Friday, May 1, 2015

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

"And most of all, I'd like you to be here on Christmas morning to give it to me, but I know you can't be." - Sally's letter to "Santa"

What is more depressing than being separated from your children on Thanksgiving? Being apart from them on Christmas. At least according to the heartbreak and regret that hang like a shroud over this sad episode.

The newly divorced dad goes home from work every night plastered and wrung out to his dingy, lonely apartment.  Don is too hungover to manage putting his key in the front door lock, hell he can't even take off his own shoes.  Throughout the episode, he's just going through the motions and numbing himself from feeling anything.  If you wonder if Don's drinking has gone too far, wonder no more.  The neighbor who helps him settle in for the night tells us she has plenty of experience - her father was a drunk.  Did that resonate with Don?  

This sad tableau is contrasted with the happy scene at the start of the episode. His children, his ex wife and her new husband going Christmas tree shopping. This annual family ritual no longer involves him; there's someone else living Don Draper's life (which is ironic).  Sally bumps into her old friend Glen Bishop and they chat briefly.  He's an old timer at the divorced parents game and gives her some pointers as a new member of the club. 

Aside from being profoundly depressing. this episode is also the singularly most uncomfortable episode ever.  From Freddy Rumsen dealing with everyone remembering him as the guy who pissed his pants at work, to Roger Sterling being forced to dress as Santa, to Don facing his secretary Allison the morning after a drunken seduction, the entire episode is painful to watch.  It's an entire episode of trying to get to the next moment, when the pain or humiliation of the current one will be over.  That's no way to live. 

It's that time of year. The holidays.  You want to enjoy them, to be surrounded by loved ones and joy.  But the reality is often quite different.  There are rules and expectations and they don't necessarily work in harmony.  You're supposed to be jolly, but what if you're alone?  You're supposed to be grateful, but what if you've lost what's most important to you?  All the glittering lights, the presents, the bright colors, they can't hide the sadness underneath.  

Nowhere is this more evident than in the hastily upgraded Christmas party.   What was supposed to be a modest gathering for the office turned into a dog and pony show for one spoiled rich kid client.  The entire party was a farce and everyone went through the motions as if they were afraid that if they don't make Lee Garner Jr. happy he'd send them to the cornfield. Lee's expectation was that there'd be a wild party just for him, that he'd be treated like a king.  But even when he got what he wanted it wasn't enough.  Nothing anyone got this episode was enough. Thank goodness that Christmas comes but once a year. 

There was a great blast from the past. Freddy Rumsen is back and bearing gifts.  He had a connection to the Ponds Cold Cream account and he'd like to bring it to his old agency.  He's cleaned up his act (he strongly hints that he met his contact in AA) and is ready to do some work.  SCDP is not exactly flush with clients, so Roger jumps at the offer.  They decide to put Peggy on the account for her female perspective on the product.  And Freddy's only caveat to bringing them this big client is that Pete Campbell not be put on the account.

Peggy is thrilled to see Freddy back and gives him a huge hug, which makes him "feel like the Tin Man." But when they're sitting down doing the work on the new account, Peggy recognizes the chasm between what she (and the new SCDP) does and what old-fashioned work he envisions.  He suggests Talullah Bankhead or some other faded, aging star to sell their product.  If she doesn't like that idea, he also suggests an approach where Ponds sells itself as a way to make young woman attractive to men so they'll be able to catch a husband.  Peggy wants a new, young approach, not his old fashioned idea.

Speaking of old fashioned, Peggy and her boyfriend are getting serious but they still haven't had sex.  You see, Peggy is just an old fashioned girl. A virgin even.  Hey stop laughing, he never saw Season One. So Peggy is torn between being this person he sees, this sweet innocent girl, and the modern woman she really is.  She knows there are the good girls who get married and the naughty girls who have sex outside of wedlock (not to mention those who get pregnant) and stay single.  Which does she want to be?

We are introduced to two new characters, Geoff Atherton who was mentioned last episode and his colleague Dr. Faye Miller, both consumer market researchers who will help the agency target their ads.  Dr. Miller presents them with a sample personality questionnaire, to show them some of what they do.  Not at all surprisingly, Don - who does not exactly want his real self to be discovered by anyone, let alone a stranger - looks at the questions and smiles, then walks out of the meeting.  Of course, his not taking the test probably tells Dr. Miller more about Don than had he answered the questions.  In fact, that scene gives us good insight into many of our characters.  Harry who frets and overthinks, hoarding cookies and shielding his answers, Bert who gets a good laugh at the questions, Pete and Peggy who don't make waves or draw attention to themselves.  So much is revealed in how people address a third person's attempt to learn more about them. 

Glen calls Sally (in secret, using a pseudonym - see, another man in her life who uses a fake name!) and she tells him how hard it is living at the old house now that her father has moved out. So Glen hatches an idea. He and some friends vandalize the residence one night as the family is out, but leaves her room alone (leaving behind a small token).  Maybe feeling less safe in their house will finally inspire Betty and Henry to find a new home so Sally can at least stop looking around each corner hoping to see her father.  At least Sally will know she has a friend who's looking out for her.  

The SCDP Christmas party may have been hastily thrown together, but you couldn't tell. It was bright and shiny and everything Lee Garner, Jr. needed to make him feel special.  And that's what a small agency with financial trouble needs - for their largest client to feel happy. Whatever he wants, he gets.  Unfortunately, Lee has curious tastes and he enjoys his parties laden with other people's humiliation. He makes Roger wear the Santa suit then mocks him for his age and his heart troubles.  He takes the gift he receives - a new Polaroid - and uses it to take embarrassing pictures of Roger.  And when he talks about being happy, about getting what he wants, you see how profoundly miserable he is even as he orchestrates every moment around him.

Elsewhere Geoff Atherton and Bert Cooper are discussing politics from the far right while liberal Faye sits between them horrified by their leanings.  They are railing against President Johnson's War on Poverty and the resultant legislation (Food Stamp Act, Medicare, Medicaid, etc.) that was, or was about to be, enacted.  She leaves to go chat with Don.  She was taken aback by his decision not to take the personality test and was looking for both an apology and and acknowledgment that her work is important. She grudgingly gets both from Don.  But he doesn't get what he wanted - she turns down his offer for a drink.  

Don stumbles home, completely intoxicated, only to find he'd left his keys back at the office.  His loyal secretary offers to delay her plans and bring them to him. In a scene which parallels Phoebe putting the inebriated Don to bed, Allison manages to get Don on the couch.  But unlike Phoebe, who deflected his drunken attempts to make a pass, Allison is very willing to be kissed.  They have sex (Don's drunkenness never seems to cause a problem in that regard) and then we have the awkward parting as she goes off to join her friends.  But no worries, they'll see each other tomorrow at work. 

The scene at the office the next morning was the hardest to watch. Don - one of the most gifted communicators out there - is tongue tied.  He sees Allison sitting at her desk and does not want to face her. He takes the long way to get to his office, stopping for a brief humorous chat with Roger, and finally has no choice but to go to his office.  He asks her to come into his office (where he finds all the brightly wrapped presents for his kids that she bought for him). He literally has no idea what to say to her because last night meant nothing to him.  She was just the wrong girl in the right place.

Don fumbles a bit before finally thanking her for bringing him his keys the night before - which may be the world's worst metaphor for a booty call. That's it.  Last night on the couch never happened.  Allison is shocked.  Last night happened and it meant something to her, but it meant nothing to Don. And then he makes it so much worse.  He hands her and envelope with money in it.


There are major black and white comparisons throughout the episode: the old fashioned and the new, the drunk and the sober, young and old, socialism and capitalism, even hot and cold.  This is an either-or episode, where you are forced to pick sides, move forward or stay behind.  And maybe that's what 1964 must have felt like (I was only five, so not that aware of these issues).  While the '60s are technically the years from 1960-1969, the decade did not begin in earnest until '64.  From the British Invasion, with the mop topped Beatles, to the start of free speech and race protests, '64 was a transitional year for the country as the shiny hope and promise of the '50s and Camelot turned into the turbulent '60s.

Tallulah Bankhead would have been 62 years old at the time of this episode (she died four years later) and while in her day she was a beauty, it is hard to imagine in the year when Honor Blackman wowed as Pussy Galore in Goldfinger, that female consumers would have looked up to someone their grandmother's age.   The others on his list were just as bad.  Peggy recognized that the movement was towards youth, the new fashioned.  That change was also seen in the mention of the Carefree woman in white pants.  We're now just four years away from the breakout "You've Come a Long Way" ads for women.

The conversation between Dr. Miller and Don is full of meaning and subtext.  "I don't know how knowing about my childhood will help sell floor wax," Don tells her.  Yet there is a story there and the trapped little boy trying to escape his cell may very well been informed by Don's past. She tells Don that her work is about helping people work through their biggest conflict: what I want versus what's expected of me. And even he recognizes that's the question at the root of his current situation.

I found the juxtaposition of Don seducing Allison with Sally looking out her window and then clutching Glen's braided lanyard a little weird.  Sally is still so young and innocent, and Glen is older and more aware.  He talks about her mother and stepfather "doing it" and Sally's response is, "doing what?"  But I didn't need to see Sally sandwiched between the scene of her father drunkenly screwing his secretary.

It's so sweet how Sally is protecting her younger brother's innocence, sending his Santa letter to Don's office.  Meanwhile hers is under some attack by Glen talking about her mother "doing it."  Mark (and Freddy) are trying to preserve what they think is Peggy's innocence, not realizing that ship has sailed and sunk.

Freddy makes a comment about the abstract art in Roger's office making him feel as if he's being sucked in.  It's an interesting reference to the fear an alcoholic must feel of being sucked back into that lifestyle.  Coming back to Sterling Cooper, after having left in shame due to his alcoholism, presents both a new beginning for Freddy but also a concern about falling into the past.  He's 16-months clean and sober, yet knows that temptation is all around.  He sees that when his AA friend goes on a bender during a lunch meeting with Roger.  And he recognizes that going to a booze filled Christmas party, and donning Santa's flask-hiding suit, will only bring him that much closer to a great fall off the wagon.  So he does the wise thing and keeps himself at a safe distance from those dangerous temptations.

Joey flirts with Allison (drawing her a picture of herself) and calls the drunk Don pathetic. Don is losing his charm.  Joan is not losing her charm, at least not to attract Roger.  He mentions her red dress with the bow in the back that makes her look like a present and lets her know he's thought about it a bit.  He may be married to a pretty young thing, but he still has eyes for Joan.

A few retro things we don't see anymore - the Polaroid automatic camera and the record players with the center ring for the 45s.


Glen: I saw your new dad.  My mom said that would happen.

Freddy:  It looks like an Italian hospital.

Roger: I feel like with my hair, you can't even see me in here.

Faye:  Please, take a cookie.
What's it mean if we don't? 

Faye:. That you're a psychopath.

Don: I don't hate Christmas.  I hate this Christmas.

LaneI know that you've lived your life from a bottomless pocket, but there's a very real system of money coming in versus money going out.

Roger:  If Lee Garner Jr. wants three wise men flown in from Jerusalem, he gets it.

Roger:  There's been a small adjustment to the scale of our Christmas party.
... We need to change its rating from convalescent home to Roman orgy

Peggy:  Nothing makes old ladies look good.

Freddy: If young girls started using it, maybe they’d find a husband and wouldn’t be so angry.

Peggy:  My bed is covered with work.
Mark:  That's kind of symbolic.

Peggy (who's Norwegian): You're never going to get me to do anything Swedish people do.

Joan: We have gifts, girls and games.

Bert: Civil rights is the beginning of a slippery slope.
Geoff: If they pass Medicare, they won't stop until they ban personal property.
Faye: Storm our houses and rape our wives

Roger:  I would but I’m allergic to velvet.

Lee:  Put it on, Roger. Put it on. 

Lee: it reminds me of when I was a kid. Remember that?  You'd ask for something and you'd get it and it made you happy

Trudy: Chestnuts roasting on a greasy man’s open street cart? My goodness!

Don: I thought you came in to flirt, but you came in to fight.

Faye: It all comes down to what I want versus what's expected of me.

Faye:  Nobody wants to think they're a type. 

Allison:  Don't. 
Don: Don't what?

Don:  Did you enjoy the fuhrer's birthday? 
Roger:  May he live for 1,000 years.  My father used to say this is the greatest job in the world except for one thing.  The clients.

Peggy:  I don't want to be alone on New Year's. 

Don:  I really over did it.
Allison: Me too.

Don: I've probably taken advantage of your kindness on too many occasions.

Suicide mention:
Phoebe tells Don that the holiday season sees its fair share of suicides. 

Whore reference:
Don gives Allison an envelope with $100 after they have sex.

Spoilery Observations (Don't read unless you're caught up):

Faye tells Don, "Don't be worried, you'll be married in a year."  When he looks shocked, she apologizes for pegging him, saying no one wants to think they're a type.  But Don is a type.  While he can't be faithful, he also can't be alone.  And within the year he had found a new Mrs. Draper.

While people are types - Betty did remarry quickly, as Glen's mom suspected, Don did get remarried in a year - not every stereotype did fall into place.  Betty and Henry never did have another child.  

Speaking of the next Mrs. Draper, this is our first introduction to Megan Calvet. We see her helping Joan with preparations for the party, dancing in the conga line and when Joan asks her to fetch Lee a drink.

Joey has his arrogance and his disdain of Don, but what he won't have forever is a job at Sterling Cooper.  He may think Don is pathetic, but Don will outlast him.  Joey, who has youth on his side, decides to go after another "older" member of power at the firm, Joan, and comes out on the losing side when Peggy fires him.  Check out Ep. 4.8 for details.

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