Wednesday, May 23, 2012

"Mad Men" recap: Merry Krishna

Spoilers for this week's episode of "Mad Men" below. Don't click through if you don't want to know.

So, again, I must start by apologizing for the extreme tardiness of this post. I had family commitments that kept me from watching this week's episode until late Monday and then wasn't available to post yesterday. Of course, this being so late, it might not be much of a recap. But I'll do my best.

This week's episode, "Christmas Waltz," was a fairly perfect example of the things I like best about "Mad Men" and the things I don't like at all. Let's start with the latter, shall we? Though this show often allows its characters to behave foolishly, it usually refrains from being judgmental or from mocking them outright. Yet, there are certain characters this show is fairly cruel to on a regular basis. The main one is Betty Draper who, as many critics point out, is pretty much the only character who has no positive characteristics to balance her often hateful and petty behavior (heck, even odious Pete Campbell is good enough at his job to make his creepy behavior occasionally tolerable).

Another character that the show almost always had no trouble mocking was Paul Kinsey (Michael Gladis), the pompous copywriter whom Peggy more or less deposed when she became Don's girl. Kinsey was always seen as the kind of character who was starving for validation and who would eagerly jump on the latest craze in a desperate attempt to be seen as cool. (Remember his short-lived relationship with the girl who took him on the civil rights bus?) He even ruined a shot at a relationship with Joan by blabbing to his buddies about his conquest.

Thus, it was no surprise that, when he surfaced this week, he'd found something new to latch onto -- the Hare Krishnas (also, he had shaved that magnificent beard he possessed when we saw him last, which I can in no way condone). Of course, that's a believable move for this character, particularly when we learn that he's chasing after fellow Krishna Lakshmi, who vaguely resembles a younger Juliette Lewis. But, whereas Roger's LSD trip a few episodes back was handled with dignity and intelligence, the emergence of the Krishnas into the "Mad Men" atmosphere seems like little more than an opportunity to make broad jokes.

Even Harry Crane gets to eventually feel superior to them, pointing out the obvious flaw in Lakshmi trying to trade sex for Harry's promise not to pull Paul out of the Krishnas. Yes, there's that brief moment when Harry gets into the chanting, and I hoped that this would be used as an opportunity to really explore the role these kinds of religious groups could play for lost boys like Harry and Paul. But ultimately, there's little attempt to anything three-dimensional or interesting with this storyline (thought we do, finally, get to see Harry behave like something approaching a decent human being, doing what he thinks is right by Paul. Whether encouraging his awful "Star Trek" script really is such a good idea is up for debate, but I believe Harry truly does want to help a friend). If they were going to bring Paul back, I would have hoped it would be in service of a better story.

I'm also a bit tired of the "pathetic Lane" stories. Yes, I realized his extending the agency's credit out of financial desperation could be the move that topples the fledgling business. But, while I agree that it's an important plot point, Lane's desperate moves aren't usually as compelling and well-drawn as Don's, Roger's or even Pete's. It's just sad. But, I'll allow it because, when this blows up in his face (as I expect it will), it could be epic.

But now let's talk about the good stuff in this episode. And man, was there some wonderful material here, particularly in the scenes between Don and Joan and between Don and Meagan. Let's start with Joan, shall we? Thank God we finally got another episode that gave us a heavy dose of Christina Hendricks, as Joan experiences some of the fallout from her ditching of Greg a few weeks back. Greg, being the grade-A scuzzbucket he is, finds a way to humiliate Joan on his way out the door, serving her with divorce papers at work. Her tremendous plane-flinging meltdown with the poor, dumb receptionist was one of Hendricks's best moments to date. Even when we know her world is crumbling, Joan usually manages to stay composed and calm and work. To see her crumble was shocking, to us, and to Don, who hustles her out of the office.

And thus began the best 10 minutes of this and, arguably, any show that has aired on TV in the past two weeks. In an echo of last season's beloved "The Suitcase" -- the one in which Don and Peggy have an episode-long bonding experience -- Don and Joan just hang out for a while. They go to the Jaguar dealership to test drive that gorgeous car (and to let Joan prove she's still got it by teasing the admiring sales guy). They go out for drinks. They talk, honestly, about divorce, marriage and their shared history with the agency. Hendricks and Jon Hamm are so good and have such amazing chemistry, I'm sad that the show doesn't give us more of them together. Of course, the two of them are so attractive that, if they shared more scenes, people might want Don and Joan to hook up, and I don't think that's the direction the show wants to take with these characters.

Still, it's lovely, including that coda in which Don sends Joan flowers with that perfect note, remarking that Joan's mother -- whom Joan says "raised me to be admired" -- did a good job. Sweet, funny, sexy and perfect.

Don's bookending scenes with Meagan are far less sweet, and reveal the ever-crumbling foundation of his marriage. She takes him to a play (a real play, "American Hurrah," by Jean-Claude van Itallie, which had its premiere in 1966), in which a character mocks advertising, and Don is hurt and angry. He's wounded to the point where he openly attacks Meagan for leaving the agency, and we see how he's still stinging from her departure. He later says he feels like the office misses her, but, obviously, it's Don who's missing his muse, sounding board, and afternoon quickie partner. When he comes home late after his liquid lunch with Joan, Meagan is furious (and not in a sexy way, Don finds out). She accuses him of being the one to abandon his work and points out that he loved his job long before she came along. This likely is what encourages Don to buck up and go back to being the office hero, rallying the troops to work around the clock to land Jaguar.

It's a rousing, excellent speech -- and a tad bittersweet, since we know the agency is in even more trouble than Don realizes. Also, do we really think they're going to get that car?

Anyway, here are some more of my thoughts on "Christmas Waltz":
  • I did have to chuckle at Paul's crestfallen reaction when he realizes that Harry had a vision while chanting. Yet another thing that someone else is better at than him.
  • And seriously, we get Paul back, but still no Sal? "Mad Men" fail!
  • So, the white carpet took another beating this week, as Meagan flung her pasta all over. What do we think is the most abused prop in the AMC universe? The Draper carpet or Walter White's Aztec on "Breaking Bad"?
  • Roger calls Sir Edmund of Jaguar "Bazooka Joe." Awesome.
  • So, it turns out that Roger has been trying to support Kevin and Joan but, for once, someone isn't taking his money. I wonder how long into the divorce that will last. 
  • Thoughts?

1 comment:

Bill Scurry said...

I know that Jared Harris was busy this season shooting the end of "Fringe" and "Mad Men" concurrently, but I agree that being parsed out little bits of sad sack Lane has been less than satisfying. It's running parallel to the main narrative, and I realize that it will intersect very soon, but it's keeping him from playing with everyone else for the time being.

And I plotzed when Don took Joanie out for a cold one... it's been years since we got some time alone with the pair. That is one of the most understated platonic relationships in this milieu.