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"Mad Men": "The Chrysanthemum and the Sword"

By admin Published: August 23, 2010

Spoiler-including discussion after the jump. For here: Wow.

This was one of those episodes that shows how good and rich "Mad Men" is, how ably it can shift tone, how willing it is to complicate its characters. It was also a hint that Don may be on the path to redemption, and an even stronger declaration that Betty is a long, long way from finding happiness even if Henry seems like a decent guy.

The big wow in this, of course, was in the Don/Betty/Sally story. Betty's violent currents -- not only in the slapping of Sally but in the threat to cut off Sally's fingers -- said so many things: that she is not over her anger at Don, that she doesn't really want to have children (especially when they get in the way of her new marriage), that she still has a miserable core which may never dealt with unless she -- not Sally -- starts going to therapy four times a week. But that's not at all likely: the scene of Sally waiting for the therapist with the housekeeper was wrenching in its demonstration not only of Betty's indifference to Sally's plight but of Betty's fear of revealing herself if she gets too near the therapist again.

And all that is playing against the old wounds and arguments between Betty and Don. On some level, this season is about the consequences of unrestrained sex -- as Don learned in the episode a week ago -- and Sally's sexual awakening/confusion is at least partly a result of the lack of restraint by both parents. (The argument about that was one where you could see how neither Don nor Betty was blameless.) Henry, again, is coming across as something of a good guy, but he's serving more as a counselor than as a parent at a point when the children desperately need the sort of calm he brings. They are not going to get that from Betty or Don, although Don at least understands that he doesn't know what to do with the children -- that he as much as Betty is not prepared to be a real father.

But while all that drama played out -- and Roger added a current of old rage at the office -- "The Chrysanthemum and the Sword" also managed to be very funny. One of the consequences of sex for Don is his secretary, whose horrors range from incompetence to -- the worst possible thing when working for Don -- indiscretion. But there's nothing he can do about it for now. At the same time, though, Don's secretarial humiliation appears to have chastened him. He hasn't stopped drinking but he has certainly cut back, with the scene of him reading at night instead of getting drunk an especially significant one. And he is getting back on game at the office, although the reason has less to do with business than with his wanting to deal with the way Ted Chaough has made their competition personal. If you make it personal with Don, look out, and the commercial scam was a joy. (Peggy riding the motorcycle in the studio. Lane letting the scheme go. Don, the master of the universe again, in the second meeting with Honda.) Loved it. Love the show.

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