By the end of last night’s episode of Mad Men, I felt positively exhilarated. After last week’s stumbling block, I predicted (read: hoped) that it would be smooth sailing until the season finale, and last night did nothing to assuage that belief. It was an hour of solid television, even if it did feature Lane more prominently than some people prefer. To make up for it, we got lots of solid Don-Joan time and very little Megan, for the Megan haters.
The sight of Paul Kinsey as a Hare Krishna did make me wonder whether or not Matthew Weiner spent the show’s entire 17-month hiatus dropping acid like Roger Sterling, but even if that’s the case, I’m ok with it. As long as this show continues churning out television like the kind that we were treated to last night. On to the recap!
As the episode did, let’s start with Lane. He’s having some quiet, desperate financial problems concerning back taxes owed to the British government, just as he’s had quiet, desperate problems concerning his frustrations with his wife and his general sense of ennui with his safe, boring life as a desk jockey. After a late-night call from his British accountant indicated that he owes $8000 in back taxes (which was a sum far more astronomical in 1966 dollars), Lane freaked out on his wife and met with the firm’s banker the next day to extend the business’ credit line by $50,000, clearly so that he could covertly pocket enough money to pay his debts.
Indeed, we later caught Lane in a darkened art department, using a light board to carefully forge Don’s signature on a check after he announced the $50,000 credit extension as a “surplus” (when Joan wasn’t around, you’ll notice) so that the rest could be doled out in bonuses to further cover his ass. Oh Lane, I liked you better when you were punching Pete Campbell in the face. How did a guy who’s always been so stingy about the firm’s financials get himself into debt with the Brits? The episode didn’t explain; maybe I missed the indicators in previous scenes featuring Lane.
At the office, Harry was trying to avoid Paul Kinsey about as much as Lane was trying to avoid the British IRS. Yes, THAT Paul Kinsey, who we hadn’t seen since the Season 3 implosion of the original Sterling Cooper. In fact, the last time we saw Kinsey at all was when he realized that he had been left out of the move because he is not a very good writer. Surprise! He’s still not a very good writer. Also surprise: he’s a Hare Krishna, complete with the robes and crazy haircut.
Kinsey’s always been an enormously transparent striver, whether he was trying to look interesting by taking on a black girlfriend in the middle of the civil rights movement or by penning cringe-worthy plays loosely based on himself for the office to find and mock. As much as he always wanted to be part of the counter-culture, though, he was just a mediocre ad man living in the New Jersey suburbs and riding the train in to work every day. SCDP didn’t take him on for a reason: Kinsey is unexceptional in almost every way.
Harry eventually found himself at a Hare Krishna prayer meeting with Kinsey, despite his best efforts to avoid it altogether and then leave once he realized what was going on. He was forced to stay, though, and both Kinsey and his new girlfriend, Mother Lakshmi, chanted right along with him. Harry actually got pretty into it, and at a diner with Kinsey afterward, confessed that he had had a vision while chanting.
Kinsey, of course, had never had a vision. Despite what he’s trying to convince himself of, Kinsey’s not even very good at being in a cult, in addition to being not very good at literally anything else he’s ever done. He ended up there because his career had been on a downward spiral (all the way to in-house at A&P) ever since the start of the new firm, and now he’s sticking around because he’s theoretically in love with Lakshmi, but mostly because he doesn’t have anything better to do and he already got the silly haircut. And, you know, maybe if he hangs around long enough, enlightenment will eventually find him, if only because he’ll eventually be the last person in the room who it hasn’t yet visited. The one bright spot in his life was a spec script for Star Trek that Kinsey wanted Harry to pass along to a contact at NBC, and Harry reluctantly agreed to read it.
Back at the office, things were actually a little bit brighter. It was Pearl Harbor Day, so Roger was entirely drunk, but not so drunk that Pete couldn’t announce to the group that they would once again be pitching for the Jaguar business. It seems as thought Mr. Gum In His Pubis was something of an all-around mess and had since been fired from his post atop the company’s American arm, and as a result, the firm didn’t have his wife’s hooker disapproval to stop them from potentially winning the business.
Pete announced this information twice to essentially the same group of people, and he didn’t get the fanfare or appreciation he thought the news deserved either time. Pete is sort of a bizarro world version of Kinsey; he actually IS good at his job, as evidenced by the fact that he kept up with the Jaguar business even after all seemed lost and indeed won the firm a shot at it once again. Despite that, Pete has the same desperate air of striverdom about him, which means that he can’t even count his successes for what they are and he’s constantly looking for exactly the right outcome that will make him feel whole.
After the meeting was over, Drunk Patriot Roger Sterling and his Pearl Harbor-celebrating Hawaiian shirt sauntered over to Joan’s secretary, glass of vodka in hand, to do what Roger does best: flirt with secretaries. Even the secretary of the woman he knocked up last season! When Joan discovered him outside her office, she yanked him inside, at which point we discovered a few things. First, that Roger was indeed aware that the baby Joan had was the baby he fathered, which I had assumed but of which we had never received confirmation. Second, Roger had tried to do the right thing and pay the baby’s expenses until he was grown, but Joan had refused his help and sent all the money back to him. As suspected, Joan is not exactly pining for Roger anymore.
What was Don doing during all of this? Oh, you know, taking in a little experimental theatre with his wife, who somehow expected him to enjoy or at least appreciate watching a bunch of actors (literally) lay around on a minimalist stage and talk shit about his life’s work. Don’s look of revulsion during the play was priceless, as though he was just barely resisting the urge to both vomit and tell everyone who was participating how dumb they were. To his credit, he did neither. The play seemed to be fairly awful, but in that special sort of way that pretentious young actresses can’t detect.
Of course, the play was more than just a play; it was also a symbol of the increasingly tenuous ties that bind Don and Megan together. He took her departure from the advertising world personally, as though it were a referendum on all of his life decisions and the career that he had always loved. He tried to hide that disappointment, of course, and Megan apparently hadn’t picked up on the fact that she had insulted him. You’d think that she’d know better than to take Don to a play like that, though. I know Megan wants him to share her interests, but expecting anyone to sit through something like that when they have no theater background, let alone when they’re devoted to the very things that the play criticizes, is not very smart. It certainly doesn’t indicate that Megan knows Don as well as she sometimes seems to.
You who does know Don really well, though? Joan. Their scenes together are always an absolute treat, and they’re rare enough that when they come along, it feels almost as though we’ve been given a gift. Joan’s perhaps the only truly beautiful woman in Don’s adult life that he’s apparently never tried to sleep with, and not only that, but he genuinely seems to respect her. He always has, all the way back to when she had to fill in as his secretary after Peggy left and Lois the Dumb Secretary got sent back to the switchboard.
Don doesn’t respect many people, but as far as I can remember, his behavior toward Joan has always been exemplary. And it’s not just gentleman’s courtesy; I’ve always gotten the sense that he considers Joan an equal, which is all the more impressive when you consider that Don adds a silent “you dumbass” onto the end of almost anything he says to anyone, particularly in the office.
Anyway, I’ve gotten a bit ahead of myself in my Don-Joan giddiness. Why are we talking about Don and Joan? Because the next day in the office, Joan received some bad news. The receptionist out front accidentally let in the man that was there to serve her with divorce papers, and Joan reacted by literally throwing an airplane at the receptionist, who was being kind of insolent and didn’t apologize and probably deserved an airplane to the head. (I feel the need to say that I’m on Team Joan, but then I feel as though that might be redundant, because aren’t we ALL Team Joan?)
Don happened to witness her meltdown, and he did exactly the perfect thing; he separated her from the secretary that she was about to murder with her bare hands and almost wordlessly whisked her off into the city for a day of distraction. When they entered the Jaguar dealership to pose as man and wife and test drive cars, I might have actually swooned, not only because the gilded room filled with vintage Jag after vintage Jag was gorgeous, but because Don and Joan just have this electricity when they’re in a room together, and although it’s not exactly romantic chemistry, it’s something the audience can viscerally feel. Matthew Weiner does a great job of only giving us tiny doses of it here and there, because if we saw Joan and Don together all the time, it might suffocate the rest of the show.
It was perhaps one of the most visually beautiful scenes in the history of the show, and when Don wrote a check for more than the asking price of Joan’s favorite little red convertible so that they could take it out together without the salesmen, I may have swooned for the second time in three minutes. That sort of thing is the signature Don Draper Swagger that, even more than his movie star good looks, makes ladies want to sleep with him, and it had been largely absent since his marriage to Megan. It was great to see it back in action, and no one deserves a jolt of it more than Joan.
They ended up at a bar together, drinking and confessing things, like how Don had been terrified of Joan when he first joined Sterling Cooper and that Bert had told him that she was the one person he should never cross. Given how much Don’s respect for Joan has always been evident, the anecdote made perfect sense, but it was still kind of amazing to hear Don admit to fearing anyone, ever.
Joan’s one of my favorite characters because her dissatisfaction with life has always been more subtle and well-masked than most of her compatriots at SCDP. She’s of a slightly older generation than Peggy, and as Joan admitted during her slightly drunken conversation with Don, her mother had always raised her to be admired. That’s why she generally hides her emotions so well, and when they do escape, it’s almost always in a well-controlled takedown like the ones she laid on several writers last season. Now well into her 30s, with a newborn and fresh divorce papers, it’s clearer to Joan than ever that she’s been sold a bill of goods, but her reaction to that revelation differs so profoundly from those of Roger or Pete that it’d be hard to argue that anyone on the show has stronger character than Joan.
Don and Joan’s conversation was wonderful, from him quoting Bobbie Barrett from all the way back in Season 2 (“I like being bad and then going home and being good”) to Don, completely without judgment, encouraging Joan to sleep with the man down the bar who had been eyeing her all evening (and then leaving her with car fare so that she could get home if she decided against it). If either Joan or Don had had one more drink, it was clear that they probably would have gone home together, and Weiner did well to get us right up to that point and then not let it happen. Don and Joan sleeping together would violate some kind of law of the Mad Men universe, and ultimately, I don’t think I want that law broken, even if it would be a fun scene to watch. It’s better that there is someone off-limits to Don.
While Don and Joan were busy making my week before it even started, Harry was back at the office, trying to figure out what to do with Kinsey’s screenplay. It was awful, of course, as we all knew it would be. Remember the play of Kinsey’s that the staff acted out during the election party a few seasons back? He’s a hack writer, and Harry knew it before he even agreed to read the thing. It ended up being so bad that he made Peggy read it too, but before he could figure out exactly how to break the bad news to Kinsey, Lakshmi appeared at the office.
In a scene that was nothing short of bizarre, Lakshmi convinced Harry to bend her over the desk and have his way with her with almost no context. Because Harry is both a total horndog and also a dude that hardly ever gets any thrown his way, he complied with minimal protestations, and afterward, Lakshmi smacked him in the face and told him to stay away from Kinsey because he’s their best recruiter. Poor Kinsey. Cult Recruiter is the only thing he’s any good at.
Harry’s a coward, so I expected him to freak out for a little bit and then eventually comply with Lakshmi’s demands, abut instead, he did something that could either be construed as cruel or kind, depending on how you look at it. He met with Kinsey again and told him that his screen play was great, but also that he couldn’t sell it for him (cruel – false hope is always cruel), and then he handed Kinsey $500 and a plane ticket to go pursue his dream of being a screenwriter in California, but only if he’d leave immediately (kind – helping someone get out of a cult and away from a toxic romantic partner is always kind). As we already discussed, Kinsey’s not very good at being in a cult, so he took the money and the ticket, gave Harry a big hug and agreed to leave for California immediately. Kinsey’s the kind of person who needs a jolt of change, and although it won’t make him a better writer, sending him to California conveniently solved problems for both him and Harry.
By the time we were done with that, Don had arrived home, late and a little drunk, to a pasta-slinging wife that was more Megan-Betty hybrid than the Megan we’re all used to. After yelling at him for not calling her to say he’d be late, Don thought that perhaps this was another sex game, but it was most definitely not. Oops! Nothing quite so embarrassing as mistaking your wife’s genuine rage over your surely impending infidelity for an opportunity to have sex on the floor, amirite? Wordlessly, they sat down to eat what appeared to be plain spaghetti noodles for dinner. Or, rather, Don sat down to eat his. Megan’s were all over the floor approximately eight feet away.
Don is capable of being incredibly thoughtful, though, and you needn’t look further than the cards he sent Joan the next day for proof. He signed them Aly Khan, who he had mentioned as one of Joan’s potential suitors during their bar conversation, which is really just the cherry on top, isn’t it? I’m betting Megan got no flowers, but then, she’s also not nearly as awesome as Joan. And, as Joan had noted about her potential suitor’s probable wife in an earlier scene, the only sin she’s committed is that of familiarity. For wives, it seems as though that’s the most damning one. Don’t feel too bad for Megan, though, because she’ll get half when they eventually get divorced.
Back at the office for the end of the episode, we endured one final bit of bad news for Lane, who seemed to tentatively have all his ducks in a row to steal the money we mentioned at the top of the recap and pay his debts before he got hauled off to the Tower of London. The mechanics’ strike that had been mentioned a few weeks back had finally hit Mohawk who, as a result, would be suspending all advertising activities, effective immediately. The partners met briefly to discuss the development, and despite Lane looking like he was about to pass out, they decided to forgo bonuses so that their staff could have a little extra dosh for the holidays.
When everyone was called together to announce that development, we got a glimpse at what’s perhaps set to come for the rest of the season: the old Don Draper is back, and he gave a speech about pitching Jaguar that was so rousing, so exhilarating, that I would have followed him directly in to battle in that moment if he had asked me to. That’s the same kind of speech that he gave when Sterling Cooper was getting ready to pitch American Airlines, and it was a bit of his personality – intense, focused, competitive, self-assured – that we haven’t seen since he remarried. Poor Megan. This can’t be good for her, but it’s most assuredly good for us (and for whoever Don nails before the end of the season).
- Stray Observations:
- If Kinsey can reappear, will Sal ever rejoin us? Please say yes. I loved Sal, and he always seemed to be a fan favorite. Now that SCDP doesn’t have Lucky Strike, there’s technically nothing stopping his return.
- Joan has such a way with words – and with the truth – that I almost wish she had been born later so that she could have stood at a chance at being a copywriter herself. I bet she’d be brilliant at it.
- The bar scene with Don and Joan may be the sexiest thing this show has ever given us, and I enjoyed it so thoroughly that I actually put down my computer and just WATCHED it. I could write an entire recap about just what they said, there was so much in there. DON + JOAN 4EVA.
- That being said, I don’t think Don and Joan will ever be a REAL thing. Joan knows better, and I think Don respects her too much to inflict himself upon her.
- Roger’s Hawaiian shirt and messy hair were just…perfect. I’m glad that the writers found a way to yank him out of the funk that he was in for the first half of the season.
- I’d like to think that I would have recognized the Bobbie Barrett quote even if I hadn’t coincidently watched that very episode from Season 2 over the weekend while I was spring cleaning, but I guess I’ll never know. I think I’m one of the only people who actually liked the Bobbie storyline.