone, and making Betty decide therapy is the only answer. By the end of the episode, we find Sally off to visit Dr. Edna, whom I hope is some solace to her. Otherwise I'm afraid Sally's plotline is going to lead to some dire consequences by the end of the season.

Faye has a heart to heart with Don at the office, offering some advise—just let Sally know she's loved. Don is surprisingly open with her, likely due to Faye revealing she's not really married and only wears the wedding ring as a boundary-setter at all the offices she visits. It was nice to see Don behave properly with one woman without ruining it.

SCDP is being stalked by a new ad man, Ted, from a rival firm, CGC. Ted is obsessed with besting Don, and makes a point of reminding him he has the Clearasil account Don gave up last episode. He's determined to get the Honda account that Pete has managed to get SCDP to bid on. 

Roger, however, has other ideas. As a WWII veteran, he's vowing never to work with the Japanese, leaving Bert, Don, Pete and Lane to read him the riot act about the state of accounts. Bert wants it clear that Roger is to be kept out of the loop on this one.

That fails miserably as Roger shows up at the Honda meeting which, until then had been conducted with all due delicacy and etiquette at Bert's advice, until Roger outrageously insults the Japanese. The scene is extremely tense and cringy as the other partners watch in horror as Roger destroys their hopes. The tactful Japanese depart with rules for the competition, but Bert knows they've been thrown out of the contest, and are expected to resign in shame.

Don can't bear to watch them lose such a large account, so sets about trying to find the solution, reading the Chrysanthemum and the Sword amid dealing with Sally's problems. Roger attempts to find some sympathy, but even Joan won't hear of it, and Pete's declaration that Roger will be useless once they don't need to keep Lucky Strike hit home. He eventually apologizes.

Don concocts a plan to make Ted's firm break the Honda competition rules and so begins an amusing sequence of events as Joan, Peggy and Don conspire to spread rumours that SCDP is filming an actual commercial. This prompts Ted to do the same (violating Honda's rules about not submitting finished work). Don heads into the meeting with Honda, and while he does withdraw, he cites Honda's dishonor at not honoring their own rules. SCDP wins, and CGC ends up spending a whole lot of money on nothing.

What Worked:
The corporate backstabbing was great fun, especially drawing in Peggy and Joan to pull it off. It's interesting that Don chastised Peggy for her canned ham fight in the first episode, but now that it's personal (with Roger) he has no problem concocting such a complex plan of corporate espionage. 

Roger's outburst in the meeting was spectacle and ramped up the tension, watching the meeting collapse and the horrified looks on the partner's faces as they could do nothing to stop it. What followed were some great truths uttered by Pete about Roger's ultimate worth to the firm, Joan refusing to listen to his war stories because her own husband was soon to be off to Viet Nam, and Bert's ultimate frustration of having to deal with him and his sense of entitlement all these years. This might be the season where it all catches up to Roger.

Don's ultimate win against Ted showed a lot of smarts. He could have marched in and tried to win the Japanese with some ad brilliancy, but instead he researched the culture and planned what would work. This Don is definitely an improved version over the drunken Don of past episodes.

Bethany's back...and only three dates with Don in all these months? Run, Bethany!

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