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Saturday, 25 of May of 2019

Mad Men – “Christmas Comes But Once a Year”

“Screw him. I love Christmas.”

Allision slowly, painfully, realizes Don does not want to extend their one-night stand.

Slut.

Watching the opening credits sequence always made me feel like this show is supposed to be about the fall of man, his collapse while either being distracted by his industry or completely swallowed by it. Through the first three seasons, this mantle prophesied by the silhouette in free-fall was obviously supposed to descend upon our “protagonist” Don Draper since he is clearly the focus of the series. His path thus far, however, has been more horizontal than vertical, blowing in the winds of his times like a tumbleweed with a few hiccups that he has, more or less, escaped from unscathed.

This season, however, slowly chips away at his puffed-out persona. Now that he is alone, his actions, which aren’t terribly different than they were before the divorce, are suddenly more lecherous. Now that he is free to philander as much as he pleases, his affairs seem less smooth, more feral, uncivilized, more desperate. His confidence has been shaken and this almost feels like the beginning of that collapse we’ve been hoping would eventually occur (but probably won’t for a while).

Does Peggy really want to follow in Don’s footsteps that much? Also: does Glen remind anyone else of an escaped Todd Solondz character?

Don’s fall is going to be a topic of interest for the rest of the season so I’ll make the discussion about it here brief. The line that most exemplifies the perception of his life occurs when Draper’s secretary, Allison, tells her work friends that she has to drop his keys off to him. New guy Joey: “He’s pathetic.” The words best come from him since he wasn’t around Don in his prime, when he was full of bravado and security, and he is an objective third-party. Don is pathetic. He’s a shade of his former self. Having to resort to prostitutes, not even able to pick up his coquettish neighbor, and eventually seducing his easy-kill secretary into an hour of passion on his couch all contribute to Don’s pathetic nature. In season’s past he’s been able to love-and-leave powerful women and now he can’t even close on a proper date. This isn’t to say these women he’s been striking out with don’t have their own agency but, obviously, these are examples to provide us with proof that Don isn’t himself without stability. He needs structure in order for him to push the boundaries. Without it, it’s chaos. (Also, kudos to Alexa Alemanni for selling her part in feeling like a secret paramour to used in the final scene.)

In fact, the only relationship Don seems to have maintained unharmed is with his apprentice, shown in a “Merry Christmas, sweetheart” on his way out of the party. It might actually be the sweetest thing Don has ever done.

One more thing before we move on to Peggy: the focus group expert nailed Don by telling him he’s a type. He is. He made that clear after fulfilling the tired cliché of sleeping with his secretary. Is this the beginning of a torturous affair for Allison? Giving her the Christmas bonus after sex — he might as well have left the money on the night stand. The “type” would probably continue the relationship since it’s easy and he can always levy a dominant relationship with her. Knowing Don, this is the last time we’ll ever see/hear about it. Besides, he clearly likes to be slapped around every once in a while (see “Public Relations”).

Peggy recognizing who Don is (the stern talking-to she gives Don at the end of last week’s episode demonstrates her vision) makes it all the more intriguing that she is following so closely in his footsteps personally if not professionally. She invents a life for herself, closing off her past in a metaphorical shoe box, in respect to her boyfriend. Telling him she’s a virgin is not just denying him her sexual history but also how it is intertwined with her professional relationships (particularly Pete but possibly Duck if he ever returns) and her little baby that’s wandering the world somewhere. Saying that this cat is her first time means a constant string of lies. She later tells Freddy (who returns this episode to service a nice iconoclast) that she’s not sure if there’s a future with him but sleeps with him anyway despite Fred’s advice to not string him along. Clearly, her priority is not this guy but she angles for stability in the same way that Don needs it. Without the structure, she’s lost. And maybe the lie is what Peggy and Don need for a foundation. In fact, the only relationship Don seems to have maintained unharmed is with his apprentice, shown in a “Merry Christmas, sweetheart” on his way out of the party. It might actually be the sweetest thing Don has ever done.

Yes, drunken, pee-on-myself Freddy returns this episode with a Pond’s account that he tries to work on with Peggy. He’s not had a drop of alcohol since his unceremonious exit from Sterling Cooper so his problem is no longer being functional. The problem now is he is ancient in his industry. Freddy’s suggestions are antiquated, to the point that Peggy, in a fit that she would never have flown into three seasons ago, calls him “old-fashioned” (mirrored later when her boyfriend calls her being “traditional” and virginal a bit old-fashioned). This, of course, for the bleeding edge business of advertising, is a giant slap in the face. Fred is sure this is what the client wants but it is no longer a match for this industry, especially in a place like SCDP where they are constantly trying to push the boundaries in order to make a name for themselves. Fred is there to remind the audience how far Team Draper has come in the last year, how they are different from the lumbering dinosaur that was Sterling Cooper, and, maybe slightly, how cutthroat the kids at SCDP are willing to be.

Although they have to suffer the humiliation at the hands of their clients. I don’t have a whole lot to discuss about the Christmas party they throw when learning Lee from Lucky Strike is going to be by, except that it demonstrates how people like Roger Sterling are willing to be demeaned in order to keep their client (especially one representing 71% of their business) happy. Before, Don was able to show clients the door if they weren’t happy with the campaigns he entertains. Now, however, Roger, the first name in the nominal string of their company, is willing to dress up like Santa Claus and hand out Lucky Strikes to employees and a Polaroid to Lee, even going so far to sit with male employees on his lap and pose for pictures. When Crane sits on his lap, muttering “sorry sorry sorry,” you get an idea of the backlash that is to come. These are not people used to being humiliated.

The character seemingly has no motivation except that he’s a nutjob, complete with being crafty.

Finally, let’s discuss the home life. This is a Sally Draper focused episode and, sadly, she’s becoming her mother. Her stilted demeanor, the blankness in her expressions, her ability to lie instantly, all point to emulation of Betty. Her letter to her father demonstrates that she still has emotions under her guise of “painting a masterpiece” but, with an obvious distance from her step-father and existing in the cold shadow of her mother, she is becoming her only role-model. And, as she does, there appears Glen, Betty’s wannabe, far-too-young paramour. Glen comes off like the lead character in a missing thread from Happiness. He’s a creep show and his acting out in order to get Sally’s favor is not only weird and kind of illegal but also disproportionate to her attention. He hasn’t be around much so his frustration, demonstrated by a tag-team effort of smearing condiments all over the house, is a little unjustified. Which is why he reminds me of Todd Solondz so much. The character seemingly has no motivation except that he’s a nutjob, complete with being crafty (he makes her some sort of charm thing, or bracelet or something — it actually looks like one of the boondoggles Deb sells in Napoleon Dynamite). If Glen asked for a lock of Betty’s hair, who knows what he’ll ask of girl his own age?

Despite the episode reminding me of how Phillip Seymour Hoffman pasted stuff to his walls in Happiness, the episode begins what surely has to be the beginning of Don Draper’s collapse. I’m hoping it isn’t a slow burn but a supernova that takes everyone down with him. But, again, knowing Don is will be something subtle and dragging.


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