“Mad Men” Recap: 402, “Christmas Comes But Once a Year”
Lest we forget, “Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner worked on “The Sopranos,” and one of David Chase’s key tenets in approaching his anti-heroes was to remind us at jagged, irregular and usually shocking intervals what monsters we were watching. Sure, you could get all wrapped up in the “romance” of mob life and get a kick out of Paulie Walnuts and New Jersey guido life, but then just when you were starting to think, “Hey I’d like to have a beer and cigar with Tony and the boys down at Satriale’s Pork Store,” then Ralphie kills Bada Bing hostess Tracee in “University,” one of the most brutal episodes in the series’ history, and you’re brought back to Planet Earth.
So after last week’s season opener, “Public Relations,” in which Don Draper (Jon Hamm) seemed to reconcile his status as an advertising rock star after the Glo-Coat triumph, the bloom is off the rose a mere month later, as SCDP struggles with its accounts and plans a Christmas party that, to Roger Sterling’s eyes, seems awfully “convalescent home.” Their dependence on Lucky Strike and its magnate, Lee Garner Jr., is evident every time Lane Pryce (Jared Harris) opens his mouth — they account for either 69 or 71 percent of SCDP’s profits, and Roger hates how Pryce says “per cent.” When Garner announces that he’s coming to the soiree, Sterling immediately insists that the party transform from “convalescent home” to “Roman orgy.”
The problem is that Garner, ever the high roller, knows the power he has over SCDP, and the agency must do everything it can to diversify its roster so that it breaks from that dependency, and that includes bringing back poor old Freddy Rumsen, now a recovering alcoholic fully entrenched in AA and dragging with him a $2 million Pond’s cold cream account. Freddy is very much a relic, a point made by a swift and ugly debate with Peggy (Elizabeth Moss) over how to sell the goop.
But at the core of all this is the cratering of Don Draper. At the outset, Don and the rest of the staff are stuck in a meeting with consultant Faye Miller (Cara Buono), who asks the SCDP team to fill out personality profiles, including questions about their fathers. Yeah, right. Don checks out, citing an appointment, but Faye calls him on it later at the Christmas party, when she corners him in his office in a flirting-but-not-really posture. She’s researched Don, and while she probably doesn’t know about Dick Whitman, she knows enough about Don’s recent history. She tells him, “Don’t worry. You’ll be married again in a year,” and then twists the heel by saying that she forgot that people don’t like to think of themselves as “types.” But this entire episode is about telling the viewer what type of guy Don Draper is during Christmas 1964. He is the kind of guy who is dismissive of his neighbor Phoebe (Nora Zehetner of “Brick”) — strange, because she essentially looks like Natalie Wood in a nurse’s uniform, and unless Don’s afraid of nurses, that’s kind of a universal slam-dunk, especially in 1964. He only gets around to a pass after he’s too drunk to stand and she’s helping him out of his tie. But then Phoebe tells him her father was a drunk, which means Don is not really an appealing daddy figure at this particular moment.
So Don’s striking out until he gets absolutely blotto after the party, goes home and realizes he’s left his keys at the office. He calls his secretary Allison (Alexa Alemmani), who has become expert at taking care of post-divorce Don, buying Christmas presents for his kids and tidying up after his increasingly widening mess, to bring his keys. She takes time out from after-party drinks with co-workers (one of whom comments on Don’s miserable state of late). Allison, who seems to worship Don, becomes easy prey: she seems to think this completely unromantic come-on could turn into something nuptial-related. It’s a dank coupling, to be sure, and later at the office, Don refuses to acknowledge it. This is the “Sopranos” moment of the episode: Don is a right bastard to Allison, who goes back to her desk and starts typing. We hope it’s a resignation letter, but that does not appear to be the case.
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