By CYNTHIA LITTLETON
This felt like an episode about people trying to live with open wounds -- Oedipal and otherwise. The Sally Draper scenes were painful to watch.
Though there were some light touches here and there, "The Chrysanthemum and the Sword" was a heavy episode. It's never easy to see a child suffer. And now even Sally's unfeeling mother recognizes that the kid is troubled.
Roger Sterling was also nursing a war wound through his visceral opposition to doing any kind of biz with a Japanese motorcycle manufacturer called Honda.
The physical manifestation of his anger was so expertly telegraphed by John Slattery -- in the way he prowled around the room during his first nasty encounter with the Honda execs and the way he and Pete nearly came to blows.
The subtext about Roger's concern about new accounts overshadowing the importance of his cornerstone client, Lucky Strike, was nicely handled by in the script by scribe Erin Levy and by helmer Lesli Linka Glatter who's just fantastic, particularly on this show. (And we all know that Lucky Strike is about to wane in importance once the federal ban on cigarette advertising on TV hits in 1966.)
I noticed this episode had an amazing color palette -- as if to visually represent that the Day-Glo psychedelic era is just around the corner. Deep greens, reds, blues and of course, Roger's pop art office (which is so not him!). It was a visual treat, sharply assembled by editor Leo Trombetta, who won an Emmy on Saturday for cutting the HBO telepic "Temple Grandin" (you notice these things after you endure a three-and-a-half-hour awards ceremony).
It was interesting to see how the meltdown with Sally seemed to snap Don Draper out of his boozy haze of the past few episodes. It's as if he needed a win in some area of his life, and his professional life is the one area where he can still flex some muscle.
Of course, this time around he was competing on the creative merits but rather psyching out a sleazy competitor -- or swatting a fly, as Don put it. The stunt of tricking the over-confident competition into breaking the "rules" set down by the Honda team in order to fall out of favor with the protocol-driven Japanese firm was genius Don -- using his own impulse to turn the tables on the cocky Ted Chaough (I would never have guessed that spelling without the aid of AMC's episode guide). It was kind of a high-class version of the stunt Pete and Peggy pulled off a few weeks back with the canned ham account. And it works, landing Sterling Cooper the fledgling Honda automobile business, or "a motorcycle with doors" (I think that was Pete's line.)
Although Kiernan Shipka stole the episode, again, Christina Hendricks had a huge wisdom-of-Joan moment in the scene where she tells Roger to get over his WWII anger.
"Since when is forgiveness a better quality than loyalty?" Roger asks her. That's a pretty loaded statement given their past relations. Joan lays Roger out flat with a response that leaves no room for argument: "You fought to make the world a safer place, and you did."
Henry Francis takes a good turn in this episode as someone who is shaping up as a force for good in his stepdaughter's life, because he has been through it once before with his own daughter. He pushes Betty to get Sally professional help, and he tames the Queen of Mean after she slaps (slaps!!) Sally for cutting her own hair.
(I vividly remember chopping away at my hair while watching TV once day when I was about 6. I stuffed the hair behind the cushions of a big chair in the den. My mom shrieked when she found me but she sure didn't slap me.)
I agree with Henry that Don was cretinous for going on a date during one of his daddy weekends. I don't think Bethany's worth it, frankly. He'd be better off with his nurse neighbor Phoebe. Certainly Sally thinks so, even as she tries to work through her daddy-abandonment issues.
Maybe I was too busy trying to figure out what TV show or movie was playing on the TV set (Update: It was "The Man From U.N.C.L.E.," as my colleague Steve Atinsky at 411 Publishing points out.) but I didn't quite get the scene at Sally's sleepover where the mother supposedly finds her masturbating. Clearly she was having some kind of sexual response to the men on the screen -- an incredible wordless perf by Shipka -- but did I miss a more explicit movement, or was the mother just supremely uptight? (Hmmm, wonder why?)
Either way, the accusation and the aftermath of getting yanked from a sleepover and threatened by her own mother for experiencing a natural sexual impulse is sure to scar the poor girl. Sally really is going to need four days a week of therapy.
Nurse Phoebe was right not to dive into a clinical explanation when Sally spouted off to her what she "knows" about sex: "I know the man pees in the woman." But I sure hope someone finds the way to talk to her about in a caring way because goodness knows her mother's not mature or kind enough to help her daughter understand.
I think the kid shrink Dr. Edna picked up on Betty's psycho parenting techniques right away. Everything Sally does is about Betty, in Betty's eyes. The kid exists to be an extension of her, not to be a person in her own right. Sally can't cut her hair because Betty wanted long hair. Sally's embarrassed her mother to punish her. I'd just like to give Betty a swift kick in the shins. But her payback is deliciously appropriate. It seems like every time she and Henry try to have sex at home they get interrupted at the most inopportune time.
Although it looked like for just a minute Betty was going to do the right thing by Sally, it turns out to be Carla that takes Sally to her first Dr. Edna appointment. Probably just as well -- at least Carla is loving to Sally -- but Betty should just shut up with her bashing of Don as uncaring.
Back to the Sterling Cooper lair, clearly something is brewing between Don and research maven Faye. Great line from Don about her having "fake dinner plans with her fake husband" after learning that her wedding ring is a decoy.
And it was of course poignant that just as Don asks Faye why so many strangers open up in her focus group seshes -- "Why does everybody need to talk about everything?" -- he unloads his highly personal problem with Sally on to her. And he feels better for doing so. Plus her response to him is the wisest thing that anyone says to him in the entire episode: "If you love her and she knows it, she'll be fine." Hopefully, he'll take the hint and work harder at letting Sally know it.
** An unexpected appearance from Smitty. I liked that character. I hope he comes back for more.
** "The Chrysanthemum and the Sword: Patterns of Japanese Culture" was an influential study of Japan immediately after WWII written by anthropologist Ruth Benedict.
** I have no clue what the context for Roger's reference to Bert about "Dr. Lyle Evans," even after Googling the name.
** Walter Hoffman on the advertising beat for the New York Times. If this episode were set a few years earlier it would have been Variety's own Peter Bart.
** "River of shit," as Don accurately predicts Betty's reaction to Sally's hair. It's colorful, but would such phrasing have been in use in 1965?
** Joan's curvy figure speaks the universal language. Tip over, indeed.
** "Christ on a cracker" -- Is that what Pete said after Roger's outburst with the Honda execs?
** "A Margaret Dumont-sized disaster" -- Pete's got the Marx Brothers on his mind!
** Faye speaks for the viewer: "I don't know how people drink the way you do around here."
** At least Betty finally recognizes what a blow her father's death was to Sally. They've both got their daddy issues.
** The Lucky Strike voice-over guy comes down with a bad case of chest congestion? He's toasted.
** Doris Day's "I Enjoy Being a Girl" from "Flower Drum Song" over the end credits? Genius.
BULLY PULPIT ALERT:
On a very personal note, my ears perked up at the television voice-over in the scene where Sally and babysitter Phoebe are watching TV as Don prepares for his date with Bethany. The news announcer references the March 9, 1965 murder of James Reeb, a Unitarian minister from Massachusetts. He was killed in Selma, Ala., by white thugs who hit him on the head with a club because Reeb was eating dinner in what was considered a black restaurant.
Reeb was among dozens of clergy from many denominations who answered the call from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to come to Selma to stand with black men and women in demanding justice and civil rights.
I am proud to be a Unitarian Universalist and to support in my own small way movements for social justice and equality.
A sobering reminder of how far we have to go, even 45 years after Selma, came in 2008 when two members of the Tennessee Valley UU congregation were killed and six were wounded after a man walked into the church and opened fire with a shotgun. The assailant reportedly targeted the UU church because of its outspoken support of same-sex marriage and because he didn't like liberals.