'I'll Cut Your Fingers Off!': Mad Men Recapped

The Japanese are coming! It should be cause for celebration at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, but instead served as the trigger for an epic orgy of scheming, loathing and throat-slashing agita -- just the way we like our mid-season Mad Men. That it entitles Roger Sterling to some of his most historic one-liners is merely a bonus. Let's break it down.

We open on Don's redoubtable secretary Miss Blankenship, adrift in her crossword puzzle and still developing proficiency in modern buzzer technology. For the second episode in a row, a phone call will set the tone for what follows, but it's so hard to actually get the phone call transferred since Allison quit. In any case, Walter Hoffman from the NY Times will hold as long as it takes to get a comment from Don about rival Ted Chaough, whose CGC snagged Clearasil and Jai Alai and who claimed to the Paper of Record, "Every time Don Draper looks in his rearview mirror, he sees me." Don's response: "I've never heard of him." It only took about six months of arc time, but he's finally getting the hang of this press thing!

And he'll need it with Chaough, a slick, scaly little runt of a creative director who, despite Don's dismissals, is in fact the principal competition for the up-and-coming Honda account. This account is Pete's baby (figuratively, though he'll later remind us of its importance to his imminent, literal fatherhood as well), but he's not above the punchliney context of it all; as Jai Alai's Horace Cook Jr. was last season's "fatted calf," Honda motorcycles are a blippy, goofy incursion into a '60s auto idyll dominated still by tail fins, horsepower and size. Don plays straight man, ordering Joan to get everyone copies of Ruth Benedict's 1946 text The Chrysanthemum and the Sword -- the benchmark (if controversial) study of post-WWII Japan for Americans.

Roger, meanwhile, plays crazy man. "I don't expect you to understand this because you're a little boy," the WWII veteran (from the Pacific campaign, natch) spits to Pete, elaborating on the wartime carnage witnessed at the hands of Pete's "little yellow buddies." Ruh roh! He is a minority of one, thank goodness -- for the sakes of both business and the slow march of 20th-century cultural tolerance, I guess -- and even Bert Cooper agrees Roger will need to be kept a mile away from Honda, which represents the promise of $3 million in billings. But that's just the first point in a complex plot to win Honda and, moreover, to vanquish Chaough, who happens to be at Benihana the same night Don visits with Bethany, confronting his foe with fork-tongued finesse: "The good news is it's going to be between us. The bad news is the best man's going to win." Bethany, on only her second date with Don since the Great Thanksgiving Blue-Balling of 1964, asks, "We're not going to let this ruin our evening, are we?"

Of course not! We're going to leave that honor to Sally, whose weekend visitation with her brother plunges into coiffure chaos when she escapes the sitter's supervision and hacks the holy hell out of her hair. "I just wanted to look pretty," she tells Phoebe, the comely nurse from across the hall who hopefully pays better attention to her patients than she does her babysitting charges. Sally notes that Phoebe's hair is short, attempting to connect further dots by asking point blank, "Are you and Daddy doing it?"

Something something about the man peeing inside the woman, something something else about trying to fix her hair... just this whole vortex of sexual awareness, insecurity and thinly veiled lust that was only in the warm-up stages of sucking Don, Betty, Henry and even Sally's friends down with it. Upon the kids' return home, Betty deploys a healthy slap to Sally's face and a metaphorical right hook to Don's, only to be talked down by Henry, who urges her to apologize to her daughter and make an appointment for Sally at the hairdresser. Of course this runs counterintuitive to everything Betty stands for, which is why she remains one of the worst mothers on television. (Don't think Don didn't remind her of this himself before he shoved off.) Still, it's always nice to see her in top form.

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  • Emotionally Retarded says:

    I am not sure what to think of Betty's character trajectory, but didn't you think January Jones actually gave one of her most persuasive performances last night?

  • MrsQuint says:

    You know, I have such a dislike for Betty Draper/January Jones that it is hard for me to be objective about her performances, but I have to admit I was throughly convinced Betty is capable of cutting off Sally's fingers.

  • Majean says:

    This was the best Mad Men episode so far this season. I have been getting so bored with the show that I didn't even bother catch the 10:00 showing, but tuned in just in time for the 11:00 replay.

  • topsyturvy says:

    There is something so, so heartbreaking about Sally.

  • snarkymark says:

    A few notes...I love Blankenship and her trajectory straight from here to McMahon and Tate. She's the haw-haw comic relief of 1965. I also like that while Sally has to go to Dr. Dame Edna four times a week (sweet Lord, I agree ST), Betty only has to go once a month (actually, those numbers should be reversed). Roger's rage has always been just below the surface. All the wisecracks, the affairs, etc., are all signs that he's one angry man. And, Henry Francis is far too buff to be working for Nelson Rockefeller in the mid-60s.

  • sweetbiscuit says:

    Unfortunately, I thought it was her weakest yet -- I could see her acting really really hard. It bugs me.

  • fear says:

    Sally is so damn creepy.

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