Lane digs into a deep financial hole, Joan and Don shop for a Jaguar, and Harry discovers Paul Kinsey has joined the Hare Krishnas

By Adam B. Vary
Updated May 21, 2012 at 12:06 PM EDT
Jordin Althaus/AMC

Mad Men

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“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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NEXT PAGE: “A speculative episode of the hit television show Star Trek.”

Barely into its first season, Gene Roddenberry’s Wagon Train to the stars was hardly anyone’s idea of a bona fide hit — Harry rightly wondered aloud if the show would even see the second season Kinsey believed should open with his script, with the could-not-be-more-perfect title “The Negron Complex.” (The real season 2 premiere of Star Trek: the classic episode “Amok Time,” in which Spock transformed into a fire-blooded horn-dog with a life-or-death need to mate.)

I immediately thought back to the sci-fi oeuvre of Ben Hargrove (i.e. Ken Cosgrove), and the comparison proved apt. Whereas Ken had turned to penning genre fiction as a way to satisfy a need he wasn’t filling by gladhanding clients — in other words, as a way of keeping himself happy — Kinsey’s motivations were all about chasing after the approval of others. “Everybody else looks so happy,” he whined to Harry. Life with the Krishnas was like life everywhere else; he was constantly overthinking how to please his guru, and convinced it wasn’t working. “He doesn’t like me. No one likes me. Sometimes I think Krishna doesn’t even like me. No one but Lakshmi.”

Harry was in a real bind. Kinsey desperately wanted him to show the script to NBC, even to “Mr. Roddenberry,” but beyond the obvious conflict of interest, the script was awful. I loved Peggy’s reaction to reading the title — “Is it going to give me a case of the ‘nee-groan complex’?” — and her advice to Harry: Just tell him the script is bad. “I think it was really hard for him [to write],” Harry whined. “Then he shouldn’t be doing it,” said Peggy.

The show could have cut from this conversation to Harry’s final scene with Kinsey, and it would have had almost the same impact. Instead, for no obvious reason, Lakshmi showed up at Harry’s office. She threw herself at Harry, quite literally bending over his desk, less a character than Harry’s wet daydream made flesh. “I’m burning for you,” she said, assuring Harry that there is no such thing as monogamy within the Krishnas. “Does your wife burn for you?” But after they were done, in a sudden hairpin turn Lakshmi turned from pliable sex toy to rigid taskmaster, telling Harry she’d boinked him “for the movement,” and ordering him to tell Kinsey the truth about his bad teleplay and then stay away from him so he can be happy where he is, where he’s needed: “He’s our best recruiter. I mean, he really can close.” In a group that eschewed possessions, she was using “the one thing I have” to get what she wanted. “But you already gave it away,” said Harry, prompting Lakshmi to slap the glasses off his face.

Rarely has an episode of Mad Men been so wildly successful with a character so wildly not. The one salient point of these scenes — that Kinsey was of real use to the Krishnas, even if he didn’t see it — was overshadowed by a tangled clump of muddled motivations. Was she trying to cajole Harry, or scare him? Why drop the come hither act if he’s so wrapped around her finger? If Kinsey discovered her betrayal, wouldn’t he be compelled to leave the Krishnas? And yet Lakshmi practically dared Harry to tell Kinsey about their workplace shenanigans along with the truth about his script. If the nuance was meant to be that Lakshmi’s insecurity fed into her instability, the performance never found it. Even Harry just seemed confused about the whole thing. I suppose their hanky-panky was meant to mirror Joan’s subsequent analysis of straying married men, but that would’ve felt far more interesting, and poignant, had Lakshmi’s aggressive seduction not so stacked the deck. Bottom line: I did not buy the character, period.

If anything, Lakshmi’s behavior made Harry’s ultimate decision — to lie about the script and bankroll Kinsey’s immediate departure for Los Angeles — easier to make: Get Paul away from this bizarre woman. Kinsey’s reaction, though, was no less heartbreaking. “You don’t understand what it’s like out there,” Harry told him of the city where making dreams real is the stock-in-trade. “This failure. This life? It’ll all seem like it happened to someone else.” Kinsey drank it up like a tonic, his eyes wide and pleading, giving Harry a deep, lasting hug. “You know,” Kinsey said softly, “all these people said they’d do something for me. And you’re the first one who did.” Harry took the words like a punch to the gut, but I’m a bit more ambivalent about Kinsey’s future. He wasn’t truly happy with the Krishnas, and if Lakshmi was trying to protect him, she really is the “worst girlfriend ever.” Whether a man with nothing to his name but mediocre talent and a chip on his shoulder can find true bliss in Hollywood is another thing altogether.

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NEXT PAGE: Hell hath no fury like Joan Harris (née Holloway) scorned

If Kinsey was incapable of making an honest assessment of himself, Joan was all too eager to embrace the tough choices she’s been facing since she chose to have Roger Sterling’s child. She’d even refused to accept Roger’s help, returning all the money he’d sent her for support. (I’d always suspected Roger knew he was the kid’s father — his “Where’s my baby?!” comment from the season premiere felt like a deliberate Roger Sterling provocation to me.) When Roger pressed the issue, she even raised the possibility of cutting him off entirely from Kevin’s life. “We made a baby!” protested Roger, already three sheets celebrating the anniversary of Pearl Harbor. “Yes, and now it’s some other lucky girl’s turn,” said Joan with more edge than maybe was warranted.

The following day, though, Joan’s tough façade was shattered when she was served divorce papers in the SCDP lobby. Livid with no place to put her anger, Joan ripped into the receptionist with gusto for letting the process server anywhere near her. “You’re an idiot!” screamed Joan. “Do you understand having you out here is the same as having no one?!” But, but, but, the man said he wanted it to be a surprise! “Here’s a surprise!” Joan said, grabbing the Mohawk Airlines model plane, and smashing it onto the desk. “Surprise! There’s an airplane here to see you!” Even when she’s totally losing her s—, Joan is The. Best. Ever.

Don had stumbled upon Joan’s tirade in time to see her destroy the symbol of SCDP’s most high profile client, and he whisked her off to the elevators. I’m going to take a quick step back, since Don’s storyline became so entangled with Joan’s. The malaise of Megan’s absence from the office had begun to weigh on him. He couldn’t get it up for the news that Pete had won back the Jaguar business. “It’s a lot of work,” he sighed. “Yes — you may have to stay past 5:30,” snapped Pete. “I’d live here if I thought it was more than a pipe’s dream,” Don retorted, limply. (I’m pretty sure Don said “a pipe’s dream” and not “a pipe dream” here — any idea why?) Megan taking Don to the avant garde anti-consumerism play America Hurrah by Jean-Claude van Itallie didn’t help his mood either. “I didn’t think it was such a strong stand against advertising as much as the emptiness of consumerism,” offered Megan. “We all know no one’s made a stronger stand against advertising than you,” snapped Don.

The next day, Pete again goaded Don into test driving a Jaguar, suggesting he bring Megan along. Don was hardly enthusiastic. “You know, if I told you last December that we’d be in the running for a car, you would’ve kissed me on the mouth,” said Pete. “Maybe you and I should go as a couple,” Don joked. I’d forgotten that unlike his feelings for practically everyone else in the office, Pete actually respects Don, even idolizes him; he didn’t like seeing his hero being so…so…lazy. Whatever mojo Don’s rivalry with Ginsberg had brought him in last week’s episode had withered, leaving only glib apathy behind. (Still, that was a funny line.)

Thank goodness for Joan, then. Seeing her so fired up in the lobby ignited Don’s dormant chivalry, and he dragooned her into being his date to test drive a Jaguar. For a brief moment, the two indulged in the fantasy that they indeed were married, and hot damn, did they make for a good team. Don eyed the Mark 2, which the slick dealer called “a car for the American road” — clearly, there was a tag line ready to go for the car. It could sit a family, fill the wide American roads far better than those twisty, skinny streets in Europe. It was the sensible Jaguar. But then Joan zeroed in on the XK-E (or E-class), a bright red two-seater sitting at the back of the dealership: “Oh honey, what’s that?”

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NEXT PAGE: The most beautiful car ever made

“That’s the most beautiful car ever made,” responded the (apparently clairvoyant) dealer. It was indeed a dream of a car, designed to be admired. “I’m thinking about payin’ to have you drive around in this,” said the dealer to Joan, knowing exactly the right thing to say at exactly the right time. (If I was Don, I would’ve hired the guy on the spot, conflict of interest be damned.) But as much as he admired the car, and Joan, the dealer was not about to let this handsome couple drive off in it without him. The old Don Draper began to rumble. He pulled out his checkbook. One retainer check for $600 $6,000 later, and Don and Joan had zoomed out of the place, and over to a hotel bar, where they toasted their ingenuity. (UPDATE: Apologies for the typo. Of course it was $6,000.)

Don, though, was surprisingly unmoved by the automobile they’d commandeered for the day. “I don’t know what it is,” he said. “That car does nothing for me.” Joan, as always, had a ready answer: “It’s because you’re happy. You don’t need it.” The conversation, however, quickly turned back to Joan, and her impending divorce from “Dr. Capt. Harris,” as Joan put it with not a small lump of contempt. “He’s divorcing me,” she continued. “Like he has the moral high ground.” But what was really burning Joan was that she’d been served at the office, her sanctuary, the one realm she could rule on her terms. Used to be, someone needed to see her in reception, they were sending flowers. Don laughed. “My first week here, I thought you were dating Ali Khan.” Joan smiled, “My mother raised me to be admired.”

The electricity between them was exhilarating. They flirted with abandon, still in the afterglow of their marital fantasy, while letting truths small and large slip out of their mouths with ease, truths they wouldn’t admit to anyone else.

Don congratulated her on the divorce, allowing her to finally move on from a bad situation. “Start over?” asked Joan. “With a baby? On what date do you share that news?”

“Right after you go all the way,” joked Don. “You’ll find somebody better.”

“You did, didn’t you?” Joan said, her voice pitching higher. “You found someone perfect.”

“I did. I feel like the office misses her.”

“Maybe I should have kept her at reception.”

Several drinks later (for Don, anyway), the bar had filled up with holiday revelers. Don turned up the flirtation, asking Joan to dance. She laughed and demurred, never not fully aware of the situation she was in. “You and me in midtown? You with that look on your face?” The statement conjured the memory of something Bobbie Barrett, Don’s sexually forward affair from season 2, once told Don about himself: “I like being bad, and going home and being good.” (Yes, this was from the same episode where Don infamously, ahem, pressured Bobbie in the ladies powder room to get what he needed out of her.) Joan grinned knowingly. “I bet that stuck to your ribs.” Don winced. “It was a disaster.” Joan knew better, and her next words speak for many Mad Men viewers who’ve lamented how boring this new, healthy, happy, family oriented Don has become: “And you enjoyed every minute of it. God. I miss that.”

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NEXT PAGE: Don changes the subject

With the conversation focused uncomfortably on him, Don shifted gears, and clocked a guy eyeing Joan from across the bar. It was Joan’s turn to be unmoved. “Who do you think he is?” she asked. “Advertising? Insurance? Lawyer? And who do you think is waiting at home? I bet she’s not ugly. The only sin she’s committed is being familiar.”

“So you think it’s all him?” asked Don.

“Because she can’t give him what he wants,” Joan replied, more of a statement than a question.

“Because he doesn’t know what he wants. But he’s wanting.”

“He knows,” Joan said, knowing full well the conversation was no longer about the stranger. “It’s just the way he is. And maybe it’s just the way she is.”

Don took the hint, and left, alone, under the pretense that he was leaving Joan to flirt with her stranger. “Poor me, I struck out,” he joked, kinda. “Who’s going to believe that?” Joan sighed back.

Don returned home to a royally pissed off Megan. Years of keenly observing her parents’ marriage disintegrate had taught her well the warning signs: Leaving work at lunch, then coming home late and drunk and without even a phone call home. Megan exploded, flinging her plate of spaghetti against a wall. Don was startled to realize this wasn’t foreplay, and startled again when Megan ordered him to sit down. “You are going to eat dinner, with me.” Don sat, confused and chagrined and also, I think, impressed. After a long silence, Megan spoke, the anger replaced with sadness. “You used to love your work,” she sighed. Don went for the same easy answer — “Well, it’s different there now” — but as she has so often this season, Megan didn’t let him off the hook. “You loved it before you ever met me.” In their own ways, Joan and Megan both reminded Don of his past self. Joan missed the Don who reveled in his own bad behavior; Megan missed the Don who devoted himself to his work.

Their words clearly worked, coaxing Don to deliver such a rousing speech to his coworkers, I’ve transcribed it in its entirety:

“Last year at this time, whether you knew it or not, the survival of this company was on the line. I look at the faces in this room who have given their all to this tenuous recovery, and I say, prepare to take a great leap forward. Prepare to swim the English channel and drown in champagne. There are six weekends between now and the pitch. We are going to spend them all here. We are going to celebrate Christmas here. We are going to ring in the new year, together. And in the end, we will represent Jaguar, and it will be worth it. Every agency on Madison Avenue is defined by the moment they got their car. When we land Jaguar, the world will know we’ve arrived.”

Here’s my question, though: Can Don rekindle the version of himself that Megan missed without also awakening the one missed by Joan? Can he be an ace at work without also being a cad?

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NEXT PAGE: Lane gets himself, and his company, into a scary financial hole

Poor Lane Pryce, meanwhile, has no gorgeous Greek chorus observing and commenting on his every action; he’s stuck with his lapsed conscience. In his long absence from the show this season, the money man for SCDP made some sizable errors on his taxes, neglecting to pay Her Majesty’s portion to the tune of $8,000. The details of the predicament were kept deliberately, frustratingly vague, but that was the point: It didn’t matter why Lane was in dire financial straits, just how terribly he handled the situation once he was in it. (I did expect Lane’s money issues to be tied up somehow with that odd gangster’s mol from the premiere; that’s an uncomfortable shoe that I guess will drop later on, or not at all.)

With two days to come up with the funds, instead of asking for any sort of legitimate help, Lane secured a $50,000 SCDP line of credit from the bank, told his fellow partners it was a surplus, and tried to maneuver the money into immediate Christmas bonuses for everyone at work. Don put the breaks on that decision, preferring that they wait until the Christmas party — it wasn’t ever quite clear to me why (whose face did he not want to see for a month if the checks went out early? Megan’s because she’d quit before they were made? Dawn’s because she wouldn’t be getting one?), but it meant that Lane had to resort to sneaking into the office late at night and forging a check to himself for $7,500 under Don’s signature.

But when it did come time to announce the bonuses (which only appeared to be a few days later), Lane tripped over another wrinkle: Mohawk Airlines mechanics were on strike, so the company was pulling all their advertising to save their bottom line. The result: All the partners deferred their bonuses until January, leaving Lane’s check dangling in the breeze. That original $50,000 line of credit was predicated on a strong first quarter, but now landing the Jaguar account — the account that Lane used to keep his wife from going back to England for Christmas, lying to her that he’s the one who’d won it back — was even more critical than anyone knew.

So the stage is set for the final three episodes. Do you think SCDP will land the Jaguar account? (And if they do, will anyone foul it up for them?) When and how do you think Lane’s fiduciary malfeasance will come to account? Could Don’s flowers and note to Joan — “Your mother did a good job. Ali Khan” — have been any sweeter? And do you think Roger’s sad sack reaction to them — “How many times have I left you alone with a card from another man?” — suggests any hope of Roger taking on a more official role as Kevin’s father? Dr. Capt. Harris is bound for Vietnam, after all.

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