Christmas, or What I Want Versus What’s Expected Of Me

2 Aug

Let’s imagine for a moment that Mad Men started with this episode. Christmas time, 1964. The perfect setting for a show about family, image, and identity. We open on a happy family buying a tree, then little Sally wanders off and some punk kid interrupts her perfect holiday moment. Sort of.  It’s a fractal image of the show as a whole- show something beautiful, then chip away at it to find the ugliness inside. As the cultural revolution speeds up so has its effect on our plucky band of narcissists and doomed idealists. Each one gets a visit from their past to remind them of how things used to be, and where they might be headed. There is a temptation to suggest that doing this in a Christmas episode is very Dickensian, but frankly I lack the patience to go all Victorian on everybody’s arse. So, lets visit our doomed souls one at a time.

Sally. Predictions of her prominence this season have so far proved correct, she pretty much owned the b-story this week. A show less precise and exacting as this would be tempted to use Sally as a catch-all cipher for ‘those crazy young people’, who so far have made brief but important appearances (see: the beatniks, the Swedish art guy). Apart from a few fleeting references (including one to The Beatles this week) they’ve stayed away from that approach, choosing instead to let Sally’s changing outlook and personality speak for itself.  Her creepy/cute interactions with Glen gave us a few important facts about Sally.

First, she’s got her mother’s capacity to induce guilt. And second, as demonstrated by that heart-shattering crosscut, she’s desperately unhappy and looking for something, anything, to get her out of there. While Glen’s daring raid may have helped, she’s going to take the first opportunity to escape, and it almost certainly won’t be a place she’ll like. Also, I discovered this week that the kid who plays Glen is showrunner Matthew Weiner’s son. Gross/Awesome? Discuss

Roger. Roger is the sort of man who’s a hero in his own mind. The sort of man who drinks and smokes constantly, is always ready with a one liner and had a heart attack while banging twins , only to recover to his full capacity.To everyone else, he seems less like a hero of men and more like a necessary evil. Peggy quite rightly remarks that she can’t believe that his job is just that- drinking and jokes. But Roger isn’t a young man anymore, it has to eventually take it’s toll. That grey suit didn’t match the office walls by accident, he’s beginning to fade away. He lost the battle with Lee Garner Jr. at the party (good snippy remark by Pryce though), and while his jokey conversation with Don the next day was funny, there was an undercurrent of sadness there.  Prediction: Dr. Rapey gets shipped off to ‘Nam and dies, leaving Joan and Roger to be together.

It's a credit to Vincent Kartheiser that I hate him so much that I even hate him for making that amazing jacket look douchey.

Don. Don’s slipping. His drinking, even by the standards of SCDP, has become excessive enough to be noticed. Worse still, the Don Draper Fingerbang Threat Level has reached troubling lows. He fails to charm the new psycho-analyst who blows him off as ‘a type’ when he runs out of her questionnaire about childhood. The nurse across the hall sees him as just another drunk like her father. Worst of all, his evening with his secretary comes off less like a fun drunken fling than another prostitute he’s paid to keep quiet. That bonus money may have been in his drawer for a while, but now it has a new, much more depressing meaning. As any liquor industry employee can tell you, Christmas is their boom time, so maybe it’s just the holidays keeping him down, but Don may have a lot more falling to do.

Peggy. Continuing on her quest to become Don, this week she takes a few pages from the Donald Draper Manliness Handbook. Freddy’s  back, sober and happy. Unfortunately, nobody at the office understands ‘sober’ as anything other than an abstract concept so they all offer him drinks anyway. Peggy was happy to see him return, until she realises that in the 16 months he’s been gone she’s gained a lot more power and respect and Freddy is blissfully unaware. And so their friendship is strained by Freddy’s insistence that he knows what’s best for the campaign, and Peggy has gotten too used to getting her way. They apologise to each other, but Freddy may not deal with being with in an inferior position to a woman so well. The boyfriend appears again, and it turns out she told him that she was a virgin. Her reasoning in this case seems similar to one of Don’s many lies- there was something in her past that she didn’t want revealed, so she made up a different person to play. This relationship also looks set to implode.

Next week’s episode is called “The Good News”. Expect that to be a mixed blessing.


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