Sunday, August 1, 2010

MAD MEN 4.2--"Christmas Comes But Once A Year"

"My father said this was the greatest job in the world--except for the clients"

In which a number of poor relationship-centred decisions crisscross in and out of Christmastime, and anything but hilarity ensues.

For all his situational ethics, high-handedness, and occasionally wrongheaded decisions, Don Draper has always stuck to one hard-and-fast rule: He never shit where he ate, or to be more specific, he never did what others in his company did and banged secretaries (not that he didn't swim in waters equally dangerous, he just had the presence of mind to not do it in the office. Literally.) However, if a pattern can be said to be emerging in the two episodes of the season so far, it's this--in the wake of his divorce and the pressures of starting a new company, Don is disintegrating, little by little.

Last week, we got a look at how bad, what with not being able to pick up on the supernumerary, blowing the first interview and having to hire hookers to slap him around. Something's happened and everyone can see him, except for him. He's just confused by it, and uncertain of how to handle it, as his preferred option--running away and pretending it didn't happen--isn't on the menu anymore.

But I'm getting ahead of myself--there's a lot more going on her than the deconstruction of Don Draper. For one thing, SCDP welcomes a familiar face back to the fold in the form of a newly sober Freddy Rumson. For those who came in late, Freddy is known for two things--giving Peggy her start and drinking like frigging Dionysus. Oh, and he's also known for pissing all over himself and blacking out, forcing Roger and Don to have to be the ones to fire him, but I was trying to be polite and not mention that.

But that was then, and this is now and Freddy is trying mightily to stay on the wagon, which is no mean feat in an industry when everyone has a drink in one hand at all times.. What's more, he's brought a big-ticket client with him, which is sorely needed in the wake of a client leaving last episode. His contact is also on the wagon, as we're led to believe, as Freddy instructs Roger to keep Pete off the client (to keep him from plying him with liquor) which Roger does by . . .plying him with liquor.

Freddy runs up against another problem--in the two years since he's been out Peggy has her own ideas about advertising and his aren't quite in step with what's happening--this is 1964 and soon to be 1965 after all--and she has the power to shoot his down. Poor Freddy, who's already out of step with everyone because of the drinking thing, is now doubly out of step because the ground is shifting under his feet.

But it's shifting under everyone's feet, in ways large or small. We're treated to an early test of demographic research this time out, and this is the beginning of targeting things to smaller and smaller markets, which puts a dent or two in the older, more creative ways of advertising in favour of doubling down on the right numbers. In the best tradition of the show, everyone treats it like a nuisance at first, so we can chuckle and laugh, because If They Only Knew.

Everyone at SCDP is focused more on a bigger issue. In light of their economically tight circumstances, the office Christmas party has been scaled back to nothing save Velveeta cheese. That, at least is the plan until Lee Garner Jr. calls up and demands they throw a big Christmas party full of booze, food, partying, easy sex, and general shame 24 hours later. This wouldn't be such an issue if they had the money, and if Lee Garner wasn't such a raging asshole.

I should backtrack here and mention Lee Garner is the man behind Lucky Strike cigarettes, which is three-quarters of SCDP's business, so keeping him happy is a priority, and one the entirety of SCDP endures with the kind of fake smiles that you'd imagine people in Stepford wearing as they cater to his whims. Lee gets to act like the douchebag that he is and people get lucky and the Christmas party is a success.

Only not really. Don reacts to his secretary the morning after they've slept together and treats it like it never happened, which he's all to happy to pretend it hasn't (that's his MO) and damn whatever she might feel about it (SPOILER: She's crushed) In more general terms, their nice clean office is kind of a mess, but that's neither here nor there, really.

Meanwhile, is subplot "B" Peggy is grappling with a problem--her boyfriend is pressuring her into having sex and she's making him wait, because--he assumes--that she's a virgin and wants to wait for marriage, which is totally, completely, and utterly, not the case. She asks Freddy's advice on the topic and he tells her to wait, which she discards almost immediately, because Peggy pretty much flies in the face of good advice at least six times out of ten. Doesn't help that her boyfriend's kind of a jerkass, either.

But none of this--not Don breaking the only rule he's managed to consistently stick to for three seasons, not Peggy suddenly deciding to be chaste and then suddenly deciding not to for equally concrete reasons--none of these can equal the fundamental wrong-headedness of Don's daughter Sally hooking up with my longtime favourite recurring character, Glenn.

For those of you who came in late, Glenn is a preadolescent neighbor of the Drapers, and achieves the unique feet for being more screwed up than every other character on the show combined and multiplied by a power of ten. Glenn has distinguished himself thus far by watching Betty Draper use the toilet, getting a lock of her hair and using it for . . .you know what, let's just say "he liked it a lot" and speculate no further so we're all better off, and finally decided to rescue Betty from her depressing circumstances by holing up the playhouse in her backyard. Glenn specialises in "creepy"--it is his true medium.

Case in point: After meeting cute with Sally while the new family is shopping for trees (and brandishing a knife--Girls, be honest: how many of you met your husbands that way?) Glenn ingratiate himself by breaking into her house, and vandalizing every room except hers. Sally considers this oddly sweet (when it's actually oddly ODD) only because her mom's busily screwing her up just as bad and thus her barometer of "good boyfriend, bad boyfriend" is currently inoperative. Glenn, for his part, looks like he will start murdering small animals any minute now, so I can't see how this doesn't end well.

So, uh, yeah. This was not a happy episode. When Mad Men goes dark, it tends to do so with full force--there may be a laugh to be found here and there, but when things go bad, it's like midnight in a goddamned coal mine, and here we are. Everyone sunk to their lowest, acted in ways that make one cringe to remember, and if I know this show, there will be repercussions. Never mind the amount of change that's happening during this time and what it will mean for the gang--people dropping the ball and getting ground up the gears of an ever-changing culture is another Mad Men staple, after all.

That's it for this week. I refuse to acknowledge anything in AMC's previews for next week because they're Sopranos-level misleading. Join us next week when Don dissipates a little bit more, something happens with Joan and her husband, the ever-present football playing doctor rapist, and Batman fights the Hulk in a steel cage to the death in a little thing they're calling in what's sure to be an ironic counterpoint to what actually happens: "The Good News." This'll clinch it!

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