Episode title: “Christmas Waltz”
Significance: For the third time in five weeks, the episode title comes directly from the title of a song, this time the Sammy Cahn/Jule Styne holiday classic that reminds us “it’s that time of year when the world falls in love.” (We think that was the Nancy Wilson version playing on the jukebox as a tipsy Don and Joan came perilously close to falling into something that most definitely was not love.) But Christmas is also a time for hope and despite the forgery, deception, philandering and spaghetti tossing in “Christmas Waltz,” it was the most hopeful episode of “Mad Men” in some time as Don takes another step toward getting his groove back, literally shifting into high gear with Jaguar looming as the agency’s defining pitch. Whether it all turns out to be false hope is yet to be seen (although you can guess where our money is on that), but the episode did a nice job of setting up the series’ three-week race to the Season 5 finish line.
’Tisn’t the season: “Christmas Waltz” was written to air in December of 2011 and, once again, the delay caused by network negotiations creates a surreal feel for viewers watching it with summer looming, although the promise we all usually feel around Memorial Day weekend is somewhat akin to the hopefulness inherent in Christmas.
Time passages: It’s the first week of December 1966 in “Christmas Waltz,” the 25th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, as duly noted several times in the episode by Roger Sterling, who celebrates as only Roger would, donning a Hawaiian shirt, but who also slyly notes that the Japanese failure in World War II was not tactical, but philosophical. They weren’t prepared to win, he contends, in an observation that probably has implications for the agency preparing for its defining battle.
State of the unions: One of the great things about the ensemble cast of “Mad Men” is the different types of chemistry between the actors. While John Hamm-Christina Hendricks scenes haven’t been plentiful in the past, they’ve always been ripe with physical chemistry and never more so than in “Christmas Waltz,” where their personal trials, some booze and a Jaguar bring the pair as close as we’ve seen to horizontal. But after Joan deftly derails Don’s barroom flirtations, she sends him home for another dose of tough love from the surprisingly insightful Megan and we’re reminded once again that what Don has gotten from this marriage is nothing at all like what he was expecting. In return, Don sends Joan flowers, under the guise of Ali Khan, reminding her that her mother was right in raising her to be admired.
The one about Harry and the Krishnas: Leave to Matt Weiner to take the most obvious bad pun possible and turn it into storytelling gold. In a tale so filled with moral ambiguity it could have been an entire episode on its own, Harry reconnects with poor Paul Kinsey, who’s fallen down the agency ladder since he was cut loose in Season 3 and wound up in the laps of the burgeoning Hare Krishna movement. Insecure and unfulfilled, Paul is still chasing acceptance, fame and a hooker with a heart of Vishnu named Lakshmi (played by Anna Wood, who does bear a striking resemblance to Juliette Lewis). But just in case the whole Krishna thing doesn’t work out, he’s written a “Star Trek” episode on the side that he hopes Harry will pitch to NBC. Lakshmi, sensing the movement might lose one of its best closers, tries to use sex, her weapon of choice, to deter Harry from getting involved. But Harry, sensing another disappointment looming for his former friend, sells Paul with a more powerful weapon (perhaps the only more powerful weapon): Hope. But we’re left to wonder if sending Paul to the sharks in Hollywood is really any better for him that what awaits with the Krishnas.
Cooking the books: The enigma that is Lane Pryce continues to baffle, as the show’s most prim and proper character turns to forgery and embezzlement to settle a tax debt back in England. We know so little about Lane that it’s hard to imagine how he can possibly think he’s going to get away with what he’s doing when it’s so obvious from the outside looking in that it’s going to unravel on him very quickly. But just how quickly it falls apart and what damage it causes the agency will likely play a key role in the Season 5 stretch.
Mr. Moneybags: In stark contrast to Lane’s financial struggles, we learn in “Christmas Waltz” that not only does Roger know that he’s the father of Joan’s son, but that he’s been sending her money too!!!! If you’re scoring at home, that’s two ex-wives, one mistress and various office payoffs and deals. Even though Joan has been sending it back, we’re still left to ponder just how many people are on Roger’s payroll and how exactly he manages to meet it.
Musical notes: Frank Sinatra, The Carpenters, Harry Connick Jr. and, most recently, She and Him have all covered “The Christmas Waltz.”
+ Star Trek’s first season was 1966 so it was roughly 13 episodes into its 79-episode run as Paul and Harry were discussing it.
+ The International Society for Krishna Consciousness was founded in 1966 in New York City.
+ As noted by TV critic extraordinaire Alan Sepinwall over at a much better blog than this one, the play Don and Megan attended with the anti-advertising message was a real one called “America Hurrah.”
Line of the night: “There’s a Laksmhi here to see you. She’s got a whole story.”