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Last week in Mad Men’s season premiere, it looked as if Don Draper (Jon Hamm) had just about hit rock bottom. Having sex with a prostitute while having her slap your face repeatedly is never a sign of emotional stability, especially coming from the son of a prostitute who has done everything he could to escape from that past. But apparently that was just the beginning, and Don is heading down a much darker path then ever before (and this is a man whose cruelty once lead his brother to commit suicide).
Don’s first Christmas away from his children has an understandably rough effect on him. He fights off his loneliness by flirting with every woman around him. Hitting on women is nothing new for Don Draper, but seeing him pathetically strike out, not once but twice in an episode is a shocking sight. Us mere mortals might be used to the cold rejection of an uninterested female, but this is Don freakin’ Draper (also, thanks to this episode and his failed attempt to bed his blind date in the premiere, I believe has now struck out more in this season’s two episodes than he had in the first three season put together).
He is also drinking more than ever, to the point that he can’t get into his own apartment. It’s gotten so noticeable that when he calls the office to have his secretary Allison bring him his keys, one of the office underlings declares him “pathetic.” Although this assessment isn’t incorrect, it’s still shocking to hear Don, who used to be admired and feared by everyone he worked with, described in such a callous way. One of the nice things about the new, small company of Sterling Cooper Draper Price has been that it’s made the characters appear more as professional equals. Here we see the darker side of that, with Don no longer commanding the respect of those around him like he used to.
Don’s call to Allison leads to his saddest display of all. Having gone home alone, having been rejected by two other women, Don attempts, and succeeds, in sleeping with his poor, poor secretary. Don has always gone after numerous women, but since the start of the show he’s made a strict rule of keeping it out of the office (remember how angry he got in season one when Peggy attempted to flirt with him?). It’s always been important to him that his private life remains private, and keeping it away from his coworkers is essential to that. Yet here, in a desperate attempt to not feel completely alone, he gives in and dips into the company well.
This wouldn’t be so awful if it weren’t for his pitiful display the next morning at work. Pretending it had never happened, he buys her silence with a $100 “Christmas Bonus.” To be totally fair to Don, he had set aside the money before they slept together. But giving it to her right afterwards sends the worst possible message, and including a card with a note that’s the personal equivilant of writing “have a nice Summer” in someone’s yearbook doesn’t help matters.
While it’s sad seeing Don sink so low, the episode did feature the return of not one, not two, but three characters from the show’s past. There’s former pants-peeing lush Freddie Rumsen (yay!). Spoiled Lucky Strike heir Lee Garner Jr. (boo!). And young, Betty Draper-obsessed kid Glenn (really?). While seeing Freddie and Lee again in the show was to be expected (Lee especially since his company is the only client keeping the fledgling company afloat), Glenn’s reappearance seemed particularly random. He’s never been a character that made a whole lot of sense to me, as I never understood if he was meant to appear wise beyond his years or just plain creepy. But now he’s switched his affections from Betty Draper to her daughter Sally. Like he did before, he takes his feelings overboard, going so far as to break into the Draper house and trash it, all because Sally mentioned to him that she no longer liked it there. Mad Men has earned the benefit of the doubt, so I’m willing to wait and see where they go with this plot line, but it feels like a completely random story involving a character that I never missed when he wasn’t on the show (even if he is well played by the son of series creator Matthew Wiener).
But aside from that one section, it was another solid episode in what’s shaping up to be an exciting season. It might have gotten even darker than the show normally dips, but every time it threatened to get too depressing, there’d be a sight to lighten the mood, whether it was Roger humiliating himself in the Santa costume at the company party, or Joan energetically leading a congo-line through the narrow office halls. Don may be heading down a sad road, but that doesn’t make it less entertaining to watch him.