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Mad Men: Christmas Comes But Once a Year - Review

Editors Note: Regular reviewer Janaki Cedanna is on vacation this week so the usual recap and review is being replaced with a fun Twitter experiment. Followers of MadMenFodder will recap their favorite moments and thoughts from the episode. I want to thank them very much for their participation. Enjoy these and see you next week for a full episode review!

Well Christmas comes but once a year, but for us Maddicts each new episode sure feels like Christmas morning. This episode, like Christmas itself, was all about old traditions and new customs, familiar faces and intriguing acquaintances, wishes and responsibilities. Though most characters didn’t write a letter to Santa, by the end of the hour it seems as if each character was struggling with his or her deepest conflict: what I want versus what is expected of me. This tension is as essential to Mad Men as it is to advertising, so to review this week’s episode I thought I would recap how the some of the main characters dealt with this struggle.
Roger: What does Roger want? Well, that’s easy—to see Joan in that red dress! But then again, who doesn’t? As he once said in Season 2, “I want everything I want.” And for Roger, advertising is the means for him to get everything that he wants: an endless supply of cigarettes, three martini lunches, and a pool of secretaries to go fishing in. If only those pesky clients would stop getting in the way. In this episode, we caught the rare sight of Roger having to deal with what is expected of him rather than just going for what he wants. Lee Garner Jr., heir to the Lucky Strike fortune and a nightmare client, is in town. He calls Roger, who accidentally mentions Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce’s up-coming Christmas party. Lee Jr. has high expectations of what a Madison Ave Christmas party should be, and he decides he wants to come. Considering that Lucky Strike accounts for 69% of SCDP’s business, what Lee Jr. wants Lee Jr. gets. But meeting Lee Jr.’s expectations means a lot more that hiring a bartender and ordering Chinese food. At the party, Lee Jr. decides he wants to humiliate Roger for his own amusement by having him dress like Santa Claus. Lee Jr. then adds insult to injury by having the SCDP staff (and the male staff at that) sit on Roger’s lap and pose for a Polaroid picture. Roger does as expected, because he has to for the sake of SCDP’s survival. But don’t feel too bad for Roger. After all, he got to go home with that young bride he wanted.
Peggy: Peggy’s storyline this week introduced us to a new face and reunited us with an old friend. Am I the only one who jumped up and shouted “Freddy!” when Freddy Rumsen walked in? Just me? Old Freddy returns to the SCDP gang, and just in time with a new client. Peggy is happier than anyone to see him (don’t forget that Freddy was the first to recognize her talent as a copywriter). But soon Peggy and Freddy start to clash. Peggy wants to come up with a fresh, modern ad for new client, Pond’s Cold Cream—SCDP’s image depends on its reputation for being innovative. However, Freddy expects their dynamic to be the same as it was two years ago, when Peggy was a nervous junior copywriter. But that was a promotion, two haircuts and a backbone ago, and New Peggy isn’t going to back down so easily and follow Freddy’s old fashioned ideas. Peggy and Freddy reconcile, but I’ve got a feeling that Freddy’s days at SCDP are numbered if he doesn’t get with the times soon. The conflict between what Peggy wants and what is expected of her doesn’t resolve itself so easily in her love life. Peggy is dating new guy Mark (falsely introduced as her fiancé last week). Peggy wants to takes things slow with Mark, but he wants to love as the Swedes do. The real issue is that Mark expects a reluctant Peggy to be a virginal Peggy—but Peggy is the opposite of a virgin and there’s a baby somewhere out there to prove it. Peggy doesn’t want to repeat her mistakes, but she also doesn’t want to lose Mark. By the end of the episode they do sleep together, but this conflict is far from over.
Sally: Poor Sally, all she wants for Christmas is for her family to be together (and a necklace), but instead she gets the return of Glenn Bishop (and a necklace). I was very happy to see Glenn again, but the experience of his parents’ divorce and his mother’s remarriage has turned him into a hardened, little vandal. This is not a good omen for Sally. She is expected to behave like a good little girl, but her positive reaction to Glenn breaking into and trashing her house tells me that Sally will start acting out more, too.
Don: And then there’s Don. It’s not just the staff of SCDP who have certain expectations of Don, or his children, or the pretty nurse down the hall. We, the audience of over three seasons, now have come to expect a lot from Don. No one (not anyone from SCDP and not the audience) was surprised when he walked out of the consumer research meeting—don’t ever expect Don to talk openly about his childhood. And no one was surprised at his attraction to Dr. Faye Miller from that meeting—a strong, beautiful, independent career woman who sees right through him and doesn’t stand for any of his BS, who wants to take bets on how many episodes it takes for those two to get together? However, I for one was shocked when he made a pass at Allison, his secretary. And even more surprised when she reciprocated! But should I have been? After all, Allison is also a strong, beautiful, independent career woman who sees right through him and doesn’t stand for any of his BS. Still we know that Don rarely gets involved with the women of Sterling Cooper (Draper Pryce)—he is the only adult, male character who has never hit on Joan, and he chastised Pete for looking Peggy up and down on her first day of work. Granted Don sleeping with his secretary is hardly as shocking as, say, him being slapped by a prostitute, but I was still caught off guard. Don’s world has rapidly changed, and will continue to do so. How have our understanding of Don’s wants and our expectations of Don already changed with the new season?
Finally, I just want to thank Mad Men Fodder for giving me the opportunity to write this review! It was a blast, and I can’t wait to see what happens next. What are your Mad Men wants and Mad Men expectations for the new season and beyond?
-- @alperelman

Here are my thoughts on tonight's episode of Mad Men. 

The title of  week's episode of Mad Men is Christmas Comes But Once A Year, but is could have been called The Visit from Ghost of Episodes Past. Three men from previous seasons returned tonight, each with their own particular brand of gift.

A newly sober Freddy Rumsen comes to SCDP offering the Ponds Cold Creme account, on the condition that he doesn't have work with Pete Campbell. Roger invites the Lucky Strikes VP, Lee Garner Jr.  the office Christmas party, forcing Lane to blow the budget and to change the party "from convalescent home to Roman orgy", complete with Joan in a red dress, leading a conga line. As SCDP's largest client, Lee Garner Jr. is like a kid waving a loaded gun. He has too much power and he will hurt someone. Last year he was responsible for getting Sal Romano fired. This time he humiliates Roger Sterling into wearing a Santa suit. Then to rub salt in the wound, Lee makes Roger pose with male employees sitting on his knee while he take photos with the Polaroid camera they gave him as a Christmas gift. Which makes you wonder, what will he make Roger do next?

But by far the most unwelcome visitor is that of Glenn Bishop, the creepy neighbor kid. Glen has a strange obsession with the Draper women. Tonight he turns his attention from Betty to Sally Draper. While the family is  out, Glenn and another boy break in and vandalize the Draper/Francis house. Every room but Sally's. That kid is destined for a mugshot and poor Sally is already developing a taste for bad boys. 

BIO: Clara Mathews lives in Dallas, TX with her sock-chasing terrier, where she writes about her love of movies at and her adventures as a freelance writer at Clara is also a regular contributor to Contact Clara at Follow her on Twitter @clarabela and Facebook.
-- Clara Mathews
Dallas, Texas

Christmas Comes But Once a Year
M.A. Peel
The episode title is such a specific cultural reference: it’s Max Fleischer’s 1936 animated short about the sad orphans. They wake up on Christmas morning, all happy because it’s Christmas!  When they play with the toys left in their stockings, they are so old and patched that everything falls apart and the tots start crying. Professor Grampy, from Betty Boop’s universe, is passing by, hears the sobs, and stops to see what he can do. He creates imaginative toys from the appliances, dresses up as Santa, and saves the day. The orphans all become truly happy with the new “toys,”  and they have a very Merry Christmas.
It’s a short that would be part of the childhood of all the adults in the Mad Men universe. The theme of desire and happiness is an underpinning of the entire series--Dick Whitman desired to be Don Draper; Joan desired a doctor/good provider for a husband; Pete desired to be taken seriously as an account rep. etc.  The attainment of these desires has had mixed results.
The idea of Christmas just makes the theme more focused. The episode title reference is then paid off with Lee, Mr. Lucky Strike, a bore of a man who has everything and wants to manipulate others, like making Roger wear the Santa suit. When he opens his present, it’s a Polaroid camera. He says “Reminds me whe I was a kid. You asked for something and you get it and it made you happy,” betraying a sense of nostalgia for his own childhood, when getting something actually made him happy.

Near the beginning of "Christmas Comes But Once a Year", Freddy Rumsen comes to SCDP, bringing the Pond's account with him. He comments on how nice the new offices look, but Roger Sterling responds that it's "Potemkinville". A Potemkin village, in short, is a hollow facade of a village set up to impress a visiting dignitary. It's important to keep this idea in mind as the episode unfolds, because there are several Potemkin villages that the characters of Mad Men have created. Don is, perhaps, the ultimate Potemkin village, pretending that he is happy living the bachelor lifestyle when he is actually lonely, unable to really tell anyone how he feels. Instead, he gets drunk every night and strikes out with his neighbor Phoebe. He is able to have sex with his secretary Allison, telling her how good she smells and uncomfortably asking her to stay. Unfortunately, Don gives Allison her Christmas bonus the next day, making the whole situation seem like the sex was part of the deal. We see Allison typing a letter toward the end of the episode, possibly resigning from the firm.

The other big Potemkin village of the episode is the SCDP Christmas party. Even though Lane Pryce wants a small party to cut down costs, the situation is quickly escalated when Lee Garner Jr. decides to invite himself. Food and drink that the firm cannot afford are ordered and more escorts are invited to make their biggest client (69% of business, as Pryce reminds us) happy. Lee eventually emasculates the whole office, forcing Roger to play Santa and asking the men to sit on Santa's lap while Lee takes pictures. I think that Lee knows the power that he has over SCDP, and he's lording it over them as much as possible. I hope that eventually the situation will come to a head, and Roger will take the Lucky Strike scion's head off with a acerbic quip.

There are several other carefully created facades: Peggy pretending to be an old-fashioned virgin to her grabby boyfriend Mark, Carla having to call the house the Francis residence even though Don still owns it, Cal Rutledge (the guy from Pond's) pretending to go toe to toe with Roger's drinking even though he's a recovering alcoholic, Pete pretending he can dance when everyone sees he is off-beat in the conga line, and so on. I can't wait to see whose facades come crumbling down next.
--Ashley @dazzlingrayn

Sally Draper and Glenn stole the show for me today. Glenn wrecks the Draper-Francis house and then leaves Sally a gift in her room. What is this little boy’s fascination with the Draper women? He might be the creepiest little boy on the planet, but he and Sally seem to get each other. If someone gets stabbed this season, I’m pinning it on one of them.
Meanwhile, Don Draper seems to be coming apart at the seams. I’m beginning to agree with Joey. Don is starting to seem pretty pathetic. After last week’s blowup at a potential client, this week he breaks his own no-fraternization-with-the secretary-rule. Then, he gives the poor girl her Christmas bonus the very next morning?!? Bad timing, Don. I’m curious to see what, if anything, will develop from this.
Also, I’m beginning to like this new Peggy. Her hair is better; Her clothes are better; and she’s speaking up for herself a lot more. I just wish she wouldn’t apologize so much. You don’t want to sleep with someone? Don’t. (Though, I wonder when she started being so “old-fashioned”. She’s done quite a bit of sleeping around already). Freddie’s being a condescending jerk? Let him have it. No apology necessary. But, those were the times. Ahhh… the 60’s.

Posted by Janaki Cedanna on August 2, 2010 10:32 AM
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