Considering how defined the characters on Mad Men are by their pursuit of achievement, it’s not hard to imagine any of them being done near irreparable harm by the realization that perhaps they’re not fit – or no longer fit – for the world of advertising. Given the effort the likes of Don (Jon Hamm), and especially, Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) have put in to attain such a career, seeing them stumble, as they have of late, is particularly worrisome when the end result of consistent failure is so dreadfully realized in the return of Paul Kinsey (Michael Gladis).
Thankfully, the more fragile personalities of SCDP are largely spared the vision of a Hare Krishna Kinsey – which is a good thing, taking into account that the ego-battering of work of Michael Ginsberg (Ben Feldman), and the effortless, drifting success of Megan Draper (Jessica Paré) have already taken a rather sizeable toll.
‘Christmas Waltz’ moves Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce a little closer to the end of 1966, but with little to show for it. Mohawk is ceasing its advertising in the wake of a mechanics strike, and the agency’s only claim to fame is Don’s letter to Lucky Strike – which inadvertently steered most of the really big fish away from the agency. In addition, none of their work is seen as revolutionary enough to warrant mention in a New York Times Sunday Magazine piece. In essence, the company’s creative side has a stagnation problem – which would normally mean no Christmas bonuses, but since Lane Pryce (Jared Harris) owes some back taxes to England, he figures passing off a new line of credit as a surplus will justify the bonus he uses to pay the sum off.
Pete (Vincent Kartheiser) seems to be the only one finding success – in work, anyway – and manages to get the agency another shot at Jaguar, following the dismissal of the poorly behaved Edwin Baker. As is the case with Pete, the response to his achievement isn’t what he’s looking for, and so he barks at Don, “Yes, you may have to stay past 5:30,” after Don mentions landing Jaguar will be a lot of work.
Bert Cooper (Robert Morse) isn’t the only one who’s noticed Don’s lack of productivity. It seems work just isn’t what it used to be for Don, and his performance on Sno Ball proves it. Making matters worse, Don and Megan attend the play American Hurrah, where a character goes on about the evils of advertising – which later causes a row between the couple, ending with Don telling Megan, “No one’s made a stronger stand against advertising than you.”
Like the deadly smog keeping Don from opening his patio door on Thanksgiving in ‘Dark Shadows,’ there is a cost for what they’ve built. Whether it’s a company, a reputation or a relationship, the taxes are coming due – so to speak – and it’s becoming clear that not everyone is going to have what it takes when the time comes to get square.
Poor Paul Kinsey has to be made the example in this case. Since being left behind following the slapdash formation of SCDP, Kinsey apparently fell down the advertising ladder and was spit out to become a Hare Krishna with dreams of settling down with a woman going by the name Lakshmi (Anna Wood) and writing for Star Trek. Paul wrangles Harry Crane (Rich Sommer) into attending a group chant, so that afterward, he can ask his friend to pass along his spec script to NBC.
Unfortunately for Paul, his writing’s no good, and worse yet, Lakshmi shows up at Harry’s office, seduces him, then tells him to stay away from Paul – the group’s best recruiter – so as to not turn Kinsey into a “gross materialist.” Following that encounter, Harry decides it best to pay Paul’s way to Los Angeles, where he can fail thousands of miles away from him and the Hare Krishnas.
Joan (Christina Hendricks) is served divorce papers at the office, and following a semi-violent outburst, is taken to test drive a Jaguar with Don. If Don found it easy to get what he wanted from people before, with Joan on his arm, the world is definitely his oyster. The two whittle away the afternoon in a bar, where Don reveals he doesn’t get a thrill out of the Jag, and Joan tells him it’s because he’s happy. On the other hand, Joan is terrified that she’s destined to be a single mother now that she’s being delivered divorce papers at work when she’s so used to getting flowers.
Amidst a discussion of the struggle that comes with starting over, Joan wonders why Don never put the moves on her, explaining, “My mother raised me to be admired.” Don tells her he was afraid of her, and jokingly thought she was dating Ali Kahn. Don deflects Joan’s attention toward a guy sitting by himself at the bar. The pair does a good job psychoanalyzing the man, assuming he’s married, but bored – his wife having committed the sin of familiarity. Don opts out at that point, giving Joan some “Mad Money” in case the guy at the bar doesn’t work out.
Taking the Jaguar back to the dealer, Don drives it rather furiously, suggesting he may need a thrill more than he thought. He arrives home drunk to find Megan itching for a fight – a state she seems in more and more, lately – and she reminds him he loved his job and had it long before he ever met her.
At the office the next day, Roger delivers Joan some flowers with a card that reads: “Your mother did a good job. Ali Kahn.” Don’s not done there; he rallies his troops, telling them they’ll be working non-stop until they land Jaguar – as an agency’s first car is how they tell the world they’ve arrived. It looks as though Don may finally be ready to start over.
Kevin Yeoman blogs at Screen Rant.