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Episode 10 - Christmas Waltz

27 May 2012

Credit AMC

As you may know I’ve been more of a fan of Mad Men during these last two seasons than the first three. However some have seen things in the exact opposite way. A good friend of mine thinks the show has become more and more like any other TV show. She pointed to the fight between Lane and Pete (505) as a moment which turned her off.

After this episode I have more sympathy with her point of view. This season has been filled with specific references to incidents from the 1966 (crimes, riots, music, TV shows, plays) which has occasionally felt a little too much like a checklist. Here with both Star Trek and Hare Krishna so prominent it definitely felt a bit too on the nose.

If Pete and Lane fighting wasn’t too much spectacle for your taste then what about the sex Harry and Lakshmi had. It certainly felt sensational and after her weak explanation for why she did it I couldn’t help but feel it was a cheap moment. It also felt very similar to Pete’s surprise seduction of his neighbour only two episodes ago. With Meagan and Don’s various raunchy moments is Mad Men trying to push buttons too bluntly?

The third prong to this critique came when Meagan yelled at Don when he came in. She was furious that he had gone drinking at lunch, was late for dinner and hadn’t called. I can understand that anger and perhaps the drinking angle reminded her of the state he was in when they met. However now that she has her own life it seemed odd that she was so furious at him for being late. Her anger wouldn’t have bothered me nearly as much if she hadn’t thrown her plate of food against the wall. This is the woman who Don married partly because she didn’t get mad when his kids spilt a milkshake (413). Was Don’s late arrival really such a key moment in their relationship that her demeanour could do a 180? Or are the producers slipping and using easier to reach techniques that they wouldn’t have stooped for in earlier seasons?

I’m not sure. Certainly the show has evolved and in many ways this has been positive. I still think the show is better now that it is more accessible but I admit that this episode was not a good advert for those changes.

The Harry-Paul story was problematic because it was about characters that we don’t know. Harry has never been fleshed out properly. Here he cheats on his wife at the drop of a hat and then goes to great lengths to help Paul out. What am I to make of that? Does that do anything for Harry’s character or will he just fade into the background again? Paul seemed needlessly pathetic considering the personality he clearly displayed in earlier seasons. And as mentioned above Lakshmi could easily have just told Harry to leave Paul alone without sleeping with him. Her shameless flirtation and needless admission that Paul’s recruitment skills were what really motivated her gave the Hare Krishna moment a bad press.

I would be sympathetic to those who question the Lane story too. Surely if he was honest with Don about his situation then he wouldn’t have needed to resort to forgery. However I can see it from Lane’s point of view. That fight with Pete was a desperate attempt to be seen as a man after he was shown up as not having the right personality to be an account man. Then he fretted about his position in the company but at least Joan could reassure him that he was needed to manage the books. If he were to admit now that his personal finances were a mess how useless would he feel? Perhaps Don might even think about cutting him loose? Of course Lane is now in a desperate situation which probably won’t end well. Paul’s situation doesn’t bode well for peripheral characters.

Don and Joan have a wonderfully understated relationship based on mutual respect. They get so little screen time alone and so the scenes we got here were very solid as she begins to imagine what being single, divorced and a mother will be like. Don finally gets inspired by work again after snoozing through most of the season (and in this episode). His rallying cry over the Jaguar pitch sounded like the old Don. However the dark question looms over what happens to him and the company if they fail? That should set up an intriguing run into the finale.

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  • it think you're missing a point in harry/paul story.when paul talks about when he got there and
    started trying to figure out who prabhupad likes best,he was saying that even there he didnt change that much!i know this thing when people join groups,cults and ... because they're sick and tired of sth in their life and want to change it(often sth in their personality) .most of the times it doesnt work but they pretend they've changed.they even fool themselves.we must give paul credit for admit that! and finally Lakshmi having sex with harry is based on this fact too, she was involved with prostitution before, the excuse was just for herself to back to her old ways!iits obvious in dialog between her and harry after sex when she said I'm TRADING the only thing I have.I think that was a great moment you just have to see it.so she doesnt care for paul and krishna!she just like to think that she cares!

    Posted by maryam, 31/05/2012 9:50pm (7 years ago)

  • Great comments. I love the idea of Lane becoming Walter White: "I am the one who knocks, Don."

    Posted by The TV Critic, 23/05/2012 2:15pm (7 years ago)

  • This line amused me:
    "Lakshmi could easily have just told Harry to leave Paul alone without sleeping with him."

    Does the euphemism "sleeping" really apply to this situation?

    Anyway, I see your point about the checklist, although I think part of it may be that we are all more familiar with the mid/late sixties than the earlier era. One of the initial appeals of the show was that the early sixties was kind of a neglected time period - right in between the picket fence fifties and the rebellious late sixties that have both been endlessly explored by television and film.

    Still, I find that they have been pretty selective in the cultural references. Did anyone look to 1966 and expect a whole episode centered on the Speck murders?

    I can see criticizing the Star Trek reference, but in fairness it didn't come out of nowhere. Seasons ago they established Kinsley as a Twilight Zone fan and also jealous of Cosgrove's writing success. As a struggling writer into the genre why wouldn't he try to write for the groundbreaking sci fi show of the time? Especially when he has a friend - Harry - with connections in the TV biz?

    I can buy it.

    That said, I did find the whole Krishna plot a bit sitcomy, and the sex with Lakshma was completely over the top.

    I do like the Lane story, perhaps because I find Lane to be such a sympathetic character. It's heartbreaking to watch him break bad, all because he has too much pride to ask for help.

    Don and Joan were just fantastic. I wish were could have had an entire "The Suitcase" style episode featuring just these two.

    Viewer score: 59 / 100

    Posted by Huell, 23/05/2012 12:57pm (7 years ago)

  • Oh, I was going to add that Lakshmi having sex with Harry feels to be in line with this season's dirty theme, even though a bit forced. I had the same problems you had with the scene. But the breakdown of NY in this era seems to be a theme that is consistent with this season.
    Thanks again.

    Posted by Kayode from Baltimore, 23/05/2012 2:01am (7 years ago)

  • I was actually surprised Pete didn't get jealous at the attention Don got as soon as he started speaking. He seems to have all that Pete desires and in some ways seems to be shadowing Don's life with his decisions.
    I agree with you about the date checklist. I don't think an episode has gone by without an event date mark in this season. It will be interesting to see if this has any significant relevance with the episodes coming up.
    As always thanks for the forum

    Viewer score: 60 / 100

    Posted by Kayode from Baltimore, 23/05/2012 1:58am (7 years ago)

  • I completely agree :-)

    Posted by The TV Critic, 23/05/2012 1:33am (7 years ago)

  • Not the strongest episode this season, but it did its job of setting up the remaining episodes.

    Maybe it was just the fact that it was a conflation of two of the most enduring archetypes of the period, but the Krishna/Star Trek subplot seemed almost "pseudo-60s"--something that Mad Men usually manages to artfully eschew. I didn't fully connect with the Krishna woman's motivation for seducing Harry.

    I also wasn't clear on what led to Don's revived spirit at the end. Was it Meagan's comment that his heart hadn't been in it?

    Regardless, Don's inspirational speech to the staff at the end was great.

    Viewer score: 58 / 100

    Posted by jeremy, 22/05/2012 3:54am (7 years ago)

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