The Chrysanthemum and the Sword
It's one of those nice bits of irony you have to love. Sally's mother's friend has brought her home after catching her masturbating on the couch watching, I love this, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Anyway, Betty apologizes:
Betty: I am very sorry for this behaviour. And so is Sally. I would have done the same thing.Betty means, of course, that she would have responded the same way this other woman has done (although we might doubt that given her tolerance of Glen Bishop's inappropriate behaviour). But the immediate antecedent in the sentence actually makes the plainest meaning that Betty would have done exactly what Sally did.
Other woman: Well, I'm sorry about that.
Of course we know that Betty doesn't mean that so we brush over it. Why do we know that? Because we understand the larger context of the conversation.
But if we were visiting a strange culture, we wouldn't know the larger context. And we'd make mistakes.
Or would we? Okay, let's add a twist.
Betty talks to Don and says that she never did such a thing and that the girls who did do such a thing grew up to be fast. Later, Betty will be talking to the psychiatrist who is going to see Sally and the subject of masturbation comes up. Betty admits here, very obliquely, that she did do that sort of thing but that she "grew out of it".
But that's a lie as we all know from the infamous washing machine incident of a few seasons ago.
Secrecy, lies and deception
As I said in my post yesterday, that is what shame-honour societies engender.
Life is lived out in the open, in the public eye, and privacy is practically nonexistent. It would be impossible to live in such a world if one could not keep at least part of one's personal life hidden from others.And boy did we see that in spades last night. Everyone has secrets they need to cover to maintain their honour. Except Pete. He is so unaware of himself that he cannot see it. I'd list examples here but it would go one forever because there is the fake commercial, the fake wedding ring, the lunch to get Roger out of the office, the lies Betty tells and so on and on ....
This is where secrecy, deception, and lying come into play.... Deception and lies are stratagems regularly used to keep information from others.
What interests me more is that this raises one of my favourite questions about Mad Men: is this really about then or is it about now? When we comes up against a culture that is overtly a shame and honour culture, it pushes the shame and honour that underlies our presumption that we are about something higher aside. To pick up just one example: Note that when Betty is alone with Henry after Sally has been sent home, the first thing that she worries about is the shame she will now feel. I'm no Betty fan, as anyone who reads here will know, but isn't just the way we'd all react?
The obvious parallel—and although I haven't checked any one else's commentary this morning I'm sure only one million others noticed this—is with the Ground Zero Mosque. I don't do contemporary politics here so I won't go into it except to notice one politically incorrect subtext. Note that two things happen: 1) Roger rises above his personal feelings and 2) Don out plays the Japanese suitors from Honda at the shame-honour game. The underlying message here is clearly very pro-American* even if it seems dressed up as something else: secrecy, lies and deception, Matt Weiner knows how to play the game.
*And, as a Canadian, let me add that it damn well should be pro-American. You guys have a great country and a great culture and you spend far too much time running yourselves down. The world is a much better place because the USA is in it than it would have been otherwise.
Speaking of which
One of the things I am dreading about reading other's commentary this morning is that I know that all sorts of people will be gloating over the possibility of Don nailing Dr. Faye Miller. "Roving those hills" seems to be the favourite euphemism. It's a sort of guilty pleasure wherein they get to criticize the behaviour while getting the pornographic pleasure of watching it happen. (A common human trait, I know, but really: grow up guys. Be like me, I praise the behaviour and get the pornographic pleasure of watching it happen. Much better ;-))
Anyway, I think one of the really interesting bits of subterfuge Weiner and Co. pulled last night was to slip a pro-marriage subtext into the story. Henry Francis is helping Betty to finally grow up. And I think we could see that Dr. Faye is offering Don a chance at a real loving relationship with another woman. So far we have seen that he can have a loving relationship with Anna, provided it's non-sexual. With Suzanne we saw hints of his growing to have a sexual relationship with someone who is also good.
We'll have to see what happens here.
Anna (or Hannah), as Matt Weiner well knows, is the mother of Samuel, she who prayed for a son and then, in gratitude for having her honour restored by having a son, gave him to the Lord. Samuel became a great prophet and the key figure in the transition between two eras.
Any of this starting to feel familiar?
Anyway, what strikes me about it, however, is the extent to which "the past" has disappeared this season. We have not had a single flashback to Dick Whitman's childhood. With Roger giving up—with considerable moral effort—his attachment to past struggles, I think we are seeing the show move from the era of Prophets and Kings to the era of the writings (that is from Nevi'im to Ketuvim). I'll have to keep an eye out for references.
I'm not sure I feel comfortable with seeing Sally's sexual awakening on screen. Even though we see nothing it strikes me as exploitative. And what effect does this sort of plot have on the child actress playing the part. If she were my daughter and I was shown the script for last night's show I would have put a stop to it right away.
BTW: there is considerable overlap here with themes in Rob Roy which is coming tomorrow.
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