The Christmas episode of Mad Men always feels strange, as the show airs in spring and summer. Watching the characters wander around chilly, under-saturated New York City streets in heavy wool coats while we on the east coast are breaking out summer linens and shorts is always bizarre. Last night’s episode was exhilarating and melancholy for all of SCDP – and for us. Since there are so many tiny arcs each season and so many characters with whom we have to keep up, interactions between our favorite characters are at a premium. It’s why Peggy telling Don to shut up was so satisfying, and why Lane and Pete’s fisticuffs were so hilarious. The show neatly balances the office politics of SCDP with the home lives of our characters, and while the two are intertwined, they don’t always overlap.
In “The Christmas Waltz,” we catch up with Lane. Poor Lane. A few episodes ago, we saw him bartering for his son’s expensive private school tuition, and now he’s reaping what he sowed. He asks SCDP’s bank for a credit extension of $50k so he can collect his own Christmas bonus to pay back debts owed – and when Don nixes Christmas bonuses until next week, Lane forges a check to himself. We’ve seen some of our other characters hit rock bottom, but this is Lane Pryce’s miserable rock bottom. Pete and Lane are both phenomenally unhappy, struggling with desires they can’t quite reach – and Lane only continues to dig himself into a thorny pit of lies with everyone around him.
Speaking of Pete, he’s been working Jaguar for months, waiting like a vulture for someone to go down in flames. Once that gent was weakened, Pete went in for the kill and got SCDP a chance at representing Jaguar. Pete’s annoyance with Don’s lackadaisical attitude toward work is now constantly on display. “You may need to work past 5:30,” he sneers when Don bemoans the amount of work the Jaguar pitch will require. Like an impetuous teenager, he says aloud that no one’s giving him the reaction he wants from this “blessed event.” What he actually means, in his asshole way, is “No one loves me. Love me!” But as Bert Cooper notes, it’s lemons, but we still have to make the lemonade. No respect for Pete.
Last night also sees the return of one Paul Kinsey (Michael Gladis). Kinsey, who was always a bit of a hippie (moreso than Harry Crane, who’s now the resident “bohemian”), was left behind in the move from Sterling Cooper to SCDP and apparently followed a downward trajectory in the interim. Kinsey’s been struggling to get hold of Harry Crane for lunch for ages, and when Harry finally relents he finds Kinsey in the midst of the Hare Krishna. Looking sublime and pleased, Kinsey drags Harry into the worship. In his geometric plaids and heavy wool coat, poor Harry is an ugly duckling surrounded by swirling Indian tapestries and long-haired hippies. Mother Lakshmi, a pretty young brunette who appears to be with Kinsey, whispers seductively in his ear, and he loses himself completely in the chanting.
Kinsey reveals it’s all a sham – he does want a life with Lakshmi (nee Janet), who previously lived a life of drugs and prostitution, but not with the Hare Krishnas. He can’t stop thinking like his old self for long enough to truly let go and let god, so to speak. Harry, he thinks, may be able to help him sell a “Star Trek” teleplay called “The Negron Complex.” Amusingly, Harry’s unsure whether “Star Trek” will even be on the air next season – “It’s a tough time slot,” he says, “‘My Three Sons,’ ‘Bewitched’ – it’s a juggernaut.” Which of those series is the longest running?…Yeah.
Upon reading Kinsey’s script, Harry knows it’s just not going to make it. Lakshmi comes to SCDP for a visit and proclaims, “You made me feel intensity in my entire body. Especially one place.” She bends over his desk and tells him to take her right there. Which, of course, Harry does, as he’s kind of a sleaze (remember the comments he made about Megan?). What comes next is only slightly surprising: Lakshmi, with all her benevolence and “living in the light of the lord” stuff, turns out to be just as corrupt as the rest. She was trading “the only thing she has” so that Harry would leave Kinsey alone…because he’s the Krishnas’ best recruiter. Oh my.
Harry, for once, does the right thing and gives Kinsey $500 to beat it and leave Lakshmi and the Krishnas behind. Kinsey hugs Harry with genuine affection and says forlornly, “All these people said they’d do something for me, and you’re the first one who did.” Kinsey was never very likeable, but his final scene in this episode makes you feel for his plight.
The show is dipping its characters into unfamiliar territory – these people are not prepared for hippies or Hare Krishnas or the Summer of Love (which is of course yet to come). Kinsey, who’d been immersed in the cutthroat ad world for so long, couldn’t escape it – but neither did he have the talent to be a part of it. The times, they were a’changin – but for people like Paul Kinsey (and there must have been a lot of them), the ideological battle between conservative consumerism, and free love and spiritual awakening, left him stranded and sinking somewhere in the middle.
Also somewhere in the middle is Roger Sterling, who wanders around drunk all day on Pearl Harbor Day, much to Joan’s dismay. We’ve spent the whole season wondering whether Roger knew about his son, and what he was doing about it. Well, we can exhale: Roger knows, alright, and he’s positively thrilled and wants to cover Kevin through college – but Joan keeps refusing his money. “We created a human life,” he slurs to her. “Yes,” Joan says, whipping out ye olde Joan Holloway bitchery, “And now it’s some other lucky girl’s turn.”
Unfortunately, the receptionist lets a stranger into the lobby of SCDP. Joan, expecting a bouquet like the days of old, comes out to meet the gentleman – who then serves her divorce papers. In a fit of rage (I certainly wouldn’t want to get on Joan’s bad side), she throws a model airplane at the girl and calls her an idiot. Superbly unprofessional behavior – but even Joan’s armor has to crack sometime. Don, exercising more emotional adroitness than he has in a few years, whisks her out the door to test drive a Jag.
These scenes are marvelous. Joan and Don are SCDP’s most wanted. They’re the ones everyone turns to for advice, for help, for a winning pitch or to handle a delicate subject. They’re beautiful, clever, and slightly dangerous to everyone around them. They’ve been toiling together for years but rarely have meaningful interactions; they flirt with each other because that’s just how they work – but neither of them actually means it. The two of them playact the husband and wife at the Jaguar dealership, and it’s terribly sexy. “Oh honey, I want it,” Joan says, and Don debonairly hands over a $6000 deposit (on a $5600 car) so the two of them can borrow a gorgeous car for an afternoon.
While they nurse whiskeys, the two of them trade information in tidbits interspersed with coquettish looks. “That car does nothing for me,” Don opines. “You’re happy,” Joan says, “You don’t need it.” We get a glimpse into how much time they’ve spent working side by side, the interactions they had before the show even began. “My mother raised me to be admired,” she says sweetly, to which Don responds, “You scared the shit out of me…I thought you were dating Ali Khan,” he tells her. (This is a clever reference to a prince who married Rita Hayworth in 1949, so shows both Don’s age and reverence for Joan.) He then helps her pick out a potential date at the bar and leaves her with “Mad Money” for a cab “in case it doesn’t work out.” A few days later, she receives a bouquet of red roses. “Your mother did a good job,” it says, and it’s signed “Ali Khan.”
After Don leaves the bar drunk, he takes the car on a real test drive. Is he happy? His work is suffering, his marriage isn’t so hot, and it seems the honeymoon may be ending. When he arrives home, Megan is livid. She knows exactly what she’s up against. “You like getting mad, it gets you hot,” Don says drunkenly. She wears the pants, though, commanding him to sit down and eat his dinner – which he does without complaint. She has a power over him, a hypnosis almost, that Betty never had. She knows, though, that her grip is tenuous at best. Megan, too, is stranded between two worlds: she can’t take her adman husband to her friends’ avant garde plays about “the emptiness of consumerism,” but she can’t leave him to his own devices, either. She can’t truly be a part of the acting world, but she can’t be in Don’s, either. Like Paul Kinsey, she’s stuck in between.
The SCDP partners announce that the staff will be getting Christmas bonuses and they won’t (and this is, of course, after Lane has already forged himself a check from the SCDP pot). Pete thinks he gets the last word when he announces Jaguar to a roomful of silent, unhappy people. He’s visibly upset when Don steps up to the plate – damn that Don, always stealing the spotlight – and gives a good old Don Draper pitch. He takes off his coat and rolls up his sleeves. “We’re going to swim the English Channel and then drown in champagne,” he says. “The world will know we’ve arrived.”
What does it all mean? Has the honeymoon ended? Is everything going to return to normal for Don Draper? And most importantly, now we’ve gotten an update on Kinsey, can we please have just a little bit more Sal?
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