Entertainment Magazine

Review #3526: Mad Men 5.10: “Christmas Waltz”

Posted on the 23 May 2012 by Entil2001 @criticalmyth

Contributor: Henry T.

Written by Victor Levin and Matthew Weiner
Directed by Michael Uppendahl

Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce is an advertising firm. So we know from the outset that they deal in popular consumerism. They try their hardest to make money off of what people desire. Only, the people who work at the firm aren’t getting what they desire the most. The most obvious example of this mindset has been Pete throughout the season, but he has a small role in this episode. No, the unfulfilled desire comes from other places and other characters, including one, Paul Kinsey, who hasn’t been seen in two seasons. This causes plenty of frustration, which is only beginning to bubble to the surface in some cases while bursting at the seams in others. It has been a really dark season so far (even by “Mad Men” standards) and I don’t think this is the last we’re going to see of it.

Review #3526: Mad Men 5.10: “Christmas Waltz”

Lane Pryce hasn’t been seen in quite some time. So it does feel a bit jarring to come into this episode and see that he’s been struggling with some money problems. Apparently, this has some historical roots, as England’s Finance Minister levied a huge tax on the rich in 1966. Lane, as is shown here, cannot pay the taxes. So he takes a big loan out of an American bank to keep the firm afloat, then lies to the other partners by covering it in a bunch of “Christmas bonuses” for every employee of the company.

The embezzling of the money and forgery of a check is quite possibly the worst thing Lane has done since he joined the show. It speaks to how deep a financial hole the firm really is in right now, and that new business may not change that. Even the recovery of the Jaguar account by Pete after the disaster with Edwin Baker months before. Lane Pryce wants to project the image that he’s the proper English gentleman of that time, with a debonair wife and a child in boarding school. In reality, he is getting more and more consumed by American popular culture. Like the infatuation with the picture of the beautiful American woman in the wallet he found in the season premiere, Lane isn’t all that he seems. You just knew that the check forgery was going to come back and bite him in ways he wouldn’t expect.

So it comes to pass: Mohawk Airlines suspends all work with the firm, taking away a crucial source of money for the firm, and forcing all of the partners to forego their Christmas bonuses while the entire staff get theirs. The check Lane gave to his British partners to pay off the tax is going to bounce, and then Lane is going to be in a deeper financial hole than he already is. What’s galling is that the simplest solution stares him right in the face: Go to Don with the financial problems. There is always the possibility that he could cover it up and would never tell a soul about it. He’s good at keeping secrets that way. Lane’s pride, so evident in his fistfight with Pete in “Signal 30″, gets in the way of seeing that.

I didn’t particularly like the return of Paul Kinsey here, simply because I thought the show would never go back to seeing what past characters were up to now. This is compounded by the fact that Kinsey chose to join up with the Hare Krishnas after spectacularly flaming out at every major advertising firm in New York. The Hare Krishnas are just another example of the strangeness that comes to light in America of the late 1960′s. Kinsey isn’t even fully into the Movement! He’s only there because he “loves” Mother Lakshmi with all his heart.

There is a falseness around their whole relationship, and that’s what drew me away from the whole storyline. Paul has physically changed with the Movement, but he is still searching for his true purpose. He tries his hand at writing a spec script for a cult science fiction television show called “Star Trek.” The show is still in its early stages here and not the worldwide phenomenon it is decades later. Harry reads the script because Kinsey is still his friend, but he knows it’s terrible. Peggy doesn’t even read it and she knows it’s going to be terrible. Harry is also humoring his friend because he lusts for Lakshmi as well.

It’s all a con. She is playing Kinsey for a fool because she values his skills as a recruiter. She also uses Harry’s lust for her to her advantage, trying to get Harry to tell Kinsey to stay in the Movement. In the end, Harry makes the curious decision to send his friend to California, far away from the clutches of Lakshmi, where he is most likely to fail as a screenwriter. It’s a white lie of the highest degree in that way. Kinsey is going to experience professional pain and rejection, which might not be as bad as facing rejection from a relationship built on unrequited love. In the end, I wasn’t really sure what Harry or Kinsey wanted. Was it acceptance in some way for Kinsey? Forgiveness for leaving Kinsey off of SCDP’s radar for Harry? The episode doesn’t really tell us.

The centerpiece of the episode however, are the few scenes with Joan and Don interacting. It took a lot of resistance on my part not to have this entire review be about those scenes in question. I don’t think they have conversed together without anyone else present since season three’s “Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency.” They have mounds of chemistry together, and the scenes in the bar were just two characters chatting about where they are in their lives. The simplicity of those conversations, as well as the ease shown in their collective purchase of the Jaguar at the dealership, is something this show does very well. They step right at the edge of possibly sleeping together (I think Don tried to hit on Joan, knowing full well it’s not going to work) and then step away from it just as easily. They wonder what the guy across the bar from them does for a living. What his life might be. What (or who) he might desire.

The current state of their personal lives isn’t very good (Don fighting with Megan after taking in a play that harshly criticizes Don’s occupation; Joan being served divorce papers by Dr. Harris, after which she throws a hilarious hissy fit at the firm’s dim receptionist), but they have a kinship that goes beyond the personal and professional. It’s what gets them through the night. Notice that Don drives the Jaguar with a purpose, even if he’s drunk, and even after absorbing yet another screaming match at home with Megan, rallies the troops to work on landing Jaguar the next morning as they face the unappealing prospect of working through the holidays.

I wish there were more scenes with just Joan and Don. They make such an appealing couple. Don has the sense to send Joan some flowers with an inside joke on the card. If SCDP flounders, I guarantee you the first person Don calls to be by his side is Joan. So we’re left by the end wondering what possibilities there are for these characters. The world is changing around them, and they seem unable to notice it. It’s not giving them exactly what they want so they end up rejecting it. They will be shocked at how fast everything leaves them behind.

Grade: 8/10

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