By Sarah Carlson | TV | August 3, 2010 |
By Sarah Carlson | TV | August 3, 2010 |
Only two episodes in, I’m already loving “Mad Men’s” Season Four as the series finally appears to be shifting into pay-off mode — it now has an intentional momentum to it that mirrors the progressing society the characters now find themselves in late 1964. The lives in “Mad Men” aren’t static anymore, with men and women clinging to the post-war commercialism and complacency; they’re moving, and the characters and series are moving with them. It took us awhile (including several crises and an assassination) to get here, but the second episode this season, “Christmas Comes But Once a Year,” kept the story and its characters moving as it surveyed the changing social landscape in terms of family dynamics, sexual politics and the necessity of the conga line at all office parties. Plus, the styles are changing, too. Nice hairdos.
“Christmas” opens with the Francis family shopping for a Christmas tree, and as they prepare to leave the lot, a young boy calls out to Sally. It’s Glen Bishop, played by creator Matthew Weiner’s son in a creepy role that rivals Damien from The Omen. Glen/Damien remarks on Sally’s “new dad,” Henry, and says his mom, Helen, predicted Betty and Don would end up divorced. Betty has one creepy relationship with Glen in Season One (giving him a lock of her hair), and his mom has to get judgmental. Bobby comes to find Sally, and seeing Glen remarks about a keychain/lanyard time thing that Glen is carrying before the two leave.
At Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce the next day, Don’s secretary, Allison (Alexa Alemanni), reads him his mail, including a letter to “Santa” written by Sally, although the kid already knows her dad is the real gift supplier. She relays the items she and Bobby want for Christmas, but most of all, they want him to be there that morning, even though they know he can’t be. Don is disappointed as well, the one area in which I do slightly feel sorry for him. Allison gets choked up at the sentiment before Don gives her cash to buy the requested presents. Men don’t shop! Meanwhile, the former Sterling Cooper employee Freddy Rumsen (Joel Murray) has gotten a meeting with Roger, offering his $2 million account with Pond’s Cold Cream he’s taking from his current agency in return for a job at SCDP. He can take Pond’s because he and a contact at the company are in a certain “fraternity” together, he says. Roger agrees to hire him back, as well as to Freddy’s request that Pete Campbell, who got Freddy fired the first time around for his alcohol problem, be kept off the account. Pete is anxious when he sees Freddy has returned and tries to broach the subject of Freddy’s drinking, but Freddy has already told Roger he’s been sober for more than a year.
At the Francis household, Sally gets a call from Glen (who tells Carla his name is “Stanley”), another product of a divorced household but even more blank-eyed than Sally, who tells him she hates living in the same house. He tells her his parents will never get back together and that Betty and Henry will likely move them soon. She misses her dad, though, who at the moment is stuck in a meeting at work in which a consumer-research company pitches its services. A representative, Dr. Faye Miller (Cara Buono), asks the employees to fill out a questionnaire to illustrate how her research on consumers’ backgrounds can be helpful to those trying to sell them things. The questions, one of which — “How do you feel about your father?” — send Don out of the room, both out of smugness and them likely hitting too close to home. He wakes up at his new home the next morning thanks to loud banging in the hallway. A nurse, Phoebe (Nora Zehetner), is putting up Christmas decorations and throwing out lines such as “Don’t pretend you haven’t noticed me” as she invites him to her Christmas party that night.
Peggy was happy to see Freddy back, and the two began work on a new campaign for Pond’s. However, Freddy may be sober, but he’s no less of a chauvinist in the way he treats Peggy and approaches the Pond’s campaign. He wants someone like Tallulah Bankhead for the print ad for the cream. Peggy wants someone not 60 years old. But younger women look to older women for beauty tips, Freddy protests, without listening to Peggy’s incredulity at his claims. He blows off her concerns but is soon distracted when a plastered Roger stumbles in from a lunch with Freddy’s Pond’s contact. Immediately worried, Freddy calls his friend and the two agree to meet at a church — Alcoholics Anonymous is their fraternity, one assumes.
As Roger tries to sleep off his drunkeness in his office, he gets a call from Lee Garner, Jr. (Darren Pettie), of Lucky Strike — the account that comprises about 70 percent of SCDP’s business. He’s back in town and invites himself to the company Christmas party, for which he was upset he wasn’t invited in the first place, and Roger has to tell Lane and Joan that the plans for the low-key party have to be scrapped. He wants the office transformed from “convalescent home to Roman orgy,” which makes a nice transition to Peggy’s apartment later, where boyfriend Mark shows up with a plate of cookies and lame lines about the Swedes’ sex lives to try and get Peggy to do more than fool around. She tells him no. “We’re not doing anything I can’t do myself,” says the romantic. Peggy tells him that she wants to sleep with him, so much so that she’d rather wait. Mark tells her, “I want to be your first.” Ruh roh! The “I slept with my coworker and got pregnant with his baby although I didn’t know I was pregnant I just thought I was fat and then I had it and gave it up for adoption and then years later had an affair with an older man who goes by the nickname Duck” conversation has not yet arisen. Oh, Mark. “I brought you cookies” is not a good enough reason, and calling her old-fashioned wasn’t wise. “I think you should go home” is Peggy’s answer. Also stalled in the hooking up department is Don, who stumbles home drunk and is helped in from the hall by Phoebe. She rebuffs his advances but helps him to bed, asking why he appears to hate Christmas. “I don’t hate Christmas,” Don says. “I hate this Christmas.”
The office is in overdrive to please the main client, with Joan busy making party arrangements, but Peggy is busy trying to make Freddy understand her point of view on the Pond’s account. She’s tested the product and has insight, but Freddy comes up with the idea that “If you use Ponds, you’ll get married. Or if you don’t use it, you won’t get married.” He tells Peggy to just write it down, saying “Sorry if i hit a nerve there, precious,” when she refuses. She has wanted to bring him on for accounts for awhile, but now she thinks everyone is right about Freddy: You’re old-fashioned, she says, which is his exit cue. He doesn’t show up at the Christmas party that night, a shindig attended by all the SDCP employees, as well as the consumer research company representatives. Faye is eyeing Don as her co-worker banters about the dangers of Socialism with Bert, a nice touch. “If they pass Medicare, they won’t stop until they ban personal property.” Conservatives: They’ve been saying shit like that since forever. The mood changes when Lee arrives and everyone is kissing up and offering him “gifts, girls and games,” although he made clear in Season Three he prefers his dates to look more like Salvatore Romano, the former art director he had fired when Sal rejected his advances.
Lee does get gifts (a Polaroid camera), and girls and games together as he and Joan lead a conga line throughout the office. He also gets his way; Freddy was supposed to dress as Santa for the party, but without him, Lee anoints Roger as the new jolly old elf. Roger doesn’t do Santa, but after a stare-down, he gives in. Lee takes delight in using his new Polaroid to photograph Roger’s employees sitting on his lap as he’s decked out in the red and white suit. Don tries to make an early exit from the soiree, but Faye follows him to his office and confronts him for leaving her presentation early. He dismisses her claims that her research can help him better understand customers, which also serves as a dismissal of her understanding of advertising. But she’s game, and in being so sums up the theme of the moment:
“I’m not embarrassed to say (the profession is) about helping people somehow to sort out their deepest conflict.”
“And what is that?” he asks.
“In a nutshell?” she says. “It all comes down to what I want versus what’s expected of me.”
After a pause, “That’s true.”
“I know it’s true. And you would have known it’s true if you’d have stayed for my presentation.”
Don then asks her to dinner, but she turns him down and gets a few digs in as she leaves, predicting Don will be married again within a year. He’s confused, to which she says, “I’m sorry. I always forget nobody wants to think they’re a type.” Don, of course, arrives home drunk but without his keys, so Allison brings them over and, for the second time in two days, Don has to be helped inside his home by a pretty woman and put to bed. But this time as he makes his advances, Allison gives in after her initial reluctance. She leaves to meet up with friends and an awkward encounter with Don the next day at work, and he goes to sleep, still alone. Don Draper: Not good at marriage, not good at bachelorhood.
As the party went on, Glen called the Francis house again and, not getting an answer, broke in with a friend of his and began unloading the refrigerator’s contents all over the house. When the family returns, Henry predicts it was kids who pulled the prank, and the family remarks on which rooms have been attacked as they move throughout the house. Sally’s room, though, was left untouched. And on her bed is the lanyard that Glen had with him a few nights before at the tree lot. That night, Sally takes out the lanyard from under her pillow and smiles. It’s all for you, Glen. His inability to show emotion seems only right for Sally, as they can relate over their unloving home lives and become refuges for each other. But pouring cereal on the stove and throwing eggs at the wall? There must be a more constructive way for the tween to act out.
The next morning, as the office is still strewn with remnants of the party, Peggy apologizes to Freddy for hurting his feelings by calling him old-fashioned. As the conversation progresses, Freddy offers this advice about Peggy’s relationship with Mark: “My two cents? If you’re gonna marry him, you can’t do anything or he won’t respect you.” “What if I don’t know?” she asks. “Well, you can’t lead him on. That is physically very uncomfortable, you know? It’s not a joke.” Cut to Allison talking with Don, showing him the wrapped presents she bought for his kids and looking at him hopefully. “Thank you for bringing me my keys,” Don says. “I’ve probably taken advantage of your kindness on too many occasions.” And then Allison speaks, with the best line and reaction of the night — a quiet “Excuse me?” “I just wanted to say thank you for bringing my keys,” he says again. Message received. And that night, Peggy sleeps with Mark, simply answering his question of “Do you feel different?” with a kiss.
Do you think Peggy will tell Mark about her past? Or should she just dump him for someone who would likely be more understanding? Will Freddy’s predictions that Mark will lose respect for her come true, again putting Peggy one step forward, two steps back? Is Glen going to be a serial killer when he’s older? (Yes.) Roger flirted with Joan a bit during the episode — do you think she’d ever cheat on her whiny husband with him or someone else? And will Don ever get smooth again with the ladies, or is this just a taste of his own medicine?
Basically: Will they do what they want, or what’s expected of them? It’s time to find out.
Sarah Carlson has a front-row seat to the decline of the newspaper industry and lives in Alabama with her overly excitable Pembroke Welsh Corgi.