Mad Men: Take This Christmas Waltz
The Christmas episode of Mad Men put us in a holiday mood:
And by "holiday mood" we mean a state of Don-and-Joan-induced euphoria.
Since we assume you watched too, instead of a straight recap we're discussing the parts of "Christmas Waltz" we found most interesting. Be sure to join in in the comments, and cast your vote in our Mad Men Hunger Games!
"Surprise! There's an airplane here to see you!"
This week the SCDP gang had transportation on the brain. Early in the episode, after being asked for the TV projections by Lane, Harry replies that they're "a drive from reality. But they're only hopes and dreams." This combined theme of travel and fantasy popped up more eagerly than Pete Campbell trying to drum up excitement for an account he "landed." Lane, during the first leg of his plot to stumble across some much needed dough, listens to the company banker dejectedly talk about how he "wanted to fly, but [he and the wife] are driving" to their holiday destination. Don and Joan, in possibly the most rewarding moment of the season, blow off work to T.D & D. (test drive and drink. What? You haven't done this with your co-workers before?). Hare Krishna-ed Paul Kinsey talks to Harry about his dreams of owning a farm with his beloved Lakshmi, only to later be coerced into driving himself and his Star Trek spec to California. And, as I mentioned earlier, Pete Campbell spent most of the episode trying to get the office excited about a Jaguar account that they are nowhere near landing (in addition to breaking the news that Mohawk is putting their advertising on hold. Seriously, how many airplanes can fit in an episode about a car account?).
But where do or don't our characters want to be transported from? Lane is desperately attempting to stay put in Manhattan, to the point of forgery (important to note, whilst on the subject of fantasy, that the signature he's faking is that of a man with a stolen identity). Poor, lost Paul Kinsey is seemingly following a dream, ANY DREAM, after having hit rock bottom, and he puts literal distance between himself and the city that defined his past. Don helps Joan escape a workplace that is no longer a safe haven from the rest of the world (a figurative and literal plane crash for her), and the two pretend to be a couple at a luxury vehicle dealership. But what is Don running away from exactly?
Joan put it best. Post-Jaguar test drive, Don says, "I don't know what it is. The car does nothing for me." Joan counters, "It's because you're happy. You don't need it." Could it be that while everything is working out well, Don is still feeling restless and that's what's distressing him? Joan's words regarding the hypothetical cheated-on wife of the fellow at the bar certainly rang true for Don and his past relationships. "The only sin she's committed is being familiar." Even though he works in an industry that banks on people's sense of unhappiness and desire for change, Don seems to be struggling with the fact that he himself needs something new in his life. Given his (new) swank apartment and (new) hip actress wife, the only tired aspect of Don's day-to-day is his work, a place where he seems increasingly uninspired and out of sync. I smell a spontaneous and self-destructive decision around the corner!
Megan, just because you threw it against the wall, don't think for a moment I'm not going to wonder WHY ARE YOU (AGAIN) SERVING PLAIN NOODLES FOR DINNER?! At least she asked Don if he wanted cheese on his this time.
All I want for Christmas...
It's fitting that a holiday episode would be all about unfulfilled wants and desires (and speaking of unfulfilled wants—why didn't we get to see the office holiday party?). While Lane longs for money at SCDP, Pete longs for recognition. While Paul longs for direction from the Hare Krishna, Harry longs for Mother Lakshmi. While Joan longs for her old life, the one where she played members of the opposite sex like a violin, Don longs for... his old life, the one where he played members of the opposite sex like a violin.
So how much should we make of Don and Joan's test drive? (And was anyone else shocked that the Jaguar XKE was only $5,600? Today a similar car would cost you about eight times that amount. I know Don makes money, but cutting a sports car-sized check on the spot takes MONEY. How are he and Roger swimming in cash when Lane—a junior partner but still a partner—is so broke?) It was obvious that their conversation at the bar about marital fidelity and a man "knowing exactly what he wants" was about Don, but was it Betty's Don or Megan's? We know that the Don who was married to Betty cheated on his pretty wife in part because she was "familiar" and he was left "wanting," as was she, but Don's erratic behavior with wife #2 (or #3, depending on which version of Sally's family tree you look at) suggests that he is still wanting for something—and if Joan Harris and a sports car won't do the trick, what will?
Joan's desires, on the other hand, are more understandable. To think that her douchebag husband would serve HER with divorce papers! This is someone who was "raised to be admired," and now that she's gained a few years and a baby, she's worried she's no longer a catch (newsflash Joan: YOU ARE A CATCH). The flowers from Don were sweet, but something tells me that won't be the last bouquet Roger has to bring to her office. More interestingly though, Joan's encounter with Roger tipped us off to a few things: There is no doubt in either of their minds that Kevin is a chip off the old bar of Sterling's gold, and Joan doesn't want financial support from Roger. As Kinsey would say, "Money fixes today, not tomorrow."
Where was Ben Hargrove/Dave Algonquin in all of this? SCDP has a speculative fiction wunderkind in their midst and Harry asks Peggy to read Paul's Star Trek script? COME ON!
Speaking of Harry, Rich Sommer, the actor who plays him, wrote a great entry for this week's Slate TV Club. I have to say, I wasn't too surprised to learn that nothing on Mad Men is improvised—ever.
And speaking of Paul, as a Sunday night TV binge-watcher who crams Game of Thrones into her packed lineup, I had to laugh at this:
Separated at birth?
Mad Men, Madder Women
Megan hurls a plate of spaghetti at a wall. Mother Lakshmi smacks the glasses right off Harry’s face. And the SCDP receptionist gets a surprise visit from a very low-flying model airplane. Yes, this week was all about letting the ladies vent some simmering rage.
In order of sense-making, we can start with Joan’s anger at getting served with divorce papers at the office. It’s bad enough that Dr. Harris is the one petitioning for a divorce, given that he essentially walked out on his commitment to marriage; serving Joan at the place where she’s most secure and in charge, while logical, is the lowest of blows. On a day when Joan is also revealed to be refusing any financial help from Roger—so he does know he’s Kevin’s father, but does Kevin know his dad favors such goofy shirts?—it’s no surprise that the appearance of a process server is enough to make her snap. It’s unfortunate for poor hapless Meredith at reception, but you have to admit, even in unhinged anger, Joan cuts a majestic figure.
That said, it’s worth wondering about the details of those divorce papers. New York State was the last state to adopt no-fault divorce laws—improbably enough, in 2010. In 1966, no-fault divorce simply didn’t exist in New York State; one partner had to have the legal grounds of adultery in order to file. This is why Betty Draper flew to the relatively fuss-free state of Nevada to gain a divorce from Don; in Joan’s case, getting served with papers means that her husband is accusing her of catting around. (Will Roger also get petitioned? Intriguing.)
Then there’s Megan. She’s been on the business end of Don’s snippy comments since leaving SCDP, and taking him to a showing of the anticapitalist experimental play America Hurrah helps his mood exactly zero percent. To Megan’s credit, she’s careful to not frame her interest in the production as an indictment of her husband, offering “I didn't think it was such a strong stand against advertising as much as the emptiness of consumerism.” Nice try, doll, but Draper’s having none of it, firing back, “We all know no one's made a stronger stand against advertising than you."
So when Don shows up, drunk and fedora askew, after being a no-show in the office all afternoon, Megan is pissed: This guy thinks he’s going to blame her for his waning enthusiasm for work? He thinks he’s going to start backsliding into lost weekends and semipublic fingerbanging because he no longer has a literal office wife? Spaghetti, meet wall. And, once again to her credit, Megan doesn’t budge when Don thinks she’s playing the old, “Ooooh, I’m so angry my clothes are falling off!” game, and makes him sit down and eat dinner with her while she very sensibly calls him on his bullshit. “You used to love your work,” she reminds him—and, when he protests that it’s different now, she pushes back: “You loved it before you ever met me.” And apparently, that’s the push that Don needs to get re-fired up—just in time for the business of landing Jaguar.
Finally, there’s Mother Lakshmi and arguably the least coherent story of ladyrage this week, though I think we can all agree that watching a confused Harry Crane get a slap upside the head is always going to be a little satisfying. But yeah, I can’t be the only one who found this plot point wildly random. If the narrative arc was meant to show that Paul Kinsey is just as floundering and deluded as a Hare Krishna as he was when he was an advertising creative, his scenes with Harry took care of that. (As did Harry’s subsequent exchange with Peggy regarding Paul’s spec script for Star Trek: “I think it was really hard for him to write.” “Well, then he shouldn’t be doing it.”) And if it was meant to show Harry’s conflicted feelings about succeeding where his former colleague has failed, the final scene, where Harry sends Paul off to Hollywood with $500 and an elaborate lie about the spec script, was kind of brilliant as well. The whole desk-sex interlude, wherein Lakshmi tells Harry she’s burning for him, only to turn on him afterward with a warning to stay away from Paul: Why? We already know Harry is a collection of moral failures. We also already know he has a kind of idiot savant–ish knack for speaking the truth in the least artful way possible, as he does when he asks Lakshmi why she used actual sex—rather than the promise of it—as her bargaining chip. So I’m not sure what purpose this scene, or Lakshmi’s anger, served, unless it was simply to point out that, even in a burgeoning counterculture, money and sex are the leading capital.
Notable Historical/Cultural References: American Hurrah, Star Trek, Bewitched, My Three Sons, Prince Aly Kahn, "Christmas Waltz"
Inappropriate Office Behavior: We see you, Lane Pryce!
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