Sunday, May 20, 2012

Knowing What We Want

Mad Men, Season Five, Episode Ten, "Christmas Waltz"

If there is one, the commerical message brought to us tonight--in this confused, artlessly disjointed episode--seems to be: This world is all about selling, materialism, and consumerism, so we might as well figure out what we truly want--what really makes us happy--and go for it. Whether it's an advertising firm on Madison Avenue or a new spiritual movement like the Hare Krishnas (started in New York in 1966), the episode paints a picture of commodities, bodies, and ideas for sale. Overall, I didn't find it that interesting. While I don't have any affinity for the Hare Krishnas--and don't really know much about them--I found the scene between Harry and Lakshmi, designed to make the episode's negative assessment of the group, to be unbelievable and troubling. And, the whole financial crisis of Lane seemed to come out of the blue and all of a sudden show an unethical side to him that I didn't expect--and didn't really make sense to me. He is in financial trouble--owing back taxes to England that he doesn't have the funds to cover--so instead of going to the partners and asking them for an advance, he borrows $50,000 for the firm, forges Don's signature on a check to himself, then tries to sell the partners on the idea of paying themselves and the staff Christmas bonuses, stat. Pete continues his pathetic attempts to sell everyone on the idea that he deserves more respect and praise than they give him for bringing in a chance at accounts like Jaguar's ("No one has given me the reaction I desire from this blessed event.") The Hare Krishnas--while promoting a spiritual move away from the "gross materialism" represented by places like Madison Avenue--are, in this representation, very similar to advertising firms. They have their ad man in Paul Kinsey, who is their "best recruiter," who "really can close," and Lakshmi, the former prostitute, who offers her body to Harry in a play to keep him away from Kinsey ("I'm trading the only thing I have.") There's Kinsey, who still can't figure out how to be happy, so he moves from advertising to the Hare Krishnas, to bad teleplay writing. Advertising takes a hit from the experimental theater production that Megan and Don attend. It pisses Don off, to Megan's bemusement: "I've heard you say a lot worse things about advertising," she tells him. She thought the play was more a statement about the "emptiness of consumerism." "People buy things," Don retorts, "because it makes them feel better."

I've felt better about most other Mad Men episodes, but this one had one fabulous segment: Don and Joan at the Ferrari store and at the bar. I loved seeing them together, watching Don go out of his way to help her when she's going through a rough time; loved that Joan had someone there for her on the day she got served with divorce papers; loved their playful banter, the way they looked at each other--sort of flirting, but not really; loved how they just naturally and easily could speak truth with each other: When Don tells her that the Ferrari "does nothing for me," she responds--with insight into the theme of commodification of life, "You're happy; you don't need it." When Joan finally admits that she's going to be getting divorced, Don offers the unusual, "Congratulations. . . . No one knows how bad it needs to get before that happens. Now you can move on." Don looks debonair next to Joan, wearing his hat at a rakish angle, sitting in a cigarette smoke-filled bar with the buxom Joan, who is also out-of-date, but still beautiful. The scene had a nostalgic feel to it--an escape from the crass, chaotic, and confusing new world the characters inhabit. Lately, when Don is with Megan, he looks old and stuffy. Not in this scene with Joan. He was the old, charming, sexy Don Draper again. Perhaps because that's how Joan sees him: "You're irresistable," she tells him at one point. As they're discussing the lonely-looking man at the bar, with whom Don suggests Joan might dance, Don says (in reference to the fact that the man probably has a wife at home and hitting at what seems to be the theme of the night), "he doesn't know what he wants."

Don drunkenly goes home to a wife who definitely knows what she wants: a career in acting, not advertising. And a husband who will come home to have dinner--with her. The old rules from Don's former marriage, that allowed him to come home whenever he felt like it--or not at all--to a wife who had put some dinner aside for him and never asked questions--those rules don't apply anymore. "Now sit down. You're going to eat dinner with me," Megan yells after throwing a plate of spaghetti across the room, angry that Don left work at noon and never called her to tell her he'd be coming home so late. But, more importantly, she hones in on his ennui with his job. He's let all of these jabs about advertising, the new changes in the culture, his failures--for example,in the eyes of the Cancer Society board members--get to him. But, Megan knows that it's all about loving what you do: "You used to love your work," she tells him. And, he gets it together. He seems to realize that this ad work--being creative--is what he loves, whether Megan loves it or not. He returns to work and gives a great Don Draper pep talk to the staff about pulling together to get the Jaguar account: "Every agency on Madison Avenue is defined by the moment they got their car. When we land Jaguar, the world will know we've arrived." With that speech, the episode arrived--though it had to meander through a bunch of worthless, boring stuff to get there. But Joan and Don, and Don and Megan made it. It feels like Don Draper--the good parts of Don Draper--is back again.


  1. I always enjoy reading your blog, as it adds great insight to a tremendous show. Thank you

  2. You're welcome. Thanks for reading, and for commenting.