Monday, August 02, 2010

Mad Men "Christmas Comes But Once a Year": Here's Your Bonus [RIP Mitch Miller]

"Reminds me of when I was a kid, and at Christmas I'd get what I wanted."
Lee Garner, Jr.

Any episode involving a party at work is bound to be eventful, and "Christmas Comes But Once a Year" did not disappoint. Besides the holidays, there were several themes tying the episode together: powerlessness, alcoholism and gift giving are what come to mind. And it's the return of Fab Fave Freddy Rumson that nails all three themes in one. Freddy "comes with a $2 million gift in his pocket," that of Ponds Cold Creme. He's also a recovering alcoholic in A.A., whose central doctrine is the "Powerless Doctrine." So, even though the story didn't revolve around Freddy, all the themes seem to emanated from our old-fashioned friend.

The powerless theme circulated around the episode, with people in different seats of power at the beck and call of their superior. Freddy (and his fraternityA.A. buddy) are powerless to alcohol, Joan answers to Roger, Roger (and all of SCDP) answer to Garner, even Glen (creepy is back!) points out Sally's lack of power in her new family structure. Meanwhile, alcoholism has sapped Don's power over women (he strikes out with both the neighbor nurse and the market researcher) so he ends up breaking one of his own taboos, dipping his pen in the company ink. Don's is very stringent about the separation of work and private life (see the marketing questionnaire), but when he's drunk and at his pad, just about any warm body will do, and Allison's at a disadvantage, wanting to keep her job (and, obviously having some admiration for her boss). The handing of the Christmas bonus, with no comment on the previous night's proclivities, came across as a transaction for sexual favors, even thought Don obviously wrote and placed the money in the card prior to his epic fail. Peggy also experienced some post-coital regret, giving herself as a gift to her creep of a boyfriend. There was a bit of power struggle going on there as well, as Peggy had 'the hand' the relationship prior. I expect their relationship to change as a result. (Hopefully Peggy will dump him, but knowing her taste in men and inability to understand diminishing returns, I doubt it.)

In an odd coincidence, the closing credits song, "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Clause" (sung by 12 year old Jimmy Boyd), was a production of one Mitch Miller, who had just died the day prior. Miller left a big shadow on popular music of the 50s and early 60s, with his A&R work for Columbia Records. Jimmy Boyd's holiday hit was a prime example of his sweet spot, that of the novelty song. Miller (also considered the father of karaoke) hated rock and roll... hated it. That's a big reason why he became obsolete fairly quickly as rock became the norm through the 60s. His trajectory mirrors the old-fashioned men on Madison Ave, like Freddy and even Bert Cooper, so inclusion, even as only behind the scenes, is appropos here.

Previously: "Public Relations" (and Jimmy Page)

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