'Mad Men': 'Thank you for bringing my keys'
Leave it to “Mad Men” to air a Christmas episode in August (alas, one day late for “Christmas in July” puns), and to make it the exact opposite of heartwarming. Instead of easy platitudes about the joys of giving, we got an episode about the dangers of giving too much. Lest things get too heavy, there were some light moments: There was Joan, gamely leading a conga line through the office; Pete Campbell wearing a double-breasted maroon blazer straight out of Carnaby Street; and Harry Crane sitting on Roger Sterling’s lap. Still, for Don at least, this was a Christmas to forget. As he put it, "I don't hate Christmas. I hate this Christmas."
A clear theme emerging this season is the dysfunction of the men in power at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, in contrast with the agency’s extremely capable and consummately professional women. Of course, as contemporary viewers, we’ve known all along that Don, Roger and Pete are cads and that Peggy and Joan are the real go-getters, and we've watched Don and Roger’s carousing from the disdainful perspective of our politically correct and well-behaved era. The difference this season is that the people within “Mad Men” are starting to see things the way we do. In tonight’s episode, Roger returns from a client lunch, wasted, and Peggy expresses weary disbelief. “I can’t believe that’s his job.” She’s been at the agency for five years, but the absurdity has yet to wear off; I suspect that it’s only gotten worse.
After his drunken lunch, Joan reminds Roger to wipe a milky glob of Maalox from his lip. Especially in the midst of the Christmas party crisis, which Joan handles with her aplomb (of course), Roger’s come-ons are tiresome and inappropriate. What once seemed like a charming flaw now seems like a waste of time, a distraction. Don’t get me wrong — I’d love to see these two back together. But it’s Joan who is essential to Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, even if her name’s not in the lobby (yet). Roger treats Joan like a show pony, telling her to wear a certain dress to the party in order to charm Lee, but
it’s Roger who has to put on a red Santa suit and perform for the client. Can you say "emasculation"?
Peggy’s confrontation with Freddy embodies the shifting gender dynamics at the agency. Sure, Freddy is slightly more evolved than Don or Roger, at least in the sense that he’s no longer wetting his pants at the office. But in most other ways, Freddy’s outlook is stubbornly antediluvian. His ideas for the Pond’s campaign are dull, uninspiring; not coincidentally, they’re also sexist. “If young women started using it, maybe they’d find a husband and they wouldn’t be so angry,” he tells Peggy. Then again, Peggy’s ideas are not exactly progressive — she recoils at the suggestion that young women might consider older women beautiful — but her attitude isn’t so much ageist as it is a response to the client’s wishes. Freddy cuts short his meeting with Peggy for an emergency counseling session with a Pond’s executive for whom he is (presumably) acting as a sponsor. Everywhere, men are messing up, and it’s the women who are holding down the fort.
The male indictment doesn't stop with the usual suspects. Even Bert Cooper, whose most conspicuous trait is usually his eccentricity, comes off as hopelessly backwards in this episode. “Civil rights is the beginning of a slippery slope,” he complains to Geoff (John Aylward) the bald guy from the consumer research firm, who couldn’t agree more: "If they pass Medicare, they won’t stop until they ban personal property." Leave it to the career woman to be the voice of reason. Faye (Cara Buono), stuck between these two boors, makes light of their complaints about government overreach (ones that, no doubt, are meant to sound eerily familiar), telling Don “I can’t leave until Jeff and Bert Cooper figure out how to take food from children.”
Another male to distinguish himself this week was Peggy’s pug-nosed boyfriend, Mark. His mental bullying couldn’t get Peggy into bed, nor could his reference to an article called “The Swedish Way of Love," which is why I can’t decide what motivated Peggy’s decision to sleep with him. Nor, for that matter, am I sure why she decided to “revirginize” herself in the first place, though I’m guessing Peggy believed that in order to have a real relationship — and not a fling with Duck or Pete — she had to play by “the rules.” Freddy tells Peggy that she shouldn’t sleep with Mark if she wants to marry him, so how are we to interpret the fact that she does sleep with him? Does Peggy decide that she doesn’t want to marry Mark? Or, more likely, is she just rejecting Freddy’s old-fashioned attitude about sex and wanting to make Mark happy? I tend to think it was the latter: If Freddy can be so wrong about cold cream, he’s got to be wrong about sex, too, right? Either way, Peggy didn’t look sure that she’d made the right decision.
Even the non-adult males were behaving badly this week. Freddy Rumsen wasn’t the only blast from the past tonight. Super-creep Glen Bishop — last seen at the end of Season 2, lurking in the Drapers’ backyard — also made his triumphant return. Glen’s mother, once the Hester Prynne of Ossining, is now remarried, just like Betty, so Glen is now the self-appointed broken-home expert who’s there to show Sally the ropes. “I saw your new dad. My mom said that would happen. After they’re married for a while, they’ll probably have another baby,” he tells Sally, then adds “I’ll call you.” Well, well. For a moment there, I thought Sally might have her first date coming up soon, but let’s not forget — Glen always had a thing for Betty, not her daughter. Anyway, true to his word, Glen — a.k.a. “Stanley” — calls Sally to talk some more about the divorce. “Every time I go around the corner, I keep thinking I’ll see my dad,” she says. Glen tells her not to worry, they'll decide to move one day soon. Later in the episode, Glen raids the Francis/Draper household, dumping the contents of the fridge all over the place — everywhere but Sally’s room, that is. Sally wants them to move from their house, and Glen, it seems, is trying to hasten their decision as some kind of elaborate Christmas wish-fulfillment. The whole thing was a little contrived for my taste, but I was still happy to discover that Glen is still a weirdo.
But when it came to retrograde behavior, Don Draper had everyone beat this week. With Christmas on the horizon, we have to assume that Don is missing his family, and Sally’s heart-wrenching letter, complete with adorably misspelled words, certainly couldn’t have helped. Don deals with the pain the only two ways he knows how: drinking, and then hitting on everything that moves. Don’s always been a drinker, but until this season, we never really saw him get out of control. His tumbler of rye used to be a sign of virility, now it’s a sign of weakness. At this point, it’s almost boring to talk about what a remarkable actor Jon Hamm is, but his “angry drunk” Don is truly frightening — even his face seems to change shape. It will be interesting to see how Don’s increasingly problematic drinking will affect his stature at the office. Don used to hold a powerful mystique, and now he’s just “pathetic,” as the new guy Joey calls him.
Of course, it doesn’t get much more pathetic than drunkenly groping your young, kind and extremely competent secretary, but that didn’t stop our Don from breaking all kinds of sleazy records. Don first strikes out with Phoebe, the elfin nurse down the hall; then he tries his luck with Faye, the consumer research specialist. So maybe I should have seen it all coming — throughout the episode, Allison was noticeably attuned to Don’s every need, from ice to Christmas presents — but I didn’t. I just assumed that Don had finally ended his “Murphy Brown”-like quest for the perfect secretary, and would go home alone. When he finally put the moves on Allison, I was so shocked that I responded physically — covering my eyes and flailing my hands in the air, as if trying to shake the image from my mind. There may even have been some screaming.
My thrashing-about was justified, though, because another huge boundary was crossed in this episode: For the first time ever, Don sleeps with a co-worker. Sure, he’s had affairs with clients and been caught in flagrante delicto by colleagues, but until now he always managed to (pardon the expression) keep his pen out of the office ink. The morning after, Don is well aware of the enormity of his transgression, but in a trademark Don Draper move, we see him repress the memory right before our eyes. “I really overdid it,” he says, pausing, while Allison looks at him expectantly. There’s a fleeting instant when you think he might address the elephant in the room, but just like that, it’s gone. “I just wanted to say, thank you for bringing my keys." Really? "Thank you for bringing my keys." Have six crueler words ever been spoken on television? It's doubtful. Don hands Allison a Christmas card, with her $100 bonus inside. Adjusted for inflation, that’s about $700 Don paid Allison for “bringing his keys.” When Peggy was in the hospital, Don told her “This never happened. You'll be amazed how much this never happened.” We just got to see Don’s willful amnesia in action, and it was not a pretty sight.
We've got 11 more episodes to go. Just when will Don hit rock bottom?
What did you think? What do you make of the changing gender dynamics at SCDP? Why did Peggy sleep with Mark? How much worse can Don (or Roger, or Freddy, or Glen) get?
— Meredith Blake
Top: Don (Jon Hamm) and Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) are filled with Christmas cynicism.
Middle: All Sally (Kiernan Shipka) wants for Christmas is to open presents with Dad.
Bottom: The jury is still out on Pete Campbell's (Vincent Kartheiser) double-breasted maroon blazer.
Credit: Mike Yarish / AMC
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