Mad Men: The Trouble with Sally

Adolescence is never easy and when you have a shitty mother like Betty Draper, it's even worse. Don is also trying to bring his new firm into adulthood, but not without growing pains. It's tough for those Mad Men kids.

On last night's episode, we had parallel story lines about future lesbian Sally Draper being a difficult 10 year-old and Sterling Cooper Draper Price struggling to reach financial maturity. Again many of the conflicts were about tradition and modernity. Betty Draper, though in a very modern family circumstance, idealizes the virtues of the past and tries to pass those on to her daughter. Roger Sterling, a veteran of the second World War, is holding on to old prejudices that his younger coworkers, like Pete and Joan, find silly. Not only that, but they are prejudices that won't allow his business to exist in the brave new world of the 1960s.

Let's start with Roger behaving like a spoiled little boy then, shall we? When Pete lands a meeting with Honda, who is looking for a new agency, Roger gets all upset because he lost friends fighting the Japanese in the war and says that he doesn't want to do business with a Japanese company. He even makes a big stink about Dr. Lyle Evans (a figure who, it turns out, is a big fraud). Everyone else at the firm knows that they can't be turning down prospective clients, especially because this new whippersnapper Ted Chaough is nipping at their heels and scooping up their old business. He's even calling the New York Times to talk about Don Draper. The team forges ahead with the meeting behind Roger's back. When he finds out, the results are like, well, an A-bomb going off at Hiroshima.

According to their custom, the Japanese forge on with the pretense that SCDP should enter the competition for their business, but Asian expert Bert Cooper soon informs them that, because of Roger's outburst, Honda really anticipates the firm to arrive at their next meeting and resign from the competition out of shame. Don has a different plan, thinking that the customs of the Japanese and the rules of the competition don't apply to him—that arrogance is so Don Draper in the worst possible way. He's going to make a whole commercial and wow the Japanese. Lane Pryce tells him that the firm doesn't have enough money to do that, and Cooper reminds him that the stipulations of the Honda competition say that no finished products should be presented. Breaking the rules would only piss off the clients even more.

For his part, Roger apologizes for the way he behaved and is willing to commit seppuku to make up for his outmoded prejudices. Still, Joan finds him in his office later getting wasted with his tie loosened. Roger knows what Pete Campbell said is right. Pete is the future of the company, trying to build something for his future family. Roger is the past, the man trying to destroy the company so that he can seem relevant. Now he's feeling sorry for himself. When he tries to tell Joan his war stories, she stops him. Nobody wants to hear it, Roger. There is no room for the past, especially in a culture like the '60s that was so obsessed with progress and the future. For Joan it has a special impact, because her husband is about to go off to war himself, and she can't hear about death and destruction. History may be repeating itself and Roger may be nothing but a relic, but Joan reminds him that he went to fight to make the world a safer place, and now it is. At least he has some sort of legacy.

Finally, Don takes the time to read The Chrysanthemum and the Sword, a noted book about Japanese culture, and comes up with a plan of his own. Thank god he did his homework and came up with a logical solution rather than just barging in there swinging his dick with a big, brash American show.

Don figures if making a commercial would bankrupt SCDP and piss off the Japanese, all he needs to do is convince his rival Ted to make a commercial, because that will probably bankrupt him too. And the execution of his plan was pretty genius (unlike Peggy's ugly brown dress when he revealed it to her).

What a great bit of industrial espionage! After talking to a video director knowing he'll go to Ted and spill the beans, the team furthered the plot by renting some studio space and having Peggy and Joey go to the set and keep Ted and his cronies out. The visual of Peggy in an empty studio riding a tiny Honda around in a circle was the perfect (hilarious) visual for the whole gambit.

When the day of the presentation arrives, Ted goes in with his finished product and Don marches in afterward to resign, which is what the Japanese expect. But he doesn't resign because Roger was an asshole. No, he resigns because the competition was unfair because Ted and company presented a finished commercial. Now it's the Japanese who are shamed, but they are also impressed, and will be throwing some business SCDP's way.

This really was a bold and brilliant move on Don's part to both get the agency some money and to swat off one of the gnats buzzing about his head. Ted is totally obsessed with Don, and when I found out that he hired some of Don's old colleagues, I held my breath waiting for big old queen Sal Romano to sashay into the office. But no, it was just Smitty, the annoying bohemian from season two. He didn't even bring is big old queen partner Kurt. What a disappointment!

The funny thing about Don's solution is that it is just like Peggy and Pete's plan in the season premiere to get two women to fight over a ham, a ruse that enraged Don and he told Peggy that he and his firm were above such antics. Well, maybe not anymore. Lane Pryce certainly wasn't impressed, and tells Don that he better not pull a stunt like that in the future.

Really, this episode was just a string of people behaving badly and being scolded for it. Not only does Don get a dressing down, but so does Roger. Betty gets yelled at for being a bad mother, and Don chews out his neighbor Phoebe and snips at our new hero Mrs. Blankenship for airing all his dirty laundry. But the one who really gets yelled at is future lesbian Sally Draper, who cut her hair while she was with Phoebe the sitter while Don was out on his third date with Bethany (who we saw in the season premiere).

Of course we know why Sally did it—she wanted attention. She keeps doing things that will make her father and mother notice her because she feels invisible and unwanted after the divorce and Betty's very quick remarriage. Naturally she has some other excuses too. She says she wants to look pretty and have short hair like Phoebe so that her father will like her too. Also, she's a lesbian in the making, of course she wants short hair!

When she gets home, there is hell to pay.

Wow, Betty Draper, you are such a good mother! Betty says she cares about the hair, but she really doesn't. It's so telling that, when Don arrives with Sally and Bobby, Betty is asleep while her baby plays feet away from her. That is her idea of parenting, resting while the kids run about doing whatever they want. The minute Sally does something that warrants her attention she's all pissed off, not because of what actually happened, but because there is a problem to address. Don can see this and when Betty rages at him for going out on a date, he throws it right back in her face.

It's funny that Betty, whose resentment of Don simmered under the surface for so long, now boils over with rage. She says she wants him dead and wonders aloud which whores he's sleeping with (if only she knew!) something that her daughter, with the freshly cut tresses, probably heard upstairs. And she wonders why her children are behaving badly. Thank god Betty has her new (surprisingly hunky) husband Henry Francis to tell her a thing or two. See, Henry is old and experienced. He's a father and he loves raising his petulant daughter Betty Draper helping Betty raise her children. He tells her that little girls do these kinds of things and the right response isn't slaps and punishment, but understanding. Oh, how right he is. After a trip to the beauty parlor, Sally has a cute new 'do and everything is great. Well, for a few days at least, until Sally goes on a sleepover.

Yes, Sally got caught masturbating. Cue up Tori Amos' "Icicle" and let's dance a jig! Now, you're going to say that she was diddling her little Skittle watching The Man from U.N.C.L.E., so she's clearly not a lesbian. I will counter that by saying, maybe it wasn't the man on the TV show that was turning her on, but being in a room full of other girls that got her all worked up. How about that?

Unlike taking the scissors to her hair, this wasn't really a call for help, but seems more like a natural exploration of the body and experimenting with sexuality. Well, she was doing it out in the open, so maybe she was asking to get caught. After all, she tries to get Phoebe to give her the "birds and the bees" talk, and says that she knows what "doing it" is, even though she totally doesn't know what "doing it" is. Phoebe doesn't bite and tells Sally to talk to her mother. Considering Betty doesn't even want to be bothered when Sally asks her where her backpack is, there is no way she's going to sit her down for a talk about penises and vaginas (for vaginae for the Latin scholars). Maybe this was Sally's way to get someone to talk to her about sex?

Anyway, her friend's mother completely overreacts and takes Sally home where she then tells Betty what happened and Betty completely overreacts too. The real question is whether this is an issue about sexual shame, or a question of women being embarrassed by their own bodies and the rather pedestrian impulse to touch them. How different it was to come of age then when women couldn't be honest with each other and show little girls the way to a healthy and expressive sexuality. Between that and the daddy issues, we know that Sally is heading for enrollment in Smith eight years in the future.

Henry tells Betty that it's time Sally see a psychiatrist. Betty reveals her own past with psychotherapy (she admits it was "because she was bored") and says that she doesn't think it works. But even that will be better than Sally turning out "fast," as Betty says. Regardless, Sally gets enrolled with Dr. Edna, who Betty goes to meet. We learn all sorts of good things about Betty at the visit. She says that she has "mostly given up" masturbating, even though we remember a few hot and heavy sessions on her fainting couch of lust last season. Oh Betty, it's not that you don't do it, it's that you're too ashamed to admit it. So sad. We also find out that her mother hated masturbation, an issue that she obviously passed on to her daughter, along with the attendant shame, another not to repeating histories. Betty also says that Sally doesn't understand that Henry is a better father for her, and that was her motivation for marrying. Oh please, Betty. Your rationale had nothing to do with the safety of your children and all about your own selfish desires. To even couch your decision in terms of your offspring is just adding insult to their copious injuries.

Dr. Edna correctly observes that maybe it's Betty who needs some time on the couch, but Betty swats that idea down. But Dr. Edna finds her way around it and says Betty should come once a week just to talk about Sally. We have a feeling Betty is going to be spending a lot of time in that toy-littered room. How appropriate that infantile Betty gets herself a child psychologist. In fact, the most telling part of the whole scene was the very end, where Betty looks at doll house. It has the mother and father dolls and the baby dolls all sitting together. It's the perfect family! It's the illusion that Betty has been told all her life she should be working towards. It's one she attained with Don, and one that made her tremendously unhappy. And what does she do when she sees that dollhouse? She smiles. Yes, Betty, smile at the perfect life you'll never have and please, don't learn anything from your mistakes.

At the end of the episode, Sally goes to talk to Dr. Edna, but is Betty there with her at her first doctor's visit, something that is probably very scary for a child? No, she sends Carla, the maid, to escort Sally. Way to be a great mother, Betty.

Betty and Sally aren't the only ones getting some help from a shrink. Don had a nice chat over sake with Faye, the office's resident psychologist.

What is going on with Don? First he has Mrs. Blankenship calling Anna in California (what else would he be calling California for and why is Anna's phone continuously busy?) and now he's actually opening up to a psychologist! It's probably because Faye, like Don, is a bit of a faker. She wears a wedding ring even though she has no husband. She says it's because she wants men to leave her alone while she's at work. Just like Don, she has created a false identity to get ahead in business.

But what he learns from her is important, that talking really does help. And he talks about his children. He confesses that things are hard for them and that he loves them, even though he doesn't know what to do with them. It's so sweet to see the warm, melted interior of the rather gruff Don Draper. Is this the start of a new era, where Don gets in touch with his feelings and starts to change his life around? I doubt it, but it's nice to see that he cares about the other people in his life, particularly his children.

Faye says that as long as his children know that he loves them, they'll be alright, and that is the very problem. Don is too clueless and aloof to really show any affection for the children and Betty is too much of a frigid monster to even care about them. It's no wonder Sally is acting out and trying to get any reaction from the adults around her.

It's so fitting though that this little impromptu therapy session happens at work. This is where Don feels the safest, the most empowered. In his office, he is a god, but outside of it, he's a shambles. That is true for most of the characters on the show, but Don more than any other. When Betty tells Dr. Edna that Don won't show up to talk about Sally, she's probably right. He can't let down his guard when he's Don Draper the man. But when he's Don Draper the mad man he has enough control that showing a bit of his true self won't get him in too much danger, won't take him to depths he might not return from, and, most importantly, won't get him a scolding.

Previously:
Mad Men: Back to Business
Mad Men: The Ghosts of Christmas Past
Mad Men: California Dreamin
Mad Men: Out of Focus Group