Mad Men: Christmas Waltz

 

 

SONIA BRAND-FISHER: Like every waltz, like every Joan and Don flirtation, like every brilliant episode of “Mad Men,” everything must eventually come to an end. This is an episode that I wanted to keep going and going until the tension from an anxious, embezzling Lane Pryce, a pissed off Megan, a visually jolting Hare Krishna Paul Kinsey, and a magical date with Joan and Don wrapped itself together and consumed me whole. This episode, “Christmas Waltz,” played with ideas of absurdity and comfort while testing the limits of every character at its forefront.

Joan and Don. I was kvelling. The two most attractive characters on the show (yes, I am a Roger Sterling girl, but let’s be serious here) we got to see in an extended interaction with an on-screen chemistry reminiscent of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward: joyful, understanding, and sexy as hell. After Joan’s fiery display upon receiving the divorce papers from Greg (I can watch her call people “idiots” and throw things all day), Don intervenes and takes her out for a Jaguar and a drink. We learn, in their actions and conversation, so much about their relationship as co-workers and friends. Joan’s mother raised her to be admired. Joan “scared the shit out of” Don when he first started working at Sterling Cooper. Don knows the power of his charm, and so does Joan. These two characters could have given us Mad Men-iacs a catharsis long awaited, but they didn’t. They flirted and opened up and caused an earthquake of sexual tension while “Christmas Waltz” swirled around in the background. Yet despite the tension, there was a supreme comfort between Joan and Don that unites them on a level different, but similar, to the level that Peggy and Don share. There is an immense amount of respect between these two people, for all that they have seen together there is no reason why they shouldn’t give in to the irresistibility of the other. Don’s “G’night, Sweetheart” was poignant and romantic, and Joan left at the bar was another reminder, to her and to us, that sometimes there is supreme safety in solitude.

Paul Kinsey as a new member of hare krishna was a visual jaw-drop in the same way that fat Betty was. We can’t believe our eyes, the Orson Welles look-a-like has altered his appearance and his practices, but fundamentally he is still trying to rise in the ranks of wherever he may be. Though it was thoroughly enjoyable watching Harry Crane chanting with the hare krishna, he is going to go back to his life in the advertising world, his wife and child, and ultimately we feel that he is the lucky one. With the absurdity of Paul’s new get-up and his desperation in giving the Star Trek script to Harry, we sense his unhappiness, with no desire to really be truly that enlightened. I wonder if he is going to come back at all this season. I would welcome it, but I would welcome a Joan and Don hookup a little bit more.

HOWARD MEGDAL: For all of Roger Sterling’s fantastic lines this season- and there have been what, 900 of them?-nothing will resonate with me this season quite as much as Joan’s perfectly executed “Surprise! There’s an airplane here to see you!” thrown at the receptionist who, let’s face it, was eventually getting something thrown at her by someone.

I’ll take the opposing view from Sonia on a Don/Joan hookup. I’m glad it didn’t happen. To me, this was a perfect complement to the season four episode, “The Suitcase”, where Don and Peggy spend the night together without doing what Don Draper typically does when he spends the night with a woman. Other women are conquests for Don; even Megan, who is his wife, provides sexual satisfaction as part of her hold over Don.

Not Joan or Peggy. They can keep Don interested for an entire evening, and sex doesn’t have to enter the equation at all. In the Mad Men world, that elevates them both to a higher plane.

The return of Paul Kinsey, one of my favorite characters from earlier seasons, was painful. It was difficult to see him in such dire straits, and Harry Crane’s blunt actions- aren’t they all?- provided me, anyway, with a palpable sense of relief. I particularly enjoyed Harry’s post-coital moment of epiphany with Lakshmi, when she explained that she was trading the one thing she had to give Harry so he’d stay away from Paul, and Harry responded, “But you already gave it away.”

As for poor, hapless Lane, who seems to bend people to whatever the opposite of his will might be, he seems to merely be a proxy for another British import with hidden internal problems. Will SCDP acquire the Lane Pryce of cars, Jaguar, only to see the company itself fall under the weight of the new Lane debt?

Here’s hoping the lucky man who gets Joan doesn’t suffer the same fate that Aly Khan did.

About Sonia Brand-Fisher

My name is Sonia Brand-Fisher and I am a film studies major at Smith College. Interests include vintage film and fashion, fake-swing dancing to early Standards, cooking lavish meals that stem far outside of my culinary comfort zone, and musing over the implications behind all things aesthetically intriguing.
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