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Mad Men, Season 4: The Futility of Resisting Bodily "Sin"

Filed under: The Squib Report   Tagged: , , , , ,

Martin Schneider writes:

It's interesting how positive a reaction the Honda shenanigans got from all the pro bloggers documenting every detail of the Draper Saga. During one commercial break while watching the most recent episode, "The Chrysanthemum and the Sword," I commented to my co-watchers, "What is this, Three's Company?" It reminded me of the Ham Scam from s04e01, after which Don scolded Peggy, but good. Nobody I read pointed out the parallel. The Honda sequence was as rich and enjoyable as everything that happens in Mad Men, but I didn't enjoy it more than anything else on the show.

I was more taken by the plight of Sally Draper, whose predicament is getting more gut-wrenchingly alarming by the scene. I think what skewers our hearts so damnably about Sally is that nothing is really under her control. Her supposedly "rebellious" act of cutting her own hair seemed just beyond her conscious mind, and her fleeting sexual attraction to The Man from U.N.C.L.E.'s David McCallum was as unthinking and genuine as her howl of rage at her family's blithe callousness after her grandfather's death in season 3.

In other words, the aftermath of shock, outrage, cruel parenting, and psychological treatment was so swift, severe, and unremitting that the viewer, I think, semi-forgot that Sally's moment was truly an "innocent" one—she didn't "mean" anything by it.

It reminded me of probably the most memorable passage from George Orwell's essay "Such, Such Were the Joys," which is about Orwell's own tweenhood at an expensive English boarding school. The opening passage is about the principal's attempts to discipline the young Eric Blair (Orwell's given name) into refraining from wetting his bed—by all means do read it at the link above. When the narrative of events is overwith, we get Orwell's takeaway. I think you'll be able to see why I thought of this after watching the adults mistreat Sally.

I knew the bed-wetting was (a) wicked and (b) outside my control. The second fact I was personally aware of, and the first I did not question. It was possible, therefore, to commit a sin without knowing that you committed it, without wanting to commit it, and without being able to avoid it. Sin was not necessarily something that you did: it might be something that happened to you. I do not want to claim that this idea flashed into my mind as a complete novelty at this very moment, under the blows of Sambo's cane: I must have had glimpses of it even before I left home, for my early childhood had not been altogether happy. But at any rate this was the great, abiding lesson of my boyhood: that I was in a world where it was not possible for me to be good. And the double beating was a turning-point, for it brought home to me for the first time the harshness of the environment into which I had been flung. Life was more terrible, and I was more wicked, than I had imagined. At any rate, as I sat snivelling on the edge of a chair in Sambo's study, with not even the self-possession to stand up while he stormed at me, I had a conviction of sin and folly and weakness, such as I do not remember to have felt before.

I suspect that I am in complete unity with literally all other Mad Men devotees when I say that I eagerly await the moment, probably towards the end of season 6 (which Matt Weiner has said will be the last), in which Sally Draper, perhaps a year or two away from hitching a ride to Woodstock (one assumes that Woodstock is the ultimate destination, no?), tells off the legions of deranged authority figures, including her dad and especially her mom, in such a manner that lets us know that she may not be "OK," as the 1970s bestseller had it, but she is at any rate her own woman and will not stand for it any longer. Maybe she'll even churn out a Wigan Pier in the years to come.

I guessed right on Doris Day!

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