Sunday, August 01, 2010

"Mad Men" Ep. 4.2: "Christmas Comes But Once a Year"

Damn it, Don...why did you have to ruin the one perfectly healthy, totally professional relationship in your life?

I don't know which was more cringe-inducing, the drunken one-night stand or the awkward awkward AWKWARD interaction the morning after. Poor Allison - her expression tore at my heart.

This was a highly uncomfortable episode to watch, not least because so much of it seemed to be about someone making someone else feel like a whore: Lucky Strike Guy and Roger; Don and Allison and the ill-timed bonus; even, to a much lesser extent, kindly, well-meaning Freddy Rumsen and Peggy, his onetime protégée. Not that that either Freddy or Peggy would ever see his advice that way, and I rather like the dynamic between those two. For Peggy, Freddy's another surrogate father-figure (a kind of anti-Don), though one she's realizing she may have outgrown. But maybe not in all respects, judging from her face after she finally boinks her clueless boyfriend: is she pondering Freddy's words, old-fashioned or no?

As for Roger, we're so used to seeing him do exactly what he wants to do that it was strangely discomfiting to see him forced to act against his will - for another man's pleasure, no less. Lucky Strike Guy is a sadistic brute, and I have a feeling Roger won't be able to keep him appeased forever.

Roger's self-abasement was at least for the good of the company, which is more than I can say for Don. How jarring was it to hear one of the underlings call him "pathetic"? And yet I can't quarrel with that sneer, based on what we've seen of our hero so far this season. The Don Draper mystique is fast eroding, revealing a desperately lonely, lost man who's forgotten (if he ever knew) how to forge an emotional connection with anyone. Even calling Peggy "sweetheart" - uncharacteristic for him - felt like him clutching at such a connection. Blond research lady seems to have his number, or at least knows enough to rebuff his advances. (Don turned down twice in one episode - have the stars stopped in their courses?) At the same time, something about her weirdly personal attitude towards him reminded me of Suzanne from last season, and we all know where that ended up. Still, at this point research lady seems more like a device than a character. That whole survey of hers, Don's predictable reaction to it, and her little line about the tension between what we want and what's expected of us, all felt *way* too on the nose for me.

Tonight seemed to be the night for returning characters we never really missed: Freddy Rumsen (well, some of us may have missed Freddy), Lee Garner, Jr., and last but not least, creepy Glen! Actually, I never found Glen all that creepy before, but this time around he's definitely giving off a psychopathic vibe. Sally, alas, seems charmed, or at least intrigued, by his attentions. Probably because she sees him as expressing the rage she can't yet fully unleash. Heaven help Betty and poor old Henry Francis once she starts taking Glen as a model.

On the whole, a fairly depressing hour of "Mad Men" (which we should be used to by now), though not entirely bereft of Christmas cheer. Among the bright spots:

-Joan at her most brilliant as mistress of ceremonies and queen of the conga line
-Pete's ridiculous crimson smoking jacket, or whatever it was he was wearing at the party.
-Harry sitting on Santa Roger's lap and mumbling apologies out of the side of his mouth
-Allison reading Don Sally's letter to Santa. That was sweet. (And then Don had to go and piss all over it.)
-New yet familiar TV faces: Dr. Anspaugh from "ER"! (Less excited about the saucer-eyed chick who plays Don's nurse neighbor; she's almost *too* familiar, having been in so many other things - "Heroes," "Everwood," the movie "Brick," apparently also "Grey's Anatomy," which I don't watch. It's a little distracting.)
-The passing gripe about Medicare. Subtle? No. Relevant? Hell, yes.

Best line/exchange:

Don (in goofy German accent): Did you enjoy the Führer's birthday?
Roger (in equally goofy German accent): May he live a thousand years.

Lee Garner, Jr., on receiving a present from "Santa": You didn't have to!
Lane Pryce (aside): Yes, we did.

Second runner-up: I don't remember the exact exchange, but Peggy's idiot bf's jabbering about the Swedish way of love, and her curt retort - "You're never going to get me to do anything Swedish people do."


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