Mad Men – The Chrysanthemum and the Sword

Mad Men - The Chrysanthemum and the Sword I often have the same thought when watching war films, especially those that strive to make the horror of war as realistic as possible: How does anyone return from that and conduct a normal life? I’m often reminded of when I went to see The Memphis Belle with my grandfather, himself a retired Air Force man who was a B-17 turret gunner over North Africa. He told me how hard one scene in particular was for him to watch. The squadron encountered German fighter planes and the crew of the Belle watched as planes around them were cut in half by flak, machine gun bullets and crashing German planes that refused to go down alone. These were bombers that carried their friends. My grandpa lived through the exact same experience and saw that very thing happen to his friends. And yet, somehow he was able to go on with his life. It couldn’t have been easy and it certainly isn’t easy for Roger Sterling.

It’s March 1965 and the Japanese surrender is nearly 20 years in the past but for Roger the war is still too close, still too vivid and still too painful for him to simply shake hands and do business with people he was trained to kill and who so many of his friends died fighting. Life goes on and business is part of life but when Pete arranges a meeting with Honda motorcycle company, a company looking to expand to automobiles in the very near future, Roger is simply not ready.

If Roger is battling enemies of his past Don Draper is battling an enemy who is drafting on his success and picking up his scraps but making a story of it that he’s close on Draper’s heels. A New York Times writer tried to pin Draper down for a reaction on rival agency Cutler Gleason and Chaough landing the Clearasil and Jai Alai accounts.

“Every time Don Draper looks in his rearview mirror, he sees me,” the reporter quotes CGC’s Ted Chaough as saying. But Draper knows a thing or two about storytelling and knows even more about how NOT to elevate your competition to your level. Why treat this ne’er do well as anything more than what he is?

“I’ve never heard of him,” Don replies but Ted really is in Don’s rearview mirror, even running into Draper on a date at Benihana.

The team assembles to strategize how they’ll go after Honda when a different side of Roger’s biting wit and talent for quips comes to the surface. Telling Pete that his “new yellow buddies” killed a lot of his friends and that he won’t do business with them Roger abruptly ends the meeting by declaring , “Lucky Strike’s great, meeting adjourned.” Bert Cooper instructs Pete to move forward with Honda but to leave Roger out of any planning or discussions.

Don Draper is a newly single man. Sure, he’s been bagging chicks like a frat guy since the first episode but now it’s legit and out in the open. He’s dating, for heaven’s sake! If he’ll bed any attractive female who looks twice in his direction he certainly has a type when it comes to actual courting. The dashing Bethany looks a heck of a lot like the ex-Mrs. Draper and who can blame him? If you can find TWO gals with Grace Kelly looks why not go for it?

Unfortunately, dating can be complicated, especially if you have kids. Don arranges for his neighbor to watch Sally and Bobby for the evening only to come home to a newly shorn daughter who took the liberty to “style” her own hair when the babysitter wasn’t looking. Don is viciously efficient at cutting people down and sends poor Phoebe home with a few bucks.

“I can’t possibly accept this,” she protests.

“Consider it your severance.”


Back at the former Draper household Betty reacts to the new coif with expected rage and slaps Sally across the face. It’s when Don leaves that Henry rises to the occasion and shows himself to be the dedicated father and husband Betty was looking for in Don. He has an older daughter and actually gives Betty good advice on how to handle this little digression with care and compassion. Poor Sally has gone through a lot in the last year, let’s give the girl some room to mess up a little.

Despite the entire office’s best effort to keep Roger away from the Honda execs he finds his way to the first meeting where they’re laying out the rules of the pitch.

“These guys won’t know when it’s over, you might have to drop the Big One—twice,” he seethes. After a number of slights like this Roger tries to derail the whole thing by telling the Japanese execs that “we beat you once, we’ll beat you again. We don’t need any of your Jap crap.” Bert Cooper, a student of Asian cultures does his best to humbly apologize and it seems to work because the Honda men tell them they’ll be paid $3,000 to come up with concepts and that they are to stick to that budget. Also, no final creative.

Since this is the second of Pete’s big catches of late he’s understandably peeved at Roger’s indignation and tells him that it’s not the war that’s the problem.

“Every new account I bring in reduces our dependency on Lucky Strike, which lessens our dependency on you,” Pete scolds. Roger lunges at the little bastard but is stopped cold by Draper who tells the Silver Fox that Pete is right. To know that every partner is against you must be a cold splash of water for Roger who might be struggling to find his place in the agency if Pete Campbell is the new point man on new business.

Meanwhile, Sally gets herself into more trouble when she’s caught rubbing one out while watching the Late Movie at a sleepover. She’s brought directly home where Betty all but calls her a slut.

“You don’t do those things,” Betty scolds Sally later. “You especially don’t do them in public.”

Once again Henry steps up and tells Betty that Sally probably needs to talk to someone; talk to a professional. Though Betty is skeptical, especially given her own experience with a psychiatrist who dutifully reported back to Don what was discussed in each session, she concedes. In a meeting with a child psychiatrist it becomes clear to the doctor that both mother and daughter have some issues to sort out and she suggests Betty come in for a meeting once a month or so to discuss Sally’s progress. It’s a thinly veiled attempt to get at Betty’s contribution to Sally’s difficulties and it’s hard to tell if Betty’s aware of the ruse. Of course, she sends poor Sally to her first appointment with Carla the housekeeper rather than escort the kid herself. One step forward…

The gang back at Sterling Cooper Draper and Pryce debate whether Roger’s escapades have sunk their chances to present to Honda when Bert asks if they’ve received a gift from the Japanese. Draper’s secretary, Mrs. Blakenship (who provides much needed comedic relief in her haplessness and crusty demeanor) informs them that a gift has indeed arrived, but not from the Japanese. It’s a taunt from old Ted. His competitive dander properly tweaked, Draper suggests they go for broke and chuck the rules to deliver a highly produced final commercial. Lane says it’s out of the question since the firm is struggling just to make payroll.

Cooper informs his partners that the Japanese likely expect SCDP to resign from the competition because of Roger’s outburst. “Chaough wins another one by default,” grumbles Don. Or does he?

Quoting from The Chrysanthemum and the Sword, a book about Japanese culture, “A man is shamed by being openly ridiculed and rejected.” Draper sees an opportunity to not only save face with the Honda execs but to bury his nagging competition at the same time.

If SCDP can’t afford a commercial, neither can Chaough, but if he thinks Draper’s doing it he’ll follow suit. Thus begins a classic cat and mouse game where our heroes call a commercial director with a known history for working with Chaough only to plant a rumor they know will get back to old Ted. They rent soundstage space where Cutler Gleason and Chaough are shooting a different project and conspicuously wheel in a Honda before their very eyes. It works and then Ted shoots his own commercial, surely betting the farm in the process.

While the charade is going on Draper again questions the value Faye (aka, Dr. Hot Pants) brings with her market research, or rather why it is people feel compelled to tell her such intimate details about their lives. With a few prompts from the good doctor he then proceeds to admit his feelings of inadequacy as a parent. Touché, Hot Pants! But then Draper gets a bit of info from her when she admits that the wedding ring she wears is a mere prop to “avoid distracting conversations.” Is this a love connection I’m seeing?

After a quick slap of reality from Joan Roger seems to accept that the world has moved on from the war.

“You fought to make the world safer and now it is,” she tells him gently.

“Is it?”

“I have to believe so,” she says acknowledging that her own husband is about to don a uniform to serve on foreign shores any day now. If World War II united a nation in a common, horrible cause they have no idea what Vietnam is about to do to this country and Joanie’s not about to think about it now.

Don faces the Honda executives empty-handed and chides them for not following their own rules, thus invoking a bit of shame and playing on their honor as businessmen. Presenting a check for $3,000, he withdraws SCDP from the competition. When Don returns to the office Pete and Lane inform Don that he charmed the Japanese executives; SCDP has a shot at Honda’s upcoming automobile account, and CGC is out. Lane takes some credit for permitting Don’s “unseemly” stunt and tells him he could have canceled the studio rental but “realized that our financial future was related to Mr. Chaough’s demise.” And so with one deft bit of business kung fu Don Draper saves a lost cause of an account and vanquishes a rival, likely for good.

Roger Sterling is a cad but this week we saw more of the human under that Teflon hair than we did when he was on his deathbed. Like everyone of that generation he had to adjust to the fact that former enemies were now new allies, in geo-politics and in business. That’s a bitter pill to swallow but if we know anything about Roger Sterling it’s that he’s savvy. If Honda motors becomes a fixture in the storyline we can expect more of Roger’s off-color quips and probably a bit about his journey to some sense of normalcy that will surely be shaken by domestic events and enemies foreign and domestic threaten the very life he fought to protect. It should be fascinating to watch.

Mad Men: iTunes, Amazon, wiki, Official Mad Men recap from AMC.

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