Monday, August 23, 2010

'Mad Men' -- The Chrysanthemum and the Sword

*Warning – Spoilers ahead from the recent episode of Mad Men.*

After this episode concluded, the first thing I asked my husband, with whom I was watching it, was, “What would we do if we walked in on that?” That, of course, was the most shocking scene of the episode (other than Betty’s face-slapping of Sally after the 10-year-old had impulsively cut her hair), the one where Sally acted like a normal, curious kid, except that she picked the wrong venue in which she should've, shall we say, explored.

What happened next was an unfortunate overreaction on the part of Sally’s friend’s mother: Bringing Sally home and shaming her, but I suppose that’s probably what would’ve happened in 1965. (Betty then storming into Sally's room and threatening to cut Sally’s fingers off as the penalty for lying and for her "transgression" . . . Mother. Of. The. Freakin'. Year.)

Betty is becoming so harsh in her treatment of Sally that it's growing more difficult to sit through these mother-daughter scenes, particularly when Betty thinks that everything Sally does is in some way directed at her, as opposed to Sally's way of crying out for help. Sally’s humanity, her imperfections, seem to gall Betty, like they're an affront to Betty's vision of the perfect suburban family and must be eliminated, or ignored, no matter the cost. So cold is Betty toward Sally that she didn’t even accompany Sally to the psychiatrist’s office; she had Carla bring her instead. (As Dr. Edna said, I think it’s Betty who needs the therapy more than Sally.)

Sally has been practically invisible to Betty for so long. Sure, Betty was able to tell the child psychologist that Sally took the death of her grandfather especially hard, but Betty never really helped Sally get through all of that grief. Weeks later, when Sally's little brother was born and there was that whole naming-the-baby-Gene-and-sleeping-in-dead-Grandpa Gene’s-room which thoroughly freaked Sally out, Betty was largely oblivious to her daughter’s pain.

To lighten up the mood last night, I enjoyed the delightfully caper-ish storyline where the folks from Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce completely played the rival advertising agency that’s been snapping up some of SCDP’s accounts, making the competition think that SCDP was cutting a high-priced TV ad for the Honda pitch. Notwithstanding Roger’s attempts to fatally sabotage the Honda account – because he fought the Japanese in World War II and still considered them the enemy – SCDP’s subterfuge and appeal to the Honda people’s code of honor won out in the end. Though SCDP didn't get the account, at least Don got the competition to shell out major bucks to try to win it, hobbling their future ability to make pitches for other clients.

Over the course of the past two episodes, is it possible that Don’s confrontation with Allison in “The Rejected” -- where Allison quit and called Don a mean person – was a catalyst of sorts to get him to right his ship and (hopefully) put an end to the sad, mean, drunken divorce guy who pays for sex routine? He hasn't seemed his old charming, dapper self in quite some time. (In last night's episode, he was, once again, seeing Bethany, who’s potentially a mate, not just a bed partner, though I still think she’s a younger version of Betty.)Throw in the surprisingly open chat Don had with Faye in the break room, where he uttered a massive understatement (“It is not going well.”) and confessed that his daughter was going to start seeing a psychiatrist and that he misses his children when they’re not around and yet when he drops them off at his old house he's relieved, and I'm wondering if we're seeing Don gradually turn the corner.

A moment of levity from last week: Seeing Peggy’s head appear in the glass part of the wall between her office and Don's, peering into the room to see what was going on after Allison heaved a paperweight at Don and broke some glass made me laugh out loud.

Another observation from last week: The way in which the news of Trudy’s pregnancy played out between Pete and Peggy was delicate and awkward and real as they silently acknowledged that this won’t be Pete’s first child. That look they exchanged at the end of the episode . . . priceless.

Speaking of Peggy, that Life Magazine gal who invited Peggy to the party, Joyce . . . that situation didn’t go the way that I expected. I was greatly impressed that Peggy didn’t flip out over Joyce’s sexual overture like the way Joan did with her roommate in season one. But then again, most of these episodes have been surprising me lately. I never know what to expect, anything from Lane Pryce wearing a steak belt buckle and heckling a movie, to Roger Sterling playing Santa Claus and Betty's house getting trashed in a home invasion.

Image credit: Michael Yarish/AMC.

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