By Cynthia Littleton
There was a Pedro Almodovar touch to this episode. It was titled “Christmas Waltz” but might as well have been “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.”
Model planes and new china went flying, Don and Joan went on a mini-bender that yielded some of the best dialogue of the season, and Paul Kinsey reemerged after three seasons, more deluded than ever. So much to love in this seg, written by Victor Levin and Matthew Weiner and sharply directed by Michael Uppendahl.
Clearly there was also a strong undercurrent theme dealing with faith, which was hammered home at the end by the sign that Don Draper has found his religion again in the Madison Avenue parish. The closing scene provided a great Don Draper speech, proving that speeches aren’t necessarily a bad thing so long as they’re in character (and well written). Plus, it had the extra benefit of showing up applause-starved Pete Campbell, who’s been awfully huffy with his senior partners lately.
Layne Price has probably signed his ticket out of the agency by forging that check. He’s violated his faith as a CPA and will lose credibility with Joan et al once the check and the $50,000 bump in the agency’s line of credit is discovered. The Sterling Cooper Draper Price banker took it on faith from Layne’s assurance that the agency could afford the credit bump. Now with Mohawk Airlines pulling its billings, they’re going to be in an even deeper hole. Good thing Don didn’t crash that XKE!
Back to the women. Finally, we got the Joan episode we’d been waiting for. Christina Hendricks and Jon Hamm are so good together it’s just a joy to watch. It’s a rare TV example of a male-female friendship that runs very deep and firmly platonic. That’s part of why it works, why the exchange between them about what men want vs. women was so powerful. Even if they’d been twice as drunk, we knew they weren’t going to wind up in bed together. They like each other too much for that. Don realized it was his turn to be the fixer for Joan, to be the supportive one who could speak from experience about divorce, about moving on to greener pastures. He might’ve been a little aggressive in prodding her to scope out the immediate prospects in the bar, but he also knows that Joan is no church mouse and maybe it’s time for her to get back on the horse, so to speak.
The scene with Joan and the Sterling Cooper receptionist was so good and so unexpected that I played it back right on the spot (I rarely do that out of concern for breaking the flow). I suppose it was foreshadowing of Mohawk Airlines falling apart (at least temporarily). The indignant response from the dopey receptionist – “you’re not allowed to do that!” – speaks volumes for how much femme attitudes have changed in the six-year time span of the show. In season one, she would’ve ducked and trembled but never spoken up for herself.
Megan’s scene with Don was also a times-they-are-a-changin’ moment. She expects consideration from Don, and she expects him to do what he says he’s going to do. And instead of chafing at her insistence, he appreciates that she cares enough to throw a plate at the wall on his behalf. And in the same breath offer him cheese (that was a laugh-out-loud moment essayed by Jessica Pare) for his pasta.
More importantly to the plot of this episode and this season, Megan’s thinking-out loud about Don losing his love for his work gets him thinking. She may drag him to pretentious experimental theater, but she’s really a good mate for him. She’s got more insight to her husband after a year than Betty did after 10 years of marriage. She’s sharp enough to not let him bulldoze her, like when she points out that he’s not just missing her from the agency and that he loved his work long before she came and left the scene.
Now to Paul Kinsey. A wonderful surprise, and couldn’t you’d have guessed that he’d wind up a Hare Krishna – an unhappy one at that! -- after plumbing the depths of second- and third-rate ad agencies. The whole storyline was fantastic from start to finish, from the rancid “Star Trek” spec script to his scheming girlfriend plumbing the depths of Harry Crane (“So this is completely allowed?”) in order to slug him and scare him away, for the sake of the movement and its best recruiter (“Boy, can he close,” she marvels.) Harry being Harry, of course, does the opposite. This show is never predictable, but I think it’s safe to say this won’t be the last we’ll see of pitiful Paul.
A few other observations before bedtime:
** Roger was affected by the 25th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, probably more as a personal milestone for his life than in the life of the nation. He’s also obviously not going to let it go with Joan about the little matter of her having given birth to his son.
** Don’s point about advertising agencies being defined by the cars they represent is kinda like how many people are about their wheels. And when he tells Joan that the sleek-and-sexy XKE doesn’t do anything for him, she wisely explains that he doesn’t need that gratification, because he’s happy. That was another way we knew they weren’t going to change the boundaries of their relationship.