This season was supposed to be about a fresh start, about reinvention, but just two episodes in and we're already plagued with nearly-forgotten faces from long ago. The past always comes back to haunt you, especially if you're Don Draper.
As we dig deeper into the question that kicked off season four, "Who is Don Draper," we're reminded that he is a man who has completely reinvented his identity. This season is a bit of a reinvention as well. He and the old crew from Sterling Cooper started their own firm and Don has taken up the life of the bachelor living in the West Village. But nothing is created out of thin air, and at some point all those old spirits from the past will come rushing out for a reckoning, to either be reconciled into the new existence or pushed back forever, trying to be forgotten about like a gnawing urge.
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Freddie Rumsen: That old booze bag Freddie Rumsen is back. He was a copywriter who was pushed out of Sterling Cooper after he drunkenly pissed his pants before a big meeting. And you thought back then no one could drink too much. Well, Freddie returns clean and sober with a big bit of new business for the nascent Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. Thanks to an AA buddy—possibly someone he sponsors—Freddie has a $2 million account with Pond's cold cream that he's shopping around for a new home. Of course Roger, Don, and especially Peggy—who Freddie helped get her start as a copywriter—are pleased to have him back.
The great thing about Mad Men is that it always seems like it is on the doorstep of modernity. Like one more event will happen and suddenly everyone will be living just like we live today and all the old ways—the suits and the liquid lunches and the smoking in public—will just vanish into thin air. Like history could just melt away so effortlessly. But with all that pushing towards the present—to a new way of thinking—there is the weight of the old way holding it back. In this case, the weight is Freddie.
When he arrives in the SCDP office, one of the first questions on everyone's minds is if he's sober, which he quickly answers. Yes, this sets him apart from the corporate culture of the time, but it seems like he has his glib excuses and quick fixes for getting out of grabbing a cocktail. But as he works on the Pond's account with Peggy, we see that what made him a bad ad man wasn't really his boozing, it was that he is, as Peggy calls him, "old fashioned." His ideas for the ad are old-hat and based on assumptions about a world that is fading into the mist, just like Brigadoon. They might have been great at a larger white shoe firm like Sterling Cooper, but at the scrappy, young SCDP they seem as fresh as week-old donuts.
Though the firm needs Freddie's account, it's clear that Freddie's tenure at the firm isn't going to be long. And he eventually forgives Peggy for her slight, and it's in her office at the end of the hour that he really proves his worth. He gives Peggy some advice about her relationship with her boyfriend (more on that in a bit). It's silly old-boy advice about how she shouldn't tease him because it's "physically uncomfortable" (ah, the old "blue balls" defense) but it's advice that she heeds, in her way. Yes, Freddie will only be able to continue in an advisory capacity, but sometimes isn't that all we really need the past to do, to fill in the blanks when we have questions, remind us not to make the same mistakes, and to warn us that there is usually a bottle of scotch in the pocket of the Santa Suit?
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Lee Garner Jr.: I'm still pissed at closeted homosexual bully Lee Garner Jr. for getting Sal fired last season. For those who don't remember, Lee is the heir to the Lucky Strike fortune who hides his homosexual urges behind a veneer of boozy, skirt-chasing, old-time South charm. When he came on to Sal and was shot down, he left Don with little choice other than to fire Sal to keep Lee as a client.
This time around, they need Lee even more. Lucky Strike is 69% of SCDP's business, and if they lost that account it would be curtains for their enterprise, so Lee must be appeased at any price. When he's in New York unexpectedly, he wants to come the company Christmas party, which he figures will be an elaborate affair. While Lane was planning a little something with no guests and a "block of Velveeta," now that Lee is attending, it must be a balls-out soiree to impress their most important client. Of course Joan is called in to make the party happen and she does it with her usual perky perfectionism (one little tidbit we gleaned about Joanie is that her husband, Doctor Rapist, seems to still be in the picture somewhat).
When Lee arrives, he's still the same arrogant asshole he always was, but what has changed is the firm's relationship to him. Roger seems to have a bit of a difficult time adjusting to live in his new situation. Not only does he feel like he's being sucked into mod decor of his new office, but he's not used to having limited resources and limited control over his situation. When Lee shows up at the company Christmas party, arranged entirely for his amusement, he doles out a series of humiliations for Roger. Lee insists he put on the Santa suit for the party, even after Pete Campbell gamely volunteers to do it (anything's better than that maroon, double-breasted blazer you were wearing, Peter!).
But no, Lee forces Roger to do it and not only that, but he makes all the firm's employees sit on Roger's lap while he takes their pictures with his new Polaroid camera. So, so sad. Like Lee said, reminiscing about Christmas as a child, "You'd ask for something, you'd get it, it's make you happy." Roger asked for his own firm and he got it, but he's not happy. You could see under the beard that red-faced Roger was working up his ire and was mustering himself to get out of this situation, to find his happiness. He's not going to be a victim to his past, he's going to forge ahead into the future, gathering what business he can so that the next time a jerk like Lee Garner Jr. flails his influence around like a bludgeon, he won't be in such a vulnerable position.
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Glenn Bishop: The episode started out with a strange foray to a Christmas tree lot, with Betty and her new family picking out a blue spruce for the holiday when they had a visit from a forgotten friend. It's weird neighbor Glenn Bishop, back to rear his fat head. Glenn is the son of their divorced neighbor Helen, the same kid that Betty babysat and gave a lock of her hair to. They had some sort of strange obsession with each other, and Glenn later returned camped out in the playhouse in the Draper's back yard after running away from home. Betty took him in and cleaned him up but eventually called his mother and had her come get him. Glenn has never forgiven Betty.
Now, if little Sally Draper is going to grow up to be a lesbian, then little Glenn Bishop is going to grow up to be a serial killer. He is just so weird and creepy and vengeful and obviously has some seriously fucked up feelings about women and especially his mother. Scarily enough, he sets his sights on Sally at the Christmas tree lot and later calls her on the phone. He calls again later in the week to make sure no one is home and then breaks in to trash the Draper residence. Shit, if I were Betty I wouldn't even clean up, I'd just find a new house and leave the jam and oatmeal concoction to dry on the counter for Don to clean up before he sells the damn thing.
As much as Glenn trashes the house, he leaves Sally's room alone and leaves her a little gift, a gimp lanyard he made for his pocket knife. Someone's got a crush. It's an important transition for Glenn. Before he was in love with Betty, which must have been an idealized version of what he wanted his mother, a slutty divorcee, to be. Just as most men move from having an attachment to their mothers to wanting women in their peer group, Glenn is now attracted to Sally. But it might be some strange sort of revenge against Betty as well, after she betrayed his trust all those years ago after luring him into her honey trap.
Glenn may be a figure from the past, but he's also Sally's future. He knows what is going to happen to her now that her mother has gotten divorced and remarried so quickly, because it's a path he's walked down himself. He's like a dead relative at a seance who returns to warn you about impending perils, only Sally doesn't seem to be listening. Damn, this boy is going to scar her so bad she'll never be able to love another man again.
But the truly interesting confrontation won't be between Sally and Glenn, but between Betty and Helen. Betty always hated Helen because she was both jealous of her and her freedom, but scared that she was a social outcast after being divorced. They even had a slap fight in the supermarket. But now Betty has basically become Helen, and when Betty has to get it into her pretty bubble head that she is the exact same person as Helen, it might be a rectification that she can't just stand. The past will come back to judge us, and it will find us wanting.
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Peggy: OK, Peggy isn't a person from the past, but she's trying to forget her past at the expense of future happiness. We learned last week that she's in a steady relationship with a nice boy named Mark who likes to pose as her fiance (which means he entertains ideas of marrying Peggy). Mark is a very nice, upstanding boy who doesn't like Peggy to wear heels because then she is taller than he is (I made that part up, but you know it's true). We find out that they've been dating for awhile but Peggy hasn't put out yet. Mark thinks it's because Peggy is a virgin and that makes us laugh and laugh and laugh. Not only is Peggy a bit on the loose side (hey, don't get me wrong, I love sluts!) but she also had a baby she gave up for adoption. By no means is Mark going to be her "first."
Their relationship gets to a point where Peggy has to decide whether she's going to wait until marriage but must agree to an engagement, put out and lose her man's respect, or kiss him goodbye and go back to being a spinster career gal. What's a girl to do? Where does she turn for advice? Oh, to old-fashioned Freddie Rumsen, of course. When he brings up the idea that every girl wants to get married, she fights him and calls him "old-fashioned." After all, she is a very modern lady with an important job who makes her own money and decisions. She doesn't need to get married. But she still wants to, of course. As we'll see with Don, what she wants and what is expected of her are constantly at odds. Freddie presents her with her options: don't put out and get married, or put out but kiss the man goodbye because he won't respect her anymore.
Peggy opts for the second one. Yes, she enjoys sex and she wants sex and she likes men and wants a man, but it doesn't seem like she can make the necessary sacrifices to get married. It's a little sad when she's lying in bed and Mark asks her if she feels any different. He's still deluded into thinking he's her first, and she says no. She doesn't feel any different. But as her head settles on his chest, we can see that she does feel differently. Strangely enough, it's not him who lost respect for her, she has lost all respect for him. Sorry, Mark, but you're not long for this world. There is only one man who can shame Peggy and force her to do things, and that's Don Draper!
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Don: Speaking of Don, he's still unwilling to confront his past, both distant and current. When a comely psychologist arrives to help the team learn about market research, she asks them all to take a test. The first question is "What is your relationship to your father?" Immediately Don gets out of the room. There is no way he's going to put anything to paper about how he truly feels about his dead pauper father.
When the psychologist confronts him at the Christmas party, she's a little pissed he skipped out on her presentation. Don says it's because he doesn't think that psychology works, that people talking about their past and their feelings can do any good. She tells him that it all boils down to one question, "What I want versus what is expected of me." This can pretty much explain Don's behavior the entire episode.
We can see that what he wants is to spend Christmas with his kids, but what is expected of him is that he'll go to Acapulco and chase tail for Christmas. He wants his old life back, but what is expected of him is to be a sad drunk divorced dad. He wants the hot young nurse Phoebe who lives across the hall, but what is expected of him is for him to fuck his secretary. The dynamic between Don and women this episode was definitely the most interesting. He flirted with Phoebe, and she came on to him, but shot him down at the same time. Oh, Phoebe, you're in for the long con, aren't you? He also tried to hit it with the psychiatrist, who was more interested in Don's work than his body.
When his secretary arrives with his keys that he forgot after another booze-soaked night, she was the only one he could take advantage of. It's clear she had no interest in sleeping with him, but he forced his hand, and she left his apartment quickly to go meet up with the boy that she really had a crush on. The next day, when he comes into the office, she's waiting there for him dutifully, waiting for him to at least acknowledge what happened between them. Don just hands her a cold card with her Christmas bonus. She was nothing more than another hooker to him, but this time he was the one doling out the abuse. When she sat down to her typewriter and began composing a document, I hoped it was an awesome "fuck off" resignation letter. I wanted her to put Don in his place and leave him, just like Betty did, reopening his wounds and showing him that he can't treat women like objects. But you know it won't be. No, it's just another stupid memo, and she'll go on typing away as long as Don will have her.
Poor Don. He's turned into such a mess. Right now he is just like his discarded tie, soiled, unfurled, and lying on the carpet after he's tossed it off in a half-drunken fit of despair. It's just another thing sullying the floor, like all the stomped decorations after the Christmas party. It can be so much fun making that mess, just letting things fall where they may because sorting them out is too taxing and boring. But the problem with a mess is that someone has to clean it up in the morning. There is no one there to pick up Don's ties anymore. We hope that, like the psychologist says, he's not the type to be married again within a year, the type who needs a woman to feel like a man. But we know he is. It's just a question of which woman will be the first one to pick up his tie.