Monday, August 2, 2010

Mad Men 402: Christmas Comes But Once A Year

"Nobody wants to think they're a type." Market research specialist Dr. Faye Miller is talking about Don, trying to wound him -- maybe having deduced why he ducked out of her survey. It turns out that she has it right when she says "nobody". The episode is filled to the rafters with people bristling when they are said to be -- or shown to be -- of a particular type. As we saw with last week's "Who is Don Draper?", Don not only doesn't want to be part of a type, he's equally uncomfortable being an individual. Dr. Faye Miller, who feels slighted because Don walked out on her survey doesn't realize the enormous implicit compliment that Don paid to her work. He lies to her, saying that he left because he doesn't think that the results could possibly be effective. But he actually left out of a fear that the results would tell too much about him. The alternative would be to lie all the way through the survey and see if he can stonewall a PhD expert as well as he did the Advertising Age reporter. He'd rather not try.

Two other characters who are loathe to be cast as a "type" are Peggy and Freddy Rumsen. Creative differences and the need to assert control on a shared project lead to frictions with both of them deliberately using the same strategy of verbal wounding that that Faye uses on Don. Freddy, ostensibly speaking of the Ponds Cold Cream account, keeps reminding Peggy pointedly that of the truth universally acknowledged that a single woman in possession of no fortune must be in want of a husband. Later, when she foolishly opens up to him about her current romantic prospects, he describes to her the 1950s (I know -- it's 1964, but remember: Freddy's out of date) version of The Game and counsels
Peggy to withhold sex if she wants to marry. It's implied that Peggy gives in to her boyfriend's pleading to be her "first" precisely in order to break out of the type that Freddy tries to place her. Many such individual choices, in aggregation, made the Sixties the time of change that it was. Freddy himself suffers Peggy's retort that he is old-fashioned. If it leads him to any pain, he doesn't show it with life choices. Peggy's of the generation of change: Freddy is not. Later, at the party, the decadal backdrop gets its sixty seconds of attention with references to LBJ policies on the way: civil rights and Medicare.

Lee Garner Junior's unwelcome visit forces meretricious behavior on the entire office. When Roger suggests, kidding on the nose, that Joan dress herself up as a present for Lee, she's comfortable enough in her work relationship with Roger to fend this off with a glance. Later, Don's secretary Allison speaks with a very effective performance, in tortured facial expressions, just how much she likes being the type of secretary who has a quickie with her boss, then accepting an envelope with money in it.

In the meantime, Lee's sociopathic behavior at the party, held only to please him, forces several people into uncomfortable situations. His primary target is Roger, who is forced to wear a Santa suit and is reminded of his history of heart attacks while Lee gropes Roger's wife. At this last point, one wonders if Lee, whose advances last season "outted" Sal and cost him his job, is a homosexual who likes making unwanted advances towards women because it is a more socially acceptible form of sadism; or, a bisexual who acts on his urges with regard to both genders; or, a more wild possibility, that he's a heterosexual who made a pass at Sal out of sheer sadism, relishing the destructive outcome. The person best able to cope with Lee's behavior is Lane, whose unbending stiff upper lip enables him to respond to Lee's unctious "You didn't need to do that" with a dryer-than-the-desert "Yes, we did." Roger casts the whole thing in graceful nothings, telling Joan "This is the office, and that's life, and this is good, and that's life."

The show's side plot, Don's family, shows Sally interacting with a junior sociopath who may be Lee in a younger (and unwealthy) first draft. The creepy Glen, relentless behind his monotone, wedges himself into her life with a phone call and then the psychotic tribute of leaving her room untouched while vandalizing the rest of the house. Don has left a void in Sally's life where a positive paternal relationship should be and we should only be surprised if she doesn't turn to Glen to fill that void.

Meanwhile, for Don's it's all void. Phoebe, the nurse across the hall, lets him know that just by coming home drunk he's the type that her father was, and she knows it so well she knows about the way one's feet bruise when business shoes are worn all night. When two women resist his advances, not nearly so well timed as in the past, he keeps trying until he gets the liaision he wants to fill his void for a few minutes. As soon as he's done with Allison, he rolls off her and zips up. No clothes came off. She stands up, uses the toilet, and they're done. He makes no mention of it the next day, only thanks that she brought him those Freudian keys.

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