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TV Recap: Mad Men “Christmas Waltz”

If AMC really wanted to impress us, they’d have coughed up the cash for the first track on Revolver as well as the last – maybe just the count-in at the start of “Taxman” playing under the image of Lane Pryce in his hardcore headgear

(Image © Lionsgate/AMC)

(Image © Lionsgate/AMC)

would have been enough. Okay, so he’s not a Soviet mole, he’s just a numbezzler and a tax cheat. The British tax rate was famously harsh on high-income earners in the 1960s, and even tougher on expatriates like Lane. His lawyer mentions the Hansard procedure, which is “…a process by which the Inland Revenue offers a taxpayer suspected of serious tax fraud an opportunity to confess to all of the irregularities in their tax affairs.” So he doesn’t just owe a lot of tax, he’s already been nailed for nonpayment, and at the mention of prison he nearly folds himself in half:

(Image © Lionsgate/AMC)

(Image © Lionsgate/AMC)

It isn’t the first time we’ve seen him as abject, ashamed, or helpless, and we already knew he was having financial problems, but how he deals with his dilemma, his “breaking bad,” caught me by surprise. Over a glass of Cutty Sark, he easily persuades SCDP’s banker to boost their line of credit by $50,000, and then pretends to the other partners that he’s found an unexpected surplus in that exact amount. He proposes an immediate Christmas bonus distribution that would net him enough to keep out of jail – but when Don and Pete both offer sensible reasons to delay handing out bonuses, you can see Lane melting down, desperate for someone (including himself) to say something in the next twenty seconds that will save him. There’s no final decision on the bonus at this meeting, and Lane’s time is running out, so the next we see him he’s forging Don’s signature on a check to himself.

The person likeliest to question the source of the bonus money, or to come across the forged check, is, of course, someone with whom Lane’s built up a halting and rather touching friendship since last season. So was Lane playing a sly long con with Joan? Has he been cooking the books all along? I have to bring that up because I’ve seen internet chatter to that effect, but I’m not sure I buy it. We won’t have to wait long to find out more about this storyline, though, because by the end of this episode Lane’s back is against the wall – unkind fate has suddenly depleted SCDP’s short-term revenues, and bonuses for partners are nixed. Lane will have no way to replace the amount of the forged check in SCDP’s account. Nobody else but Joan could possibly get him out of that one.

Unless maybe it’s Don, who peels off a check nearly as big as Lane’s to a Jaguar salesman just so he can take an XKE out for a spin. This occurs early in a charming sequence of gallant commiseration, when Don gets Joan to play hooky from work after she’s been served with divorce papers by “Doctor Captain Harris.” The cherry red Jaguar, sleek as a vibrator, is parked in front of a swanky hotel bar under the eye of a well-compensated doorman, while Don and Joan drink the afternoon and evening away. The bar is a beautiful setting for their easy, gradually lubricating intimacy; its sumptuous darkness is pierced by steady unblinking Christmas tree lights and a glowing jukebox. When Joan selects a song, the gentle waltz of the episode title, the whole bar dances to her tune. The promise of sexual tension encoded in any Don–Joan scene is fulfilled here to just the right degree, I think. The spell is broken when Don excuses himself, insisting that Joan stay and indulge her fantasy of “the gentleman over at seven-thirty.” I’m glad we don’t find out if Joan actually hooked up with the guy – we’re teased with a flower delivery next day at the office, but it’s just from Don.

While Don and Joan drink their Doris Days in Squaresville, Harry Crane fucks a Hare Krishna chick up the ass. So many Sixties clichés, so little time! They’ve nearly jumped the gun with this one; the “Krishna consciousness” movement had just been born in ’66, so Paul Kinsey’s merry band are actually brave pioneers, not necessarily shallow trend-suckers. (Hare Krishnas gained a higher public profile after George Harrison joined them, and “I Am the Walrus,” with its elementary penguins, could show up next season; Don won’t like that one either.) When we first saw the back of Kinsey’s fat neck, I feared that he was leading his own cult, butMad Men is not a sitcom. Since we last saw him Kinsey has sunk to the bottom of a bowl of alphabet soup, and now he isn’t even much good at being a spiritual seeker. He’s been a pathetic but functioning buffoon, but now his self-loathing and delusion suggest a mental breakdown. He’s infatuated with a woman who’s not much more than a nasty stereotype, forces his awful Star Trek script on Harry, and altogether gets as brutal a kiss-off as Don’s old flame Midge last season. (Stillthink you want to find out what’s been going on with Sal Romano? Think again, Matt Weiner seems to be saying.) And it’s Harry who delivers the payoff wrapped in pity – imagine! I confess I enjoyed this storyline, especially Peggy’s reaction to “the knee-grown complex.” And Scarlet! “Hold this and stand here.” Roger’s got his eye on her so I suppose we can expect her to stay in focus.

I like it when the show presents a relatively obscure artifact of the period, such as American Hurrah, the recently-opened satirical off-Broadway play Don and Megan attend in their first scene together. We see them having very different reactions to it, and Don is so put off he kills an invitation to dinner with one of the actors. “I don’t mind picking up the check for your friends, but not if they insult me first.” Back in Season One, Don easily dismissed Midge’s beatnik buddies when they sneered at his profession, but now that sort of cultural critique is being mainstreamed and he’s feeling it from all sides, even from his wife. I agree with Megan when she says he’s being a big baby about it – for some reason it makes me want to see an episode open with Ginsberg reading Mad magazine.

After leaving Joan at the bar, Don takes the Jag for a joyride and stumbles home late to a steaming plate of Megan, who hurls spaghetti at the wall, inviting comparisons to Betty Draper (or Gloria Trillo, if you set your dial to “Catholic”). Don doesn’t really believe that Megan’s anger is merely a motor-revving prelude to gymnastic sex – he’s just trying to deflect it, which does not improve the moment. Viewers might be inclined to cut him some slack because we carry into this scene our fond, fresh memory of Don’s tender interlude with Joan, but his inability to remember where the landmines are buried in his young marriage is not propitious. If this scene makes you cringe, you can turn the sound down and groove on the hysterically festive Christmas baubles on the Draper dinner table, or the bright yellow wall phone dead center in the frame, which does not ring.

All this season, Don’s been coasting at work – apathetic, uninspired, and occasionally underhanded – and various characters have called him on it. So I know we all got a “Daddy’s home” thrill when he addressed the troops in the final scene, on the eve of their assault – a providential second chance – on the Jaguar Motors account. It’s a bit Henry V and a little Chairman Mao (“great leap forward” my @$$) and gives us the overdue return of Don the inspirational leader, the guru: “Every agency on Madison Avenue is defined by the moment they got their car.” Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare.

The “all hands on deck” campaign is one of my favorite Mad Men moods, so I finished this excellent episode with renewed hope for next week and beyond. I had some initial misgivings about the Lane and Kinsey segments but finally accepted both of them as consistent with previous character trends, and since it contains one scene that belongs in the all-time highlight reel, I can’t very well go lower than A minus.

(Sorry this post was a bit late and slightly short – come all ye Mad Monkeys, and fill in the gaps below!)

Mad Men, Episode 5:10 “Christmas Waltz”: A-

Allan Ferguson was born recently near Disneyland and has lived up and down the great state of California for all the years since. He is currently in La Mesa near San Diego where he practices graphic design and recreational atheism. He can be reached evenings and weekends at and apparently on the YouTube, somehow or other.