subscriber help

such a nasty woman | by maryann johanson

a few thoughts on ‘Mad Men’: “The Chrysanthemum and the Sword”

I was left puzzled by this episode immediately after I watched it. Not a bad kind of puzzled, but the kind of puzzled that had me turning it pleasantly over and over in my head, thinking about how the seemingly disparate things going on in this episode — Sally’s acting out, the competition between SCDP and CGC — were connected. Or if they were.

And then it finally struck me this morning: It’s all about manipulation.

First, Sally. Her manipulation may not be deliberate… or at least not all of it is. Poor kid, caught at her friend’s sleepover having naughty, naughty thoughts — probably her first! — and the friend’s mother walking just as she’s figuring out what those thoughts are all about. (Someday Sally will know that Illya Kuryakin had that affect on a lot of girls and women!) Of course she couldn’t have arranged to get caught and have her friend’s mother freak out — though Sally probably should have known, at that point, that her mother would freak out even more.
God, I hate Betty (thought of course I realize that she’s probably very typical of the era). If only Betty had made light of it, let the kid know it’s all perfectly normal. If only Betty hadn’t also gone ballistic at Sally’s homemade haircut — which almost certainly was a provocation on Sally’s part, though perhaps not a conscious one, both against her mother’s lookism and against her father, for abandoning her even as he’s supposed to be spending time with her.

But Betty thinks Sally’s behavior is deliberately intended to punish her. Even if that’s true, how cruel and selfish of Betty to make it all about herself, and not about figuring out what is going on in the kid’s head. Even her decision to bring Sally to the shrink is, it seems, more out of a fear that Sally will embarrass Betty, not out of any genuine concern for the child’s welfare.

This is not a word I use lightly, but… What a bitch Betty is.

Sally may be glad someday for Henry, who so far appears to be far better at appeasing Betty and making her see sense than Don ever was.

(Oh, and is Don’s friend Bethany another Betty in the making? He likes those regal blondes, doesn’t he?)

But all of Sally’s shenanigans and upsets are nothing compared to the outright asymmetrical warfare Don launches against CGC, the rival ad agency. He really is a genius, with his sneaky plan to convince the other guys SCDP is breaking the rules of the competition with Honda in order to get them to break the rules. It’s more The Art of War than The Chrysanthemum and the Sword, and it’s brilliant.

Oh, and about The Chrysanthemum and the Sword… It’s a book by Ruth Benedict published just after WWII and meant to illuminate the Japanese character for American readers. I haven’t read it, though I’m tempted to now (it’s still in print [Amazon U.S.] [Amazon Canada] [Amazon U.K.]) What’s particularly interesting to me in light of how Sally’s saga plays out is that it explains the differences between how a culture like Japan’s, which operates on shame, differs from a culture like the U.S.’s, which operates on guilt.

Then again, we don’t know if Betty’s attempt to guilt Sally will work. And the Japanese guys had no shame in openly staring at Joan’s impressive bosom. So perhaps the book is full of shit.

Warning: Invalid argument supplied for foreach() in /home/flick/public_html/wptest/wp-content/themes/FlickFilosopher/loop-single.php on line 106
posted in:
tv buzz
  • Lady Tenar

    Hmmm. I’m surpised you don’t have more sympathy for Betty. I don’t like her and my heart broke for poor Sally when Betty was telling her she’d “cut her fingers off.” But Betty is a victim too. She’s repeating what she knows from her own mother, trying to turn Sally into a perfect, demure little lady and using cruel and abusive means if necessary. She can’t tell Sally that masturbation and sexual thoughts are all perfectly normal because she doesn’t know that herself. She’s got visions of Sally growing up to be a “fast” girl dancing in her head. And as narcissistic as she is, I don’t think it’s all about worrying that Sally will embarass her. I think she does care about Sally but she’s just not very emotionally equipped. She lacks the self-reflection to see that conforming to every gender norm didn’t make her very happy. And I think she’s a little afraid of Sally. Her own family seems to have instilled a deep terror of any thought or action that doesn’t fit into the perfect little princess ideal. Sally doesn’t fit. And, in a way, maybe she’s even a little bit jealous, although she certainly would not be aware of that feeling.

    LOL at Ilya Kuryakin though. My mom, who is Sally’s generation, told me she laughed at that scene because she had a thing for him at Sally’s age too. He seems to have been responsible for the sexual awakening of baby boomer preteen girls everywhere.

  • Kevin

    I finally realized after this episode that Betty may be one of the least likable characters on TV. Not that I liked her before, but this episode really cemented it. Don may have some serious character flaws, but he also has his redeeming qualities. Betty, however, seems to have become the embodiment of spite.

  • Isobel

    I just read this review out of curiosity because for some reason I missed Mad Men and never started watching it. The fact that you can discuss the characters in as much depth as Lady Tenar has, has made me think I really ought to get watching! My Mum loves it and she’s got good taste in TV, so I think I’m missing out. And besides, if MaryAnn likes it (and also likes Doctor Who, Life on Mars, Battlestar Galactica and Caprica, as do I) I’m pretty guaranteed to agree.

  • mortadella

    I think Betty’s disliked because we keep expecting her to evolve or have a Eureka moment, where she’s all, “Hey, wait a minute, I’ve been going about this the wrong way,” but she never does.
    I say this because of the way she used to talk about her own mother in earlier episodes. One time she told her friend how looks were very important to her mother because that’s what landed you a husband and home. Then Betty said something like, “But is that it? After you get married you just sit around and wait to die?” So, she can smell the bullshit in the program, but she chooses to go along with it anyway. There doesn’t seem to be an ounce of rebellion in her at all. She mentioned to that shrink that both she and her brother did “naughty” things as kids; her brother got in trouble for the girly magazine but she did her business behind closed doors. It’s weird, but it’s like Betty’s jealous of Sally’s lack of restraint because when she was little, she wouldn’t have dared to act out. Sally is sooo gonna be a hippie…or a beatnik. Sally may find that disappointing her mother is fun…though, with the hair-cut, it felt like she wanted to have control over something because she has no control over what her parents do.

  • drewryce

    I think it’s about guilt and repression of the normal sexual attraction to the opposite parent. Betty is stuck in her idol worship of her father. Her father hated Don because he saw him as a competitor for that love. henry can manipulate Betty because he plays her like a precious little girl and he has grey hair.
    Sally got the haircut because she wanted to be older, attractive in a sexual way, and compete for her father’s attentions because he had just abandoned her to go on a date (the nurse/sitter has short hair). She has probably heard from her Mom that all that Don cares about are whores (that BTW have short hair or hair up).
    Don meanwhile has been deprived of his Mothers love and seeks it in the form of care giving women. the tip off there is that the secretary is ignored until she starts tucking him in. BTW, the only woman he really seems to love and does not ever want to sleep with is Mrs Draper in CA and if that isn’t a mother figure I don’t know what is.

    I have little sympathy for Betty. Just a skinny WASP version of Livia Soprano. Sure she is a victem and reliving it by revisiting on her children. But, she doesn’t have to be. In my opinion, part of her hatred of Don is that he has escaped his squlid early life and if she accepts that then she must accept the guilt that she does not.

  • MaryAnn

    Sure she is a victem and reliving it by revisiting on her children. But, she doesn’t have to be.


    I hear you, Lady Tenar, and I don’t disagree with you about Betty being a victim, but I think there has to come a point in any adult’s life in which you either say, “Fuck this shit” and start living for yourself, or you give in and go along with the game that has been forced upon you. Betty isn’t stupid. And she might feel trapped herself. But forcing that same guilt and shame and trappedness on her daughter is, I think, unforgivable.

    Maybe Betty will change. Maybe Sally will be strong enough to be her own person before her mother stomps any individuality out of her. I hope so.

    What is really fascinating about this dynamic, though, is that we’re seeing how women help perpetuate sexism and conformity.

    I finally realized after this episode that Betty may be one of the least likable characters on TV.

    I agree. But that doesn’t mean she’s not a dramatically intriguing character! As a person, I hate her, and in real life I wouldn’t want anything to do with her. As a character in a drama, I love her for what she brings to the story, and for what who she is says about the times she lives in.

  • Knightgee

    Honestly, at this point there are no likable characters for me in the show. It’s like watching a series full of villains for me, which has it’s own allure, but that’s a far cry from liking them as people. Joan and Peggy are pretty much the only characters I care about and Peggy has been making something of a point lately to fall out of favor. I don’t know if it’s intentional on the writers’ parts or if I am simply getting more and more fed up with their 1960s baggage. I say that last part because what Betty is doing doesn’t seem that out of the ordinary with regards to how many parents raised their kids in that era, we just have the lens now to understand how absolutely ridiculous it was.

  • Lisa

    I keep feeling she’s going to burst – she’s so angry and repressed. I do feel sorry for her. It’s like she knows there’s something wrong but isn’t emotionally equiped to deal with it. She’s still a child.

    Any feelings, thoughts about the theory that Gene sexually abused both Sally and Betty?

  • DaveTM

    Lisa – It’s possible I guess in that this is where I thought the storyline with Betty’s father was going when he suddenly died.

  • Lisa

    I’d prefer them not to go down that road. It seems cliched and like they’re going so that’s why! Whereas I think Betty’s problems come from her mum not her dad. He never thought Don was good enough for her and he was right. I’d rather it be something more mundane or subtle.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This