Mad Men: Nightmares Before Christmas

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Mad Men S05E10: “Christmas Waltz”

Much like in an actual waltz, “Christmas Waltz” saw many of Mad Men's characters being twirled around and traded off and then returned to their original dance partners... except for poor Lane Pryce, who found himself paired with the ghost of Christmas Bonuses Future all by his sad, sneaky self. Welcome to the whimsical world of embezzlement, Lane!

I can’t help but marvel at how the man who was so anal-retentive about Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce’s finances, right down to the cost of legal pads and paper clips, could screw up his own ledger so badly. Then again, Lane has always been a bundle of conflicting fantasies and realities: He wants to be a total gentleman, but when push comes to shove, he tends to come off as a pig. He wants to be proper and British, but he also likes to indulge in everything his wealth and status in America entitles him to. So I don’t think it would be a huge stretch to entertain the idea that while in the office, Pryce might be an uptight little bean-counter, while at home, not so much. Plus, taxes are hard. I maintain a yearly ritual of being really excited to act like an adult and do my own taxes only to dissolve into tears and panic a mere two hours later.

Still, Lane Pryce was quick to cross a line that I never really imagined he could bring himself to even approach. With the threat of jail time for back taxes back in England looming over his head, Pryce went to the bank and painted a picture of a super awesomely profitable SCDP in the name of extending the company’s credit by $50,000. Back at the office, he told the other partners that the company had performed so well over the previous year that they were very firmly in the black and should issue Christmas bonuses for all. It wasn’t a complete and total fabrication; the projections going into 1967 looked pretty good. But as Harry Crane was so quick to remind Lane, projections are not set in stone, and the bank manager affirmed that he only dealt with solid commitments—so it was safe to assume that Lane’s plan would blow up in his face before the episode was over.

Like the worst game of Jenga ever, a single block was pulled and half the tower crumbled when Mohawk Airlines pulled its ad campaign after they company's mechanics went on strike. With a good chunk of SCDP’s profits effectively wiped out, the other partners thought it would be best not to issue bonuses after all. In an oddly impassioned speech about the hard work of the office underlings, Lane argued that everyone had gone at least three years without a bonus, and surely their hard work deserved some sort of recognition.

Absolutely, the others agreed, deciding that the office grunts would get bonuses, but the partners—including "junior" partners—would not. The gesture would have made the reformed Ebenezer Scrooge burst with pride.

And that, my friends, is how we came to find Lane Pryce forging Don Draper’s signature on a check to himself in the corner of a dark office, scurrying around after hours like a little Christmas mouse. I’d like to hope this was a one-time deal born out of necessity and desperation, but with Pryce’s lawyer nagging him for payment, and Pryce dodging the issue with a nervous little chuckle and promise of payment after the holidays, I’m definitely entertaining the possibility that Lane Pryce has started his descent down a very slippery slope.

But that wasn't all that happened this week!

We finally (FINALLY!) got some quality Joan time this week when Dr. Rapey Harris served her with divorce papers. In a rare case of completely losing her cool composure in the office, she responded by launching a model airplane at Meredith the Receptionist’s vapid little head. “There’s an AIRPLANE to see you,” might just be my favorite line of this episode.

Yeah, it is. It totally is.

Earlier in the episode, Pete had asked Don to check out the local Jaguar dealership to butter the company up for a future bid on its advertising patronage. Pete told Don to take Megan and play the couple card, but Megan was on Don’s naughty list after dragging him to the anti-capitalist, anti-advertising, anti- materialism play “America Hurrah.” We’re starting to see the strain of Megan’s acting plans on the Draper marriage, or rather, the strain of Megan's acting plans on Don, who said that he didn’t mind picking up the check for her friends, but not if they're going to insult him first. I have to wonder what the hell Megan was thinking, dragging Don to a play as potentially polarizing as “America Hurrah.”

Later, Joan referred to Megan as “perfect”—and Don hesitated when he agreed. The Megan he married was perfect, but the new Megan (or, more likely, the real Megan all along) doesn’t quite fit the mold that Don so loved. She was startled when Don was so openly offended by the play, but I think that if she'd truly considered the type of person Don is, she could have seen it coming. Don is aware of the artificial nature of advertising, but for a man whose entire existence is, essentially, a fabrication, he embraces that aspect of it. In a way, it’s beautiful, the idea that he can transform anything into whatever he needs or wants it to be. It’s a comfort, and it’s as much his identity as his favorite color, food or song. Though the message of “America Hurrah” is something along the lines of “advertising is bad/immoral/damaging,” Don read it as “Don Draper is bad/immoral/damaging.”

So, when the time came to visit Jaguar, having just witnessed Joan’s meltdown in Reception, Don chose to take her along instead. She looked like she could use the time out of the office, and really, at her core, Joan’s job has always been, essentially, to UNDERSTAND the men of SCDP. Knowing how to work a Xerox machine was just an added bonus.

They played off each other well and ended up at a bar, where Joan unloaded about the train wreck of her marriage and reminisced about the good old days, when she was called to Reception to pick up flowers, not divorce papers. Don said that his first week in the office, he thought she was dating Ali Khan, a notorious prince and playboy who was previously married to Rita Hayworth. Joan said her mother had raised her “to be admired.”

Oh god, they were so cute, and got even cuter when Don later sent Joan flowers with a note that read, “Your mother did a good job,” signed by "Ali Khan."

Please don’t sleep together and ruin it. Please, PLEASE don’t sleep together and ruin it.

And finally, Paul Kinsey returned from TV purgatory (without his pretentious beard, unfortunately) to pop in on Harry Crane and drag him to a Hari Krishna meeting. At first, the sight of Kinsey in full Krishna uniform was startling, and a little bit funny (I liked the beard, okay?); in the end it wasn’t terribly surprising at all. Kinsey has always been that guy trying to find himself. He will always be that guy trying to find himself, utilizing whatever the hip new self-actualization trend is to do so. He's just as ambitious and materialistic as his former co-workers, as illustrated by his disillusionment with the Krishnas, he just doesn’t want to admit it.

At the gathering, he introduced Harry to Lakshmi, the latest of his fashionably rebellious ladyfriends. He insisted that he was only in the Krishnas these days because she wouldn’t leave, and that if he achieved success as a writer, she would join him in enlightened suburban bliss. A good portion of Kinsey’s identity has always been based on his romantic partners; he's always seemed to choose them based on their potential to create controversy. His entire relationship with Sheila, back in Season 2, was based more on the moral superiority it afforded Kinsey over his peers, who balked at him dating a black woman, than for any feelings Kinsey had toward Sheila as a person.

So, enter Lakshmi, whom Kinsey professed a deep and sincere bond with, despite her troubled past and dedication to the Krishnas. Kinsey gave Harry a copy of a script he'd penned for the original Star Trek series and begged Harry to pass it on to someone at NBC. After reading it and declaring it terrible, Harry struggled with how to break the news to the guy he still considered to be very much a friend. Luckily, Lakshmi was there to make the decision easier. She showed up at the SCDP offices for a behind-locked-doors tango with Harry, calling it her duty to keep Kinsey with the Krishnas. He was their best recruiter, after all. But when faced with the question of whether she loved Kinsey like he claimed to love her, the answer was a resounding no.

And when Harry gave Kinsey $500 plus some convoluted lie about how his script was awesome but due to legal reasons, NBC couldn’t film it and Kinsey should never try to contact the network EVER, Kinsey was quick to take off for LA without Lakshmi in tow. While I’d love it if he surprised us all by not sucking at screenwriting after all, I won't be entirely surprised if we find out later that he met a quirky family by the name of Manson living on a ranch outside the city.

Observations and Questions:

– Don came home drunk from his not-date with Joan and hadn’t even bothered to call Megan, very much confirming Joan’s assertion that the only sin a woman committed whose husband cheated on her (or thought of it, or wanted it) was “being familiar.” Megan threw a dish against the wall. Don was completely unfazed and thought it was some of the kinky foreplay we’ve seen those two crazy kids get off on before. This relationship got really screwed up really fast, didn’t it?

– Roger kept trying to give Joan money to take care of the wee baby Kevin, which she kept refusing. I like that he’s owning up to fathering the kid on some level. You know, while I hate the idea of Joan and Don getting together, I always kinda liked Roger and Joan. And now that they’re both soon-to-be-officially-single... maybe? Probably not. But MAYBE? Thoughts?

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