Mad Men – Christmas Comes But Once a Year

Mad Men - Christmas Comes But Once a YearI love Christmas. I always have. I especially like pop music Christmas songs from the late-50s and early 60s. They sound so perfect, so happy, and so…well, jolly. But the best of the lot generally include a naughty wink and a nod or a touch of sadness at the thought of loved ones you won’t be seeing this year or ghosts of Christmases past. It is these songs that make up the soundtrack of Christmas 1964 at Sterling Cooper Price & Draper.

What better image of the ideal mid-century American Christmas than that of tree shopping with the family? There they are: Sally, Bobby, Betty and…Henry (AKA, New Daddy). And who should emerge from the shadows but poor, damaged Glen Bishop, the boy the whole neighborhood felt sad for as the product of [gasp!] DIVORCE. Now it’s Glen who’s dishing out the sympathy to young Sally, herself just recently entering this broken family world. Glen drops some wisdom on Sally to score the guilt gifts now before Betty and Henry start in on Family 2.0. Gotta hand it to him, the creepy little bastard is smart.

They’re singin’ ‘Deck the Halls’

But it’s not like Christmas at all

I remember when you were here

And all the fun we had last year

Of course, Betty isn’t the only one (if even) who will be over compensating this Christmas. Draper and his girl Alison share a heartbreaking moment when she reads Don a note young Sally sent on Bobby’s behalf to Santa. Among the list of toys is Sally’s wish that she could see her daddy on Christmas day, which she also knows isn’t going to happen. In true Draper fashion he compartmentalizes this particular problem and instructs Alison to get everything on the list, and to throw in some Beatles 45s for good measure. This will surely be the Christmas that sets Bobby on a path to an eventual rock and roll tragedy, but for now let’s Twist and Shout.

Speaking of gifts, who can look a gift horse in the mouth? Especially if that horse is none other than Freddy Rumsen, the copy man who drunkenly pissed himself right out of a job back when Draper was manhandling (literally, ahem) Bobbi Barrett. Well, Freddy is back clean and sober and flush with the Ponds face cream account worth a tony $2 million bucks, which is exactly what SCPD needs right now since most of their business is tied up in one account: Lucky Strike. Freddy explains his coup by simply saying he and the man in charge of Ponds are “in a sort of fraternity.” It becomes clearer when Freddy rushes to the phone to call his “frat brother” after Roger stumbles back to the office after meeting with him. It seems Freddy’s fraternity is of the 12-step variety.

Of course, Freddy’s return cannot be without a few hiccups, as they say. Things have changed since that cold night when Don and Roger sent a stinking Freddy adrift like a passenger on the river Styx. For one, Peggy Olson is Head Copywriter. That’s a tough nut for Rumsen to swallow given that Peggy is maybe 15 years his junior, and a woman. When the two are working on concepts for a new Ponds pitch, the generational and gender issues come into sharp contrast. A flummoxed Peggy finally cuts the old boy to the quick by calling him old fashioned, which is maybe the last thing an ad man wants to hear. Especially one who has been given a later day second chance. The final straw is when Freddy insists on going down a creative path that equates marriage with the ultimate happiness.

Peggy’s got other problems on her mind though as her current beau is pushing to get down. He misinterprets her decision to wait as a fear of losing her virginity. Little does he know that our Peggy has a little boy out there somewhere and at least a brief stint walking in Draper’s shoes, if not his bed sheets. Mark is persistent and Peggy ultimately caves, after which he asks her if she feels “different?” She does, but not for the reason he supposes. You have to wonder how long she’ll be able to keep her secret from him—from everyone? Especially since her family likes to throw it back at her whenever Peggy does something with which they disagree.

Peggy’s not the only one confronting her feelings, of course. Burt Cooper contracts an audience research firm to augment SCPD’s creative firepower. The foxy Dr. Faye Miller explains how she can extract the inner most thoughts of target audiences through analysis of seemingly benign questions. She then asks senior staffers to complete a questionnaire that contains entries like, “How do you feel about your father?” The look on Draper’s face catches her eye, but not before he excuses himself for “another engagement” and is out the door. The man who is just now getting comfortable talking about Don Draper is far from ready to talk about Dick Whitman. Adios, doc.

Speaking of daddy issues…Roger gets a hard and very public lesson on the perils of having the majority of your agency’s billing in the hands of one account when Lucky Strike man Lee Garner Jr. first insists on an invitation to the Christmas party and then humiliates the Silver Fox by demanding he wear a Santa suit and pose for pictures with various staffers sitting on his lap. This from the man who had Sal fired when our barely closeted hero rebuffed Garner’s advances in a film editing room. Yeah, he’s THAT guy. So not only is it dicey to have the life of your agency in this man’s hands, it’s also bad for your pride and emotional health.

Pretty lights on the tree / Christmas

I’m watchin’ ’em shine / Christmas

You should be here with me / Christmas

Meanwhile the ever-romantic Glen breaks into the Draper home and trashes the joint, leaving only young Sally’s room untouched. Why do I get the feeling Creepy G is a firebug?

One of the Mad Men writers’ greatest feats is how they’ve created this awesome anti-hero in Don Draper. Talk about fatal flaws, but you simply cannot completely love or hate him. He’s alternately heroic and pathetic. He’s at once attractive and repulsive. He can one day cut Peggy off at the knees with a dismissive remark and the next light up her life with a simple “Merry Christmas, sweetheart.” It’s the talent of cads and Draper has it in spades.

That talent is something Dr. Miller may dig into a bit more if she’s a recurring role and that’s something of which Draper is keenly aware. When he says he doesn’t see how learning about his childhood will help him sell floor wax Miller replies, “I saw that ad. It’s all about somebody’s childhood.” She then quips that Don will remarry within a year, a statement that more than puts him on his heels.

“I always forget,” she says, “nobody wants to think they’re a type.”

Draper’s a type alright, but it’s a composite of several archetypes. The most dominate is that of the womanizer. After being shot down by his cute neighbor—yes, a woman said no to Draper’s advances. Of course he likely had liquor dick, so…—Don finally scores with none other than Alison. Poor girl had no idea she was Don’s gift to himself that year. Let’s just say it was awkward when the encounter ends with a giggly “My goodness!” Her bubble pops the next day when Draper thanks her for delivering his keys and buying his kids’ gifts and then hands her an envelope with a card and hundred bucks; her Christmas bonus.

“I’ve probably taken advantage of your kindness on too many occasions.” Keep it classy, Draper!

Peggy and Freddy apologize to each other and Peggy admits that she does want to marry. If so, Freddy advises, she shouldn’t have sex beforehand because her boyfriend won’t respect her. In a moment of supreme wisdom from an older man he also tells her she shouldn’t lead him on either. “That is physically very uncomfortable,” says Freddy.

The episode ends with Draper walking alone through the office, briefcase in one hand and gifts in the other. His life-work balance has clearly tipped to the latter but while he may be a rock, Don Draper is not an island. The underlying theme of the show proves that time and again. Try though he might to go through life untethered it is impossible. We make connections, we leave imprints, we gather scars. Our secrets may be hidden but they carry weight and they are weighing heavy on Don Draper.

Baby, please come home

Baby, please come home

Baby, please come home

Audio: Darlene Love – “Christmas (Baby please come home)”

Mad Men: iTunes, Amazon, wiki, Official Mad Men recap from AMC

Darlene Love: iTunes, Amazon, Insound, wiki

One thought on “Mad Men – Christmas Comes But Once a Year”

  1. Great review. After episode one I was worried as well that this season would coast, relying on the new mod designs and the usual sex and office issues. But episode two was amazing–one of the best I’ve seen in a long time.

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