Mad Men the Morning After: “Christmas Comes…” for Critics
August 2nd, 2010
When it comes to critical reviews of AMC’s Mad Men, each week is more about understanding the nuances of the episode than ripping it apart. And this week, with very little from January Jones’ Betty Draper (who is the series’ most divisive character) and a welcome return for a few fan favourites, the critics are largely in holiday spirits outside of their understandable frustration with the actions of one Don Draper.
It may not be quite like Christmas morning, but opening the collection of Mad Men reviews in various tabs is sort of like opening presents, so let’s take a look at what came down the chimney.
“Christmas Comes But Once a Year”
August 1st, 2010
“I don’t hate Christmas – I hate this Christmas.”
When Don Draper sits down to take part in a demonstration of a new form of customer research, he finds a questionnaire which asks him to describe his relationship with his father – the question, according to the Doctor heading the study, is designed to create a sense of intimacy which will then influence a more honest or meaningful answer to the following question about who makes household decisions. Of course, the test is not designed for someone like Don Draper, who has trained himself to shut down at the mere mention of his past – he walks out on the test because he cannot fathom that someone would want to return to their past in that fashion.
“Christmas Comes But Once a Year” is about what happens when people who are still running away from their past run smack dab into the present, people who are either so focused on not repeating past mistakes that other parts of their lives suffer or people who have lived so much of their lives covering up their past that they have no idea how to live in a present which no longer has the same rules. All of them are hoping that what they feel now won’t last forever: they remember happier Christmases, Christmases before their lives were thrown into a state of upheaval, and they hope that those Christmases will come again.
However, Don Draper also seems to think that it will happen without having to actually do anything.
“Six Month Leave”
September 28th, 2008
“Some People Just Hide in Plain Sight”
On the surface, Marilyn Monroe was the picture of grace and beauty, living the Hollywood dream and conquering the globe in the process. Of course, inside she was emotionally distraught, and her suicide rocked America in August, 1962. In the world of Mad Men, it rocks the secretarial pool at Sterling Cooper, sending them to the kleenex boxes and making them all question, at least a little bit, the value of life.
But that quote, coming from the elevator man of all people, is the driving force behind this series, particularly for Don Draper: he can’t actually hide away from everyone, he needs to be out there and available even while hiding pains as deep as his traumatic family past and as recent as his separation from Betty. Peggy may have hid in the months after her pregnancy, but now she’s back at work and having to act as if none of it is there, struggling while all eyes remain on her in her new success.
But this episode is all about those people who can’t hide in plain sight, who based on either inexperience or circumstance are no longer able to (or desiring to) hide something about themselves. In the case of Freddy Rumsen, our zipper musician extraordinaire, his habits have long been known by those in the office, but there comes a time when you get too comfortable and what was hidden becomes clear to too many people or, more accurately, to the wrong people. In the case of Betty Draper, she’s been so used to hiding her feelings that she has no idea how to express her displeasure, unsure of what she wants other than to be left alone and allowed to take care of her own life for a change.
While a less careful show might be running dangerously close to hammering this home a bit too hard at this point, “Six Month Leave” has more than enough moments of emotional discovery to feel like a new step into this particular subject, one of the show’s (and my) favourites.