Monday, August 2, 2010

Mad Men – “Christmas Comes but Once a Year”

Review by Paul Steven Brown

‘Mad Men’
Season 4 – Episode 2
“Christmas Comes but Once a Year”

These first two episodes of the fourth season are really driving home the sense of isolation that Don Draper feels, now that he is separated from Betty and not around the kids that often. For someone in his position, the holidays can be the loneliest time of the year. So lonely that he’s making passes at the nurse from down the hall or engaging in a sudden romp with his personal secretary, Allison. In both cases, Don has been extremely drunk.

Not that he’s ever been shy about having a drink or five while on the job, but I wonder if former Sterling Cooper account man and recovering alcoholic Freddie Rumsen’s reappearance is a red flag as to how bad Don is truly getting with his imbibing. Of course, in typical Don Draper fashion, he practically acts as if his tryst with Allison might as well never happened, much to her chagrin. While the Christmas bonus was already promised, the post-coital delivery of it made her feel cheap. Don might as well have left the money on a dresser.

Peggy gets a little more camera time this episode. Her boyfriend Mark is clueless as he is milquetoast compared to the men she interacts with on a daily basis. She lets him believe that she’s a virgin, but this seems to be part of her approach of control in this relationship. She seems to like Mark, but I’m pretty sure one of the reasons she’s with him is that he will hopefully not be much of a hindrance to her career goals. Also, unlike with Pete or Duck, Peggy can actually be out in the open with this courtship.

Glen, the creepy kid from down the street, begins a strange bit of bonding with Sally Draper. His parents have been divorced far longer than Sally’s, so he feels compelled to offer all sorts of unsolicited advice to her. Even his vandalism of her house is an attempt to make her feel special. Only her room was spared from egg splattering and he left her a gift. Like her father, Sally is feeling isolated and eager for some form of attention.

This episode also sees the return of that creep from Lucky Strike, Lee Garner Jr. This is the guy whose passes were rejected by Sal Romano, resulting in the art director’s firing. Lucky Strike is responsible for over half of SCDP’s business, and Garner knows it. He wields his power at the SCDP Christmas party like a spoiled, petulant child and takes a heavy dose of satisfaction at humiliating Roger. At least we got to see Joan lead a congo line and Alison Brie (who has been busy and outstanding on NBC's 'Community') as Trudy Campbell once again.

Two episodes in and there hasn’t been a strong narrative backbone established yet, other than the fact that SCDP is barely hanging on financially. ‘Mad Men’ has always been character over plot and it is still early in the season, even with only eleven more hours to go. I’m curious to see if the rest of the episodes will be centered on specific holidays as with these first two. If next week is about New Years and the following around Valentine’s Day, than we’ll know for sure. Then again, holidays have always played a big role in this series due to their impact on advertising campaigns and office culture in general.

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