Mad Men Season 4-05 ‘The Chrysanthemum and the Sword’ Recap

My fears of them sidelining the other half of the Drapers, Betty and the kids, are truly wiped by this week’s episode as they come back in a very major role providing the dramatic backbone for the entire episode. There is a good reason why Kiernan Shipka (Sally Draper) has become mentioned amongst the main title sequence, for such a young actress has startling range and depth, I would not bet against her being nominated if not winning an Emmy next year. January Jones, who I never thought was ever great in the show, proves that she is best when going to the character’s darkest elements and this episode lets her go down that path.

It is an episode which is making the cracks in both Don’s personal and professional life wider. At Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, a Japanese account is being brought in by Pete Campbell in the form of Honda, which again reinforces the tension between Pete and company boss Roger Sterling, who on the face of it turns it down for reasons of honour, fans will know that Roger is WW2 veteran who fought in the Pacific. However as a later scuffle shows, it is more to do with the worry of Pete Campbell becoming more important than him in the company. In a risky move the other partners decide that this is too much of an opportunity to pass up and go behind Sterling’s back. What Don, Lane and Bertram Cooper don’t know is that the Japanese have also given the brief for a Honda ad to a rival company. In another bold move Don hatches a plan to convince the rival company that they go ahead with the brief, prompting them to create an expensive TV ad. While SDCP do end up winning the account, the rival company which contains two of SCDPs old employees could prove to be a thorn in the side later on.

In Draper’s personal life things are considerably more rocky. The weekend Don has the kids he goes out romancing to return home to be informed that Sally has cut her own hair. Knowing this will cause numerous arguments upon returning the children, Don tries to remain calm. However when he does return the kids the worst of worse happens in a extremely well handled but shocking moment, Betty viciously slaps Sally which is almost on a par with locking her in a cupboard for nastiness. There are then some brilliantly staged arguments between Betty and Don, the icyness of Betty is pitched perfectly by January Jones who I have never seen as that level of good. Later Sally is found ‘pleasuring’ herself by a neighbour which then prompts Betty to send her to a psychiatrist. The element of mental illness was very much part of Betty’s character arc in the first season, and this runs through the female side of the family. Also interesting that after sheering her hair, Sally’s new haircut very closely resembles her mother’s. Betty’s life is clearly crumbling around her, the relationship with her ex-husband has turned into what she never wanted: hostility.

It is always dangerous to predict Weiner’s story arcs and plots as he so often breaks convention and contorts our expectations. But I would be very surprised if these cracks do not hve a major effect far down the line. I think the episode was outstanding and so understated despite a lot of dramatic tension underneath.