Mad Men, Season 5, Episode 10: “Christmas Waltz”
Written by Victor Levin & Matthew Weiner
Directed by Michael Uppendahl
Airs Sundays at 9pm (ET) on AMC
In typical Mad Men style, Prabhupada’s Hare Krishna Movement, formed nearing the end of 1966 in New York City, serves as the ideal backdrop to explore the idea of participation in materialism and what often results in the death of the moral self.
Paul Kinsey makes his long awaited return, as he attempts to get his Star Trek spec script in the hands of an ill-at-ease Harry, who mistakes his former colleague’s motives for their meet. To Harry’s surprise, Paul has joined the Hare Krishna Movement and isn’t interested in a job or financial gain; a strong juxtaposition to his previous motivations at Sterling Cooper. Despite Paul’s involvement in the movement being entirely believable, his new look is dramatic and quite unlike his old self. When we rejoin Paul, he is explaining to a fellow Krishna what he now deems valuable to his life: “We reject the material world in favour of the recognition of one’s true identity”. As Harry later discovers, his aspiration for physical gratification with the seductive Mother Lakshmi has culminated in his moral demise at the hands of adultery.
The theme of moral demise is also central to Lane’s story and indeed the episode’s determined allegory. We’ve barely laid eyes on Lane since his physical altercation with Pete, in Episode Five. In the opening moment of ‘Christmas Waltz’, Lane is placed under pressure when his lawyer reminds him of his tax debt to the British government. As a consequence of this, he embarks upon a sneaky and ethically corrupt plan to repay his debts.
Having obtained a bank loan under the guise of paying bills for SCDP, Lane hopes this will resolve his personal monetary difficulties. Unfortunately, the other partners decide the money, which is communicated to them as surplus funds rather than payment for bills, should not be spent on their Christmas bonuses. This directs Lane down a treacherous path of defrauding the agency by forging Don’s signature. What better way of emphasising this week’s allegory, than to have a character stealing money for his own gain. In essence, Lane’s materialism highlights his moral decline.
Earlier that night, Megan and Don attend a play, with obvious symbolic repercussions. “The ad was making me sick”, says one character, underlining a repetitively damning message directed at advertising. Don is not impressed, as he and Megan debate the merits of advertising. He claims, “People buy things because it makes them feel better”. Megan then points out “the emptiness of consumerism” on the self. It’s clear that they will never agree on this particular topic.
Meanwhile, in the reception area of SCDP, Joan is served with divorce papers from Greg. This riles an unhappy Joan to take out her feelings on the receptionist, in a tremendous showing of exasperation. Don quickly extinguishes the situation, deciding to employ her as his wife in order to procure a material possession – the Jaguar sports car. “The most beautiful car ever made”, boasts the Jaguar car dealer. Following his almost careless purchase of the car, Don takes Joan for some SCDP medicine – alcohol. Here he admits “that car does nothing for me” and then Joan tellingly observes this is “because you’re happy. You don’t need it”. Ironically, Don’s admittance of this, directly contradicts his earlier viewpoint on consumerism.
Don then returns home to find an angry Megan. When Don explains that he left work early to test drive the car for the potential Jaguar account, she becomes even more angry, further highlighting their differences that are becoming more apparent with each episode. She clearly finds no value in Don’s consumerism, and like the man from the play, the advertising game is progressively making her sick.
Finally, in a defiant statement of intention, Don delivers a motivational speech to the SCDP team, which urges them to go as hard as they can at Jaguar Motors. Fittingly, Don assures the room that every important agency on Madison Avenue is “defined by their first car” and thus displaying his renewed passion for advertising, that seems to have left him buoyant, rather than empty.