“The Christmas Waltz” pares down Christmas to what it perceives to its core: cheap imagery, vapid sentiment and loneliness. The singer views the scene from the outside looking in. The surroundings, intended to spark inward cheer, are just surroundings. There’s no romance. There’s no depth. Sort of like an impressionist painting, the song (“and this song of mine in three-quarter time”) acknowledges its own artificiality. This episode, similarly, deals with appearances and deception.
Harry, it turns out, does more than inhale burgers, switch offices and want to go a few rounds with Megan. He meets up with the long lost Paul Kinsey who, since being jettisoned during the great escape, has hit rock bottom and becomes a hare krishna.
Hare Krishna is about removing illusions and materialism to embrace the true love of god. Paul thinks he’s experiencing the true love of a female member of the movement, “Lakshmi,” who looks much like Juliette Lewis. In a twist, she’s more cynical of a mad man then the Mad Men. She seduces Harry and leads Paul on to keep him in the movement, because he’s their “best closer.” Instead of escaping his former life, Paul is serving a new master with a shaved head.
Harry feels bad for Paul. He’s compassionate, though not virtuous, sleeping with Lakshmi with the most flimsy of assurances. He faces the choice to be honest with Paul or let him delude himself. He encourages him about the screenplay and gives him $500 and a ticket to Los Angeles to go pursue his dream.
Lane is having tax problems. Resolving his own identity, caught between Britain and America, has been nebulous. His legal status reflects this as well, with the UK government claiming he owes back taxes and wanting to “make an example of him.” Instead of confronting the issue and being honest with those around him, Lane turns to embezzlement.
He obtains a credit line on false pretenses, tells everyone it is a surplus and suggests issuing bonuses to cover his tracks. He forges Don’s signature on a check to pay off the person helping him. Unfortunately, Mohawk Airlines suspends advertising, causing the partners to decline accepting bonuses. He also tells his wife he is landing the Jaguar account, to convince her not to go back to Britain. Lane is left in a sticky wicket, unless they land the Jaguar account and the cash starts rolling in?
Joan also returns this episode. She compensates for her personal life by never letting her guard down at work, subtly manipulating people. Being served with her divorce papers pierces through that shell. She reveals her true feelings about the secretary she subtly derided in an earlier episode and, uncharacteristically, flips out in the middle of the office. Don comes to her rescue, dragging her out of the office as his faux wife to go test drive a Jaguar and have drinks. She goes along with the ruse though remains honest. They do have four kids, altogether.
The chemistry between Don and Joan is infectious. Like Prince’s guitar solos, that pure brilliance has to be restrained and meted out sparingly lest it kill everything surrounding it. Both characters truly grasp the bullshit of it all and manipulate their way through every social interaction. Only with each other do they recognize a peer and let their guard down. Note Joan’s subtle disgust with a backhanded comment every time Don’s marriage to Megan gets brought up.
Don, essentially, encourages Joan to keep playing the game. He takes off drunk in an exquisite Jaguar XKE [warning: car porn] he does not crash to let her dance with a guy at the bar. Don thought she was dating “Ali Khan” once. By thoughtfully sending flowers, he gives her the chance to let others think so. Perhaps through that conversation and the fights with Megan over the play criticizing advertising and him being late for dinner – “You loved it before you me” – Don resolves to be Don Draper again (see rousing Jaguar speech) or to give the appearance of it.
[Photo via Jordin Althaus/AMC]