Monday, August 2, 2010

Mad Men “Christmas Comes But Once A Year “ Recap & Review

All photos from AMC

It’s a Mad Men Christmas, which means there’s a lot of drinking and not much happiness. The episode painted a lonely and depressing picture of Christmas for Don Draper.

The episode opens with Betty (January Jones) and Henry (Christopher Stanley ) and the kids looking for a Christmas tree in the stereotypical Christmas tree lot. Sally (Kiernan Shipka) runs into her friend Glen, who seems to have similar experiences with Sally on being a child of divorced parents. Later, Glen calls Sally on the phone and continues to paint her a picture of what will be in store for her with her new father, and that she will likely be moving out of the house soon. When he later calls Sally’s house and gets no answer, he knows they are not home and decides to take one of his friends and trash the house, and we see them throwing food all over the kitchen. When Betty, Henry, and the kids return to find the mess, Sally finds that her room appears to be untouched, and Glen left a lanyard that was attached to his knife that he used to cut twine to wrap the Christmas trees. Sally may feel that Glen is protecting her and looking out for her, but I see a psycho stalker in the making. Thankfully, we don’t see much of the depressing Betty in this episode, as there was a big enough dark cloud hanging over the episode just from the goings on at Sterling, Cooper, Draper, Pryce.

Freddy Rumsen (Joel Murray) brings the Ponds account to SCDP, and he is also clean and sober. He doesn’t want Pete (Vincent Kartheiser) touching the account, and get paired with Peggy (Elizabeth Moss). Peggy later gets on Freddy’s case because he’s being too old fashioned with his approach to the Ponds campaign, but later, when her boyfriend comments about how Peggy seems to be too old fashioned when it comes to things like sex before marriage, she later apologizes to Freddy for her criticism and then has her fling with her boyfriend.

The big story of the episode is Don Draper (Jon Hamm) and his continued decent into alcoholism. His neighbor, a nurse (Nora Zehetner) has noticed his nightly struggle with his keys to open his apartment door, and one night helps him into his room and into bed, taking off his tie and shoes so he can sleep comfortably. She seems to resist taking advantage of his drunken state and he is too drunk to care.

When Roger (John Slatterly) finds that Lee Garner, Jr. (Darren Pettie) head of their biggest client Lucky Strike, is in town and expects a big Christmas party at SCDP, Roger realizes they must scale up the company Christmas party, much to the dismay of the bean counter, Lane Pryce (Jared Harris). Garner clearly knows how important he is to the survival of SCDP, and seems to want to humiliate Roger by making Roger wear the Santa Claus suit. Roger complies, and when he gives Lee his Christmas gift of a Polaroid camera, Lee takes photos of Roger in the suit with office employees – such as an apologetic Harry Crane (Rich Sommers) sitting on Roger’s lap.

Don, meanwhile, seems to distance himself from everything. Earlier, he refused to participate in exercise conducted by a friend of Bert Cooper’s (Robert Morse) and his associate Faye (Cara Buono). She asks the employees to complete a brief psychological test, and when the first question relates to describing their own father, Don balks and leaves the room. Don’s father is his Achilles heel, and his refusal to participate in the process told Faye volumes about Don. He later gives her a non-apology apology, and then leaves the Christmas party and heads home.

Don’s drinking is turning into a real problem, and it begins to cloud his judgment. When he gets home, he realizes he doesn’t have his keys, and his nurse neighbor does not appear to be home. He calls his secretary and she finds his keys on his office floor and heads over to his place to return them. When she gets there, she immediately tends to him with aspirin. He takes them but then makes a move on her and she resists and first. But she can’t resist Don for long, and caves in to him. The next day, Don returns to the office and while he was drunk the night before, he clearly knows what he did with his secretary. He calls her into his office and seems to act like he wasn’t aware of what happened, and gives her an envelope with her Christmas bonus. As he continues to talk she realizes that he either does not recall what happened between them the night before, or wants them both to forget it. She seems both devastated and ashamed. When she later opens the card, she finds two $50 bills and a bland thank you from Don inside. Granted, he had already planned to give her the bonus, but she had to feel like she was being paid for services. She goes on working with a sad look on her face and tears welling in her eyes. Later in the evening, Don takes the Christmas present for his kids that his secretary bought for him, and leaves the dark and empty office.

Christmas, which is usually a time of happiness, seemed to have only cast a black cloud over everyone. SCDP is hanging by a thread, and their biggest account, Lucky Strike, has a real jerk for a leader who seems to know the power he wields over the company. With cigarettes reaching the era where smoking is scorned, it is only a matter of time before SCDP must either find a new big account, or grapple with a more demanding client who wants a clean face on a dirty habit. Sally also thinks she has a friend in Glen, and is too young to see that his destructive behavior is dangerous. Peggy comes to the realization that she can’t play straight laced too long if she wants to move her life in the right direction; out of everyone in this episode, she seems to see more positive things in her life than negative.

Don’s drinking is reaching critical levels, and it is becoming very obvious to everyone around him. Roger seems not to care, seeing that he and Don seem to think drinking is just part of the ad game. But everyone else – even Don’s neighbor – sees he is heading for big trouble. How long will Don be able to hold things together before alcohol gets him into real and big trouble? Will SCDP be able to get out from under Lucky Strike and get a few more accounts to stabilize the company? The show paints an environment that is like a rubber banD pulled too tight, and one can only wonder if it will be able to snap back, or if it will break – and when.

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