This! Is! Mad Men! – Christmas Comes But Once a Year

[This! Is! Mad Men! recaps the newest developments of Don Draper and his ragtag group of cohorts. In the spirit of the show, it will often be sexist and drunk. Apologies ahead of time.]

In the Spirit of the Season

Right off the bat, I’m going to issue a complaint about last night’s episode of Mad Men. My grievance doesn’t pertain to the writing, directing, acting, or production — all of this was superb. Instead, I’m going to whine because it’s only August and this is a Christmas episode. It’s just too early to be this damn fired up about the most wonderful time of the year! I just know I’m going to spend the next four months writing and proofing a letter to Santa, scouring supermarkets for eggnog, and staying up late to listen for sleigh bells.

But seriously, congrats Mad Men – you’re now in league with all those other shows with sick Christmas episodes.   I’ll definitely re-watch this episode on December 24th.

Okay, let’s bite into the sweet pulp that is Christmas Comes But Once a Year.

Don’s Deal

Yet again, Don finds himself pulling some the same `ole stunts we’ve come to love him for. He gives his secretary of a list of presents to snag for his kids. He makes friends with Phoebe, the nurse who lives across the hall from him (he’ll probably bag her). And after his secretary Allison brings him the keys to his apartment he left at the office, he and her get nasty…as in, ya know, do the intercourse thang.

But what’s interesting is the how Draper handles this particular act of unprofessionalism. For a moment, it seems as though he might fire his secretary…but he doesn’t. In fact, he thanks her for bringing him his keys and apologizes for occasionally taking advantage of her goodwill. She gets the hint and is a broken up to find out that they can’t keep going at it (can you blame her!?). I’m starting to look at Don as someone dabbling with the notion of setting himself completely straight but not quite ready to go through with it; he makes the familiar mistakes, but now feels slight pangs of regret afterwards. I want to believe in Don Draper, but he needs to believe in himself first.

What’s also interesting is Don’s nonstop drinking in this episode. Although he’s always a fan of the booze, he really ups the ante this time around. It’s clear that Draper is having trouble coping with being without his family and the holidays are only exacerbating this problem. In a terribly depressing moment, Don proclaims, “I don’t hate Christmas, I hate this Christmas.”

Oh, Don also leaves a meeting with market researchers early because he doesn’t feel like subjecting himself to their questionnaire (Don Draper answer questions about himself?! Get the fugg outta town!!!). Of course, one of the researchers is a bombshell named Faye Miller. After some minor flirting at the Christmas party, I think it’s safe to their paths will continue to cross.

Oh Donnie, what’re we going to do with you?

The Christmas Party — On and then Off and then On Again!

If any viewers forgot about the vulnerability of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, this episode serves as a reminder. Due to budget constraints, Pryce only wants a diminished, scaled-down Christmas party. Unfortunately, Lee Garner Jr. (the sleazy executive who got Sal fired) is in town and wants to attend an infamous Madison Avenue holiday drinking-fest. Since Lucky Strike cigarettes are the crux of the agency’s financial plan, there is no option other than to oblige. So, a sick-ass party is thrown.

Which sounds great, on paper. But when Lee Garner Jr. shows up, he tosses his weight around and makes it more than obvious that he knows how much clout he has. In an emasculating maneuver, Garner makes Roger Sterling don a Santa suit to hand out presents and take pictures with employees. Ugh.

I’m really hoping SCDP start making some dough so they can tell this fugg-head to take his money and jam it.

Triumphant Returns

In an appropriately Dickensian turn, two Characters of Mad Men Past reappear in this Christmas-themed episode. At both points I got so damn excited that I popped up and shouted the characters’ names. Yes, I’m that guy.

Glen makes his return as the Francis-Drapers are searching for a Christmas tree. I’ve always found this kid interesting because he’s just so damn weird. When we initially met him in the first season, he was spying on Betty Draper while she was on the porcelain throne and then asking her for locks of her hair. His mom, the hot divorcee, threw a total nutty on Betty and told her to screw.

Well now Glen’s back in my television box and he’s making his moves on Sally Draper. I really like Sally and hope she doesn’t fall for this kook’s malarkey. He phones her frequently, fooling Carla by using the alias Stanley and pretending to be in search of homework help. This is cute and kind of endearing. What isn’t, however, is when Glen breaks into the Francis-Draper house with a buddy and trashes the place…every room except for Sally’s. In fact, he even leaves her a little present on her pillow (it’s nothing amazing, just some cruddy arts’n’crafts).

While the reemergence of this potential sociopath is cause for concern, warm feelings arise from the return of a more jovial figure — Freddy Rumsen! Last time we saw this affable alcoholic, he was getting the boot from Sterling Cooper for pissing his pants and passing out before a big meeting. Don and Roger gave Freddy a hero’s sendoff, taking him out for a night on the town and leaving the door open should he ever get his act together.

Freddy comes back into the picture clean, sober, and reeling in an account that can really help the fledgeling that is Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. In his first moments back, Mr. Rumsen shows the viewers that he is dedicated not only to his job but his sobriety as well; not only does he repeatedly refuse offered drinks and avoid the office Christmas party, he even leaves work to assist a peer who has fallen off the wagon. Is Mad Men going to once again portray the difficulty of abstaining from alcohol in the advertising world of the 1960’s? Is Rumsen going to succeed where Duck Phillips failed? I hope so.

Civil Rights On the Horizon

Critics have argued that Mad Men has yet to effectively depict the racial struggles of the time (leaving it only to Kinsey’s pipedreams and pretensions). The counterargument is that the show is about rich white elitists and as they weren’t so concerned about civil rights issues the show isn’t going to be rooted in them.

At the very least I do think we’ll see the events unfold through subplots, anecdotes and subtexts. Christmas Comes But Once a Year features a conversation between Bert Cooper, Pryce, and some market researchers. One of the researchers scoffs at Pryce for coming from the socialist-friendly England in which health care is given to all. Cooper, in his own offhanded comment, believes that civil rights are a slippery slope.

Yes, I like the eccentric Bert Cooper. But at the end of the day, he’s still an old rich honky.

Peggy’s Little Secret

Ah, Peggy Olsen — what a beacon of light in the moral darkness that is Mad Men. But even though Peggy may be one of the more sympathetic characters, she is still quite flawed. We find out that Peggy has been stringing along her boyfriend, not giving him any real action and pretending she’s still a virgin. Virgin? Peggy Olsen?! Yikes. Pete Campbell and Duck Phillips both know that’s not the case.

Long story short, she sleeps with her new dude. And he’s happy, because he doesn’t have tote two painful melons in his jockey anymore. But it’s going to be a bummer when he figures out he isn’t Peggy’s first partner.

Final Thoughts

Overall, this is a great episode. We’re starting to get a clearer image of the fallout from the previous season and it’s far from pretty (but damn entertaining). I’m still holding out for seeing Kinsey and Cosgrove and Sal, but only time will tell.

What’d you think?