Mad Men recap: Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

Don's anything but jolly as the holidays take their toll
Ep. 02 | Aired Aug 1, 2010

SANTA BABY Don and Peggy can't get in the Christmas spirit at the SDCP party

Mike Yarish/AMC

Every episode of Mad Men has a couple of those killer lines that rattle around in your head long after you've turned off the TV and laid down for bed. I still can't ever hear someone being asked what they want out life without hearing Don echo in my head: ''The answer is huge.'' A line from tonight, if a little on the nose, encapsulated the most interesting characters' struggles with life: ''It all comes down to what I want versus what's expected of me.'' It was uttered by the high-minded doc employed by Bert's market research guru. Don, after balking at taking a quiz that would force him into a pen-and-paper therapy session, was momentarily struck by her succinct summation of his life's crisis. He quickly tried to regain control of their conversation by inviting her out for some splurting chicken Kiev. Stuck being you, Don!

Maybe it's the holidays, even when played out on TV, that put me in a pining mood. But damn this episode left me with a great catch in my throat. The first shot was Henry and his new family picking out their Christmas tree in a snow globe scene of holiday cheer. Don lived for those moments, the rare Carousel-worthy pauses when his family actually looked like the one he'd spent so long dreaming up for himself. But there was Henry chortling about whether the tree will fit in their family room (grr!) and putting a proprietary arm around Bobby's shoulders. (How jarring it felt to hear the unflappable Carla announce ''Francis residence!'' when she answered the phone.)

Meanwhile Don was marooned in the city, getting Dear Santa letters addressed to the office. When he does finally drag his drunk ass home to his apartment, he's anesthetized himself to the point where he can't make his keys fit. His dreary late night returns spark some compassion in the pretty neighbor down the hall, who helps him to bed without letting him help himself to her. She wrongly pegged him for a Scrooge when he said he hated parties. ''I don't hate Christmas,'' he told her sadly, his voice sounding like a broken Jimmy Stewart from It's A Wonderful Life. ''I just hate this Christmas.'' Don epitomizes every child's worst fear of how lonely her father's life actually is once he moves out of the family home. That last solitary drink at his desk, the terribly resigned way he fixed his hat to his head, the long walk down an empty hallway bearing brightly wrapped presents — oof, it all hurt. He is a drunken and miserable Santa, his isolation set to the bright and tinny tune of a little girl's suburban fantasy.

NEXT: The return of Glen

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