Mad Men Season 4 Episode 2: Christmas Comes But Once a Year

Posted on August 02, 2010

In yet another a testament to the Mad Men creators’ tendency to avoid cliches, this episode was NOT entitled, “Should Auld Acquaintance be Forgot,” although it really could have been (or “You Can’t Go Home Again”). Old faces were coming out of the woodwork in surprising ways and upending the status quo so carefully laid out in the season premiere. Freddy Rumsen, Glen Bishop, and Lee Garner, Jr. all showed up on the Mad Men doorstep, each one a walking illustration of “The more things change…” Freddy may be clean and sober and giving the appearance of being on top of his game, but he’s an old man with old ideas and the industry he’s worked in his whole adult life is passing him by. Glen may be part of a new family like Sally is, but he’s still the same creepy kid he always was, turning his former obsession for Betty into an even creepier one for Sally. And finally, Lee Garner, Jr. is an asshole of the highest order and somewhere last night the ghost of Sal Romano was gleefully watching his former bosses jump through hoops to accommodate the nasty little closet case.

It’s Christmastime 1964 and the struggling SCDP is tightening its belt, planning a low-key Christmas party for its employees. Don’t worry, Don assures his secretary Allison, he’ll make sure she gets a bonus even if he has to pay for it out of pocket. Don has had terrible luck with secretaries from day one of the series; Peggy was too unlike a secretary to be an effective one; Lois didn’t understand her own job description, and Jane was on a husband hunt. Only Allison ever seemed to understand what Don needed and provided it for him with a minimum of fuss. Watching her read Sally’s letter to Santa out loud to him showed how productive and, well, there’s no other way to put it, healthy their relationship is, at least compared to his previous secretaries. Can you picture Don allowing Peggy, Lois, or Jane to read such a personal letter out loud to him? Of course, this being Mad Men, that productive, respectful relationship between boss and secretary had to be completely shattered by episode’s end. Don’s demons once again turned something potentially good in his life into something sour and awkward and uncomfortable.

Despite the swagger on display in the season opener, Don’s really at a low point and it’s threatening to drag him under. The slapping prostitute of his Thanksgiving morning was just a hint of the self-punishment going on in the darker recesses of his mind. His drinking has reached alarmingly dangerous levels, something nicely illustrated by the suprising and welcome return of Freddy Rumsen into the fold.

Except, as Peggy learned this week, sometimes the people in your past should stay in your past. She’s built up Freddy’s greatness in her mind because he was the one who set her on her career path, but having to work with him now, with all her career successes piled up behind her and her value and worth declared integral to the company, she realizes he’s not quite the man she thought he was. Pitching ideas that were old ten years before, he’s dismissive of Peggy’s thoughts and still lapsing into treating her like a secretary. The 1964 Peggy ain’t the 1960 Peggy by a longshot and she (somewhat cruelly) puts him in his place, calling him “old-fashioned” with disgust in her voice.

The irony here is that in her personal life, she’s the one pretending to be old-fashioned to her boyfriend Mark. He’s pressuring her to give him a little more than the handjobs which have apparently become her specialty and she’s allowing him to think she’s a virgin. She’s got her career mostly figured out but her personal life still confuses and frightens her. “I don’t want to be alone on New Year’s Eve,” she says with a little pain in her voice and we get a glimpse of how lonely it can be when you’re blazing trails.

In other SCDP relationship news, Roger and Joan clearly aren’t over, even if both of them are maintaining that it is. Don’t get us wrong, we’re not predicting that they’re going to run into each other’s arms again. It’s just that he’s openly flirting with her and making references to their past, which is a little new for them, at least in the office. They still have a sweet, knowing rapport with each other. “Maalox,” she says simply, in that way that only an old love can tell you you’ve got something on your face. “All I was saying is this is the office and that’s life. And this is good, and that’s life.” The Roger Sterling Credo. Like we said, the possibility of an extramarital affair seems fairly remote for these two, but she DID wear that red dress that he asked her to.

And on the professional front, Dr. Fay Miller makes her presence known to Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce and Don is not amused. Her brand of demographic research and the application of psychological testing to the world of consumer products and advertising was a big shift in the advertising world of the ’60s and it’s not at all surprising that Don would take a dim view, especially when the first two questions on the sample test, “Describe your father,” and “Who makes the decisions in your household?” couldn’t have been more incendiary questions to ask him at that point in time.

Yes, Don’s at the lowest point we’ve ever seen him. The former superstud is reaching out desperately for any girl that crosses his path – last week’s blind date, Phoebe the neighbor in t he perky little nurse’s cap, Dr. Fay, even – and striking out again and again. In addition, he’s drinking at Freddy Rumsen levels and like Freddy, it hasn’t escaped the notice of his colleagues. “He’s pathetic,” says Joey with disgust. Cast your mind back to just a year or two before, when the young men of Sterling Cooper thought the sun rose and set on Don Draper’s ass. It’s been a long, slow fall for him, but ultimately, screwing up his marriage and getting rejected by his American Princess of a wife was personally devastating to him. It’s entirely his own fault for what happened, but that doesn’t negate the fact that for Don, the life he had with Betty was the life he’d always wanted and his failure to sustain it has wounded him to the core.

Like probably most of the people who were watching, we groaned when he drunkenly reached for Allison. “Oh Don, no. Nooooooooo.” We think it’s fair to say that Allison knew what the score was and had no illusions about what had happened. After all, she jumped up off that couch pretty quickly and high-tailed it out of Don’s Apartment O’ Depression as fast as she could. Still, as we wrote in our notes last night, we figure that as smart and practical-minded as Allison is, she had to have, at some point, fantasized a little about sleeping with Don over the years. How could she not? He looks like that and he’s the Big Man in the office and she’s a cute young working girl in the big city. It appears she has a thing with Joey, but she’d have to be crazy not to have wondered over the years what it would be like with Don. Unfortunately for her, she found out as Don coldly tossed her on the pile of all the other people he’s used and discarded over the years. “It will shock you how much this never happened” may have gotten Don this far in his life, but it’s a horrible way to treat people who cross your path and get mixed up in your bullshit.

The problem with Don is he’s without a home now. His apartment is only a place to sleep but it doesn’t make him feel good or feel safe. How often did he need the help of a woman this episode just to get him in the front door? He can’t do it on his own and in a way, all of this grasping at women and downing alcohol to dull the pain are his own methods of trying to find a home again. He’s a hobo once again, and the final shot of the episode showed him weighed down with Christmas packages for the family he doesn’t have anymore, walking slowly down that office hallway, searching for a home. He doesn’t hate Christmas; he just hates this Christmas.

Bullets for the rest of it:

* Creepy Glen Bishop is still creepy. “I saw your new dad. My mom said that would happen.” Okay, that line made us laugh out loud. We can just picture bitchy Helen Bishop saying that and blowing out smoke. She must have enjoyed the dissolution of the Draper marriage from afar. Still, his little relationship with Sally has us a little worried. “I hate it here,” she tells him secretly. The question now is, How much does she hate it?

* Mad Men is approaching Glee levels of quotability this season.
“Jeez. Looks like an Italian hospital in here.”
“Listen Olivier…”
“We have no other clients. If Lee Garner Jr. wants three wise men flown in from Jerusalem, he gets it.”
“You didn’t have to do that.” “Yes we did.”
“Did you enjoy the Fuhrer’s birthday?”
“You’re good at this.” “My father was a drunk.”
And finally, Harry Crane’s utterly hilarious soto voce “Sorry, sorry, sorry,” while being forced to sit on Roger’s lap.

* We’re curious to see where this thing with Freddy goes. He’s obviously not the kind of creative the new SCDP is looking for and his personal grudge against Pete for basically getting him fired is not going to be indulged for too long. The new SCDP just doesn’t have the luxury of Freddy’s problematic dead weight. We’d hate to see the poor guy tossed out on his ass again, though.

* My GOD, the clothes at that Christmas party! Our eyes were orgasming. And is it us, or is the secretarial pool at SCDP uncommonly attractive? It would be just like Joan to hire the most attractive women she could find for the struggling startup. And speaking of Joan…

* JOAN CONGA LINE!!! THAT was instantly one of our all-time favorite images of the show. “We have gifts, girls and games.” Yes, Joan wore the red dress that Roger talked about, but there was this sense – especially when you think of the epic parties held in the old SC offices – of everyone trying to dance as hard as they can to recapture something that doesn’t exist for them anymore. It was all a show for the detestable Lee Garner, Jr., a twisted and false version of the SC parties of yore. At one of the first we ever saw, Ken Cosgrove tackled Allison and lifted her skirt up in front of the office. As awful as that was, it pales in comparison to Don treating her like a whore. As Freddy’s not so triumphant return illustrated (not to mention Don’s mess of a life), you can’t go home again.

* All the little character bits that this show does so well in passing, from Bert’s Randian opposition to civil rights to Pete and Trudy’s Bahamas Christmas plans to Don’s new tendency to tenderly call Peggy “Sweetheart,” it all rang true and played on all the stuff we already know about these people.

* Dr. Fay Miller. Eventual Don conquest? They’re certainly setting her up that way and it’ll be interesting to see Don try to have a relationship with a woman who looks like Betty but acts like the ambitious career women all around him. And unlike ALL those other women, Dr. Fay nailed him pretty quickly, shocking and insulting him with the prediction that he’ll be married within the year because he’s more predictable and more of a type than he likes to admit. In fact, her observation of him was a little of Don getting his own medicine. His entire career is based on his ability to observe people and reduce them down to their basic wants and here comes this blonde woman doing the exact same thing to him. “It all comes down to what I want versus what’s expected of me.” That’s the basic conflict in all people, according to her and Don’s impressed with the assessment. “That’s true,” he says, and it’s never more true than in the world of Mad Men, which is populated solely by people struggling to reconcile their wants and the expectations forced upon them. In fact, it’s a pretty good summation of the entire decade of the sixties.



[Screencaps: – Photo Credit: Mike Yarish/AMC TV]

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