4.2 Christmas Comes But Once A YearIt’s hard not to feel a bit of man love for Jon Hamm’s depiction of Madison Avenue advertising mogul Don Draper.
If Mad Men is a portrait of 60s America as ancient Rome, a period of obscene consumption, repression and excess, Don Draper is its Caesar, a man with an insatiable appetite for women and fine dining, an unlimited expense account, and an inexhaustible supply of cigarettes.
Don may have a profoundly dark side – and there’s an entire pile of skeletons rattling around in his closet – but his character is irresistibly magnetic, a walking embodiment of the American dream.
For the first three seasons at least, he had an apparently endless supply of cash, the perfect house, a blonde, ex-model trophy wife baking cookies at home, and a succession of unspeakably statuesque love interests to gently coax into the bedroom with an arched eyebrow or starched quip.
But as series three wound to a close, and season four stuttered into life, we’ve watched Don falter. His trophy wife has divorced him, and he’s long since vacated his perfect house. Even his once infallible nose for an advertising pitch has begun to desert him, and his arrogant, petulant outburst in the previous episode left him with one less client on his books.
And having spent Thanksgiving being slapped around in the bedroom by a hooker, episode two finds Don spending Christmas sinking further into a mire of loneliness and booze.
As the comely nurse (Nora Zehetner, the high school femme fatale from Brick) living in the same building as Don points out, she’s always hearing him drunkenly drop his keys as he opens the door to his dingy apartment.
And as Don continues to unravel, his ladykiller status is also beginning to slip, and both his neighbourly nurse and marketing guru Doctor Miller are entirely unimpressed by his sly overtures.
Meanwhile, that creepy kid Glen from series one (the one who made an amorous pass at Betty) is back, and now has a part-time job cutting twine at a garden centre. He’s making surreptitious phone calls to Sally, his eyes are as eerily unblinking as ever, and is rapidly turning into the youngest stalker in television.
Former Sterling Cooper senior copywriter Freddy Rumsen is another returning character. Like seemingly everyone in 60s advertising, he once had a particularly insidious drink habit, and was quietly placed on six months’ leave after wetting himself back in season two. “I feel like the Tin Man” he says as he’s welcomed back into the office with a $2 million account in his back pocket and not a hip flask in sight.
This is all music to the ears of sensible Brit Lane Pryce, who’s frantically trying to reign in spending to keep the wavering agency afloat. None of this matters to another familiar face, Lee Garner, Jr., the horribly oleaginous Lucky Strike heir who got Sal sacked in season three.
His sudden decision to make an appearance at the SCDP office party forces Roger to upgrade what was meant to be a quiet get-together to something rather more hedonistic. “We need to change its rating from convalescent home to Roman orgy” insists Roger, much to Lane’s chagrin.
And what a party it is. As the drinks flow and the dancing begins, number one client Lee Garner, Jr. is the centre of attention – he’s a customer SCDP can’t afford to lose, and knows it. In a moment of quiet humiliation, the cigarette baron forces Roger to dress as Santa and hand out presents.
“You didn’t need to do that.” Gardner drawls as he’s handed an expensive gift (a then cutting-edge Polaroid camera). “Yes we did,” murmurs Lane, bitterly.
After the extensive scene setting of episode one, this second instalment returns to more familiar territory, and is once again filled with perfectly understated performances and gently acidic dialogue.
What’s disturbing, meanwhile, is the sight of Don Draper collapsing into an unexpected heap. Younger employees at SCDP are making snide comments behind his back, and there are hints, as this episode draws to a close, that Don’s drunken sexual encounter with his secretary, Alison, could have far reaching ramifications in the future – was the letter she was glimpsed typing a letter of resignation, or something more sinister?
If Don Draper is a Caesar of 60s advertising, then there are strong signs in this episode that, unless he can get his drinking under control, his empire may be about to crumble.
You can read our review of Mad Men season four episode one here.