“Mad Men” Recap: 405, “The Chrysanthemum and the Sword”
The title for our latest “Mad Men” episode comes from a sociological screed about Japanese culture written by Ruth Benedict at the behest of the U.S. Government and published in 1946 at the dawn of the United States’ occupation of Japan. Considering that the bulk was written during the war, the chance that any meaningful on-the-ground work was done in the research phase of “The Chrysanthemum and the Sword” is unlikely. But beyond what was apparently some fairly prejudicial mumbo-jumbo, the takeaway for our anti-heroes at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce is that the Japanese businessmen possibly bringing the Honda motorcycle account to Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) are part of a “shame-based society” as opposed to our own “guilt-based society.” Of course, this is broad-brush stuff because, as we’ll see in this episode, shame is a major motivator in how Betty Draper (January Jones) goes about her parenting, and it does form the foundation for Don Draper’s climactic clever maneuver against Cutler Gleason and Chaough.
As Episode 405 opens, Don (Jon Hamm) receives a call from The New York Times’ advertising reporter, who is doing some press release reporting on the idea that CGC is always in SCDP’s “rear-view mirror,” that they just nabbed Clearasil after SCDP had to drop the zit cream because of a conflict with the more-lucrative Pond’s account and that they are now competing directly over Honda. Don claims not to know who Ted Chaough is, but we all know this game. CGC doesn’t really come off as serious competition in this episode — more like carrion birds feasting on SCDP’s roadkill. But at the meeting table, the threat is taken seriously and the importance of landing Honda is apparent to everyone involved except Roger Sterling (John Slattery). Roger, the World War II vet, is dead set against courting Honda, since he served in the Pacific and, 20 years later, still hates the Japanese and, at least in this case, seems perfectly happy with SCDP’s dependence on Lucky Strike and Lee Garner Jr. Bert Cooper (Robert Morse) tells Roger that “the war is over,” and while it’s been some time since we, as viewers, have been invited into Cooper’s office, we know the guy has a serious aesthetic leaning toward Japan, what with his shoji doors and everything. Roger, it seems, is going to be an issue, since he apparently hasn’t met a Japanese stereotype or insult he didn’t like.
Don, meanwhile, is taking Bethany (Anna Camp) to Benihana of Tokyo (a business-and-pleasure field trip that will probably be about as enlightening as Ruth Benedict’s book), and so Phoebe (Nora Zehetner) is babysitting Sally and Bobby at Don’s man cave — she brings her nursing equipment for Bobby to play with, but Sally is extremely displeased that Don is abandoning them to go on a date. After Don leaves, Sally goes into the bathroom and hacks off a good portion of her hair in emulation of Phoebe’s close crop. Apparently Sally thinks that short hair will make Daddy notice her and she asks Phoebe, “Are you and Daddy doing it?” Phoebe is, of course, apoplectic and knows exactly how this is going to play when Don comes home.
At Benihana, Don and Bethany are getting their lesson in Japanese cutlery use and Bethany is complaining about her hair smelling like fried food when Ted Chaough (Kevin Rahm) shows up to do his own research and give Don a kick in the ribs. Don is clearly irritated — he tells Bethany that Ted is a “fly I keep swatting away,” but that isn’t near the irritation Don experiences when he goes back to the man cave (still no sex from Bethany, who is apparently the mother of one of the authors of “The Rules” and is holding out until she theoretically becomes the next Mrs. Don Draper) and discovers Sally’s new ‘do. As predicted, Don goes off on Phoebe and hands her some money with a “severance” package. Then Don takes Sally and Bobby to Betty and Henry’s chamber of horrors, where Betty greets Sally’s hair with a whopping slap in the face. Betty’s always been a bit of a Mommie Dearest, but in seasons one through three, she was more passively Hellish. These days, an active nastiness is taking over, with Betty taking out her hatred of Don on the children she had with him. Henry convinces Betty to take Sally to get the hair fixed (Hayley Mills is all the rage anyway) and let her go to her planned sleepover, to which Betty tells him, “You’re soft.” Well maybe, but Tony Stark would be soft compared to Betty these days.
Back at the office, the partners who are willing to conduct commerce with Japanese companies are meeting with executives from Honda, and everything is going swimmingly until Roger shows up and starts making dark jokes about Hiroshima and Nagasaki and blatantly insulting the men. This scene had my skin crawling: I lived in Japan for two years when I was in the military, and not only are new residents cautioned about making hateful comments like these, the rule is that you just don’t talk about it. No drunken apologies for Fat Man and Little Boy — just shut up, sailor. Anyway, it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that Roger has scuttled any chance SCDP had of landing the account, and Pete blows up at Roger for what he sees as a personal attack sabotaging Pete’s potential success, and Don is forced to not only intercede when Roger tries to physically attack our young weasel, but actually defend him.
And now things get a tad uncomfortable, even by “Mad Men” standards, as Sally sits on a couch at her sleepover and watches “The Man From UNCLE” while her friend Laura snoozes away. She gets a little, shall we say, flushed at watching David McCallum’s Illya Kuryakin, hikes up her pajamas and is promptly caught by Laura’s mother, who yells at her and takes Sally home. Needless to say, Betty is unsympathetic, mainly because word will get out that her daughter’s some kind of fast floozy (shame, anyone?). Betty tells Henry about it, and they decide Sally needs professional help because, as Betty tells Sally, you’re not supposed to do those kind of things, not in private or in public. Of course, Betty made utilitarian use of a washing machine in season one, but that was different, right? Right?
Back at SCDP, the men haven’t received the customary gift from Honda, which Far East scholar Bert interprets as a sign that SCDP is expected to bow out of competition for the account. It should be pointed out at this juncture that Honda went into this brouhaha with ground rules, including a proviso that none of the competing agencies could spend more than $3,000 on developing a proposal and that no finished work could be presented. At first, Don proposes that SCDP should just shoot the moon and create a spot, but bean-counting Lane puts the kibosh on that idea. In the middle of all this, Betty calls Don, tells him about Sally’s little indiscretion and informs him that she’ll be taking her to a child psychologist, and in short order Betty starts blaming Don for everything because of what she perceives as a constant stream of nubile Manhattan flesh parading through the man cave. Don shoots back, telling her, “You brought another man into your house.” Betty justifies it by playing the marriage card, but in Sally’s eyes, that doesn’t amount to much. Henry’s an interloper who’s making an unholy two-backed beast with Sally’s mom, whether the State of New York recognizes the union or not.
So anyway, Don’s got a shame-related idea that might not win SCDP the motorcycle account, but could allow them to save face: make CGC think that SCDP is producing a TV ad, which will force Ted Chaough to produce his own spot, thereby violating the spirit and the letter of the competition. What follows is a great deal of stagecraft, with Joan offering a directorial job to a helmer who they already know is under contract to CGC and having Peggy wheel around a Honda motorcycle in the hallway. Word gets back immediately to Chaough, who comes up with a spot involving a motorcyclist driving through subway stations and then whipping off the helmet to reveal — gasp! — a beautiful “California” blonde. Peggy and Joey then rent out a soundstage across the hall from where CGC is shooting, and Peggy does donuts with the motorcycle, just to make noise.
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