Friday, August 6, 2010

Whither choice and privacy

The virtues of mad men
Christmas comes but once a year
I can't think of a lot of positive things to say about this episode. The show always sags when it lowers the testosterone level and goes for all the relationship crap and this one does a lot of that. On top of which, this was one creepy episode. To watch it you have to wonder what the writers have against Christmas.

One of the things that retrospective shows always do is project the concerns of the present day into the past. In this case, those concerns are with choice and privacy. Progressive thinking seeks, and has always sought, to undermine both. These themes come to a head when Dr. Faye Miller from a consumer research company shows up on the scene. It has, of course, long been the view of progressive ideology that people have limited ability to make free choice and that this ability is easily undermined by advertising. Duty obliges me to point out that there is little or no evidence to back this up. People do not do what advertisers tell them to do and advertisers have very limited powers to manipulate consumer choice.

This may explain why the ideological attack has shifted to what is called the paradox of choice. This argument, again based on research that is dubious, says that we are made unhappy by having too many choices. The claim is all based on a single experiment that no one has been able to duplicate suggesting that effect is not robust. Those with long memories may remember “subliminal suggestion” another bogus phenomenon based on a single experiment that others could not duplicate.

In any case, Dr. Faye Miller tells Don that he is a type implying that he really doesn’t want choice. She earlier drove him out of the conference room by asking him to do a survey that would deal with areas that we all know Don considers private. The first question is, “How would you describe your father. “ Dr. Faye explains that “No matter what the answer it creates a level of intimacy for the next question.” Don refuses to answer, as we would expect him to. The man values his privacy.

He's right.

Unfortunately, the writers seem to be on Dr. Miller’s side as they show us a Don Draper who is falling apart. Why is he falling apart? So far we have not seen anything to explain it.

There is an odd moment when she tells Don that they are on the same side in that they are both helping people to overcome “their deepest conflict”. When Don asks her what she means by this, she says, “In a nutshell, it all comes down to what I want versus what is expected of me.” Don agrees with that rather than pointing out that it is a moronically trivial statement. This does not bode well for Season 4. Even Deepak Chopra isn’t that shallow.

Return of the little creep
The episode would have been quite creepy enough without him but we next get the joy of seeing the return of Glen Bishop. When last we saw him, Glen had just been voted "most likely to be arrested after dismembered human corpses are found in his freezer" by his Grade 3 class. He’s back and is now focusing his Travis Bickle style charms on Sally rather than Betty. He starts making mysterious calls and then breaks into the house and trashes every room but Sally’s in an attempt to get the family to move out. He leaves a present for Sally in her room and this apparently charms her.

On the other hand, it’s nice to see Freddy Rumsen back. I hope he lasts. He asks the question that has to be on everybody’s mind, why did they take Pete Campbell.

The answer for that, the only answer that makes even vague sense, is that Vincent Kartheiser is one of the principal players. But no rational person would have taken Pete Campbell.

The creep fest soon returns with the arrival of Lee Garner Jr. He was, as Don put it last year, in a position to turn Sterling Cooper’s lights out. Sterling Cooper Draper Price is all the more beholden too him and so Garner does the only thing you can do with absolute power. He abuses it. There is a particularly painful moment with Roger in a Santa Claus suit that ensues.

And then the whole degrading party comes to a head in an odd scene where Alison brings Don the keys he forgot at the office and ends up having sex with him. The next day Don obviously wants to act as if nothing happened and Alison is equally obviously hurt. This is a more contemporary theme. Back in the day people didn’t get that worked up about office party behaviour. Nowadays there is an article in every newspaper in the land every November warning about the dangers to your career that come from letting down your guard at the office Christmas party.

What the show leaves for us to decide is whose fault this is. Don’s? Alison’s? Both? Well, obviously both but how divided?

Finally, we get Mommy kissing Santa Claus as the outro. A very creepy song.

Season 4 blogging begins here.
The post on the next episode will be here.


  1. I agree with you mostly. Dr. Miller represents advertising's increasing reliance on psychology, like the German(?) psychologist they showed in episode 1 Season 1 who was going to tell them how to counter all the bad press about cigarette smoking. Regarding Dr. Miller's statement that it all comes down to "what I want versus what is expected of me" I think that's only part of why Don is falling apart. He's going through a period of adjustment because all of his "anchors" have been taken away from him, i.e., his family and his secure job at S-C, and that would create anxiety in the healthiest of people. With Don you have the added layer of not having come to terms with his past so that he can integrate that with who he wants to be, which makes it all the more difficult. But I have no doubt that he will be able to do that, it will just be a bumpy ride. But he will realize that his awful childhood, in fact, gave him the values he brings to Don Draper or any un-Whitman he chooses to be.

  2. I think you are probably correct that taking anchors such as family away from someone would unsettle them. I haven't seen anything that even looks like the beginning of a case for this on the screen however.

    And there is that odd scene in the first episode with the prostitute that Don pays to slap him across the face during sex. Interesting, but where does this come from?

    I think the writers have a very limited time to deliver some explanatory evidence. If they don't, I can think of one viewer whose going to start losing patience with them very quickly and I doubt I'm the only one.

  3. I think its implied that this is where Don's meltdown is coming from. They're showimg behavior that men typically go through after a divorce that they didn't want or initiate. Now, they might lay it out more explicitly if Don's drinking gets so out of hand that he considers going to AA, which could be the reason the character of Freddy Rumson was brought back. When Freddy gets the call from the Pond's guy after his liquid lunch with Roger, Freddy tells him to meet him at a church, they were going to an AA meeting. I've known and worked with several members of AA and this is not at all uncommon, to drop everything to help out a fellow member who has fallen or is afraid he will fall.

    The origins of S&M or BDSM as its now called are thought to originate in childhood, at the onset of puberty verbal or physical abuse, or humilitation become eroticized. With all the stress that Don was under over the past year, this could be the first time that he allowed those feelings to surface. We did see a hint of this when he handcuffed or tied Bobbie Barret's wrists to the bed to punish her because he was pissed about something she had done, I think talking about him with some girlfriends who had also "had" Don. Some people, even married couples, incorporate BDSM into their sexual repertoire, others only do it when they're under stress and it provides a release for them.