Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Mad Men: Christmas Waltz (5.10)

If you're involved in Mad Men's online fan community, then you're doubtlessly aware that there have recently been minor rumblings of dissatisfaction with this season. I certainly understand their reasoning, even if I don't particularly feel like season five has been any less strong than the preceding years. But, with all that in mind, there was definitely a sense of cool nostalgia in Don and Joan's get-together. It suddenly made me remember how much more intimate the show used to be, the cast bouncing off one another in smaller moments that bristled with energy, with dialogue that wasn't steaming with overt symbolism. While I adore this show and have so far loved this season, Don and Joan brought the house down, and the writers should really try and explore older relationships like that.

Both Don and Joan are in unusual places right now, far removed from the people they were back when the show first began. Don has hit this strange plateau in his second marriage that even he doesn't totally understand just yet, while Joan is a struggling single mom just handed divorce papers. So, for just a couple of hours, the two of them embark on an adventure. They play happy-families at a Jaguar dealership, and have fun with not taking something so seriously. Then they hit a bar and discuss marriage and infidelity like adults, all the while joking with each other like two gorgeous, sexually-confident titans.

They're so similar, too, and arguably because they're both what amounts to the perfect representations of their genders. Don encapsulates relentless manliness. He's whip-smart, cool, a lover of women and occasionally volatile, sleazy and troubled. Joan has this ridiculous body; she's intuitive and strong, funny and knowing, sexy -- but also vulnerable. They are the pinnacle, as flawed as they sometimes are. Tossing them together allows them to trade barbs and discuss the differences between men and women and the conscious or unconscious desires we all have, all with particular insight.

At the same time, you can't deny the sexual heat between them. But what I loved was that it wasn't, you know, obvious and try-hard. It was just this silky chemistry between the two of them, two people who have lived these amazing lives, in which they've both experienced these epic highs as well as these crushing disappointments. They've lived, dammit! So the question that naturally arrives here is whether or not the show will pair them as a couple. Would I be against it? Hell no. But I also like them as these fond friends, people that probably understand each other far more than even they realize. Whatever happens, I'm mightily intrigued by what could come next.

The rest of Christmas Waltz was a little less powerful. With such a serialized show, it's natural that there are sometimes dips in quality, if only because there have to be certain episodes that build a certain tension, or sow the seeds for a future story. So while I loved Lane's uncomfortable desperation and his actions with the forged checks and later the Christmas bonus, it felt more like a story that was building to something greater, rather than something that truly blossomed within this one hour.

I also didn't entirely know what to make of Harry and Paul's subplot. It opened with the blind-siding hilarity of Paul Kinsey being revealed as this bald, robed Hare Krishna, but quickly became a story about mid-life dissatisfaction -- a theme that's been present on Mad Men since it first began. The saddest part was when Harry told Paul that he had experienced a vision while meditating, and by the look on Paul's face you could tell that it was something that he himself had never had. Here's this guy who has drifted through jobs and vocations, but finding that he's never truly satisfied or particularly good at anything. It's just incredibly moving, the idea of somebody who may just not be destined to be emotionally fulfilled, and the guy himself slowly realizing it.

But the story seemed to fly off in tangents soon after. I understood Lakshmi's offer of sex was her interpretation of the only type of currency that she could use to get Harry's attention, but Harry's own actions afterwards were a little less straight-forward. Was it just compassion for his friend? Or was it a fault of his own that he allowed Paul to chase yet another profession that he's not particularly good enough for? I liked the story, but it was hard to entirely get a handle on it.

I didn't think Christmas Waltz was perfect, but damn if I didn't have a fixed smile on my face whenever Don and Joan were on-screen together. For those ten minutes or so, the show sparkled with this vibrant energy and charm. And surely that's something everybody can agree on. A-


- It's hilarious how quickly Megan has become just another Betty, steaming at home with dinner on the table while Don is out drinking. And it was interesting that she did the same 'sit!' demand that she made back in the season premiere... only it wasn't followed by angry hate-sex. The cracks are appearing...

- The play Don and Megan saw was something daring and pessimistic, and Megan was enchanted by it. But Don is totally the generation that the play was criticizing, and it once again showed Megan's naivety that she hadn't realized that he'd never buy into it.

- Vincent Kartheiser has perfected that hilariously disgusted expression on his face. First last week with Beth's husband on the train, and here with his remark to Lane -- only halted by a reminder of their throwdown a couple of weeks ago.

- Loved Bertram dipping his donut in the milk.

- I can't be the only person who did a Juliette Lewis double-take this week. Clones, I tell ya!


Peggy: As far as I know he was at McCann, and then Y&R, then he rolled downhill through K&E, B&B. Last thing I heard he was in-house at A&P.
Harry: Who's A&P?
Peggy: No, I'm sorry, the A&P.

Pete: Take Megan, see how they deal with a couple.
Don: We'll see.
Pete: You know, if I'd told you last December that we'd be in the running for a car you'd have kissed me on the mouth.
Don: Maybe you and I should go as a couple.

Joan: Why did you let him in?
Meredith: He said he needed to talk to you.
Joan: About what?
Meredith: I don't remember everything everybody says.
Joan: Because you're an idiot.
Meredith: Don't talk to me like that!
Joan: Do you understand having you out here is the same as having no-one?
Meredith: He said he knew you. He said it was a surprise.
Joan: (mocking) A surprise? Well thank you for that! Here's a surprise! (picks up model plane)
Don: Joan!
Joan: (tossing the plane at Meredith) Surprise! There's an airplane here to see you!

Joan: My mother raised me to be admired.

Joan: Look at all these people dancing to my music.
Don: You want to dance?
Joan: I don't think that we should.
Don: You sure look like you want to dance.
Joan: You and me in midtown? You with that look on your face?
Don: What look, baby?
Joan: God, you're irresistible.

Writers Victor Levin, Matthew Weiner Director Michael Uppendahl

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