After the intense psychology of the season premiere the second episode of Mad Men very quietly calms down into a much less significant but none the less comedic instalment. The company is suffering from major cash problems and with Christmas approaching it seems to be tight for the employees. Lane has restricted a Christmas party and refused bonuses, despite this Don still offers his secretary some cash for the holiday season. However when Lee Garner Jr the manager of SCDP’s primary account, Lucky Strike, announces that he will be joining them for a party plans have to be swiftly changed.
Those who follow the show will remember that it was Lee Gardner Jr. who exposed ex Sterling Cooper art director Salvatore Romano as a homosexual in season 3. His calm but very intimidating and often threatening persona his something which is welcome, providing some often uncomfortable scenes. However when this is used to simply humiliate Roger Sterling by dressing up in a Santa costume at the Christmas party, you can only feel his presence is being wasted.
There is also the nice return of a couple of old characters, both of which are omens who appear to have darker paths to follow throughout the series. First is Glen Bishop, the creepy neighbouring boy of the Draper’s from season one appears while Henry, Betty and kids Sally and Bobby are shopping for a Christmas tree. He demonstrates a peculiar fascination with Sally which extends to bizarre phone calls and the vandalising of all the rooms in the Draper house except for hers and in which he leaves a small gift. We also see the return of the sobered up former employee Freddy Rumsen, who also appears to be harbingering his own secrets and plots. When Sterling returns from a fairly heavy business lunch of drinking, he takes a call to meet with a person in a church. We are kept very much in the dark about any further details of those two characters intentions. It could go nowhere, Weiner often inserts red herrings to throw us off to where he is actually taking the story, he did it with the character of Glen in season one and could be easily doing it now. But with the fragility of both the company and Betty’s newly formed family very much at he crux of the drama for this season, I doubt they are just walk on roles.
As said before the main element for this episode was the comedy, Mad Men has always been a witty show, the character of Sterling in particular being a delight with his politically incorrect observations and musings. Here the comedy is much more broad, while it is hard to not to laugh at Slattery in a Santa costume it takes everything away from the underlying sinister nature of the scenes in the party.
More interestingly though is the action taken by Don at the end of the episode. Forgetting his keys to his apartment he calls his secretary who comes to his rescue. As always with Draper, he lures them into sex but almost immediately afterwards she leaves. The next day, he pays her a Christmas bonus, or as I liked to read it, he paid her off and treats her like a prostitute. I have admit the bold change of character for Don is very risky move by the creators, usually very likeable his dark descent and now erratic behaviour makes us feel almost hostile towards him. But while interesting it clashes badly with the comedic, baudy tone in the party scenes and in fact could be cut had it not had such importance in the coming episodes.
This is a good but not classic episode, we can expect better from the coming episodes and the set up of darker storylines is intriguing.