Season 4, Episode 5: The Parent Trap

Sally's acting out, Roger's acting out, Betty's acting out, and Don, for once, is sober. The amazing thing about "Mad Men" is how  easily it switches tones.-from Borscht Belt /absurd (Don's new secretary's  not-so-delicate Harvey Fiersteinesque  voice and Monty Pythonesque moves), to slapstick (all that awkward bowing around the Japanese aliens) to icky/poignant/shocking (Sally's masturbatory scene) to horrifying (Betty's slap) to madcap caper (Don's  unexpected, and expert, outsmarting of the Honda review process.) And somehow it all works, while also connecting the many layers of meaning.

My favorite image was the glimpse of Peggy riding her red motor scooter in circles in white space on a sound stage. The episode's director, Lesli Linka Glatter, certainly has a way with women on wheels: she also shot secretary Lois' notorious, ankle-bludgeoning, blood-spewing, John-Deere-riding office mow-down. This peek at Peggy mid-swirl was blank and balletic, like a combination of the fantasy image of the female ice skater in "Carnal Knowledge" mixed with the Wicked Witch of the West's mad peddling of her bicycle avec Toto in the basket.

While Honda indeed started as a bicycle company and was here selling motorcycles by the early 1960s, the reality was that Japanese car makers worked with West Coast agencies back then.  Honda was a client of Chiat/Day in L.A. (Jay Chiat & Associates, founded in 1962, merged with Guy Day of Faust/Day Advertising in 1968. Honda accounted for three quarters of the agency billings when it left Chiat/Day in 1975.) Meanwhile, the Japanese electronics guys were in New York; Jerry Della Femina, the author of the famous 1971 ad biz book   "From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You Pearl Harbor," took the title from a jokey faux slogan he brainstormed for Panasonic in the 1960s.

There was a charming, zippy motor scooter being promoted at that time, but it was an Italian Vespa. ("Maybe your second car shouldn't be a car," was the tagline created by New York based Carl Ally Inc.) Perhaps the odd spelling/ pronunciation disconnect of  the surname of Ted Chaogh, the obnoxious jai alai- and Clearasil-stealing predator, refers to  Jay Chiat,  the pronunciation of whose name  was similarly hard to figure out (Shy-At.) Or perhaps the writers are invoking "Mr. Shawn," the legendary  editor of The New Yorker, who Anglicized  the spelling of his name -- he was born "Chon" (to Russian Jews.) 

As for Roger's acting out, Japan was China  in terms of growth then, and most agencies, filled with WWII vets, were only too happy to get in on accounts like Sony, and hope for seismic growth. (Is it possible that Roger would now be diagnosed with PTSD? And that all the drinking is to medicate the trauma?) What Pete told him, about wanting to be the big man on the big account, to the detriment of the agency, was true.

And then there are the shrinks. "A man is shamed by being openly ridiculed and rejected," Don reads from his Chrysanthemum book. (An actual primer based on States-side interviews with Japanese interred in camps in California during WW II. ) "It requires an audience."  Just as last week episode explored the public vs. the private, "The Chrysanthemum and the Sword" was about guilt vs. shame. (We have a guilty society; Japan is a shame society.)

Dr. Faye is like a shape-shifter -- she looks and acts different in each episode. I loved the scene in the office kitchen. Like a true married couple, she and Don stand talking over the sink, after a long day. She's kicked off her high heels. And he seems more in touch with reality than ever before -- even admitting, publicly, that his personal life is not working. He jokes about her "fake dinner plans with her fake husband," but perhaps it's dawning on him that that's what he's been all along: a fake husband.

Meanwhile, Betty sees Dr. Edna, (as opposed to Don's secretary, Dame Edna.) Even though she's ostensibly there for Sally, she's immediately brought back to childhood with a nice warm Mommy figure -- as opposed to that cold, vicious Freudian who reported back to Don. Betty actually had a better grasp on what was going in on with Sally than I'd thought -- or perhaps she was again showing a public face to the psychiatrist; narcissists are very good at that.

But the doctor gets her number. Betty stares at the doll house longingly at the end of the session-she too, wants to play house, and redo her life to her liking. (And who knew Henry would be the savior of the family? What Betty told Dr. Edna about his bringing stability is true -- it's just that the move was done entirely on her own narcissistic terms, and she never acknowledged or considered any of Sally's needs. In fact, at one point she says to Dr. Edna that she wonders whether Sally's doing this "to punish me.")

The anatomy of reaction to the hair cutting was telling. The babysitter worries not about Sally, but how Don will react. Don worries not about Sally, but what Betty will do. Betty worries not about Sally, but "Picture Day."  (I actually liked the layered results of the butchering. Had noted stylist Sally Hershberger cut it, it would have looked similar -- for a price of $800 or so. The fix-up gives Sally the same Breck-girl haircut as her mom.)

Betty is a prisoner of her own upbringing with a cold, critical, punishing mother -- and possibly a father who molested her?  I know that Matthew Weiner attributed the moves Gene made to dementia, but had he also molested the new light of his life -- his granddaughter -- that would also explain Sally's public act of sexuality.

After her grandfather died, she was sent to the den, alone, to watch that monk burn himself on a pyre on television. This time, at Don's house, before her brother and the sitter watched "Topcat" on the subject of love, she saw something on the news about a killing of a minister in the south. ( It's interesting that Betty called  Don's apartment a "bachelor pad." In fact, it doesn't seem very Hefnerian. No bar stools, or grotto. Just puke-green walls -- and a nurse installed as babysitter.)

Sally has violence, death, divorce, separation, and sex all mixed up in her head.  (And also a crush on the black-turtle-necked Illya Kuryakin, who appealed  to most girls at the time.)

I actually heard the same story about the man peeing in a woman when I was in sixth grade. Except that my in-the-know, "fast" friend said she read about it and that it had to happen in a car.  I pictured two people sitting up front in bucket seats. (I guess that image is similar to the current Cialis commercial, in which the couple sit side by side in separate tubs.)

 Betty's mother crucified her brother for bringing home a "nudist magazine." Betty was "mortified" by the shame of the neighbor bringing Sally home in the middle of the night. She told poor Sally that if she did it again she'd "cut off her hands." Betty told Dr. Edna that "I was private and mostly outgrew it," but she did have a stimulating session with her Maytag, if you recall. And the reason she went to a shrink in the first place was because her hands were numb. (More psycho-limb-o Matthew Weiner theater!)

Of course, Don's holier-than-thou ruse of resigning from the Honda account, "I don't want to be a part of a competition like that," was a stunt, really no better than Pete and Peggy's unseemly thing with the ham, which he threatened to fire them over. But faking out the competition is more of a mind game than setting up a publicity stunt, and he did win, even if was by default.

This time, Pete was the one who seemed to have his parental responsibilities straight. "I'm going to be a father!" he says to Roger. The Japanese call Roger "white hair." And it seems that in this episode, all the white and yellow hairs were the crazy ones.

Poor Sally gets taken to her psychiatrist appointment (and doesn't four times a week seem excessive?) by Carla the housekeeper, and not her mom. More banishing. Let's see what playing house with a doctor does.

Tags: mad men, tv
Recommend (79)
13 comments about "Season 4, Episode 5: The Parent Trap".
  1. Alexei Milgram from Collective[i] , August 25, 2010 at 1:24 p.m.

    Dorothy,

    Thanks for the recap. Did you notice by any chance, that Don tried to get in touch with is California wife early in the episode (in his meeting Dame Edna tells him she can't reach California). The realisation of him being alone, may have put him in tailspin (no drinking) and openess to his new wife -- the 'kitchen episode'.

  2. Rob Frydlewicz from RAF Consulting , August 25, 2010 at 3:24 p.m.

    Being 10-years old I'd have thought Sally would be more likely to have fantasies about Eddie Munster rather than David McCallum - but I guess she's inherited her mother's sophistication (even if she is "fast").

    After Betty (who acts like an evil step-mother to her own kids) said to Henry that the whole neighborhood would know what Sally did I was hoping he'd reply, "OK, now wouldn't this be a good time to finally find another house?"

    Lastly, the pale blue outfitt Betty wore when she met with Dr. Edna's office was breathtaking.

    (By the way, I also enjoyed the scene w/Peggy riding the cycle in circles.)

  3. Alan Stamm , August 25, 2010 at 3:51 p.m.

    Bingo-zingo, "Dr." Parker, you've nailed it again!

    After 2 days of snacking on short-order Mad Men commentaries (yes, Slate TV Club, I was lookin' at you), these slow-roasted essays add nourishment worth awaiting.

    The historic context . . . the ad biz touchstones . . . the cinematic parallels . . . the connections great and small -- delicious, all!

    While others Over There picked up on "The Chrysanthemum and the Sword," you're the first I've seen to overlay Jay Chiat and Jerry Della Femina -- to mention just two fantastic insights that seem totally apt. Weiner e-mails you these, right? ;--}

    Well-done again, Dorothy.

  4. Jonathan Hutter from Garrand , August 25, 2010 at 3:58 p.m.

    I predict that Dr. Faye's prediction that Don will be remarried within a year will self-fulfill. You heard it here first.

    I hope she becomes more than just another conquest.

  5. Elliott Mitchel from Major Market Media Services , August 25, 2010 at 4:23 p.m.

    I wonder how long it will take for a reference to Sally and the television shows up on NCSI?

  6. David Sanders from Omaha World-Herald , August 25, 2010 at 5:47 p.m.

    I noticed Betty touched herself to her face several times during the Dr. Edna interview. Doesn't touching that way signal that she's not telling the truth? And what did it mean when Betty didn't escort Sally to her first psychiatric session? What is it that Betty can't face about analysis?

  7. Cynthia Amorese from JAL Enterprises NY , August 25, 2010 at 6:07 p.m.

    My heart fluttered a little when Henry said the limited time he got to spend with his young daughter had been sacrosanct. It made me want to ask Don why he didn't take Sally and Bobby to Benihana -- they would have loved it -- instead of Betty-lookalike Bethany with her load of complaints.

    I remember that several Mad Blog readers were put off by Henry when we first met him last season. I rather liked him, first because he was uncommonly honest with Betty, and second because he had the divorced father's best credential -- a good relationship with his grown daughter.

    I like Henry even more now because he continues to tell Betty truths she needs to hear (without getting her back up), reacted as quickly as Don when Betty slapped Sally, and has progressive views on psychiatry. His experience-based wisdom and influence over Betty may be Sally's salvation.

  8. Cynthia Amorese from JAL Enterprises NY , August 25, 2010 at 6:53 p.m.

    I don't think Roger's reaction to the Japanese was so inaccurate. I've known several intelligent, open-minded, well-educated people whose wartime experiences made them permanently wary and resentful of anyone Japanese. A close friend's mother, who's Dutch by birth and grew up on an Indonesian tea plantation, spent most of the war years as a prisoner of the Japanese, under circumstances most of us only associate with the treatment of Jews in Nazi concentration camps. Those kinds of experiences leave deep impressions.

    WWII looms large in Roger's life and his reaction to working with Honda -- helping them prosper and become more powerful -- felt right, if not really "right." After the beatdown by his colleagues and maybe a thought to who he's already working with (the morally corrupt Mr. Lucky Strike), Roger's better judgment kicked in and he agreed to the mea culpa orchestrated by Cooper. But Roger still dislikes and distrusts the Japanese and it'll take a lot more than the agency's financial state to overcome that.

  9. Tommy Hollis from GAM.TV , August 26, 2010 at 7:42 a.m.

    Cynthia,
    Henry is, no doubt, the sickest guy in the show.
    Dorothy,
    Wasn't there, in an earlier season, a meeting Betty had an old roommate who is a high-priced hooker? Seems that there was speculation that Betty herself perhaps had also been, however briefly, a high priced working girl. That reveal would be amusing, given Don's mother and Betty's father's tendencies.

  10. Cynthia Amorese from JAL Enterprises NY , August 26, 2010 at 4:39 p.m.

    Hey Tommy! So why do you say so? How is Henry "sick"?

  11. Shari Sanders from Cox Radio , August 26, 2010 at 5:32 p.m.

    Enjoyed the scene in the kitchen with Faye and Don. As she revealed she was unmarried, etc., Don seemed to switch into his natural "pick up" mode by immediately offering to refill her drink.
    Her advice to him along the lines of..."if Sally is well loved by her father, she'll be just fine," and then walking away from Don, seemed to speak volumes that Faye was loved by her own father, so not as prone to succumbing to Don's charms.

  12. Maddy Mud from McMarketing , August 27, 2010 at 2:16 p.m.

    my older teenage sisters loved Illya Kuryakin. Dead-on. My older sister explained the facts of life to me, telling me she had heard it wrong too "boy pees on girl." Wow. Dot -- I would quarrel with you suddenly taking the same tack the people on the show took -- that Sally did it in front of people, "in public," etc. Sally turns to look over and thinks her friend is asleep. Lapse in judgement if you're trying to stay private, but not the same as dropping in drawers in front of wide-awake friends. I aslo loved the circle of cylcle by Peggy. I want that as my screensaver! My only issue is this: how old is the actress who plays Sally? Is this really an appropriate thing to have your kid do for millions? Granted, it was super subtle, and yet ... (that scene will not come without a price -- we'll be reading about it some day in a memoir) ... Weiner is skirting the biggest public taboo of all -- admitting that kids have sexual urges as they develop. We all want to think they magically turn into teenagers and first discover all things sexual ... this is the second time he's had a child on the show go down this route ...

  13. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , August 27, 2010 at 5:39 p.m.

    On one episode of NCIS one of the younger investigators asked what was Ducky (David McCallum) like when he was young. Mark Harmon answers Illya Kuriyakan. What was Betty like when she was young?