Mad Men Recap: Catch Lane if you Can   Leave a comment


As odd as it felt watching an engorged Betty’s hedonistic indulgence in a morsel of Thanksgiving stuffing to terminate last week’s Mad Men, it’s even more strange conceiving of this week’s episode, Christmas Waltz, as a Christmas episode. We’re laying heavy blame on that delayed production schedule, but this has been a great season so far, so let’s dive in.

Across the Pond
We open in the wee hours with Lane Pryce receiving a phone call from Jolly Old England informing SCDP’d pugilistic Englishman that he needs to come up with $8,000 in two days to stay out of jail for the taxman cometh. The come-up-with-absurd-amount-of-money-in-just-a-few-days-or-else premise is a familiar device and we can expect Lane to take several shots to the balls as he tries to Dodge, Duck, Dip, Dive, and Dodge his way out of this one.

Cut to Harry Crane being enlightened by a secretary I don’t recognize that a “Mr. Kinsey” demands a meeting, and the last time we saw our creatively limited leftist friend Paul, he was fuming that Don took Peggy along to the new agency and left him hanging out to dry. If he makes an appearance, it’s a surprising return for a show that has no problem parting with undistinguished also-smokeds. Lane bursts in and demands Harry’s  media revenue projections and Harry reminds him that though they look good, they’re just projections. “You can’t predict the future, Lane,” he says in frustration, and we’ll see if he’s willing to put money on that by the end of the episode.

From Projections to the Past
Harry walks into an incense-soaked studio where exotic quilts hanging from clotheslines stand in for doors. An out of shape man dressed in filthy robes, head bald save a short pony tail is telling some guy about oneness or something. Turns out this is Paul Kinsey and man, has his life taken a turn for the worst. We knew he was a proud liberal and mediocre copywriter, but to have become a full-on Hare Krishna seems a bit outlandish. Harry shows our surprise. Paul is joined by a pretty white girl called Mother Lakshmi and Harry applies Occam’s Razor. “Oh, I get it,” says a droll Harry as the epiphany hits.

I’m not going to lie, the Hare Krishna thing didn’t do anything for me. I thought it implausible that Harry, seemingly under no influence of any psychedelic drug, starts chanting and having, as Roger would say, “an experience,” and Roger needed LSD to do the trick. Mother Lakshmi whispers seductively in Harry’s ear and he later reports having a vision of his daughter and cognizance of his lifelong connection to his emasculating wife. What I can draw from it is that in one scene, he’s moved on from media projections to cult-induced visions and whatever his dissatisfaction with his domestic situation, Harry wants to move forward. Paul imagines starting a family with Lakshmi out West, soliciting a Star Trek script to Harry hoping he’ll pass it along. Paul’s pitiful state is making me sad.

Don gets Dragged to a Play
Let’s check in on the Drapers, shall we? Megan Draper, now an actress, drags Don to some pretentious play called “America Hurrah,” exploring the frontiers of nuance as a character declares ads promoting American consumerism literally makes him sick. the subtext is not lost on Don. Upon return home, Don alerts Megan that he doesn’t appreciate the time and money he spends supporting less than novel attacks on his livelihood, Megan responding that the play didn’t go too hard on advertising.  “No one’s made a stronger stand against advertising than you,” retorts Don, injecting more tannins than necessary. Don’s been well-behaved this season, but he still uses any excuse to act out.

Catch Lane if you Can
Lane obtains another $50,000 line of credit for the firm and claims it as a surplus at a partner’s meeting, suggesting Christmas bonuses. Pete announces they’re back in the hunt for Jaguar and Don wants to wait on the bonuses. Lane disagrees, but is nevertheless overridden, while Pete gets no credit for clawing his way back into the picture for a car account, Bert Cooper calling them lemons. All are sour.

Lane needs the money now, so he sneaks into the office after hours to forge a check. I can’t help but think of Catch Me if You Can, the real life events of which run concurrently with Lane’s shenanigans. It makes Lane look all the worse that as he’s committing check fraud, a teenage Frank Abagnale is doing it glamorously all around the world, milking bigger aeronautic cows than SCDP client Mohawk Airlines. He’s an amateur, but if the movie is any indication of the time period’s check fraud detection, Lane may have some time to straighten it all out.

The corporate checkbook Lane is cooking requires signatures from two partners, and Lane forges the signature of a long dead army lieutenant who was killed in Korea. Is it really a big deal to fabricate the forgery of a forgery? It’s unfair to blast Lane for forging “Don Draper” to get out of a desperate situation, because, well, Don did the exact same thing and we’ve always let it slide. Don may very well discover Lane’s embezzlement, but if his crime is misusing that particular identity, Don’s thousands of times more guilty.

To frame this a a thematic issue, in the aftermath of Don’s Season 4 identity crisis, all SCDP executives now have access to elements of the composite Don Draper entity. Peggy tries to assume Don’s dominance pitching Heinz beans. Pete is living Don’s unhappy suburban life with the same kitchen cabinets, albeit less devoted side dishes. Don is having as much trouble as anyone assuming the role of Don Draper. Lane’s just taking the name, and again, it’s been done.

Don and Joan: Christmas Waltz or Two to Tango?
Pete tells Don he needs to do some field research on Jaguar, bemused at his lack of excitement that should come with landing a car. “Maybe you and I should go as a couple,” quips Don as Pete harks back to a time when Don might kiss him at the news. The gay overtones flash *Sal!* across the mind, what with the return of Paul Kinsey putting us in the mindset of unlikely comebacks. It’s a tease from Matthew Weiner — that’s as much Sal as we’re going to get. In any case, Don uses the “take someone other than your actual wife to test the Jag” template effectively when he encounters an irate Joan.

Some idiot receptionist allows a strange man to call for Joan Harris and upon her confirming her never-doubted identity, she is served with divorce papers. Conditioned to expect only flowers when she’s needed at reception, Joan loses her cool at the cruel surprise and condemns the poor receptionist to a fiery plane crash. Don whisks her out of the office with an idea. No, not that.

Remember when Lane laid the smackdown on Pete? Did you notice that Don pulled a veil across the windows before the fisticuffs? It was too literal for me, Draper drawing curtains. He watches Lane slap “The Pryce is right, bitch” on Pete who suffers a mini-breakdown in the elevator where Don very Donnishly tells him, “It’s going to be okay.” I have this theory that Don getting the curtains symbolized his momentary transformation into the Don with the declarative power to still the fraught. It happens when he does any kind of draping.This time, as Joan wipes her tears, Don drapes his jacket around her sultry shoulders and into the elevator they descend to test drive a Jaguar.

They waltz into the posh dealership a handsome couple, looking like the types who shouldn’t be kept waiting. As the salesman approaches, his jacket still around her, Don whispers “Look at your watch.” Maybe that’s supposed to indicate the type of impatience that will throw the salesman off balance, but not for the sake of interpretation. As Joanie looks down at her wrist, it’s not just a watch, but a time machine that, fueled by the power of an illicitly test-driven Jaguar XKE, takes Don and Joan to a time without a Vietnam War or Quebecois second wives.

Don, dapper fedora atop, shoots the breeze with Joan at a choice midtown bar. She laments the time they came from, the one with a husband who prefers deployment in the jungle and the realities of being a single mother. A time when only flowers could await her at reception. She doesn’t get to talk about this to anyone much. Don, warping away from 1966 with her, is the handsome charming rake we remember he is.

He congratulates her on her divorce, pointing out her ability to now move on, promising something, someone better. “You found someone perfect,” says Joan, tempting Don to challenge the notion. “I did,” says Don about his wife who has no idea where he is. The chemistry between these two is electric, but platonic. That’s how things are between these two. There’s hope, but not happiness.

Give me some change. I want music,” says Joan, and for some reason Don thinks she’s talking to him and she’s asking him for coins to insert into the jukebox. A waggish gentleman is watching Joan and they speculate who he is, who he has waiting at home (again, Don doesn’t call his own wife). Don says the man appeared here because he doesn’t know what he wants. Joan assures Don he knows, implying it’s not what he asked for.

The Negron Complex
Back at the Office, Mother Lakshmi seduces Harry, revealing after the fact her purpose is to keep Harry from drawing Paul away from the Krishnas, since he’s their best recruiter. Harry can’t believe she slept with him under false pretenses and she responds that was her only leverage. “But you already gave it away,” surmises the puzzled professional TV negotiator, and gets his glasses smacked off for the observation. He promises to tell Paul the truth that his script is crap.

Harry asked Peggy to read Paul’s Star Trek teleplay titled “The Negron Complex,” which is some awful cocktail of slavery, Hare Krishna, and broken dreams. Peggy is unsympathetic. Harry tells Peggy he knows it’s lame, but it was really hard for Paul to write that script. “Then he shouldn’t be doing it,” quips Peggy and is she talking about former copywriter Paul’s writing or former copywriter Megan’s acting? We need to see Peggy collect the win she’s been denied all season thus far.

Harry meets with Paul again under Lakshmi’s orders to crush his Hollywood screenwriting dreams, but Harry has other plans. He concocts lies about NBC loving the script but legally unable to purchase or acknowledge it, preserving Paul’s ego. He hands Paul a plane ticket to Los Angeles and $500 to start a new life there, without Lakshmi’s and the Krishnas. He tells Paul that’s where his future is, either lying or having changed his mind from the beginning of the episode when he told Lane the future was something he couldn’t predict.

I don’t even like Paul (who acknowledged earlier in the episode that no one does), but this may be his best shot. There was one other time a Mad Men character was reacquainted with a down and out person from his past in a diner, handed him a wad of cash and the demand to leave New York. That was Don, rediscovered by his long lost brother Adam, and Adam committed suicide shortly thereafter. Can we expect better for Paul?

The Flying Spaghetti Monster
Don leaves Joan to do with her evening what she will, kicking the Jag into high gear, trying to squeeze the thrill out of it he couldn’t before. He stumbles home, unaware that his his wife fuming at the dinner table, ready to pounce. No, not like that. He thinks so and tries so, but “that’s not what this is,” she fumes. She throws a plate of food at the wall echoing Joan’s earlier plane crash, and demands to know where he was, asking a salient question.

Why did you want me to think that?” cries Megan, and we immediately realize Don has no excuse. He knew to call, he couldn’t stop telling Joan how he missed Megan at work, yet he didn’t call. It has to do with something Bobbie Barrett told him a long time ago and he relayed to Joan at the bar. “I like being bad and going home and being good,” and I guess that’s what he thought he was doing. But the time machine warped him back to the present. He can’t use rationale from Season 2 anymore. He eats the plain spaghetti Megan’s had in the oven for him. “Do you want any cheese?” Asks Megan, and Don, supposing that’s what the moon is made of, says that he doesn’t.

Lane Strikes Out
Right before the Christmas Party where bonuses are to be announced, Pete comes in with bad news. Mohawk is suffering a strike and though they’re still flying, they’re suspending advertising, eliminating the funds for partner bonuses. The partners agree that they’ll forgo bonuses so everybody else can enjoy one. Presumably Lane agrees because some bonuses will help disguise his check fraud more than no bonuses would. His manner of speaking doesn’t convey to the company what he means when he says they’re getting bonuses and the partner’s aren’t, so Roger has to put it succinctly.

Don, not concerned about spending too much time at work anymore, gives a saber-rattling speech about how they’re going to land Jaguar. “A great leap forward” he promises, also promising tons of unpaid overtime. He really rouses the troops though, as only Don could, predicting they’ll “Swim the English Channel and drown in Champagne.” And something about escaping England and all that strikes a nerve in Lane, who looks beleaguered in his closeup as the credits roll.

Christmas Bonus(?)
I love the theme this season of “Giving X what he/she asks for vs. giving X what he/she wants.” It showed up in Don and Megan on the white carpet, Peggy’s pitch to Heinz, Roger and Jane, Peggy and Abe, and now in the bar conversation between Don and Joan. I expect it to show again in the season finale.

Harry seemed to genuinely be concerned for Paul, not immediately dismissing his script, and even putting up $500 of the money Roger gave him to switch now-Lakshmi-defiled offices with Pete. With the exception of Joan, who never really left, returning characters tend to do poorly on this show.

Speaking of Joan, Don felt her a much more suitable test-drive partner than Megan seeing how big of a stand against advertising Megan took and how car shopping represents the consumerism her friends’ plays despise. That paves the way to make some contrasts between Megan and Joan.

Joan: Curvy, Sterling Cooper holdover, left the agency and came back, before she had the baby Megan doesn’t seem to want. Megan is the thin former actress/receptionist/secretary/copywriter and current actress whose departure seems more permanent than Joan’s. Under different degrees of willingness, they’ve both sung songs in French in front of strangers at their own homes. Megan serves Don plain spaghetti, Joan gets served. They’re two very different women, but Don has never expressed interest in Joan and seems devoted to Megan.

Given Lane’s predicament, will Ginsberg be getting a Christmas bonus?

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Posted May 22, 2012 by Wada in Uncategorized

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