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Mad Men, 5.10 “Christmas Waltz”

HO! HO! HO! It’s Christmastide in the Mad world. And we got presents! Some needed time with that bumbling Harry Crane. Don and Joan finally breaking some ice. And, most of all, the return of Paul as a member of the Hare Krishna movement and hopeful Star Trek screenwriter.

I was expecting a couple major plot points to be set up in this episode. In the past, Episode Ten’s have included some of the largest shifts that Mad Men can manage. It held true and the season’s endgame has been set up. Lane gambles the company in order to pay off some debt to her Majesty and Don appears to have bitten by a creative flea, pledging to earn the Jaguar account.

We’ll begin with Paul and Harry. And Lakshmi? A strong batch of minor character’s have colored Season 5. It is also clear that Weiner&co. enjoy giving special lines and episode theses to the smallest of participant. Howard’s wife has been the most recent, but this week we see Lakshmi, spiritual lover and governor of Paul’s soul. Of course, Harry gets the hots for this mildly attractive (and very frightening) woman and they carry on a little afternoon delight. Being a Christmas episode, it was timely for the show to do a bit of spiritual commentary. The writers seem to understand the maxim that sexual desire applies itself to each human situation. Religion is not an exception. Instead of aiming at Christianity, we are given a pretty patronizing glance at the Hare Krishna movement. Lakshmi’s equation of spiritual and sexual ecstasy can be understood as a direct ancestor of “free love” culture. Paul’s reappearance as a bottomed-out beggar was relevant as a temporal locator as well as a way to see the juxtaposition between Harry’s lifestyle and his own. Mad Men extends no kind hand to the slacker. Harry ends up giving him some money to escape and a bit of encouragement. It was crafty, but it was the least solid element of the episode. If the screenplay was so bad, why would Harry encourage Paul to travel across the country, leaving someone he loves (even though she’s scary), to try and succeed at something at which he is terrible? Regardless, Lakshmi is (predictably) given the crux of the show in a nutshell “Kinsey is living in a spiritual world… He’s out best recruiter. He really can close.” It’s all advertising.

Christmastide also brings to mind giving and receiving. Truly, the episode’s primary theme is “getting what you want.” Each of the explored character’s are plotted in a way that takes them through a state of need or desire. This is true for Lane, Harry, Paul, Lakshmi, and the junior staff at SCDP, but it’s more complicated for Don and Joan. After Joan is served with divorce papers, Don jumps into the phone booth, takes off his suit to reveal another, and comes to a studly rescue — Jaguar and all. The conversations in “Christmas Waltz” were exquisite. Peggy & Harry. Harry & Kinsey. Especially Don & Joan. They are the show’s two most sexual creatures and their energies smolder without rest. Yet they aren’t made to touch each other, so it all happens between them. Finally, at the bar, the sexual wall between them is taken down brick by brick. Joan has always understood Don’s idea of play and never called him on it. They are both allowed to exist in a singular sexual moment without a single touch. Hitchcock said that his dream was to play a love scene where no one touched each other. He almost gets his Christmas gift at both the Jaguar dealership and the bar.

The most striking element of Don and Joan’s afternoon/evening is that it gives us the tiniest glimpse of a stronger womanhood. It’s always startling to look back on the pilot and see how far we’ve come. Slowly, women are being allowed a dash of the respect they deserve. And it’s never played explicitly. At the Draper household, Megan orders Don to sit down and eat dinner with her after being out with Joan. Instead of throwing his own tantrum, he submits. It’s a strange moment of growth for the two of them and for us as an audience. Lots of people are saying, “all is not well in the Draper household.” Is this news? Don will, by the end of this season, understand that he is the weak link in relationships, not the women. I still hold my ground that Don and Megan will remain married for the remainder of the series. There was something else curious about this scene. For the billionth time, we see Don understand anger as sexual energy — especially with Megan. Is this being set up for something? He “killed off” that demon at the beginning of the season. His faithfulness is the biggest question on many people’s minds. I think he’s capable and I welcome a changed Draper.

One place the writers won’t allow him to change for too long is at the workplace. Motivated by the pressures of women, Megan and Joan, Don gives yet another rousing speech of (is it shocking anymore?) staid but decorated integrity. It sets up the endgame for the season. Do they get Jaguar? Does Lane just fuck everything up?

What do you think?

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