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Mad Men: “Enforced intimacy” in “The Chrysanthemum and the Sword”

[ 4 ] August 30, 2010 |

Thirty-six minutes into “The Chrysanthemum and the Sword,” a surprisingly intimate conversation between Don and Dr. Faye Miller takes an uncertain turn when the subject of analysis comes up:

“Why does everybody need to talk about everything?”

“I don’t know, but they do.”

Which reminded me of this exchange from Waiting for Godot:

“What do they say?”

“They talk about their lives.”

“To have lived is not enough for them.”

“They have to talk about it.”

I’ve elided who said what in both cases because it doesn’t matter: these are people who are talking about other people talking about their lives.  Their hypocrisy is a function of the scene itself.  Or is it?  Discussing a life, as Draper and Miller do, with relative strangers in a structured work environment doesn’t count as “talk[ing] about everything,” whereas going to a therapist, who is a relative stranger, and discussing a life with him or her in a structured therapeutic environment does.  The weight of the phrase, then, either falls on “talk” or “everything,” because the two of them are either not “talk[ing]” or they are, but not “about everything.”

Except they are, manifestly, doing both: they are in a kitchen-type-area discussing his divorce and his child learning how to masturbate and entering therapy.  Few items could be more “about everything” than those, and as if to press the point that they are “talk[ing]” about something significant, the camera pulls in tight for the final reverse shots:

What began as a semi-professional conversation filmed in a medium shot has become, as if by the power of the social lubricant provided by the sake they share, a medium close up.  The shot becomes more intimate as their conversation does; that is, they insist they are not “talk[ing] about everything,” but the camera suggests otherwise.  I mentioned the Beckett above because Draper and Miller embrace the complaint in the first, second and fourth lines while denying the validity of the third: to have lived is, apparently, not enough for them either.  To “talk” is the only way for them to establish the intimacy the camera—if not the entire scene—imputes to them.  Consider how it opens:


Draper walks in with a bottle of sake, but moves so silently that he startles Miller, who despite possessing a doctorate and working in an office, is washing dishes in stockinged feet.  The scene begins as a recapitulation of one the show has presented innumerable times: Draper walks into a kitchen to find a blonde behaving in a wifely fashion and pours himself a drink while offering her some small talk.  For example, this scene from the second episode, “Ladies Man,” even follows the same the conversational pattern and shot sequencing as the one above:


As the small talk turns to more important matters, the camera moves from a medium to a medium close-up.  The difference, of course, is that the blonde in “Ladies Man” is Betty Draper, not a professional colleague.  Such an intimacy between a man and a wife is expected, but for him to slide into a similar one with Miller is almost demeaning to her as a professional: the only qualities she shares with his ex-wife are that she is a conventionally attractive blonde and doing something in front of a sink.  Draper imposes himself on the conversation in a way that suggests desperation for an intimacy he never knew he needed with the very person he took advantage of.

Or so says the camera seems to say.

That the central issue here is “enforced intimacy” is also supported by the shot immediately following Miller and Draper’s conversation:


What better image for “enforced intimacy” can there be than a static long shot—by definition a “relatively stable shot that can accommodate movement without reframing“—of a psychoanalyst and analysand sitting stiffly in an office seemingly designed for play?  That Betty is unaware that she will be tricked into undergoing analysis too only makes the dynamic even more operative.  Her resistance to this intimacy is figured by the fact that she, unlike Draper and Miller or her and Draper, is denied a close-up when she tells the therapist precisely what Draper told Miller:


The irony of the entire sequence of shots that begins with Miller and Draper and ends in a therapist’s office is that although Miller and Draper are the ones who complain about the need to speak compulsively, only Betsy is able to successfully resist doing so.  They claim she needs to “talk about everything,” but the camera contradicts them at every point.

Comments (4)

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  1. va says:

    There’s also the bit from Godot that goes

    VLADIMIR:
    I felt lonely.
    ESTRAGON:
    I had a dream.
    VLADIMIR:
    Don’t tell me!
    ESTRAGON:
    I dreamt that—
    VLADIMIR:
    DON’T TELL ME!

    The point here is that intimacy isn’t always mutually beneficial sharing, but also a claim one makes upon another person. Vladimir won’t hear the dream because he regards it as an undesirable claim on his attention. Similarly, Faye Miller has studiously judged Don’s claims on her to be illegitimate, motivated by desires that have nothing to do with her. In last night’s episode she rejected Don and told him in so many words that she is not what he wants. So I’m not sure I buy this:

    Draper imposes himself on the conversation in a way that suggests desperation for an intimacy he never knew he needed with the very person he took advantage of.

    I’d say he’s trying to re-capture the legitimacy of his demands on Betty, only to be told that he has misread the situation in the SCDP kitchen, that his claims aren’t legitimate anymore.

    • SEK says:

      I’ll second Vladimir’s “DON’T TELL ME!” with regards to last night’s episode, as I haven’t seen it yet. That said:

      Similarly, Faye Miller has studiously judged Don’s claims on her to be illegitimate, motivated by desires that have nothing to do with her … I’d say he’s trying to re-capture the legitimacy of his demands on Betty, only to be told that he has misread the situation in the SCDP kitchen, that his claims aren’t legitimate anymore.

      Given what I wrote above, I hope it’s clear that I think that’s what Don was up to, and that he failed: he insulted her as a professional woman, then imposed upon her patience as a “friend” in the office by mistaking over-sharing for intimacy. Don’s unraveling here, but he doesn’t notice it. I’m not sure how he fails to notice this, given that his once prodigious powers of wooing have all but abandoned him after Betty left.

      • va says:

        Oh shit, I’m a spoiler. Sorry about that. You should watch last night’s episode asap, since Peggy’s in a scene that intersects spectacularly with this topic. And I do mean spectacularly.

  2. less of me says:

    I’m in a real bind because I have practically marinated in the first three seasons since they aired; multiple viewings, detailed discussions, etc. But because of domestic upheaval and inferior technology, I’ve only been able to see the premiere this year. Spoilers bother me not, I’m too impatient and curious. So I can’t resist reading your break-downs but for now, I can really only comment based on what I’ve read in various summaries of the episode I read each week.

    That said, I think it was Faye who mentioned to Don earlier in the year something to the effect that it was easier to see what’s wrong with others than to see what’s wrong with ourselves.

    It appears Don has a Tony Soprano-like affinity for the Gary Cooper, strong silent type of role model, which is working against him if he really needs to talk this through. I’m not sure if they are going take him down the traditional, well-trod roads of crash and recovery though. I’ve personally felt for a while now that Weiner was subtly laying the groundwork for a more Eastern philosophic resolution to the dichotomy of his personality.

    The third Godot line, the one not replicated by Faye and Don, is very Tao I think, and gives a different sort of perspective to Don’s crisis of “who he is”, not that he can see it yet nor that he ever will be capable of seeing it. Don, being the hollowed out shell of the male component of the American Dream, was programmed not to give much validity to such a perspective. Anna Draper has/had(?) the best shot to get him pointed in this direction.

    The general idea being perhaps a man is best defined by his actions not necessarily by his thoughts, ideas and internal definitions. And not by his past history of actions, but by what he really does there, in his life, at that present moment in time.

    “A man is whatever room he is in.” This Japanese aphorism being quoted by Bert back in S1, seems to be how Draper has prospered up to this point but clearly now his rooms are rapidly a-changin’ and it seems he’s doubling-down on the behaviors that have worked for him in the past. We You shall see, I will read about it later.

    Thanks for singling out that Godot line, great parallel and omission, it helped gel some thoughts for me.

    PS – FYI, the second episode is titled “Ladies Room”.

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