It’s Christmas time at Sterling Cooper Draper Price! Free flowing booze, pretty women, and all-around holiday cheer. But wait–this is Mad Men, and the dark underbelly of Season Four, which revealed itself in the season premiere last week, is only getting stronger.
“Christmas Comes But Once A Year” takes the themes introduced “Public Relations” and puts them in context of a Christmas party. Initially, Lane didn’t plan an elaborate party on account of their financial woes, opting for a scant “glass of gin and box of Velveeta,” as Don describes. However, Lucky Strike owner Lee Garner Jr. decides to show up and since he makes up over two-thirds of the profits, impressing him is crucial. Further hemorrhaging money, the party is scaled up to match his expectations.
And the party goes as planned, with no large hiccups. Then Jr. arrives and for a while everything is fine, until he decides to be a douche and put Roger in his place. His standing gives him free reign over anyone, even Roger, and he uses it to full advantage, just as he did with Sal last season, forcing Roger to don the Santa costume and even making people sit on his lap to take pictures. Harry’s hastily uttered sorrys, undoubtedly, had little effect on how Roger felt.
There was plenty to fill the episode, but I’m sure everyone will be talking about Don and Allison tomorrow morning. Normally, when a woman is introduced in an episode, she’s usually jumping head over heels for Don and we can expect them to do the deed either in the very same episode or a few episodes later. This season, being unmarried for the first time in the series, Don is off his game. He strikes out twice in the episode, unable to turn on the classic Don Draper charm.
Allison is a background character, probably not even top twenty in the hierarchy of importance. In this episode, however, she rises to the top, first by coming close to tears after reading Sally’s letter to Don and second when she sleeps with him. She’s been around Don for years and clearly there is an emotional connection between them, at least from Allison’s point of view.
After bringing Don’s keys to his apartment, she sleeps with him, despite being with a guy at the party. The combination of opportunity plus being tipsy probably did the trick, but Allison expects something from Don. She even gives him a goodbye kiss. Back at the office, she walks up to Don’s desk, eagerly awaiting his next move. But it doesn’t happen. Instead, she receives her $100 bonus and a card with the meager words, “Thanks for all your hard work.” During their interactions the next day, Allison’s crestfallen expression gradually grows–great job by Alexa Alemanni–until goes back to her typewriter, watering in tears.
In the midst of all this, Freddy Rumsen returns, sober and with the Pond’s account, bringing in a nice chunk of change. Freddy, who was the first to see the potential in Peggy, has Peggy help him with the account and immediately, Peggy calls him out for being old-fashioned. At the same time, Peggy’s boyfriend Mark has no clue who she really is, thinking she’s never slept with anyone else and calls Peggy old-fashioned, unlike those Swedish women. Peggy is confronted with the question of what she wants from Mark. In the end, she relents and sleeps with Mark. According to Freddy’s advice, if she sleeps with him, they can’t marry, but Peggy can’t lead him on either.
As pleasant as ever, Joan directs the festivities with great proficiency, but other than wearing that dress Roger likes and saying that Mr. Holloway is saving lives, Joan doesn’t tip her hand as to what’s going on behind the scenes. We’ve already missed her Thanksgiving and Christmas, so I’m very curious.
Back at home, there’s trouble abound, and it comes in the form of Glen, another returning character, who, if you remember, was Betty’s creepy, creepy stalker boy. This time around, he’s stalking Sally in a way–hiding in the shadows to talk to her and calling her under a different name–except Sally is mostly receptive. Glen is like the Don of children, a master of words, able to manipulate others. Linking his own experience to hers, he gains her trust and garners sympathy. When Sally tells him she hates the house and wants to move, he moves into action, trashing the Draper house. Sally’s room, however, remains untouched. Later, she looks outside into the moonlit sky and towards Glen, in a twisted way, her protector.
The most impressive part about “Christmas Comes But Once A Year”–and Mad Men in general–is the amazing ability of the writers to take disparate tones, from Joan’s conga line and dialogue crackling at every beat to the depths of Allison’s soul, and masterfully blend them together, keeping the episode balanced but still heading in a direction.
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Tags: Mad Men