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Mad Men Recap: Episode 2 – Christmas Comes But Once a Year

August 1, 2010

The episode title is: Christmas comes but once a year.

And thank the little Baby Jesus for that. Because Christmas in Mad Menland is grim indeed.

If possible, Don Draper is drinking even more than ever. I pity you fools who play the Mad Men drinking game. I’m sure you’re all passed out by now. There was a lot of pouring and gulping of “the brown stuff” this episode.

Henry Francis and Betty and the kids are picking out a tree at a Christmas tree lot when a chunky little kid who is exactly what you’d think a Glenn would look like as a child approaches Sally. He’s a kid in her class who identifies with Sally because his own mother has also married “a new daddy.” He shows Bobby the knife he uses to cut the twine that he ties up the trees and attached to it is a lanyard he made himself that Sally admires. “Pretty colors.”

At SCDP Allison, Don’s secretary, brings him a letter for Santa Claus written by Bobby. Sally, knowing the truth about Santa Claus, has readdressed it to her dad’s office to protect Bobby’s innocence. Bobby wants a long list of the usual boy toys while Sally wants only an engraveable necklace that she and Don saw at Macy’s, and her daddy to be there on Christmas morning, even though she knows that can’t happen. Don’s heart is broken.

He asks Allison to go to Macy’s and get Sally the necklace she wanted (he remembers it cost $30, which seems like a pretty sum for 1964), as well as “some Beatles 45s,” a drum set and transistor radio for Bobby, and a fire truck for Eugene. Still, I’m struck by how modest this list is, especially for someone as affluent as Don. Times have changed. Our kids are used to piles and piles under the tree these days. Okay, enough editorializing. On with the show.

Freddy Rumsen surprises Roger by showing up at the office. Roger offers him “something brown,” but Freddy refuses. He’s been “clean and sober” for sixteen months. He comes bearing a gift, the Ponds Cold Cream account, worth $2 million dollars. How did he get the account? The Ponds Cold Cream guy and he are “in a fraternity together.” We’ll find out soon just what he means and no, it’s not the Masons.

Freddy has just one stipulation—no Pete Campbell anywhere near it. Seems he cannot forgive Pete for getting him fired from the old firm. Forgiveness is one of the twelve steps, Freddy!

Roger takes Freddy into Don’s office to tell him the good news, and Don immediately offers him a drink. Wow, can’t imagine how anyone stayed sober back then.

Glenn calls Sally at home but when Carla answers the phone, he says it’s “Stanley.” Sally tells Glenn that she hates living in the house because every time she turns a corner, she expects to see her daddy. Glenn breaks it to her that her dad is never coming back, especially now that her mother is “doing it with someone else.”

Bertram has brought in Dr. Faye Miller of the Motivational Research Service. Dr. Miller is responsible for the brilliant “Carefree Girl in white pants” campaign, and uses a new method of market research to strategize advertising approaches. Ground breaking!!! In order to better explain her methods, she has everyone take the test she gives to her market research groups. First question is: How would you describe your father? A question designed to make the test taker feel more intimate. Well, it’s way too much for Don. His jaw clenches and he gets up and walks straight out to pour himself a drink. Allison: Will you need ice? Don: Yes!

Don is awakened at 8:00 AM by a perky young nurse named Phoebe who is nailing garland and Christmas lights up in the dark dingy hallway of his apartment building. She insists he’s seen her before and gives as good as she gets. She’s having her party early because once the holiday suicides start, they’ll be busy in the hospital. How many episodes until they’re in bed?

Peggy and Freddy Rumsen are working on the Pond’s account. He suggests older actress Tallulah Bankhead to be the face of Pond’s. Peggy is incredulous. Paging creative differences! Roger comes in from a lunch with Cal Rutledge, the Pond’s guy, and promptly has to lie down, he’s had so much to drink. Freddy immediately calls Cal and tells him to meet him at a church on the UWS. They’re obviously in AA together. The interesting thing is how drinking day and night is so normal and above-board in 1964 and trying to be sober seems the shameful thing.

Lee Garner Jr. of Lucky Strike calls Roger and somehow Roger ends up inviting him to the office Christmas party, which until now had been scaled back to an extremely modest affair due to the company’s limited funds. Lane despairs, but what can they do? They must put on appearances for their biggest client (71% of their revenue, unless you count Ponds, in which case it’s 67%). The party suddenly it needs to be blown up from “a convalescent home to Roman orgy” as Roger puts it. This is a job for Joan. She knows immediately what to do. As she leaves Roger flirts with her big time.

Commercial break: Bare Lifts, stick-on bra thingies. Really? It’s Mad Men and they have “as seen on TV” ads that look like they’re running at 3:00AM?

Peggy’s quasi-boyfriend Mark appears at her apartment and attempts to be seductive and masterful. He wants to be “her first.” Little does he know. He tries to persuade her by talking about Swedes and the “Swedish Way of Love.” Peggy makes like a prude and tells him, “You’re never going to get me to do things Swedish people do.” She asks him to leave.

Don comes home drunk from work and Phoebe has to help him with his keys. She asks him where he works, the White Horse Tavern, a  nice true life era reference. That’s where Dylan Thomas drank himself to death in 1953. Phoebe takes off his tie and shoes. When Don says she’s good at that, she says her dad was a drunk. Don tells her he hates “this Christmas.”

Peggy and Freddy work on Pond’s again and he drives her crazy with his ideas: Tallulah Bankhead, Jessica Tandy or Doris Day, all older stars. What about Elizabeth Taylor? Peggy proposes? Freddy insists that Pond’s is a product to help old ladies look good. Peggy: “Nothing makes old ladies look good.” She says some smart things about the experience of using Pond’s that shows she’s on a great track but Freddy completely ignores and misunderstands her. Things get fractious and Freddy basically tells her she’ll never get married working the way she does. Frustrated, Peggy finally blurts out that he’s old fashioned. Freddy stalks out, hurt.

It’s party time and Joan has outdone herself. The place looks like a million bucks. Of course it’s all fake. Boyfriends and girlfriends are playing extra employees. When Lee Garner arrives Joan yells, “Man your battle stations.” Then she takes his arm and oozes charm. Good for Joan!

Meanwhile, back at Sally’s house, Glenn and a friend break in and trash the kitchen (he had called earlier and found out the house was empty). It’s petty vandalism, smearing food and dumping it on the floor. It’s a mystery why they’re doing it but Glenn seems very purposeful.

Back at the party everyone is attuned to Lee Garner’s every whim. The situation quickly takes on a bizarre and sinister master-slave dialectic when Lee insists that Roger play Santa Claus. Roger does NOT want to do it, but Don looks at him with a gimlet eye and there is no choice (Freddy, who usually plays Santa, is nowhere to be found). Lee Garner owns them and they know it and he knows they know it. As Don had said earlier, he could “turn out their lights” at any time by pulling his account. Don has what is technically known as a “shit eating grin” on his face the entire time. They are all dying.

When they present Lee with his Christmas gift (all of them got cartons of Lucky Strike), all breaths are bated, so great is the tension. It is so very, very important that he likes his present (and thus SCDP). Joan struck gold, of course. The gift is one of them new-fangled Polaroid cameras, and Lee is indeed pleased.

Lee: You didn’t need to!

Lane (sotto voce): Yes we did.

They all breathe a collective sigh of relief, although Roger’s young wife Jane looks positively ill as Lee paws her.

Henry Francis and the family return home to find the kitchen vandalized. They are all spooked, but when Sally gets to her room she finds the lanyard on her bed. A love present.

God help me, the trailer to the new Jennifer Aniston vehicle, “The Switch,” kind of looks fun. Is this PMS? Run, Jason Bateman, run! Co-starring in a Jennifer Aniston movie is a sure sign your career has ended. Look at Aaron Eckhart.

And we’re back: Dr. Faye Miller has a word with Don at the party. She’s disappointed that he left her presentation. Her company helps people sort out their “deepest conflict,” she tells him. Which only makes him look more alarmed. It’s all about “what I want vs. what’s expected of me,” a dichotomy that makes all too much sense to Don. Don is intrigued and invites her out to dinner but she has plans. She says she understands it’s a difficult Christmas for him, in his situation, which she seems to know all about, but she predicts that he’ll be married again in a year. When he protests she says “nobody wants to think they’re a type.” Whoa. Is this finally a woman smart enough for Don?

Don arrives home completely drunk and can’t find his keys. He calls Allison, who is still at the party, and she agrees to bring them to him. They fall into his other’s arms and she is completely smitten. Her face is as bright as a new chrome toaster while his is blurred and crestfallen. That box of Cheerios on the kitchen counter is a heartbreaker.

At work the next day Peggy and Freddy reconcile. But his relationship advice to her is, again, completely outdated and old-fashioned. Having sex beforehand will make her boyfriend lose all respect.

Next thing we know, she and Mark are in bed after the deed (which he assumes is her first). Does she feel different, he wants to know. No. She doesn’t. And the camera zooms in on her eyes, which have a strange look in them.

The next morning Don and Roger have a funny moment, joking off Lee’s oppressive behavior at the party. “Did you enjoy the Fuhrer’s birthday?” Don asks Roger. “May he live a thousand years,” Roger returns. Theirs is really the love story of this show.

Don tries to avoid Allison but there’s nothing to be done. She is smiling and giggly. Good lord. What is he to do? He invites her in. She wants to close the door but he tells her that’s unnecessary. About last night? “Thank you for bringing me my keys,” he says, face totally blank and sober. She gets the message, although she is very upset. He repeats it again. And then hands her her Christmas bonus. A card thanking her for her “hard work” and $100 in cash. The episode ends on her empty empty eyes. It’s decades too early for sexual harassment in the workplace. And it was clearly shown that she was an extremely eager and satisfied participant in the shenanigans in Don’s apartment, before and after. But we’re left feeling that something will happen with Allison.

Un-Merry Christmas in August to you!


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