Blogging Mad Men: Season 4, Ep. 5, “The Chrysanthemum and the Sword.”

I understand there’s been some talk about Betty ’round these parts before.  Let me just go on the record as saying that I find Betty Draper to be a terrible human being and an utterly compelling character.  Her character was in classic form yesterday.  But we’ll get to that.

This episode opens with another appearance by a reporter, this time from the New York Times, asking about a rival, Ted Chaough, landing two of SCDP’s old accounts.  I supposed Don’s learned something from his initial interaction with reporters, and tells the Times guy “I’ve never heard of him.”  Pete has set up a meeting with the Honda motorcycle company, to the immense displeasure of Roger, who throws not one, but several glorified hissy fits about Pete’s “new yellow friends.”  In an attempt to learn more, Don takes Bethany to Benihana, where he runs into Ted, later complaining to Bethany “the minute he declared himself the competition, suddenly we were equal.”  Pete, smarmy and self-important as ever, reads The Chrysanthemum and the Sword in an attempt to understand the men from Honda.

Upon returning home, Don learns that Sally has hacked off all her hair.  (She’s also asked the babysitter if she and Don are sleeping together.)  This, to me, is the most interesting part of the episode.  Don’s travails at work and Bert’s admonition to Roger that “the war is over” serve to illustrate the old vs. new conflict, but I think the tension between Betty and Sally is what really takes the day.

When Don brings the kids home, Betty is in classic form.  She slaps Sally and sends her upstairs, screaming at Don.

“It’s like leaving them with nobody!”

“Because you’re so good with them?” he retorts.  After he leaves, Henry calms down a furious Betty.  Later in the episode, Sally gets caught masturbating while at a friend’s sleepover.  After threatening to cut Sally’s fingers off, Betty lets Henry convince her that perhaps Sally needs a psychiatrist.  She also reveals, to Harry’s surprise, that she’s seen a psychologist.  She tells Don, blaming him for him for Sally’s behavior.  He points out that Betty is still living in the same house, having more or less replaced him with Henry.  “You don’t think she noticed that?” he yells.

In a meeting with the psychiatrist, Betty accurately points out that Sally started acting out when Grandpa Gene died.  She also, in classic Betty fashion, tells Dr. Edna that she thinks Sally is trying to punish her.  Dr. Edna suggests that perhaps Betty should see someone as well, and tells her that she will not discuss anything Sally says with Betty and vice versa.

I’ll leave it to others to delve into Roger’s intense hatred of the Japanese and Pete’s newfound cojones in standing up to Roger.  For me, this episode revolved around Betty and Sally.  Betty remains the most fascinating character on the show.  I think she’s jealous of Sally: Don loves Sally, stilted though his attempts to convey his affection are, and Sally seems to feel a freedom that I think drives Betty absolutely insane.  Sally represents the control Betty wishes she had over her life, and instead of celebrating it, she’s resentful and bitter.  She’s a bad mother all the way around, but is especially awful to Sally.  I can’t wait to see how this develops.  As someone tweeted last night, “Sally Draper, you seem the most adult of the whole lot. Betty is gonna flip when you burn your bra.”


Fur coating and shit.

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  • Lexa

    Roger is stuck in time…he cannot believe the world is changing. To him, WW2 was his life…he is now just killing time, goofing off at SCDP. Working with the Japanese just pushed him and his sacrifices to the sidelines.

  • Betty as Evil Mother is getting tiresome. We’re three and a half seasons in and Betty hasn’t turned a corner yet with Sally. The only moment of kindness she’s shown her was when she bought her those boots and talked to her about Don not living at home during season two.

    Although I hope we never lose Kiernan Shipka, I can’t wait until we have grown up Sally for Betty to deal with.

    I loved the Don-cons-his-competition if only because it showed Don somewhat on top of his game again and living up to his legend. Hopefully, this is the beginning of his righting the S.S. Draper and not just a blip of hope in his continued downward spiral.

    • Leigh

      I don’t think Betty as a character is tiresome at all. I think her rage and resentment and willful blindness to her role in Sally’s struggles is fascinating.

  • Scipio Africanus

    Betty is Livia Soprano.

    • Nicole

      I wonder if Sally will grow up to be Tony or Janice.

  • Delia Christina

    This is all a wonderful set up for when Sally breaks out and becomes a flaming hippie in about 6 years (and then enters therapy in the 70s and really gets in touch with her rage toward her mother as a Boomer.) As Sally embraces her id, Betty will absolutely lose her shit and Don will just be lost (as he was in California) as youth culture takes over America and kicks his narrowly-defined masculine mystique in the gonads.

    Gee, I love this show.

  • -k-

    Betty’s been totally flat for all five of these episodes. No inner life, no development. I can only hope that the brief moment in Dr. Edna’s office was a signal that they’re going to treat the character like a human sometime this season.

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  • TMA

    But maybe Betty will not grow and progress. It happens all the time in real life. If she’s never able to look at herself and the role she plays in making her life miserable, then she’s not going to be able to create change. Instead she’ll continue to be petulant, childish, and insufferable.

    It was nice to see Don leading the troops in for the charge. (See what I did there?) And Roger…well, after his blackface performance last season, this totally does not surprise.

  • TMA

    It’s also interesting that the men seemed to be more enlightened WRT the emotional needs/issues of Sally. This, in an era when men were supposed to be supremely unenlightened around these issues. Hmmm.

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