Season 4, Episode 2: 'Christmas Comes But Once A Year' -- Days Of Wine And Ruses

Mad Men/Season 4-Episode 2 Was it Christmas or The Lost Weekend?

It's Christmas in August, and things are upside down. At least that's what it seems like when suddenly Freddy Rumsen is the dry, stand-up guy in the office while Don is the pathetic, falling down drunk. Yikes, talk about Donny Darko!

It was a magnificent episode -- full of bravura writing, acting, settings, editing, and surprises (who knew Glen could get much creepier?) And what about that power conga line at the command performance Christmas soiree? Eskimos are supposed to have hundreds of words for snow;  "Mad Men" requires a new lexicon for "dark."

The center is not holding. There were three clear alcoholics: Roger, Don and Lee Garner, Jr. And one rather powerless AA member: Freddy Rumsen. Power, sex, violence -- it was the usual Mad Men stuff, but sadder, because at the base of all these interpersonal interactions was a ruse. (Or a "roos," as Sally nailed it.)

Certainly, Don has reached a new low and crossed a new line. "In a nutshell, it all comes down to what I want versus what's expected of me," according to Dr. Faye Miller,  the market researcher who caused a splash by creating "The Carefree Girl" in white pants, making strides like a menstruating Charlie girl. Their relationship starts out exactly the way Don's did with Rachel Menken -- he walks out on a meeting with her.

This time,  though, Don is in much worse shape than when he was married to Betty and having an affair with Rachel. And Faye, a psychologist, sees him for what he is: the scared little boy in the Glo-Coat commercial who has made his own prison, is still avoiding his father and his past, but regardless, won't be alone for long.

We'll get back to Faye. But if you remember during the first episode when freaked-out new girl Peggy tentatively placed her  hand on his, Don responded sternly, cutting her off with "I'm your boss, not your boyfriend." But now he's at sea. He doesn't know what he wants. And he's so melancholy  (and drunk! and self-pitying!) this Christmas season ("I don't hate Christmas -- I hate this Christmas," he drunkenly tells his neighbor) that he breaks his cardinal rule and sleeps with Allison, the secretary who proved so valuable to him that he brought her over from Sterling Cooper.

Here's my theory on why it happened (aside from the fact that his judgment is shot from the booze intake.) NowMad Men/Season 4-Episode 2 that Don is on his own, Allison has become more like a wife. The opening scene -- in which Allison reads Sally's letter aloud -- is heartbreaking and shows them bonded, mesmerized by Sally's writing and totally attuned to each other in the moment, aligned like proud parents. When Allison's finished reading, he gives her money to buy the kids gifts, just like a husband, shares intimate conversation (Sally's initials), and tries to show he's a happening dad by adding "Beatles 45s" to the gift list. 

When Allison gets to his apartment after he loses his keys  (and  remember, another accident with keys is what undid his marriage) she seems to know her way around, offering food, getting aspirin, ministering to his needs. She acts out the role of the caring wife again when she brings the kids' gifts to his office, wrapped beautifully, the way a mother would.

Mad Men/Season 4-Episode 2 So how does Don treat a loving wife? He has to punish himself, and her. He sleeps with her, sloppily. (Was it borderline rape? Did she feel she had to because he was her boss, or is she in love with him?)

The next morning, feeling humiliated, Don humiliates Allison by talking to her coldly, acting like it never happened, and handing her an envelope with cold cash, like she's a call girl. That's pretty devastating.

Meanwhile, Freddy's back, with the Pond's account in his pocket.  And although I was thrilled to see him, all clean and shiny, and a member of the "fraternity" wink wink, it quickly becomes clear that while he's no longer peeing his pants or playing Mozart on his zipper, underneath it all, he's just a plain old hack.

And though, by  "throwing it to the chickens," he gave Peggy her start as a copywriter on the Belle Jolie lipstickMad Men/Season 4-Episode 2 account, they are no longer exchanging a "basket of kisses." In the short time he's been gone, Peggy has so far surpassed him that his hackdom is now her problem.

His idea to use Tallulah Bankhead and a bouquet of roses is hilarious, something out of the 1940s or 30s, while her "7-day beauty plan" is still in operation, to this day. On the other hand,  the issue of kisses with her boyfriend is a problem. The girl who gave up a baby and made mad love in Duck's hotel's room is now claiming to be a virgin with her new, little-boy boyfriend.  He tries to sound suave, speaking knowingly of the Swedish Way of Love -- which gets Peggy's Norwegian hackles up.  He mistakenly calls her "old-fashioned" which sets her off.

The next day, Peggy tells Freddy he's old-fashioned (he is). But perhaps because of  Freddy's advice (don't sleep with your boyfriend if you want him to marry you) that's what she does. She doesn't want to be married, but she doesn't want to be alone on New Year's Eve, either. It's a dilemma. One wonderful line she says is "My bed is covered in work." Her boyfriend responds, "that's symbolic." And indeed it is; she doesn't look too  happy after she does the deed with the little prince.

Mad Men/Season 4-Episode 2 The episode was also about entitlement, and children, and getting what you want, or not. I love Lane Pryce and his Rex Harrison-like vest. And I love the way spoiled Roger gets vexed at Lane when he tries to rein in spending.("I hate the way you say percent!" Roger says.)

Can we take a bit of a detour to discuss Roger's office? Love! Except that I'm not a great fan of op art. Pop art, which was just coming into vogue (Warhol displayed his soup cans in 1961) is much warmer. Op art was first explained to Americans in a 1964 piece in Time magazine. And Roger's office, with his Saarinen tables and Mies van der Rohe lounge chair with a few Italian plastics thrown in, is cold and cutting-edge. It makes Cooper's Rothko seem old-school and dated. As did Burt Cooper's remarks at the party about blacks, as he sat on Old Man Row, with the guy ranting about Medicare.

Lane says Roger has lived his life from a "bottomless pocket," which is true. The Dickensian Christmas plan Lane comes up with -- a glass of gin and a box of Velveeta -- are like Army rations, if you substitute cigs for gin.  And indeed, unlike these spoiled Americans, Lane did live through the deprivation of World War II -- and the continuing post-war deprivation in England throughout the early 1950s.

Now, because of the agency's reliance on one client,  Lane is worried, and Roger admits that it's like  "Potemkinville" in the office: a fake front to impress visiting dignitaries. Little does he know that they will create an entire Potemkin Village Christmas party, out of air (and some Sterno) to impress that other spoiled heir, Lee Garner, Jr.

But Garner, who if you recall, bullied Sal in the editing room, is not only closeted, but has a sadistic side. He orders Roger (who good-naturedly jokes, "I'm allergic to velvet") to don the Santa suit, and then have the staff, one by one, sit on his lap. It's perverse, but everyone sees it for what it is -- entertaining a ruling despot, or der Fuhrer, as Don jokes the next morning. And after all, Roger donned blackface for his own party.

Speaking of perverse, Glen is back, acting out a storm. (And Weiner's son Marten is acting up a storm.) Sally is allMad Men/Season 4-Episode 2 growed-up and beautiful, by the way, and rid of the lisp. Glen shows her his love by destroying her house, and leaving a gift of a lanyard on her untouched bed. There's a lot of potential for an ugly, devastating triangle situation a la "The Graduate" -- after his little interlude with Betty and her lock of hair, will Glen end up running away with Sally? She certainly enjoys the attention, and who could blame her?  Earlier, at the tree place, he gave her a suggestion that sounded like two divorcees talking. "Ask for something big now" before her mother and Henry have a baby, he advises.

There's also the specter of a nurse, a hospital, and suicides. So  "Happy Christmas!" as Lane Pryce so exuberantly put it, exactly a year before, to his former bosses, while breaking away from the mother ship and being included in the exhilarating idea of the start-up.  Be careful what you wish for.

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15 comments about "Season 4, Episode 2: 'Christmas Comes But Once A Year' -- Days Of Wine And Ruses".
  1. Richard Brayer from Car-X , August 3, 2010 at 2:42 p.m.

    the people at SCDP are seriously out of touch with the changes going on in the mid-sixties.

    This is evidenced by how differently women are reacting/treating Don - among other shifts

    going to be a fun season

  2. Tommy Hollis from GAM.TV , August 3, 2010 at 2:43 p.m.

    A GUY I know who worked at Ted Bates in the 60s said that he had never watched the show before this week. I believed him, but what the heck we were both in advertising. He said that there was only character who seemed anything like the people he remembered, and he said he knew a lot of people who were like him. And that was Freddie.
    Once again, your column is great; the story is so much fun that I have stopped caring about its accuracies and anachronisms.
    That Christmas tree lot was the worst on television since "I Remember Mama" was shot live at 485 Madison.

  3. Rob Frydlewicz from RAF Consulting , August 3, 2010 at 3:53 p.m.

    Loved that Xmas conga line led by Joan (of course!). At the party I was expecting Lee Garner, Jr. to also insist that Don sit on Santa's lap. (But Harry Crane on Roger's lap was a cute sight.) Finally, do you think that show creator Weiner named the disturbing neighborhood boy Glen as a subliminal link to Glenn Beck?

  4. Sheldon Senzon from JMS Media, Inc. , August 3, 2010 at 4:28 p.m.

    Ms. Parker, enough already...."It was a magnificent episode -- full of bravura writing, acting, settings, editing, and surprises"..Come up for air, you're way over the top with your review and comments. I've been in advertising a long, long time; the show is good but please dial it down a little.

  5. Randall Hoffner from ABC, Inc. , August 3, 2010 at 5:22 p.m.

    Dark and darker. Don, in his tailspin, has progressed from strong girlfriends; both his artist girlfriend and Rachel Menken are strong women who are in control of their situations; to women who are less in control and less able to stand up to him -- from the schoolteacher to his secretary. And Peggy has progressed in her career, but her love life is still spinning out of rational control. Glen: fuggedaboudit!

  6. Tom Sowa , August 3, 2010 at 6:48 p.m.

    One remark on creepy Glenn. He destroyed the house in part as a gift to Sally. She hates living there. Glenn heard her and is trying to help, by raising the heat on Mom and Boyfriend.

  7. Cynthia Amorese from JAL Enterprises NY , August 3, 2010 at 7:54 p.m.

    This is troubling -- I really don't want to see Don or Roger as pitiable characters. Please bring Connie back -- I need a tougher man. Or show more of Lane -- he gets more interesting by the episode and his wife's conflict with living in New York is bound to erupt soon.

    I still don't find many Mad women to like, except Joan of course (hero of the day) and Carla. I rather liked Faye (much more tolerable than last week's prattling little supernumerary), but wish she'd been more Nora Charles with Don. I'd love to see a woman make him laugh. Peggy's beau seems the more virginal of the two, which must make her feel like an imposter (or did she expect another go-round like she'd never had before?).

    Hate Roger's office. But loved his German accent (Don's too).

  8. Cynthia Amorese from JAL Enterprises NY , August 3, 2010 at 7:58 p.m.

    To Tom -- But Glenn also hates Betty for doing it with the new man and still hates his own mom for the same reason. Sally's looking enough like Betty to really be related, and I'm sure Glenn sees the resemblance.

  9. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , August 3, 2010 at 8:04 p.m.

    So maybe Glenn will be the arsonist. Was the house insured and who gets the money? Was Cheerios in the same box as it was shown on the show for a product placement? I don't remember, but I think it was. The Freddie reappearance was a surprise and there are still some around like him. But then again, forgeting the boomers in advertising is still relevent. Peggy - the pressure for women to be married in business is overwelming although not stated and still is today. Many women notice how they are spoken to when they are single and the changes occur as a married woman. She is so eager for the respect, the exclusions she experiences that she surfaces with a chump.

  10. Dale Brauner from ESPN , August 3, 2010 at 8:25 p.m.

    Was your comment that Lane Pryce looked like Rex Harrison supposed to be knowing? In fact, the actor who plays Pryce, Jed Harris, was step-son to Rex Harrison. His father was Richard Harris, whose wife was later married to Rex.

  11. Cynthia Amorese from JAL Enterprises NY , August 3, 2010 at 8:31 p.m.

    A final observation: Although Joan and Peggy weren't amused by the "carefree gal in white pants" line, the new Kotex ad for U tampons parodies the same concept and is getting lots of smiles from women. In it, a self-proclaimed "unbelievably attractive woman" walks around a room veiled with billowing white chiffon and says, "Market research shows that girls like you love girls like me . . . Buy the same tampons I use because I'm wearing white pants and I have good hair and you wish you could be me."

  12. Ryan Reed from Canoe Ventures , August 3, 2010 at 9:57 p.m.

    Great recap! I didn't even make the connection with Don losing his keys and it getting him into trouble. You're always catching these things... This season is playing with our (at least my) emotions. Last season ended with a big smile and full of optimism. And we start this season with great energy at the new SCDP only to learn that the home front is in shambles for basically everybody involved. And things at the agency aren't a walk in the park, either. Overall, I love the way Wiener has kept the creative momentum going in this season when it would've been easy reset back to Don and his adoring women and clients (not always mutually exclusive).

    One other item of note is Unilever's clever double-take. Did anybody else stop the DVR because you thought the show was starting up again with the Dove ad? And to place it in an episode where Pond's Cold Cream plays a central role. Brilliant! I'm not sure if these tricks would work on any other show. But that's one of the beauties of Mad Men. Even the commercials are interesting.

  13. Rob Frydlewicz from RAF Consulting , August 3, 2010 at 11:51 p.m.

    In watching the episode a 2nd time it struck me that the cash in the Xmas card that Don gave to Allison should be considered his Xmas gift to her. She should then get a bonus on top of that. Allison, don't let him get off so cheaply!

  14. Tommy Hollis from GAM.TV , August 5, 2010 at 8:33 a.m.

    @ROB
    Bonus was euphemism for a $100 Misunderstanding (a book from circa 1964 as it happens).

  15. Kate Lafrance from Hartford Woman Online Magazine , August 5, 2010 at 5:01 p.m.

    This is always my favorite place for MadMen discussions! Someone should put Glen and Lee Jr. in a room together to see who comes out alive.