Mad Men recap: What will a man do to keep his life and dignity?
What is a man willing to do to hold on to his life?
That's the question at hand in Mad Men's latest episode, "Christmas Waltz," which finds Sterling Cooper financial executive Lane Pryce resorting to the worst sort of fraud to pay off a debt back in his native England, forging partner Don Draper's signature on a check to raise $8,000 in days.
The actual plan he enacted was slick and a reminder of how much power these executives can have in their own financial world. Needing cash quickly, he wheedles an extra $50,000 in credit, uses that income to claim a surplus and suggests paying Christmas bonuses to everyone -- including himself, of course -- right away.
The plan unravels, however, when a big advertiser pulls back on adwork after a strike and the partners decide to hold off on their own bonuses until the New Year -- after Lane has already forged Don's signature and spent the money.
This puts Lane into a serious jam in two ways -- first, his check will stick out as the only partner to get a bonus before Christmas, and with the drop in revenue, meeting the extra debt payments will cause problems.
I'm wondering how long it will be before office manager extraordinaire Joan Harris discovers what Lane has done. And once she realizes, will she blow the whistle on him or will he try to lay the blame on her?
What I love most about Lane's story here is the banal way his embezzlement occurred. I have noticed a spate of stories locally and nationally about huge sums swindled by people entrusted with the financial keys to municipalities and organizations. You wonder "How does someone steal $200,000 like swiping $10 from petty cash?"
Mad Men showed us how: By bowing to financial pressures while striving to keep up a proud facade.
This episode also marked the return of Paul Kinsey, the rudderless copywriter whose ill-fated romance with a black freedom rider only hinted at his aimless search for fulfillment outside the strait-laced world of New York advertising. Now stuck recruiting converts to Hare Krishna, Kinsey wants former colleague and Sterling Cooper TV buyer Harry Crane to help get his spec Star Trek script to NBC.
Nice as it was to see an old annoying character brought even lower, this storyline felt a bit outlandish -- especially when another Krishna convert, Lakshimi, sleeps with Harry in his office to get him to back off helping Kinsey. But since she doesn't threaten to tell his wife, I'm not quite sure why this was supposed to keep him away (though her punctuating the demand with a smack across the face was a nice touch; an ex-prostitute working the pimp role to the extreme.)
I left this bit of story wishing creator Matt Weiner had done something like this with Sal Romano, the gay art director fired after he spurned a closeted gay client's affections in Season Three. Fans have longed for a callback to Sal for a while; can't remember any fan dismay when Kinsey was given his walking papers.
But my favorite moment from this episode was seeing Joan and Don spend time together. They remain the two demigods of Sterling Cooper, instantly understanding and respectful of each other; moments when they can spend time with each as friends and let their guard down is amazing.
Weiner knows some fans love seeing them together as a couple, so having Don take Joan to test drive a Jaguar after she gets divorce papers from her rapist husband was a nice touch. Life is shoving Joan into a single mom role she never envisioned for herself; Don gently reminds her she can find a good man if she tries.
And Joan's observation that divorce worked out for Don is contrasted by the very next scene, in which second wife Megan freaks because Don was unavailable for much of the day. She can't help being paranoid that he will eventually go back to old ways and cheat on her; the firm's effort to get Jaguar means he'll be working longer hours than ever.
Wonder how long that situation is going to last?