Mad Men season 5 episode 10 review: Christmas Waltz

Review Frances Roberts
21 May 2012 - 16:57

Another sterling entry from season five of Mad Men, and one that won’t leave Joan fans dissatisfied…

This review contains spoilers.

5.10 Christmas Waltz

SCDP’s bank manager wants to know how things look for ’67, and if I had to hazard a projection based on this week’s episode of Mad Men, I’d have to say deliciously good.

Not for Lane of course, whose theft from the firm has him in a tense spot, and – as telegraphed by his wife’s line about their fellow ex-pat losing his visa after being fired – one that could well signal his departure from SCDP. Nor for Paul Kinsey, whose spiritual quest turned out to be as much about test-driving a commodity as the E-Type Jag that Don and Joan take for a spin (what a great move, putting the most beautiful woman ever made inside the most beautiful car ever made…). But deliciously good for us, the viewers, who were treated to another wonderful slice of Matt Weiner’s satisfying, stylish world.

Christmas Waltz was a Joan picnic. She did her colouring proud by throwing a red-headed hissy fit (and Pete’s Mohawk plane) at the receptionist who’d rubbed her up the wrong way in episode two, then relaxed into default sultry flirtation mode with Don. “My mother raised me to be admired”, Joan exhaled in the smoky bar, a phrase that Don - always great with a tag line - recalled in the card accompanying the first flowers he’d ever sent her. Jon Hamm and Christina Hendricks’ scenes were pure Mad Men delight this week, from their ‘let’s pretend’ game at the Jaguar dealership, to the subtext-laden back-and-forth assessment of Joan’s bar-fly admirer; from his hat to her dress, and that Doris Day tune. Chemistry? They invented the stuff.

Which begs a question that’s bubbled away quietly in the background of Mad Men for almost five seasons: why did Don and Joan never happen? It wasn’t for a lack of attraction: Joan admitted to Lane this season that she “… can’t even imagine how handsome [Don] must be blushing”, and Don, well, he’s only human. Another factor we can probably rule out was a shared respect for Don’s marriage vows...

No, the real reason, as Don reveals, was that Joan scared the shit out of him, and she was the one person at Sterling Cooper he’d been warned not to cross. Let’s remember the delicate balance Don must have had to tread in his early days at the agency after manoeuvring his way in by plying Roger with a Martini or six and pretending he’d been hired. And speaking of Roger, back in those days of course he and Joan were the office’s extra-marital item, a thread left teasingly hanging between the pair in this episode.

Paul Kinsey’s re-appearance this week was hilarious and tragic at the same time. His beatific beaming smile and story of redemption had gone out of the window by lunch, which he spent channelling Pete Campbell-levels of whining (“You had a vision?! Why couldn’t I have had a vision…”) and pitching Harry his dire-sounding Star Trek screenplay. 1966 Mad Men couldn’t stay Rodenberry-free for long, and this was a wonderful way to fold the Enterprise in, though I’d had my money on Sally catching an episode and mentally adding a young William Shatner to the wank bank.

Christmas Waltz saw the well-rehearsed theme of consumerism return to Mad Men (it’s never far away), but the show’s writers were as canny as ever in their treatment of it. Considering that it's a chronicle of the people who attached the consumerist monkey to our backs, Mad Men rarely paints society’s thirst to own stuff as the bogeyman. It has characters that do, yes; Midge and co., Megan’s off-Broadway circle, and this week, Paul Kinsey’s Hare Krishna group…, but when it comes to it, they’re portrayed as just as unfulfilled and covetous as the “gross materialists”, and all of them are happy enough for “the man” to pick up the cheque.

Kinsey’s dalliance with Eastern religion didn’t lead to his spiritual awakening, just like Midge’s heroin didn’t open her mind in season four. No-one achieves enlightenment in Mad Men (no matter what Roger thinks), not the “sense enjoyers” and their red sports cars, nor the Hare Krishna-converts and their consciousness-expanding mantras. It’s just too beautifully cynical a show for that.

On the topic of the haves and have-nots, a little Wall Street wish-fulfilment seemed to go on in the scene of SCDP’s partners forgoing their own bonuses in favour of the little people. It’s not often that the chaps of Mad Men lead by example, but this was an occasion to be proud of them (well, all but Lane of course).

With Lane in mind, a word of praise to the ever-brilliant costume department this week; Lane’s Bond girl fur hat was fantastic, and Kinsey’s transformation will keep me smiling all week. If you remember last season’s Christmas episode, Roger was humiliated by Lee Garner Jr., but this year he managed it all by himself with that hideous Hawaiian shirt. Applause all round.

Read our review of last week’s episode, Dark Shadows, here.

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