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"Mad Men: Season 4, Episode 2, "Christmas Comes But Once a Year"

By admin Published: August 6, 2010

Belated notes on last Sunday's episode, with ample spoilers, after the jump.

Every time I have tried to sit down and write about "Mad Men," one of two things has happened. A bunch of other work has filled the time, or I just didn't have the energy/will to write about it. I blame the latter, at least, on how very, very bleak the show has been so far this season. It's like rain getting in your bones, making you want to think of nothing but the possibility of sunshine.

But ain't no sunshine in this Christmas-tied episode. Don continues downhill. As I said in the post about the season premiere, "He is in danger of becoming Freddy Rumsen, if he hasn't already." And just in case we had not missed that note, here was Freddy Rumsen back to remind us. More about that in a bit.

Even worse was his sleeping with his secretary. So many things in that act. Don becoming Roger Sterling. Don's continued losing his irresistibility to other women (as the consultant indicated, he's becoming a type). Don's overpowering loneliness, intensified by his drinking. But most of all, Don's utter stupidity. Before having to reveal his past to Betty, he was for the most part a master of discretion, knowing how to separate the different parts of his life. Don was not one to dump where he eats. But the affair with the teacher showed him slipping from that stand, and now he has completely fallen off. Then the man who had a visceral sense of what women want -- or at least what they want from him -- shows how tone-deaf he has become with the money. Cash. Two fifties. All that was missing was him asking if he should leave it on her dresser.

If Don's despair alone drove the episode, that would be bad enough. But then we add in Peggy's situation, and her own wish not to be alone on New Year's Eve. Peggy is, as has been noted, Don's true protege, and she is clearly sensing the emptiness in him. But, like Don with his secretary, she has aimed low in her search for satisfaction. And that, of course, means there is no satisfaction really.

Finally, the agency itself is finding what it means to be a small, new company. Clients must be catered to, and crawled for, and so the humiliation belongs not only to Don but especially to Roger. The swaggering Roger forced into the Santa suit, and to have his adult male employees on his lap -- what a huge shot to his pride, but still one he has to take for the team.

And in the middle of all this stands Freddy Rumsen. And what was most interesting about him was not his sobriety but that, even sober, he's not all that good at his job. He is, as Peggy observes, old-fashioned. He still sees life as more important than work, as he shows when he puts his AA sponsoring ahead of the office. He's not even that great a human being, at least when it comes to women; Peggy's "old-fashioned" shot is well earned.

I suppose we could look at Freddy and think that, as miserable as things get for Peggy and Don, in the end they at least know there is one thing they do well: their work. But with Don, that may not be the case much longer, not considering what he did with the Jantzen clients in the first episode, and his ongoing descent in the second. He is not the dominant force in the agency, he is indeed becoming "pathetic." And what will that mean in the long term for his usefulness?

And I haven't even addressed the Sally storyline, where the lost girl has found a protector, and possibly some sort of fantasized romance, with a destructive little sociopath. Merry Freakin' Christmas, y'all.

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