I love Christmaukkah Yule episodes. I’m a complete sucker for the holiday gags: the hopes, the gifts, the feel good messages about love, friends, and family, and the fun-time humor. Every year (after my December birthday), I take out my DVDs and re-watch the holiday episodes of my favorite shows. (Interestingly enough, I’m not a fan of the holiday movie and have not watched many of the genres “classics.”)
So I was thrilled to find myself watching Mad Men’s 4×02 “Christmas Comes But Once a Year.” We have Christmas letters to Santa, drunken holiday parties, ’60s silver tinsel trees, and a reluctant Santa. That said, I vote Mad Men for the most depressing holiday episode in existence. Thanks, Weiner, for ruining Christmaukkah Yule.
Or as Don Draper says, “It’s not that I hate Christmas; I just hate this Christmas.”
But that’s not to say I hate this episode. I just hated this episode as a Christmas episode because it was so freaking depressing.
First, we have the not-so-triumphant return of Freddy. Freddy brings with him Ponds’ Cold Cream, a cherry which he dangles in front of Roger to get his old job back. But the problem with Freddy is everything about him is old: his ideas for ads and his ideas on life.
The only change Freddy’s made is that he’s stopped drinking and joined AA. Or the fraternity both he and the Ponds’ guy belong to. (If you were slow like me and didn’t catch that until his phone call with the Ponds’ guy after Roger returns from their meeting smashed.) And poor Peggy’s let down when she sees through the image of Freddy she’s built in her head. Someone gave her another damn baby doll instead of a puppy for Christmas. Peggy might’ve been bitchy in her tirade about Fred’s ancient worldviews about women, but she wasn’t wrong.
Freddy’s sober return serves as a great foil for Don’s alcohol-fueled meltdown. Freddy’s a clear warning for Don that if he keeps it up, he too will be outdated. And in Don’s case, he’ll be outmoded and alone. Or at least with only a stream of hookers, pissed off secretaries, and been-there neighbor nurses. Poor Allison. Don has to go and use his best secretary like a cheap hooker. In fact, his hookers probably make more.
Additionally, Freddy’s return serves as a bad omen for the holiday party. No one wants to think of a reformed drunk at the holiday party. Good cheer goes with rum. Not to mention, remember the last office party at Sterling-Cooper, and when the drunk secretary who could’ve drive law-mowered the British guy’s foot off? That was awesome. And while Jane may have decorated the offices in the latest ‘60s interior fashion, things aren’t as awesome — at least when it comes to fun money — around the new digs.
And this holiday party sucks. Okay, Joan in the red dress (even if it was a few years old) doing the conga line was awesome, but otherwise, this was no reviving of the glory days. The closeted asshole Lee of Lucky Strike shows up and demands he be treated like a king. He knows they need his account, his money, and they know he knows that. When Roger dons the Santa suit at Lee’s instance, you know what Lee’s hookers must feel like. Or perhaps the ghost of Sal Romano gets the last laugh.
In addition to Freddy, we also get the return of Glen, stalker and future rapist. This time he’s transferred his creepy obsession from Betty to her budding daughter Sally. Remember the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode “Amends” and the scene in the Christmas tree lot with the creepy no-eyed guys who work for Satan/The First Evil? Well, Glen manages to top the creepiness level. (Though I totally love the gossip note about his mom predicting the Draper’s divorce.)
Then his “private” phone call with Sally, where I get extremely skeeved as Glen reminds me too much of this boy I dated in high school. (Between Glen and Franklin over on True Blood, it’s like a parade of remembering an abusive relationship best left in high school and chalked up to the stupidity of my younger self. Thanks, TV, you’re not supposed to be stressful.)
Of course, when Glen and his fellow delinquent break into the Draper’s house, I have a feeling this vandalism will be the catalyst which causes Betty to be unsafe and finally get her own house for her new family. Glen becoming his own self-fulling prophecy.
Interestingly enough, the holiday episode did not mention Peggy’s plans. Nor did she go to visit her mother and sister for the holidays. As someone with a Catholic grandma, holidays are a big family deal, and you do not miss them unless you are married and visiting the in-laws. There’s no way Peggy just quietly missed her family gathering. As if Peggy didn’t have enough going on with blazing trails in the business world and trying to juggle her relationship. The boy she’s not all that interested in. Don’t worry, Peggy, it happens to the best of us. Clearly, Duck was in the “last time” review to remind us of someone who got Peggy and her job. Her bed being covered with her work might’ve been a little anvilicious, but fitting.
“Christmas Comes But Once a Year” ends on a lonely note. There is no final moment to fill one with cheer or hope for the New Year. The ending has Don grabbing all the presents for his children, but heading back to his depressing bachelor’s pad, not his home. Everyone in the Sterling-Cooper-Draper-Pryce office will be indeed glad that Christmas only comes once a year and hope that some old acquaintances be forgotten. While this episode may have turned the holiday episode trope on its head, it made me sad and it won’t make my list of holiday episodes to re-watch to put me in the Christmaukkah Yule spirit.