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‘Mad Men’ recap: The twelve steps of Christmas

BroadcastinatingWatching a Christmas episode at the onset of August can be unsettling, and I’m pretty sure that the folks at “Man Men” made this programming decision on purpose to mess with us. Intentional or not, this bit of seasonal dissonance only intensified the sinking realization that we were witnessing, perhaps, the worst Christmas ever. There’s nothing new about the blue Yuletide trope, but the combination of drunken loneliness, ill-advised hook-ups and public humiliation Weiner and company served up last night was definitely one for the books.

Photo: Michael Yarish

This episode marked the unexpected return of the reformed lush Freddy Rumsen, whom we last saw being unceremoniously fired from Sterling Cooper as a result of an unfortunate incident involving an important client and moistened drawers. Now Freddy is back with two new career-saving aces: Ponds Cold Cream and Bill W. It’s one of the few times in the series, so far, that the constant boozing has been contextualized as a real disease, and Rumsen’s new-found teetotalism befuddles Don and others as he waves off drink after drink.

Rumsen’s big account, Ponds, is a boon to the struggling Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, which finds itself at the mercy of its one major client, Lucky Strike, and its tyrannical boss, the smarmy Lee Garner Jr. Garner, the closest thing the series has had to an all-out bad guy, manages to flex his authority by coercing Roger Sterling into a Santa suit at the office Christmas party. We can be sure that we haven’t seen the last of this rivalry.

Meanwhile, Don ducks out of a meeting with a consumer-research firm when a senior staffer and potential love interest, Dr. Faye Miller, tries to impart some psychological insight. Don, as we know by now, is not a big believer in talk therapy, but his increasingly louche behavior certainly demonstrates a need for an intervention of some kind.  At least twice he finds himself dead drunk outside his apartment, once put to bed by his neighbor, a nurse, and once by his secretary, Allison, who brings him his misplaced keys. It’s noteworthy (and predictable) that Don makes passes at both women, but succeeds only with his secretary.

While “Mad Men” has taken its share of lumps over the years for portraying alcoholism without consequence, it seems that many of those critics will begin to quiet down. We’re probably still a long way from Don running into Freddy at an AA meeting, but it’s getting harder and harder for Don not to admit that he has a problem: himself.

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  • Harriet

    Great recap. I love the show. I’m happy to see PBS reviewing other network shows.

  • Canadian Glen

    The more things change… Any critic who howls about alcoholism without consequence has their
    head in the sand, or the bottle. Just like in real life, things do not accumulate overnight. True
    to form, Weiner and co. are using the same step-by-step, insidious, torturous death spiral that was
    perfected on The Sopranos. The delicious difference is that the era is when many of the viewership
    were in primary school. Besides, …the more they stay the same.

  • Win Rosenfeld

    Canadian Glen: I completely agree. As Mad Men rolls on, the comparisons to The Sopranos are becoming more and more vivid. It’s nice when TV doesn’t treat its audience like a baby, huh?