A Very Special Mad Men Christmas

For one Don Draper, it is certainly not the happiest time of year.

More and more this season, Draper’s life is caroming out of control and into the gutter. He’s divorced and his ex lives with her new husband in his house. He doesn’t get to see his kids every day and when he does, not all of them are there. His work life sucks. A new client came in to speak with him specifically and then soundly rejected everything he proposed.

And that was all in the first episode. In Sunday’s episode, shit got a lot more real.
It’s late December. Sally writes her Dad a letter outlining what she and her brother want (some Beatles 45s, a necklace, etc). And she finishes the letter off saying words to the effect of I want you to be here when I open them, but I know you can’t.

Bang. No wonder he’s into the Canadian Club before noon; I know I would be. By the time the work day is over, Don’s got a serious drink on and can barely get into his apartment; indeed, he’s later helped by a friendly neighbour with a thing for drunks. More on her later.

This is a man who’s life is no longer falling apart; it already has. He already spent Thanksgiving alone, now he’s going to spend Christmas by his lonesome. He is wrecked by depression and drink and insecurity and sorry-for-one’s-selfness.

Like Bukowski’s Henry Chinaski, Draper is somebody who’s only tether to society is his prodigious talent. Without his skill at advertising (and at a displaying a polished veneer), Draper would have turned out his old co-worker Freddy, who we saw piss himself not too long ago.

But Old Pissypants is back and all cleaned up after a stay in Ennet House, freelancing at SCDP He’s back to working with Peggy, but she’s the boss now and boy, are things a-changin’.

They’re working on a cold cream account and Freddy keeps namedropping older women – the people he thinks the product should go for – while Peggy goes from younger women (who will actually buy the product) to a pretty cool idea about the process, both of which Freddy doesn’t bother listening to before he hits AA.

In all seriousness, I found it really interesting to see how somebody who goes out of his way not to drink acts and fits in at SCDP. Freddy turns down at least a couple drinks – the ‘brown stuff’ as Roger memorably calls it – and skips a boozy, downish Christmas party. Unlike Don and Roger, both of whom seem to descend into drink when something crosses them, Freddy just removes himself from the element.

Roger once said he drinks because he’s a man, but I’m starting to wonder if it’s because they’re men that they drink; they have this lifestyle they’re trying to live towards but which is not the best for them.

But, then, Don drinks for all kinds of reasons. He drinks because he’s alone. He drinks because his job sucks – the Christmas party flipped out of control and he spent a good chunk almost babysitting. And maybe his self-loathing has something to do with the drinking. We saw him pay to get slapped around by hooker last week, this week he spurns his neighbour who went out of her way to help him and clean him up before bed. She obviously liked him and I fully imagine that Don knows it; but he’s burning his bridges. She likes him and wants to be part of his life (and maybe try to fix him), and he stands her up.

Hell, he’s burning them at work, too. After getting too drunk to remember his keys at the party (but somehow arrives home without killing himself), his secretary comes by to help him. And he helps himself to her, and they make sexy time. And when it’s over, Don’s cold about it. He calls her into his office and glosses over what happened, refusing to acknowledge it. This is some serious heartbreakage, here.

But I think it’s more then that. Like I said, Don’s destroying everything around him. His secretary, his neighbour, the bikini client. This is it’s most overt yet: he took advantage of a girl that likes him, probably for a long time, then freezes her out. I’m torn between it being a deliberate act or something that Don just doesn’t know how to deal with. He’s either scuttling or floundering. Either way, it’s not a good spot to be in.

Elsewhere in SCDP, there’s a weird subcurrent of lust making it’s ways through the building. Besides Don’s dalliances, Peggy and Pete each brought their better halfs into the office only to give each other a sideways kind of shot. Roger almost fell over himself flirting with Joan. Peggy kind of doesn’t give her whole history to her new boyfriend (he thinks he’s her first).

Oh, and Sally’s got herself a little rabble rouser for a crush; he shows his affection for her by trashing her place and leaving a keychain on her pillow. That’s a good catch.

I’m not sure really why everybody’s acting this way, other then how it makes a nice counterpoint to Don’s pathos.

Other thoughts:

  • Sally gets some Beatles 45s for Xmas. This is what, December 1964? I’m guessing she’s getting “I’m a loser” and “Eight Days a Week”, both of which are good tunes
  • What was the letter that Don’s secretary was typing up near the end? I’m sure it’s a letter of resignation, which is what I’d be typing if I were her. But the teaser shows her back next week? Well, Don can always not accept that letter or she could just not hand it in. I still like my theory.
  • Roger’s looking pretty torn down, too. I’m starting to get the impression that life’s starting to leave him by. He doesn’t care for the decor, doesn’t like the art in his office, is getting bossed around by Lucky Stripe’s CEO and is drinking first thing in the AM.
  • Not much Pete in this episode. But we did see Trudy. Hope she gets more camera time in the next few episodes.

Overall thoughts: A dark episode. One hell of a Christmas for Don. This season’s really getting into the slow burn kind of approach. Neither episode yet has really had a ‘must re-watch’ thing going to it, but I don’t remember last season having much of that either.


2 Responses to “A Very Special Mad Men Christmas”

  1. August 3, 2010 at 12:50 am

    The Beatles mention was the most exciting thing for me. I can’t wait to see what the integrate from the British Invasion years, I’m hoping someone goes to the Ed Sullivan show and cries and tries to touch George (just so I can live vicariously through them).

    • August 3, 2010 at 12:53 am

      I dunno if they will. I remember in one of the earlier seasons, there was a throwaway line about Peggy and maybe Pete seeing Bob Dylan play at the Gaslight, which was a seminal moment in modern music. And both of them were like “meeeeeehhhh”.

      Of course, Sally could end up becoming one of those girls who scream and faint when they see the Beatles, so anything is possible

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