Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Review: Mad Men "Christmas Comes But Once a Year"

Non Spoiler Review:
It's Christmas, and Don is spending another holiday alone. Last year, of course, he was moving into his new Manhattan digs, and Betty and Henry were off to Nevada for a quickie divorce, leaving Sally and Bobby with Carla. Now the kids get to spend the holiday with mom and stepdad, and Don has his secretary do his gift shopping. Much better.

There are some returning faces, including Freddy (the pants peeing alcoholic copywriter let go in season two), little Glen (evolving nicely from hair collector to serial killer), and Lee Garner (the always nasty, sometimes gay Lucky Strike heir). Add to that some new faces—Firebrand Faye, a psychologist who is selling her market research services to SCDP, Don's perky neighbour, Nurse Phoebe, and we (and Don) get to know secretary Allison a bit better.

Lee Garner is in town and expects an invite to SCDP's Christmas party. Up to that point, the party amounted to a thrifty gin and slice of velveeta, but Roger realizes they will have to throw a more appropriate shindig suitable for a Madison Avenue agency to match Lee's expectations. Lane has a fit over this, of course, as they are barely making ends meet (perhaps due to that fancy new board room table?). The party becomes a venue for Lee's nasty character traits (remember Sal?), and this time he has Roger in his sights.

Freddy returns with a $2 million account he's made through a contact at AA. He's clean and sober, and Peggy is excited to be working with him again, though they quickly clash—creatively and personally. She's also struggling with her own relationship issues, which we finally get a peek at.

Little Glen has blossomed into an even creepier adolescent. His mother has remarried, and now he offers Sally all sorts of sage advice about divorce and stepfathers: "Your parents will have a baby soon. You should ask for something big now." Sally eats up the attention. 

And Don's old habits continue, stumbling from one awkward moment to another with the various new women in his life. 

This episode is all about characters exercising power over one another, forcing some to face their weaknesses. It's messy and awkward, like watching your married friends have a fight in front of you, but at the same time, fun to watch some characters get a much-needed slap in the face and confront the weaker aspects of their natures. There are great one-liners and character moments, and this second episode continues to fill in some of the blanks of the past year.

Spoilers Now!
It was nice seeing Freddy again (and that lends hope to seeing other forgotten characters in the future), especially since he's clean and sobre, and is now an AA sponsor. Peggy's excitement fades quickly when Freddy fires nothing but sexist tag lines at her for their cold cream account. Peggy takes as much as she can before she finally unleashes a you're too old-fashioned for this firm at him, and he leaves with his tail between his legs.  It was nice to see Peggy keep her confidence, as she has a tendency to wobble back and forth. Later, she and Freddy have a discussion about marriage, and how she's leading on her boyfriend.

And we meet Peggy's boyfriend. She's been holding out on him, preferring to save herself (!), which is frustrating him to no end. Freddy warns her not to lead him on, and by episode's end we see them in bed together. But he doesn't seem like a good fit for her, and I'm hoping her desire to ultimately get married isn't leading to another Duck decision. Just ask Joan how easy it is to find a modern husband who supports both their marriage and her work.

The party is the focal point of the episode, with Lee ordering Roger to wear the Santa costume and hand out Lucky Strike gifts to the staff. It's a tense moment, broken only by Don's priceless grin and wide-eyed WTF expression as Lee emasculates Roger. While Roger performs his duty, Lee throws out mean-spirited jokes at his expense and gropes Jane. It's good to see that Roger comes out of it all a little more humbled, as he realizes they're all at the mercy of their clients. Lane is sure to be pleased with that.

Don's relationship with women plays out through the episode in various stages of intoxication. The brassy neighbour, Phoebe, helps him into his apartment and quickly rebuffs his advances as he falls on the bed. When she starts to undress him, there's a great exchange:

Don: "You're very good at this."
Phoebe: "My father was a drunk."

Later at the party, Don bristles under the ongoing scrutiny of Faye, who wants to dig beneath his walls and learn what he's all about. When he tries to flirt with her, she doesn't take the bait, and instead offers a nice shot across his bow, "You'll be remarried in a year. Oh, sorry...sometimes I forget people don't like to think of themselves as a type." Ouch!

On the heals of that, Don forgets his keys at the office, forcing Allison to bring them to his apartment later, and this time he scores. I thought Allison might rebuff him like the others, but she's the typical girl from the secretarial pool we saw in the first season of Mad Men, eager to please and hoping for something more with her boss. The next day, embarassed, Don's forget it ever happened mantra kicks in. He makes vague compliments about her good work and service, and offers up a $100 Christmas bonus which makes her feel really good about herself.

And so we fade out to the tune of I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus, as Don wanders out of the office with his kids' presents (courtesy of Allison), and we're left wondering if he's learned a lesson from this at all. Probably not. 

What Worked:
SCDP got a table!

I really enjoyed just watching Peggy this episode. Her facial expressions and sideways glances to Don are priceless, whether reacting to Pete's insults to Freddie, or the Christmas party drama. Don's little "sweetheart" comment to her was also a nice touch. 

Times have changed. Peggy, like Faye and Phoebe, are all strong women, able to dish it out as good as the men, who themselves are more than a little unnerved by these strong women. Peggy goes toe to toe with her old mentor and wins. Phoebe and Faye are professionals, who both rebuff Don's advances.

The style was very evident in this episode too—both in women's fashions and their hair, as well as the decor and cultural references (Don's Beatles remark, as well as Roger's outrageously white space-age office)—rooting the show firmly in the mid-Sixties. It's quite the contrast to compare these scenes with those first views of Sterling Draper as Mad Men began.

Freddie, as annoyingly old-fashioned as he is, was a pleasant surprise. The expectation would be that he would eventually fall off the wagon by the end of the show. But on the contrary, he's devoutly sober. He's the one character who went through the same humiliation that some do here, but he's learned from it and has changed his life for the better. The real problem is he's not a good copywriter anymore, and Peggy's harsh rebuke at him for being out of touch was fitting but painful. He was her mentor, and now she's in charge, and all his comments about women wanting to get married pushed her buttons. It was nice to see Peggy lay into him, knowing how tough it was for her to say it to him.

Henry and Betty have precious little screen time here, simply bookending the episode, which was fine, as watching Glen and Sally's developing relationship was much more interesting. Glen is thoroughly disturbed, and one can only wonder what's been happening to him since we last saw him. Now that Betty appears to be a target, who knows what he's going to get up to next. But I did have a thought after Sally expressed her desire to move—could Glen's next act be a fire, perhaps? Yes, it is only 1965, but when did Betty and Henry stop locking the door?

It's been awhile since Pete has been an ass. We could forget how nasty he can be, but he showed he hasn't lost his touch when he starts to bring up Freddie's bladder problem in the middle of a meeting before Roger shuts him down.

Very little of Joan, but she does get to lead the conga line at the party.

What Didn't Work:
I have no real criticisms here, as the season is still getting off the ground and it's just interesting to watch where everyone is at. All the new introductions are fine, as long they just don't abruptly disappear without explanation, and it seems I'll get more Joan next week.

Best Lines: Sally's whole letter to Santa, but in particular, "Baby Gene wants a fireman. I don't know what that means."

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...