Monday, August 2, 2010

'Mad Men' -- Christmas Comes But Once a Year

*Warning, spoilers ahead from the recent episode of Mad Men.*

After watching last night’s episode of Mad Men, I had to wonder whether or not the New York Times’ Maureen Dowd had screened an advance copy, what with her column comparing Don Draper to Holly Golightly from Breakfast at Tiffany’s that ran in yesterday's paper. Dowd wrote:

“Even though many of us grew up not realizing it, Holly’s a hooker. And in the new season of AMC’s Mad Men, which started last Sunday, Don hires a hooker and wants to be slapped . . . In Mad Men, the single Richard Whitman from Pennsylvania coal country morphs into the married Don Draper after an accident in the Korean War. In Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the married Lulamae Barnes morphs into the single Holly Golightly to get out of the backwater Tulip, Tex.”

Dowd's column was fresh in my mind as I watched Don Draper – now openly, widely pitied in his office (called "pathetic") for going home drunk and alone to his dark apartment alone every night (so drunk that his neighbor Phoebe often hears him drop his keys and one night helped pour him into his bed and remove his shoes) – have sex with his stunned secretary Allison on his sofa after she left the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce Christmas party to bring his apartment keys to him because he’d accidentally left them behind.

It was a painful scene, watching Don looking (*gasp*) ugly as he slobbered all over the wide-eyed Allison, taking advantage of her, similar to the way he tried to pull Phoebe down on top of him, only Phoebe is not employed by Don and she's not as naive as Allison. Even worse was the scene the following day in the office, when Don didn’t actually acknowledge the reason why Allison was smiling so broadly and instead handed her an envelope – her Christmas bonus – with two $50 bills, cash, inside the card which felt, at least surficially, as though Allison had been paid for services rendered . . . complete services, everything from buying Don’s kids’ Christmas gifts (and wrapping them), fetching him ice and aspirin, to satisfying his drunken sexual needs. Don became THAT guy in this episode, the one who sleeps with his secretary and then acts like it never happened.

It seemed as though a number of people in the episode were, in some ways, prostituting themselves, or trying to bend others to their will by giving them favors and expecting a return on their investment.

There was Peggy’s baby-faced boyfriend Mark who handed her a pathetic plate of cookies -- that he didn’t even make, just stole from work – and expected that the presence of ill-gotten confections would somehow make Peggy fall onto the ground and let him have his way with her. Mark – “We’re not doing anything I can’t do myself” -- actually said, “I brought you cookies!” He tried all these high-pressure tactics to try to persuade Peggy to sleep with him, including bogusly claiming that Swedish folks “make love the minute they feel attracted.” (“You’re never going to get me to do anything Swedish people do,” Peggy replied humorously.)

“If Lee Garner Jr. wants three wise men flown in from Jerusalem, he gets it,” Roger Sterling said.

Lee Garner Jr. knows that he’s one of SCDP’s biggest clients, therefore everyone, particularly Roger, has to do what he wants (including firing Sal Romano) lest, as Don said last season, Lee would shut out the company’s lights. After a drunken Roger made of mess of things during a telephone call with Lee, Roger wound up telling Lane that they had to have a big Christmas party – despite the fact that they don’t have the money to do so – because that’s what Lee wanted. That’s why Lee can and does order Roger around. That's why Roger donned a Santa suit and let Lee take photos of him as Lee ordered various employees to sit on Roger’s lap. That's why Roger allowed Lee to taunt him, by telling him to be careful with Santa’s sack. “Don’t want you to have a third heart attack,” Lee said as he put his arm around the sparkly Jane.

Meanwhile, Glen “Stanley” Bishop was trying to send a signal to Sally – who told him she hates where she’s living, what with always half expecting her father to be around every corner – that he’ll do . . . whatever, to get into Sally's good graces, including risking getting caught trashing the house that she hates by chucking food everywhere and making a general mess (raw eggs in Bobby’s bed!) all except for Sally’s bed, where he left a tell-tale calling card to let her know that he was looking out for her. And given this creepy walk-in-on-you-in-the-bathroom-ask-for-a-lock-of-Betty’s-hair kid’s history – particularly in season two when he told Betty, during her first separation from Don, that he’d protect her – you just know that this unbalanced boy is going to come around looking for payment from Sally at some point.

Top it all off with Don, literally fleeing the room when a survey is being conducted by consumer research professionals who want SCDP to use their services because of the “level of intimacy” required in order to participate (questions about one’s feelings about one’s father, for example), Don seems as though he’s trying to distance himself from true emotional contact with anyone to try to make sure no one gets inside of him because he’s already in pretty crappy shape, self-medicating with booze. Things like receiving that letter from Sally saying what she’d really like for Christmas is for Don to be there on Christmas morning to give her her gift in person, though she knows that’s not possible, are like scratching at a still-bleeding internal wound about which he’s doing nothing to staunch the blood. When you throw in the scene from last week, where Don hired a call girl and asked her to slap him around while they were having relations, Don is in a very, very bad place right now.

Image credit: Michael Yarish/AMC.


John said...

A party in the office space is still something of a cheapo Christmas party. Expensive Christmas parties take place at a restaurant or other hired space outside of the office.

Meredith O'Brien said...

You're right about it looking cheap. But they didn't have much time, or money.

In the salad days of Sterling Cooper, I imagine that they would've done it up much better. Remember the Sterling Cooper anniversary party last season, when Don, and the company, were being honored?

Bill said...

I don't know how many places in Manhattan in the 60's would have had a party in a restaurant. The anniversary party was different - partners and clients, no secretaries.

I just caught "Charlie Wilson's War" on cable and John Slattery has a bit part - in which he ALSO puts on a Santa suit for an office (CIA) party. Wonder if that's where Matt Weiner got the idea.

Sal was right - Lee Jr. IS a bully. And him taking pics of Harry sitting on 'Santa's' lap... just creeeepy.