All words: Alan Zilberman and Peter Mergenthaler
Good morning, and welcome to BYT’s weekly MAD MEN hangover! In lieu of a traditional recap, I instead offer a somewhat edited, highly spirited debate between myself and a fellow TV junkie. Joining me is Pete, my old roommate who helped jumpstart my obsession with serialized TV dramas. Without further ado, let’s get into what’s new at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce!
Before we get into the scattershot commentary, let’s highlight a few important plot points:
- Lee Garner, aka Mr. Lucky Stike aka the firm’s most important client, flaunts his power over Sterling et. al. at the office Christmas Party.
- Two familiar faces, Freddy the alcoholic and Glenn the creepy boy-next-door, make a reappearance. They have character-building interactions with Peggy and Sally, respectively.
- Don has great scenes with three women: Alison the secretary, the Nurse Next Door, and Dr. Faye Miller the advertising psychologist. These scenes all speak to Don’s profound loneliness, but with Alison in particular, his potential for tactless cruelty.
Alan: After a stellar opening and this excellent follow-up, perhaps you and I should concede there’s simply too much to cover, both in terms of incident and thematic material. This episode serves as a reminder of the show’s capacity for depth.
Pete: Yeah, I took notes, front and back of a full sheet of printer page, but I capitalized a few things. For instance: LEE GARNER JR. IS A TERRORIST.
Alan: Far from it, Pete. If you agree with Roger and Don’s analysis, he’s the second-coming of the democratically-elected German Chancellor.
Pete: I know I was griping between seasons that Weiner had announced Sal’s exit from the show. But it’s clear from this episode that there was no other way, if the Lucky Strike storyline is to persist.
Alan: There were moments during the battle of wills between Lee and Roger I had a sneaking suspicion Roger would do something foolish, something that would cost the new firm its most valuable client. But always the company man, Roger debased himself for the good of the team.
Pete: Yeah. Quite a contrast from “My Old Kentucky Home” a year ago, when he debased himself for the good of nobody. And when Garner was opening that present, I briefly feared for my own life. Like, “What if he doesn’t like it? Is Mad Men over?”
Pete: I’m still trying to suss out what the entire sequence means in the larger context of the episode, which seems to be about how annoying self-determination can be.
Alan: Interesting you’d say that – I found myself thinking this episode functioned like a dysfunctional family gathering. Characters resurface from your past, whether they be reformed or unsavory, and you’re wary whether you’ll rupture what you’ve strived so hard to build.
Pete: What did you think of Freddy?
Alan: It was good to see him. His moments of physical comedy from the first season were a comedic highlight, even if they weren’t exactly highbrow. They’ve developed him into a more interesting character, especially in his interactions with Peggy.
Pete: Well, the entire point of his being here tonight was to develop Peggy, who becomes more frustrating and endearing every episode. Freddy’s back for freelance work, and he’s been sober for 16 months — presumably since his memorable exit last year. And he’s kind of a dick.
Alan: I don’t agree with you that his resurfacing is meant entirely too develop Peggy. He’s his own character, and moreover, the reintroduction of old characters is just another way for Weiner to show how things have changed. Contrasting Freddy/Peggy and Peggy/Boyfriend are also interesting – they’re both naive, but from a completely different place.
Pete: Well, aside from the first two or three minutes, his only scenes are with her. He’s brought in as a freelancer, and he and Peggy are working on Pond’s Cold Cream together, when Freddy basically makes the case that all women a) want to be married, and b) live in fear of never marrying. Which sets Peggy on this miniature arc of self-discovery, and reminds us that she’s still ashamed of her rendezvous with Pete from three years ago.
Alan: Oh, I agree with you about that arc being relevant, but Freddy also functions as a generational contrast. Men from his day wouldn’t be so sensitive, nor would they discuss how Swedes fuck.
Pete: That was golden. But as long as we’re talking about naive young people, how ’bout that Glenn? Am I a jerk for thinking he’s bad news and hoping that he’s tragically killed?
Alan: Nah, but I sort of like him. He’s clearly disturbed, and however psychotic his behavior may be, it seems to spring from affection for Sally, or at the very least empathy. He tries to impart wisdom, and when that fails, he lashes out.
Pete: Maybe it’s the actor, who sort of vomits his lines in sequence while staring ominously. But it’s precisely the fact that he’s doing this FOR Sally that creeps me out. By doing this, of course, I’m referring to his kitchen vandalism in the Draper home. He and his friend fuck up the house, thinking Henry and Betty will pack up and leave. Sally mentions that she can’t turn a corner in the house without expecting to see her dad, though I guess it’s the Francis house now.
Alan: Oh, I also loved the parallels between Sally and Don. They both face perplexing members of the opposite gender (Faye and Glenn, respectively) who serve as reminders of deeply-ingrained father issues.
Pete: Where do you see the daddy issues with Faye? The fact that she’s so desperate for Don’s approval?
Alan: Don left the conference when Faye asked participants, Don included, to write about their father.
Pete: Ohhh, Don. Well, yes. But I think that was just as much about Don resenting anyone trying to second-guess him.
Alan: While we’re on the subject, let’s delve into Don’s arc, as his was my favorite of this episode.
Pete: Do you agree, as the “John and Marsha” guy said, that Don’s totally pathetic?
Alan: Not yet, but Don shows signs of becoming a relic. In the season 4 premier, Don’s advances were rejected. Here they were accepted by his secretary, sure, but his subsequent behavior demonstrated insensitivity. When Allison received her Christmas card/bonus, she clearly felt like a whore. I half-wondered whether the letter she was typing was her resignation.
Pete: I assumed it was, until we faded to black.
Alan: I’d also like to add the actress playing Allison, Alexa Alemanni, did fantastic work. She’s Jon Hamm’s equal in understatement, using her chin and eyes to evoke a great deal.
Pete: Is that one of your factoids?
Alan: No, I was going to mention that Faye Miller, the name of the firm’s new psychological consultant, is also the pseudonym Marilyn Monroe used when she checked herself into a psychiatric hospital.
Pete: Oh damn. Good work.
Alan: It’s amazing what a simple google search will reveal!
Pete: From the looks of it, Allison the secretary will be around for a little bit.
Alan: I certainly hope so. Also, I’d like to briefly mention Nora Zehetner, who plays the Don’s Nurse-Next-Door. You may recognize her as the femme fatale from Rian Johnson’s Brick, so right away I have a feeling she’s up to no good.
Pete: When I saw her, I immediately thought “SUITORESS!” Then she rebuffed Don’s advances as she tucks him into bed (“You’re good at this!”), and I thought she was meant to be another sign of the times. But you’re right. She looks like trouble.
Alan: OK, good sir, it’s getting late and we have day jobs. Parting thoughts on tonight’s episode? Any predictions?
Pete: More wonderful stuff from Sterling, particularly the way he summons his secretary. “CAROLINE!” First bit of legit unpleasantness from Cooper, who moans about civil rights being a “slippery slope.” I want to be second in Joan’s conga line. And the actress playing Sally has become pretty good.
Pete: Also, for those keeping score, we’ve yet to see Don get laid without paying for it. Technically. And I want to be invited to the next Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce Christmas party.
Alan: Thanks for reminding me of the conga line! One thing I love about season 4 is how the director take advantage of the new locales. Two shots in particular, the conga line through the make-out session and Don in a phone booth, look like they belong in Life Magazine.
Pete: Yeah, beautiful stuff tonight.
Alan: And I agree, I totally want to be invited to SCDP Xmas party. I’d even dress as Santa! Wow, an hour deep and we haven’t even touched upon the episode’s theme of loneliness. Like I said, this is dense stuff.
Pete: I know, dude. You crack the whip pretty early.
Alan: I suppose I could grab another whiskey.
Pete: No, you’ve ruined it! We’ll pick this up next week.
Alan: Until then!