Episode 510: Dharma And Dr. Greg -- Or, The Great Leap Forward

by , May 22, 2012, 10:23 PM
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Mad Men 5-10Let’s face it, kids, there’s something about that Aqua Velva Man.  Old Don Draper is back, and he’s in rare form, snapping his fedora and romancing the Joan! How satisfying can an episode get?

Yup, it all feels so familiar: the drinking the afternoon away in a dark midtown bar, the Sinatra music, the electric connection between Don and his inamorata, not to mention the angry wife waiting at home! Be still, my heart!

Best of all, there’s still the possibility of a Don-Joan sexy time ahead, as the bond remains tantalizingly unconsummated! (And how close is Don /Joan to Don Juan?)

I wasn’t thrilled that it’s already Christmas (with only three more episodes to go!) Still, “Christmas Waltz” was a great dance, filled with paper snowflakes on the walls, returning stars and returning themes: Kinsey reappears, having taken up his  creepiest affectation yet; we get a new female grifter, much talk of vomit, and all those Harry (as in Crane) Krishna jokes.

But let’s begin with poor Lane. He’s got middle-of-the-night trouble, in the form of back taxes owed to the Queen. This reminded me of Weiner’s recent use of  “Tomorrow Never Knows,” the most difficult, psychedelic song on the 1966 Beatles’ “Revolver” album. It mystified Don.  But the album also included the much easier-to-understand “Tax Man,” George Harrison’s response to his own shock at what the British government took from his earnings. (“You drive a car, I'll tax the street/If you try to sit, I'll tax your seat/If you get too cold I'll tax the heat,/If you take a walk, I'll tax your feet.”)

Mad Men 5-10Lane’s crazy actions illustrate the larger themes of  the episode: money, hypocrisy, telling the truth, and doing what’s important for the long term, not the moment. The secret plan he comes up with is deluded, desperate and sad, probably owing to the shame he feels from being beaten as a child.

We see Lane asking Harry Crane for financial projections. Crane mentions that you never know what’s ahead -- that the Russians might invade -- and in the next scene, we see Lane coming out of a meeting with his banker, wearing a Russian-style fur hat, like the spy who came in from the cold. He tries to get the dough the semi-legal way, with his bonus idea. When that’s shot down, he steals into Joan’s office, accountant by day/ thief in the night, and forges Don’s signature on a check: a forgery of a forged identity.  

The money might get him through the holidays -- but really, won’t Joan discover the scam when she goes over the books? Will she be able to create some diplomatic way out for Lane? Is he the future falling man?

But let’s get back to Harry (who is having trouble adjusting his rabbit ears in the office, meaning he needs better antennae). Wearing his plaid coat, he goes down to see Kinsey in his new saffron-colored digs in Sitar City. The whole scene accounts for  one of the funniest visual moments in “Mad Men” history; it only gets better as Harry chants and sweats up his glasses.

Mad Men 5-10The show is slightly ahead of its time on the whole Hare Krishna movement, which really invaded the American consciousness much later in the ‘60s. But Kinsey was always a bellwether, what with his black girlfriend and  (self-serving) faux-freedom riding.  That would explain his “Negron Complex” spec “Star Trek” script. (Kinsey’s description of his script, “moral complexity tinged with adventure” seems like an in joke by the  MM writers, to describe their own show.)

And by the way, everybody’s in saffron, but Kinsey’s in beige. Does that mean he’s wishy-washy in his devotion?  Not to Lakshmi, certainly. Her name cleverly fits into the whole anti-material-hypocrisy theme of the episode. Lakshmi is the Hindu goddess of wealth, among other things.

The give-and-take between Harry and his old friend Paul is delightful, and palpably sincere, except when it comes to their bizarre lady friend, nee Janet, who reminded me of Don’s desperate artist/heroin-addict ex. As with the sex with Lakshmi on his desk, Harry’s plan for Paul is ass-backwards. Both the L word herself and Peggy told Harry to tell Paul the truth about his script -- that honesty would be the kindest thing to give him.  Instead, Harry cooks up a story about Paul’s golden future, bribing him with $500 to leave immediately for L.A.  I got an instant vision of Paul in full Krishna regalia, singing and dancing, never getting past the airport.

And by the way, someone on the show really has it in for McCann-Erickson. We got a whopper of a joke: Paul admits  that he really “degraded” himself with his previous life, and Harry responds, “at McCann?”  Peggy’s riff, naming Paul’s whole downward spiral of agencies, “Y&R, K&E, B&B,’’ ending with the A& P, was terrific.

Mad Men 5-10Unfortunately, we didn’t see much of Peg this time, but her reaction scenes during the bonus announcement speeches were priceless. Lane goes on and on, to no reaction from the crowd at all, until Roger steps in and says, “That means you’re all getting bonuses and we’re not” to thunderous applause.

Ditto Pete’s talk about pitching Jaguar. Crickets. Then Don takes the floor, and leads the troops into battle via a motivational speech straight out of Shakespeare’s Henry V, (“we few, we band of brothers….”) Yup, he’s back in the saddle as  the agency’s creator-in-chief, as inspiring as he was during the “Carousel” presentation, although this speech makes a lot less sense (“drowning in Champagne”?)

More important than the actual words, however, Don knows exactly the right moment to remove his jacket and roll up his sleeves as he speaks, a signal of the hard work they’ll all have to do over the holidays and the next six successive weekends.

But the Jaguar story line was begun by Pete -- and as with other Pete ventures, I get a sinking feeling. Is SDCP really among the “small, elite group” asked to pitch?

Still, the whole development allows for that wonderful scene with Don and Joan going to the showroom for a test drive, as a test couple. Unlike the awkward scene with Peggy in the test kitchen, Don and Joan together have “four children” and are the bomb. (Why would they make the Jaguar salesman a mismatched American dweeb, while, in a previous episode, the guy selling Don the Cadillac was a Brit in a bespoke suit?)

Mad Men 5-10The lines the fake couple exchange seem kind of stagey -- “No room for three?” and “She really wants me to take her for a ride” -- because another point of the show is that everything is a performance. Joan likes the sexy red car (duh), but at first Don says it “does nothing for him.”  “You’re happy, you don’t need it,” Joan says.

As they talk about divorce, and get closer and closer, Don admits that he was “scared shit” of Joan in the beginning, and that from the amount of flowers she received at reception, he thought she was dating the “Ali Khan.”

The layers get genius here. A little research turns up that the notorious playboy was quoted talking about his first marriage to one Joan Guinness. “I was tired of trouble,” he said. “Joan was a sane and solid girl, and I thought if I married her, I would stay out of trouble.”

This did not happen, of course: both Khan and that other Joan were married several more times, including Khan’s marriage to actress Rita Hayworth. But Don’s note to Joan, delivered with red roses the next day, (“Your mother did a good job,” signed Ali Khan) proved as romantic and devastatingly clever as his missive to “Lovely Megan” was earlier.  

Still, I found Joan’s line, “My mother raised me to be admired,” sad. It sounded like Blanche DuBois’ "I have always relied on the kindness of strangers.” Especially now that we know Joan’s mother.

At first, I thought Joan’s rejection of Roger’s offer to support the baby was noble but deluded.  Really, what happens if the agency goes down?  Then I realized that in light of Greg serving her with divorce papers, it’s probably better not to have a paper trail, so that Greg can’t actually take the “moral high ground,” in those pre-DNA testing days, even if he suspects that Kevin isn’t his. It would be short-term thinking, like Lane’s mistake.

Mad Men 5-10Leaving the bar, Don really took to that stick shift, balling that jack (the language is straight out of “On the Road,”) straight to the Jaguar showroom. He gets home to an angry, spaghetti-throwing Megan. And he thinks (hopes) it’s her prelude to sex. “Thit down,” she says, demonstrating a similarity to Sally. (But Sally’s lisp is all gone; she’s a big girl!) Megan’s actually acting more like Betty. (Both have reason to be angry and resentful with Don, of course.)

Earlier, at an avant-garde theater group performance that Don found tiresome, an actor spoke of wanting to vomit at the commercials, and having “nothing to hold on to.”  When Don and Megan got home, the two of them were physically disconnected in the living room -- neither had anything to hold on to. Megan defended the play as having more to do with “the emptiness of consumerism.” As she said it, she was wearing a jeweled mini dress, standing in their consumer paradise of an apartment.

Don doesn’t know “what he’s wanting.” He wants to hold on to Megan, but not if it means an empty living room and getting his work demeaned by her friends. She seems to have even less reason to stay.

At the bar, Don mentions that he suspects “the agency misses” Megan -- when in fact he does.  Meanwhile, Joan mentions her understanding of what goes wrong with marriage as “the sin of being familiar.” She was wrong about Megan before. Will she stay smart?

Let’s hope the agency does “swim the English Channel and drown in Champagne.” I sure hope the dampness doesn’t flood the electrical system.

14 comments on "Episode 510: Dharma And Dr. Greg -- Or, The Great Leap Forward".

  1. Jonathan Hutter from Garrand
    commented on: May 23, 2012 at 8:46 a.m.
    Fantastic column as always. Don at his best is...the best. I wonder if anyone else thought the story of Lane obtaining the extended line of credit under false pretenses assumed the audience knew more about agency finances than one might reasonably expect? I found myself having to explain projections and commissions. This might be the first time (at least that I recall) that the writers made such an assumption, and confused those members of the audience who did not actually work in agencies.
  2. Rob Frydlewicz from RAF Consulting
    commented on: May 23, 2012 at 1:44 p.m.
    Joan's tirade against the receptionist was an Emmy-caliber performance by Christina Hendricks. I wonder what her hubby's grounds for divorce are. And why didn't Joan take this action herself three episodes ago?
  3. Aj Mollo from AJ Mollo & Associates
    commented on: May 23, 2012 at 4:54 p.m.
    Don may yet stray, if he begins to feel his needs aren't being met at home, but I hope it's not with Joan. I'm kind of liking the real, adult man-woman friendship, based on mutual respect and good humor, that's developed between them.
  4. Vanessa Coates from Engelbrecht Advertising
    commented on: May 23, 2012 at 6:14 p.m.
    I am thinking in the case of Joan not filing for divorce, that maybe she hoped that her hubby would go back to the war and die and she could be a widow and not a divorcee. I feel like Joan would never sleep with Don because she respects him too much. With Roger you can see she has no respect for him, it is just fun and sex.
  5. Jonathan Hutter from Garrand
    commented on: May 24, 2012 at 11:02 a.m.
    I think Joan just wanted her husband to die.
  6. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com
    commented on: May 24, 2012 at 12:03 p.m.
    perhaps the throwing of the plane (which should earn her an Emmy!) was the beginning of seeing that Joan is not coping as well as we thought. I agree-- she hoped her hubby would just go away and die. I had another thought about Kinsey. Wouldn't it be funny if they're setting him up for a HUGE success in LA ?
  7. Vanessa Coates from Engelbrecht Advertising
    commented on: May 24, 2012 at 5:25 p.m.
    I thought the same thing about Kinsey. I think he is going to be very successful out in LA. I think LA will be more open to his creativity.
  8. Jonathan Hutter from Garrand
    commented on: May 24, 2012 at 5:39 p.m.
    I think they are setting Kinsey up for a role in the movie Airplane and Robert Stack is going to beat him up. Seriously though, I think Joan's outburst was in fact, her humanity coming through, coping the way anyone getting screwed by an ex might, during a divorce. She isn't as perfect as she presents, to her credit. If Sally spent some time with Joan, Sally would end up ruling the world.
  9. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER
    commented on: May 24, 2012 at 10:02 p.m.
    THE A&P line almost got me to call Ralph Ammirati. I have to admit once again I have been very slow to follow things--Meghan's father does look a little like Sartre, just needs his eyeballs whacked around and that was at least three episodes ago. I have suggested this before, Barbara, but you could also do wonders with The Borgias and Boardwalk Empire. I had four partners (actually five, one whose name wasn't on the door) and a couple of years ago our second employee sent me an old $1,000 cancelled check that our agency had paid somebody or anotherin our first year in business. She wrote on the note: "imagine two signatures on a thousand dollar check." I guess it's the old "you trust your mother but you cut the cards."
  10. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com
    commented on: May 25, 2012 at 11:42 a.m.
    AS Jonny Mac said off line, he thinks Don was being a good friend to Joan, and no more. Don loves his wife and wants to stay with her. She really holds the reins. What do you guys think? was this just a tantalizing glimpse of what could have been-- and never will be? The only one self-destructing these days is Lane.
  11. Jonathan McEwan from MediaPost
    commented on: May 25, 2012 at 12:35 p.m.
    LOL. I see you really wanted me to share it, so here it is: I have one primary observation: I think a man is writing this story. And Don is a more heroic character than you give him credit for. I do think very much that Don acted the gentleman and friend with Joan, without any hidden agenda. I think he's very in love with Megan and destined to lose her because she's a complex and free thing that cannot be held in a bell jar. I think Megan will ultimately leave because she's protected in that jar, but suffocating in it as well. Art is sacrifice and pain. Everyone around her is heading toward the nascent hippie movement and striving for art. Struggling, waiting tables, going hungry... And she can throw her food against the wall and not eat if she chooses because her husband came home late... She's powerful in the relationship. She's the boss. She'll pick it up later. She wants you to sit down now and EAT... What Don did with Joan was sweet and comforting and just what I would have done today in the same situation. He bucked her up, got her a drink, basically gave her the day off, and then set her up to meet a handsome stranger across the bar. They may have come in together but that didn't mean he couldn't pretend to have struck out and leave her there... Very gallant. Not a bit seditious at all.
  12. Jonathan Hutter from Garrand
    commented on: May 25, 2012 at 1:08 p.m.
    I agree with the other Jonathan 100%. The interesting thing about the afternoon off with Joan was that Don was playing a character, mostly his old self. If he had stayed in character, he would have turned around and walked out when Megan threw that plate.
  13. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited
    commented on: May 25, 2012 at 7:11 p.m.
    Just the way Don was shuffling around his hat and practicing his wiles with Joan, he knew exactly what he was doing...acting. After all, ad people are sales people and sales takes a lot of acting. That's also the difference between Don and Roger that Don knows he's on stage and Roger does not.
  14. Cece Forrester from tbd
    commented on: December 5, 2012 at 8:45 p.m.
    I noticed Don's hat in the bar scene and realized it marked him as old-school. By this point in the sixties men had pretty much stopped wearing hats unless demanded by the weather, if I recall correctly. Any day now the younger guys, eat least the creatives, are going to switch to blue jeans and sandals, or at least wide ties, floral shirts and outrageously striped bell-bottom pants. I agree, Don was really just being a friend to Joan. (pardon me, I'm just catching up because my TiVo dropped an episode during the first run and I had to wait for them to come around again.)

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