MAD MEN 4.2: Christmas Comes But Once a Year

Continuing its tour of the holidays, this week’s MAD MEN leaped directly from last week’s Thanksgiving to Christmas – which is not really a good thing in my book, because I am not a fan of holiday-themed shows out of season. I hate seeing Christmas in August; it may not be fair, but that’s how it is with me. (My blog, my rules.)

Having noted that handicap, I rather enjoyed the episode. Perhaps it was due to the fact that Don Draper (Jon Hamm) and company were pretty much anything but jolly. In fact, Don has rarely seemed as dark as he did this week. Despite kicking off with Sally’s (somewhat cynical) letter to Santa, this episode was about Christmas for grownups. After his assistant, Allison (Alexa Alemanni), read him Sally’s wish list, Don peeled off a stack of cheddar and sent Allison to buy his children’s love fulfill their holiday dreams. Oh, and he promised there would be a little something extra in Allison’s pay envelope at the end of the year, too. (Will there ever…as we shall see.)

They didn’t call it corporate downsizing back in 1964, but the purse strings were definitely tightened at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce – to the point of reducing the office Christmas party to “gin and Velveeta.” Well, that was the plan – until Lee Garner Jr. (Darren Pettie) from Lucky Strike (which accounts to 69 percent of SCDP billing) heard about the party. Suddenly, Roger (John Slattery) realized the party needed to be “upgraded from convalescent home to Roman orgy.” So he turned to Joan (Christina Hendricks), who rapidly conjured a bacchanal of “gifts, girls and games” – not to mention food and booze – for the visiting corporate whale. She even showcased her va-va-voom charms by leading the conga line herself in a flaming red dress with a bow on the back that Roger noted made her look like a present!

Too bad Lee proved to be even more of a petulant, overgrown child than he was last season; he took major delight in letting everyone fawn over him. Joan arranged for him to be greeted with the gift of a Polaroid camera, and Lee admitted present made him feel like a child. So he promptly began acting like one! He demanded that Roger dress up like Santa and let everyone sit on his lap for Polaroids. I had to wonder whether Lee was really getting any enjoyment out of this, since it was clear that everyone was merely mooning over him out of corporate responsibility.

While Lee was basking in the insincere adoration of SCDP, little Sally was starved for attention at home. Well, at least the attention of her father. Creepy neighborhood kid Glen – you remember him, the little lothario who became infatuated with Betty (January Jones) last season – has set his sights on Sally now. He broke into her home and trashed the entire place…except for Sally’s room. Nothing says love like not egging a girl’s bed.

So Christmas is sucking for Don in his professional and personal lives. He kept running into Phoebe (Nora Zehetner; ex-Reed, GREY’S ANATOMY; ex-Eden, HEROES; ex-Laynie, EVERWOOD), the cute-as-a-button nurse who lives down the hall and seems to be a bit of a goer herself, but he was too drunk to do anything but allow her to remove his tie and shoes so he could pass out in peace. She pegs him as one of those people who hates Christmas on principle, but Don insisted, “I don’t hate Christmas. I hate this Christmas.” We saw Don hire a prostitute on Turkey Day, so what did he have up his sleeve for Xmas? He seduced Allison! Well, it wasn’t so much a seduction as a drunken hook-up, that rushed and uncomfortable. But not as uncomfortable as the morning after at the office, when Don refused to acknowledge that anything at all had happened. Allison was crestfallen, but what did she expect? How long has she been his secretary? She had to know what a hound he is! When she received her promised bonus (two crisp $50 bills) she had to be feeling like it was payment for services rendered, right?

Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) was not having a much better holiday season. Freddie Rumsen (Joel Murray) returned to the fold clean-and-sober, with a $2 million account for Ponds Cold Cream and a 12-step program under his belt. He refused to work with Pete (Vincent Kartheiser), so he was paired with Peggy, who found his…er, quaint ideas about women, marriage and spinsterhood led Peggy to brand him old-fashioned. Not that Peggy was entirely free of old-fashioned ideals herself; her boyfriend Mark (Blake Bashoff) assumed she was a virgin, and she’s been loath to disabuse him of that that rather quaint perception.

A much more modern sensibility was represented by the introduction of focus-group testing. When the questionnaire asked for intimate personal information, Don nixed it and walked out. The woman in charge, Faye (Cara Buono), confronted Don about walking out on her presentation. He insisted one could not learn much through questionnaires, but she countered that it’s about helping people sort out their deepest conflicts: “What I want vs. what’s expected of me.” And she figured she had Don’s number: “You’ll be married again within a year,” she predicted.

So keep your calendars clear for a June wedding, folks…

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