TV Talk: MAD MEN 5.10 - “Christmas Waltz”

Hare Krishnas, embezzlement and Don and Joan on a date - sort of.

This season on Mad Men we’ve seen the world changing around Don Draper as he steadfastly refuses to change with it. Even Roger Sterling gets in on the action, tripping acid and changing the way he views the world. But sometimes change isn’t always a good thing, and Paul Kinsey returned this week to show us that.

Kinsey has been gone since the end of season three, when our main cast jumped ship to found Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. It turns out the years since have not been kind, and Kinsey failed his way down the list of Madison Avenue ad shops before bottoming out and finding a new life... as a Hare Krishna. Paul was always the one most on the cultural edge - he was a beatnik with a black girlfriend, and he registered black voters in Mississippi as a vacation. He got sucked off that edge into the newly formed fringe group (how newly formed? The episode takes place in December of 1966 and the Krishnas started in New York City in July of 66. Kinsey was a very early adopter), where he’s still unhappy.

Everybody’s unhappy, really. Harry Crane, who has been so sidelined forever, is unhappy enough with his wife and kid (with another on the way) that he falls into a Hare Krishna honey trap... even if he doesn’t completely understand it. Don’s relationship with Megan is beginning to turn (“You only like the beginnings of things,” Faye told Don, and it was true. His line about not understanding the appeal of the Jaguar because he was happy seems to be shown as a lie as he's driving it home, feeling the power of the car). Joan gets hit with divorce papers. Pete Campbell can’t make anybody happy for him, even when he gets the firm back on the scent of the Jaguar account. And Lane.. Jesus, Lane.

First let’s talk Don and Joan. These are the titans of Mad Men, and as such their scene together at the bar was spectacular. I could have watched a whole episode of Jon Hamm and Christina Hendricks bounce off of each other. The chemistry between them is terrific, and watching them together feels almost like a crossover event - the characters are both so iconic on the show, and so wisely kept apart, that it is a big deal to see them together. And fascinating to see that they're both squares; Joan puts on some very old-fashioned music at the bar. 

I liked that they resisted their obviously reciprocated attractions; getting Don and Joan together would be disastrous. Of course that could be an end game sort of disaster for the show, one that really breaks everything apart on purpose, but I hope that Matthew Weiner and company see that keeping them apart is more powerful. Even though watching them together is so fun, and it was very fun seeing Don being impish, as opposed to the satisfied, lazy man he’s been all season.

As wonderful as that was, the scenes with Lane were simply painful. I hate seeing this character reduced to forging checks. I’m not so sure that this will exactly come back to haunt him - the show doesn’t usually have such explicit paybacks - but this is a sign of a very, very bad downward spiral that will likely consume the character. Lane’s wife talking about the Jaguar exec losing his visa made me very, very nervous indeed. Lane’s a good guy, but his stiff upper lip won’t allow him to ask for help. It’s a pity, because I’m sure Burt would be more than happy to assist in his time of crisis.

What seems like a more likely result of his white collar crime is an implosion of SCDP’s finances. That $50k advance was based on nothing, and with Mohawk on strike I suspect we’ll see SCDP fall into acrimony just before the Summer of Love hits.

One last thought: too bad Paul wasn't good friends with Ken. What if he had brought his Star Trek spec script to the guy who had found success writing scifi stories for the pulps? This could have been a new chapter for them both!