“May your New Year’s dreams come true.” It’s the cooing aspiration at the center of “The Christmas Waltz,” the song that shares its title with last night’s episode of Mad Men. And it could scarcely be more fitting for an hour spent exploring the tension between the stiff, cold facts of your life as it is, and the cozy hope of unrealized dreams. Ride that tension right, and you could end up like Don, exhilarated, doubling down on his chosen profession, and rallying his entire agency behind him. But ride that tension wrong, and you could end up like Lane, breaking the law — and warping his company’s financial health — to fix a serious misfortune of his own making.
Much to the episode’s benefit, however, things weren’t laid out in such simple, stark terms. We also got to luxuriate in a longstanding dream of many Mad Men fans: an extended sequence between Joan and Don, in which the doyenne of SCDP proved once again why she’s the one person at her firm you do not want to mess with. And we had what may be the season’s official Blast From the Past in the form of Paul Kinsey (Michael Gladis), whose tumble from being cut loose at the end of Season 3 had led him — in a pitiable, priceless turn — to the nascent Hare Krishna movement. Joan and Paul’s respective confrontations with their lives as they are versus what they had hoped them to be were messier, more clouded with complications. Save for one incongruous interlude between Harry and Kinsey’s Krishna quasi-girlfriend, it all added up to my favorite episode since “Far Away Places” a month ago.
Let’s stay with Kinsey, since his transformation from bearded, pipe-smoking, liberal blow-hard to nearly bald, robe-wearing, “Krishna Krishna”-chanting disciple is certainly the thing that’s been blowing up Twitter feeds, message boards, and office hallways today. At first, Kinsey’s return felt to be all about that sight gag — but what a sight gag. Either Mad Men‘s makeup team did a fantastic job, or Michael Gladis really did shave his head for his return to the show, which had discarded him about as coldly as SCDP tossed away Paul Kinsey. That is dedication. Kinsey had badgered Harry’s assistant into forcing his old friend to come down to the Hare Krishna headquarters by threatening to come instead to Harry’s office. Driven by the guilt that he’d made it into the new firm when Kinsey hadn’t, Harry acquiesced and agreed to meet his buddy for the first time in years — only to find Kinsey transformed and counseling a prospective member that the Hare Krishnas “reject the material world in favor of the recognition of one’s true identity.” Harry, like everyone at home, was startled, and a bit incredulous. It wasn’t until he met the bedroom-eyed “Mother Lakshmi” (Anna Wood) that Kinsey’s metamorphosis made any sense to him.
Kinsey strong armed Harry into joining their “Hare Krishna” chant, but Harry didn’t really play along until Lakshmi started murmuring the words into his ear like they were a magic spell for creating boners. Once it was all over, at the behest of Lakshmi, an overcome Harry was whisked away by Kinsey for a bite to eat. En route, Kinsey explained that Lakshmi was a lost soul who’d turned to drugs and prostitution, only to be saved by the movement. Kinsey kept his own motivations for joining the Krishnas vague, saying only that he’d hit “rock bottom” — which would have been more frustrating if he hadn’t in practically the same breath said he was wary of their controlling precepts and yearned to start a new life with Lakshmi away from New York and the movement.
Harry, ever cynical, saw dollar signs in Kinsey’s eyes, and although Kinsey batted it away with a pat “money solves today, not tomorrow,” in a way, Harry was right: Lakshmi had said she didn’t want to leave the Krishnas for fear she’d fall back into old habits, which Kinsey interpreted to mean she would leave if he could provide her with financial security. And Kinsey had a fool-proof plan for how to deliver it:
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