<i>Mad Men</i> Recap: The Shame Game

In "The Chrysanthemum and the Sword," the characters deal with both shame and guilt. Don bounces back to his feet and avoids company shame by realizing they're set up for failure (foresight he hasn't had in a while).
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The Chrysanthemum and the Sword is an influential 1946 study of Japanese culture. The book, according to Wikipedia, "popularized the distinction between guilt cultures and shame cultures." Whereas Western society imposes social control through reinforcing the feeling of guilt, Japan does it through shame. Guilt is an internal fear of punishment, while shame is a fear of external judgment, and often results in punishing oneself in order to maintain self-respect in the eyes of others. Don quotes the book, "a man is shamed by being openly ridiculed and rejected. It requires an audience."

Last night's episode of Mad Men shows us a glimpse of this shame game with the Honda motorcycle clients. While the rest of the office sees Honda as an advantageous business opportunity, Roger cannot get over the past. His anger shows the deep-seated feelings of hatred that remained in many who fought in the war. He tells Pete, "Look I don't expect you to understand this because you were a little boy, but I used to be a man with a lot of friends, then World War II came and they were all killed by your new yellow buddies." We've seen Roger be racist before (when he put on the blackface performance at his wedding), but not when it interferes with business. Cooper urges him, "the war is over," but he explodes at the meeting nonetheless. It's obvious that Joan is going to be the one to talk him down. And she is.

The argument over this account escalates into a battle between Roger and Pete. Roger disregards Pete's opinion since he's too young to know better. It takes Pete's youth mixed with his insecurity and rising ambition to change the course of the conversation. He says, "You don't think I know what you're doing. You're wrapping yourself in the flag so you can keep me from bringing in an account because you know that every chip I make, we become less dependent on Lucky Strike and therefore, less dependent on you!" Roger goes to attack him, but Don intervenes, and Pete leaves, saying "the rest of us are trying to build something." Don backs him up and says "he's right," making it clear Roger had crossed the line. It's a big deal for Don to support Pete over Roger.

We get a few pieces of business advice in dealing with the Japanese. Pete says, "avoid criticizing them or giving advice" and "chrysanthemums symbolize death," so presumably "the chrysanthemum and the sword" is meant as the symbol and the weapon of death. He presents them with gifts, a cantaloupe, which is more valuable in Japan and considered a traditional gift, and Johnnie Walker Red. Johnnie Walker is also a character (based off the figure from the bottle) that's very popular in Japan--someone did their homework!

They don't end up getting the account (Honda was never going to leave Gray) but they won this little exercise by figuring out their game. Don realizes they were set up to fail, they weren't given enough money and were told "no finished work." He resigns in order to avoid being shamed, which is the proper way to respond.

Pete used to be someone who I hated but loved to watch, but he's becoming more and more lovable. It's great in the meeting when he reprimands Roger, "I'm expecting a child!" as in 'come on, stop being an idiot, I have responsibilities now.' It was cute.

This Japanese concept of shame also translates to the shame and guilt the characters feel in their own lives. In the most direct way, Bert brings Roger in to apologize. In a guilt culture, you can be absolved by confession and atonement. Roger confesses he was wrong, apologizes, and they can move on. He has not been shamed and forced to resign. Others are not afforded the same luxury.

We also see Don reacting to a mix of shame and guilt from the mess he's made of his life--guilt from realizing his mistakes and shame from everyone else knowing it, as they watched Allison storm out last week and continued by Miss Blankenship (who I love) loudly announcing his daughter's therapist called.

Except for his family life, where he's still gasping for air, Don is doing better. At work, we see him back on his game. He wards off the Times' reporter perfectly. He's told CGC, who stole Jai Alai from them, just signed Clearasil. When asked to comment on Ted Shaw, of CGC, saying "whenever Don Draper looks in his rearview mirror he sees me." He coolly responds, "I've never heard of him," rejecting the notion of Shaw as competition and taking back his power. The reporter smiles, and you know he hears it too. Don then excels by reading the book and figuring out how to play their game. He realizes that set up for failure, resigning is the only way to maintain honor with Honda and beats out CGC by steering them in the wrong direction, making them think they're making a pitch. The outside opinion of Don--seen by CGC as the man to beat, from Howard Moses saying "isn't that Draper?" and strengthened by Smitty (remember Smitty and Kurt?), who says "he's a genius," shows that he's still got it and reminds us of his former glory. Even though we've watched him in a downward spiral, Don is still very well respected in his industry.

He's also doing better with women. Presumably in the aftermath of Allison's departure, Don realizes he needs to get back to civil dating and takes Bethany out again (muti-tasking--to Benihana do research). On the first proper date we've seen in a while, he's charming, quickly dismisses Ted Shaw (he does, in fact, know who he is), and when his mind starts to wander towards business, he pulls himself back when Bethany asks, "we're not going to let this spoil our evening, are we?" He's also home at an acceptable hour which leaves us to believe he acted like a gentleman at the end of the date (maybe). He's working to restore his own honor that he let slip in his massive misstep with Allison.

The one place that he's still as bad as ever is at home. Instead of spending the very rare night that he has with his children, he leaves them with his neighbor Phoebe as a sitter and goes out on a date. Couldn't he pick any other night for the date?

Both Don and Betty feel guilt from their divorce and try to take it out on one another. They blame each other for Sally's behavior. Betty says, "She understands a lot of things thanks to you," and he responds, "you brought another man into your bed, into her house, you don't think she noticed that!" The two of them are using the situation with Sally to take out their anger with one another about their respective sex lives. They obviously have unresolved issues that need to be discussed. And they both want to discuss it, but not with each other. They each open up after this, to the closest thing they can find to a doctor--Don to Dr. Faye and Betty to Sally's prospective therapist.

To Dr. Faye, in the office kitchen, Don opens up about his family. Her entire job of talking things out with people goes against what Don believes in because he doesn't like to let people in--which is an inherent tension between them. "Why does everybody have to talk about everything." She tells him, "I don't know, but they do [...] when they're done they feel better." So he talks to her about his kids. "I don't see them enough, and when I do I don't know what to do, and when I drop them off I feel relieved, and then I miss them [...] it is not going well." I felt bad for him in this moment. He obviously feels guilty and knows he's been a bad father and needs to change, but he doesn't know what to do. He's confused and lost, but the idea that he gets it is slightly more promising. The way he opens up to her is the way he usually opens up to the women he's sleeping with. Now that Faye's admitted her ring is just a fake "stop sign,"--coupled with sharing this emotional breakthrough--they're so obviously about to tear each other's clothes off. How long will it take? It's coming...maybe next week!

Betty, who I'm glad has returned, is acting more like a child than ever. She's become a monster of a mother. The way that she slaps Sally is terrifying, and both of her husbands standing there seem horrified. She yells at Don for his neglectful parenting, "you can't even watch them for a second, it's like leaving them with nobody," and he snaps back, "because you're so good with them. Take her to the hairdresser." They're both right. They're both horrible parents. Don doesn't spend any time with them and Betty's completely lost control. Henry seems like he's learned how to deal with her. He's become a father figure for her, which in turn, potentially allows her to continue acting this way. When Don walks out she screams, "I want him dead!" like an hysterical child, holding on to so much anger from her own war (kind of like Roger). Henry calms her down and tells her what to do. She surrenders to him, "that was impulsive, I'll apologize," and acts like a hurt puppy. (Also note the first shot of Betty is of her sleeping on Henry's lap, like a child, or a puppy.) It's Henry who tells her Sally needs to see a therapist. Betty seems incredibly angry and weak. She's lost and Henry's guiding her. When she goes to meet with Dr. Edna as a prospective therapist for Sally, she ends up telling her her life story and exposing her own guilt, defending her divorce, and saying, "I feel like Sally did this to punish me somehow for everything." This comment shows both her guilt (fear of punishment) and also her own (childish) self-absorption. Dr. Edna immediately recommends Betty talk to someone herself. When she resists, Dr. Edna takes to treating her like a child as well, "you can call me Dr. Edna" and babies her, telling her they should probably talk once a month "to keep up with Sally's progress."

The concepts of guilt and shame (and punishment) are then transferred down to Sally who's becoming sexually curious and acting out. She first asks Phoebe if she's doing it with Don, which she thinks means "the man pees inside the woman," (she says a girl at school told her, but sounds like Glenn to me!) cuts her hair off, and is then found masturbating at a sleepover. She's extremely confused by both of her parents. She cuts her hair short to look like Phoebe's because she thinks Don likes it that way because now this is the woman she sees in his house. Betty screams at her for cutting her hair, "you have picture day!" probably corrupting her self image forever. I can imagine you'd be insecure no matter what with a mother that looks like Betty, but she only makes it worse. Sally will probably end up going through a phase as a Goth teenager, dying her hair black with dark eyeliner, in an effort to look as little like Betty as possible.

In the final scene, when Dr. Edna comes to get Sally and says, "Hi Sally. I'm Dr. Edna. Why don't you come inside?" she looks and sounds beyond creepy. It looks like she's about to enter the twilight zone.

In "The Chrysanthemum and the Sword," the characters deal with both shame and guilt. Don bounces back to his feet and avoids company shame by realizing they're set up for failure (foresight he hasn't had in a while). Betty feels guilty for the divorce and breaking up her family. Pete has had his own fair share of guilt over Peggy, and it seems like now that he's got a second chance to be a father, he has a new lease on life and we can see that he's really trying to do better. Roger feels guilty about his friends lost at war, but then about almost losing the account. Everyone's dealing with their own share of personal guilt, but the comparison to the shame society of Japanese culture--where once publicly shamed, you must resign or kill yourself--reminds us that they do, in fact, have opportunities to make things right.

Also--no answer from the call in California--Did Anna die?

What do you think?

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