Wednesday, 23 May 2012

MAD MEN, 5.10 – "Christmas Waltz"

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Life's short, and sometimes the only person you can rely on is a good friend. Two characters get through a thorny situation in "Christmas Waltz" (a dance that takes two) that requires the help of a pal to get them through it: Paul Kinsey (Michael Gladis), making his return after a three-year absence as a devoted Hare Krishna; and Joan (Christina Hendricks) after she's served divorce papers by her husband. The other character of particular note in this episode, Lane (Jared Harris), doesn't turn to his friends for assistance settling a £2,900 debt in back taxes. Maybe he doesn't think he really has any pals who'd loan him some cash, or is simple too proud to even ask. Whatever the reason, Lane's the person who doesn't get to see any light at the end of the tunnel this week.

The return of Paul Kinsey was great to see, especially as his life change was so substantial and comical. Harry's (Rich Sommer) reaction to his friend's new spiritual focus was brilliantly handled, as it wasn't an outright refusal to even get involved in such a seemingly bonkers pursuit. Even better was seeing Harry participate in a group chant, and find himself genuinely enjoying the atmosphere and buzz it gave him. Some of that due to the attentions of beautiful Lakshmi (Anna Wood), Paul's friend who appeared to take an interest in Harry and his openness to the ceremony. This story took some unexpected twists which were amusing to see play out, too: first with Paul handing Harry a spec script for a Star Trek episode called "The Negron Complex" to pass onto NBC executive hands; and then with Harry having wild and passionate sex with Lakshmi in his office, instantly seduced by her. And yet, it's notable that Harry was quick to confirm that this wouldn't hurt his friend Paul ("open relationships" are permitted by the Krishna movement), and that Harry ultimately couldn't crush his friend's hopes and dreams by telling him his script's terrible. Rather, he sent him to the west coast with $500 and an ear full of bullshit about being a great writer, on the understanding he quit the Krishna teachings. I'm not sure if that's any kinder, really, but in some ways it was. It at least gets him away from Lakshmi's clutches, once she revealed she only had sex with Harry as a way to warn him away from their "best recruiter".

Joan's been rather underutilised this season, apart from the episode where she finally got rid of her husband, so it was nice to see her given a sizeable subplot. I'm a fan of the relationship she has with Don (Jon Hamm), which isn't sexual (beyond flirting) and instead a genuine bond of friendship. They do make an appealing couple, however, so this story had great fun having them pretend to be a married couple—with Don whisking Joan out of the office to test drive a sports car, as a means to take her mind off the fact her husband's started divorce proceedings against her. A part of me would actually love to see Don and Joan get together, because they work so well together, but the reason for that is probably because both characters don't see it as a sexual thing—which is, evidently, when things get complicated for them and they only suffer. Even here, Don's afternoon taking care of a good friend was soured by the reality of his marriage when he got home late, with Megan (Jennifer Pare) very angry about being kept waiting and worried. An understandable complaint, let's face it, but now that Megan's turning into the demanding housewife type who'll throw plates of food at walls to make a point (how dramatic—or a wannabe actress, ironically), maybe Don's going to slowly lose interest in her. Once the honeymoon period is over, and marriage becomes more like this, is this when Don's eye starts to wander and he starts having affairs? Is that what happened to Betty all those years ago, once the glamourous girl settled into being a housewife and demanded more of his time and consideration?

The weakest storyline was Lane's, but only because it wasn't telling a story as such. This was merely the beginning of something that could eat into the remainder of the season, as his pride couldn't let him simply ask one of SCDP's partners for a loan to pay off his debts. As a I said above, this probably means he doesn't see them as friends who would help, or perhaps knows that his position of authority would be sullied if he had to scrounge fro money. So instead he had to get clever, by suggesting an early Christmas bonus for the staff, which was shot down because of their financial crisis when Mohawk airlines put their advertising on hold. Seeing Lane squirm was rather uncomfortable, but a nice insight into the man and what he chooses to share with others. What will happen next? It seems Lane's not above forgery, as he was seen faking a $7,500 cheque signed by Don, so is he headed to jail in the finale?

One other scene I wanted to talk about was Don's pep talk to the staff, as they face working weekends till Christmas to secure Jaguar as a client from their competitors. "Every agency on Madison Avenue is defined by the moment they got their car. When we land Jaguar, the world will know we've arrived." It wasn't the best speech Don's ever given, but it felt important because it inspired the troops where the words of Lane, Roger and Pete (Vincent Karthesier) were largely failing. I have to wonder if SCDP will get the Jaguar account, setting the firm up for bigger and better things in season 6, or if this will be a marked failure and the beginning of a slide into financial ruin. Knowing there are two seasons left, my guess is the former.

A good episode with some excellent tête-à-tête's between the characters, topped off with intriguing directions for the show to take regarding Lane's debts, Don's home life, and Joan's divorce. Nevertheless, it was still something of a piece-moving episode in many ways, albeit a very enjoyable one, so I can't say I was as delighted as I was with the mid-season batch of classics.


  • There was a quick reminder here that Roger's aware baby Kevin is his son, although Joan doesn't seem to want his financial help. I predict Roger will insist once he realises she's getting divorced, and this could also be the greenlight he needs to definitively leave Jane and be with Joan as a ready-made family. Or is that just too much of a happy, neat ending?
  • Star Trek began in September 1966, and this episode was only taking place in, I assume, December. Was the show really such a hit with geeks that quickly? Anyone live through that time? So much so that you'd want to write a spec script for it? Also, it's funny just how many geeky references there have been in this fifth season (via direct references, subtle allusions, or choice of guest-stars). Is Matthew Weiner's nerdy side coming out?
written by Victor Levin & Matthew Weiner / directed by Michael Uppendahl / 22 May 2013 / Sky Atlantic