The last episode of Mad Men, prior to Sunday's, was set at Thanksgiving. This one, titled "Christmas Waltz," is in the lead-up to another holiday. As a Christmas present of our own, we got some plot lines bringing old characters together again. Most notably: There was a revival of the Harry Crane/Paul Kinsey relationship. Where's Kinsey been since he left the agency? He's become a Hare Krishna, of course. But let's backtrack.
The first part of the episode was focused on Harry and Paul, as well as on financial problems faced by the ever-troubled Lane Pryce (phones ringing in the dark are never a good thing, not on this show, not anywhere). He owes back taxes in England, apparently, and needs $8,000 in two days, his lawyer says. You know there's big trouble to come with this plot line—we see him in this episode signing himself checks with a certain someone else's name. But before his misdoings are discovered, and surely they will be, Lane is busy sneaking around, trying to come up with cash and lying to everyone and his wife, and everyone else is going about their business unsuspectingly, not thinking that Lane's announcement that there's a surplus of cash and they should give Christmas bonuses is anything but above board.
Ah, the Harry Crane/Paul Kinsey plot line: This is the '60s, so Paul's head is shaved and he's dressed in a lemon meringue colored toga. He has met a Juliette-Lewis lookalike named Lakshmi, whom he's convinced he's in love with (she's convinced he's the best recruiter the Hare Krishnas have got). Harry arrives at...Hare Krishna HQ?...and proceeds to meditate with the rest of them. Lakshmi proceeds to get close to Harry, possibly suspecting he plans to get Paul away from the clutches of the group. Paul tells Harry, "I was at rock bottom," and of Lakshmi, "I want to make a life with her."
Speaking of "making life": There's a quick interlude with Joan and Roger, back at the office. Roger tells her he'll cover the baby—Kevin; who names a baby Kevin?—through college, Joan says no. Have we gotten the full 100 percent admittance from both of these characters that the baby is Roger's? We do here. "We created a human life, we made a baby," says Roger. Unlike pretty much anyone else at the agency and elsewhere, Joan is not swayed to take Roger's money.
Meanwhile, Megan and Don are at a play, America Hurrah, which Weiner uses to demonstrate Don's increasing conflict with advertising and the tension between Megan and Don over the industry she's chosen to leave. A character in the play rails against TV ads; Don watches, stone-faced, and when they return to the apartment, just wants a drink. He tells Megan, "I don't mind picking up the check for your friends, but not if they make fun of me first," and then, "No one's made a stronger stand against advertising than you." Ouch.
Paul passes a speculative episode of Star Trek to his buddy Harry, so Harry can pass it to NBC, but, alas, it's not good, and Harry is faced with the conundrum of what to tell his friend, the wannabe Hare Krishna and wannabe scriptwriter who's not all that good at being either. (Paul's skills, which Lakshmi attempts to keep with the Krishnas by later seducing Harry—so many male fantasies with two-dimensional women this season!—are of course in recruitment, the most advertising-like of the options.)
Here's the "zen koan" of the episode, though, a fact that applies to every single character in this show. Kinsey says, "Sometimes I think Krishna doesn't even like me....It's the same place everywhere I go." As each character struggles with who they are and who they want to be, from Don Draper, Peggy Olson, Betty Francis, Roger Sterling, Joan Holloway, Megan Draper, and on and on...it's the same place everywhere they go, because location, the color of your robes, the company you keep means nothing, and you can't change your life until you change who you are. Thank you, Dr. Therapist Matthew Weiner!
The episode picks up a bit largely because we get some Joan, who has the power to make every episode a bit brighter. She's been served by the jerky doctor-military man, her soon-to-be-former husband, who's asking her for a divorce. This pisses her off—as if he has the moral high ground, as if—and her rage finds the target of the unwitting receptionist who's let the guy who serves Joan into the office. After she smashes the model Mohawk plane on the girl's desk, Don extricates Joan from the office, puts her in his coat, and they play man and wife for a few hours, test-driving a Jaguar for "research purposes" (the client is up for grabs again).
They end up at a bar, because everyone always ends up at a bar, that's the place they go when they want to be someone different, if only for a while, and Joan confesses that things, too, are different now. "It used to be if someone needed me in reception they'd send me flowers." Don confesses he's been afraid of Joan; Joan says that Don's found someone better for him anyway, meaning Megan: "Someone perfect." It is unclear if Don agrees, but he eventually leaves Joan to the possibly married man across the bar. Joan says of that man's imagined wife, "I bet she's not ugly. The only sin she's committed is being familiar." Don responds, "He doesn't know what he wants, but he's wanting," and Joan says, "Maybe it's just the way he is. And maybe it's just the way she is." Dialogue again applicable for pretty much every character on this show, including Harry Crane, who's back at the office having sex with Lakshmi. She slaps him when, after sex, she tells him she's trading the only thing she has to keep Paul with the Hare Krishnas and he says, "You already gave it away."
Back at the Draper residence, Megan suspects something is up with Don, and rages when he gets home, throwing her plate at the wall and ordering him to have dinner with her. Again, there's a work conversation, with Don saying it's different at the office now (presumably without Megan) and Megan saying "You loved it before you even met me." Later, Roger delivers flowers to Joan at the office; the card is signed "Your mother did a good job. Ali Khan"—of course they're from Don, in reference to a conversation the two had a the bar.
The episode ends with two scenes about money. Harry gives Paul $500 to get away from the krishnas, to go to L.A., to try his luck at writing. Paul seems to accept. And back at the agency, all are gathered round for the good news that the junior folks in the office will be getting bonuses but, also, will be working through the holidays on the Jaguar pitch. "When we land Jaguar, the world will know we've arrived," says Don, and everyone claps. Fine words. But it's the same place, everywhere they go.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.