In a series that is mostly impeccable, almost perfect in every single way, it is almost a given that now and then you’ll have an episode that seems out of place, a bit strange and perhaps not up to the standard of the previous episodes of the season. When Mad Men did the Season 3 cull and very excitedly got rid of several key characters, the show changed forever. Things became a lot more precarious and really, it was a fantastic move so early on in the run.
Because Mad Men subverts expectations at every turn, it makes it difficult to guess where the show is going. What I wasn’t expecting to happen was for it to fall into the most obvious TV histrionics by bringing back the characters we used to love. It smacks of “we need a bit of filler in the middle episodes before we get to what we really want to do in the last few episodes.”
And so this week, episode ten of Mad Men‘s fifth season, we welcome the return of Paul Kinsey. But it’s not how you would expect.
There are some strange underlying tensions going on in the office. At the opening of the episode we see Lane receive a late night call from someone back home in England who informs him that he needs to pay off a significant proportion of money in order to keep him out of prison. As it turns out Lane was avoiding taxes back in the old country and has gotten himself into a bit of a sore spot.
In order to rectify this disaster he first goes to the bank, asking them to extend his line of credit. This is initially quite a good idea, and it occurs to Lane that with a newly acquired $50,000 he can distribute Christmas bonuses to cover his ass, but Don vetoes the idea saying that they should wait a couple of months. As a result of this Lane has to find a way of picking up the money by other means. He sinks to the lowest of the low and forges a check with Don’s signature.
This is interesting for a couple of reasons. Lane has been absent from the past few episodes and honestly, this season he hasn’t been given much to do at all. Aside from the excellent Signal 30, Lane’s plot lines this season have been fairly peripheral and this is another example of that, he never does feel like a true part of the Mad Men environment, but then again maybe that is intentional. However, I could be wrong and the forging of the check could have many repercussions in the last couple of episodes this season, or in the next couple of seasons.
Elsewhere in the office there is a case of yuletide blues. Due to an unforeseen strike, Mohawk Airlines announce that they are indefinitely suspending their advertising campaign. It’s also bad news for Joan when a mysterious man arrives at the office to announce that she’s been served and her bastard husband Greg has filed for divorce from her. Season’s greetings from the raping Doctor.
It is becoming more and more apparent that Don is slowly getting more disillusioned with his job in advertising. He doesn’t have the drive that he had before and it is beginning to show. Whenever a new account opportunity rings in it is met with retired indignation and the sardonic spark up of a cigarette. But this episode marks a water change. Megan takes Don to see a play where advertising is laid on a slab and torn apart for the pleasure of its liberal, anti-capitalist audience.
There is also the disharmony in his marriage with Megan, and this comes across in what are some of the best scenes of this season. Coming to Joan’s rescue after she throws a paddy from receiving divorce papers, Don takes Joan to the Jaguar salesroom. He splashes out $6000 on a brand new car and then takes her to a bar. The two of them chew the fat about their lives, about how Don is tired of his marriage and how Joan is anxious about finding another significant partner to love her.
Christina Hendricks and Jon Hamm do have ridiculously good chemistry and they are very watchable together on screen, these scenes are nearly as good as the scenes we get between Peggy and Don. They are both excellent actors and we now know why Matthew Weiner has been keeping them apart for so long, because if they had more scenes together we wouldn’t cherish it as much. It’s the same effect Richard Jenkins had in Six Feet Under, if you had more of it you wouldn’t appreciate how good that stuff actually is.
The reason this stuff is brilliant is because it chimes so strongly with the return of Michael Gladis as Paul Kinsey, which is a mistake. Harry Crane gets a call from Paul insisting that the two meet and catch up, Harry agrees and goes to meet him only to discover that he has become a follower of Hare Krishna and sports a ridiculous new haircut, and is robed in light yellow garments. What follows is a foully misjudged sequence in which Harry and the Krishnas engage in prayer and it is stupid rather than funny.
Mad Men‘s embrace of the swinging, experimental 60s was taken far enough for me when Roger and Jane took LSD, the Hare Krishna routine is a step way too far. What follows on from that is a rather pointless subplot where Paul is anxious get his life back on track and he wants to get back into writing. He gives Harry a television script for Star Trek which is abjectly awful. Harry is then met by Paul’s new girlfriend Lakshmi who has sex with him in the office in order to get Harry to give Paul some form of hope. So not to be blackmailed any further he gives Paul $500 and sends him to Los Angeles, insisting he continues his writing, despite it being terrible.
I was struggling to be convinced by the whole thing and it just came across as filler, as well as more material to give to Harry Crane whose importance in the show seems to be depleting. By bringing back Paul Kinsey I just thought of what the former series regulars would be doing right now and how Sal is probably leathering it up in the New York gay scene.
But there are some reasons to be happy. The rambunctiously irritating Pete Campbell, the little junior partner still trying to prove his worth and garner some attention. Once again he is proudly announcing that he has again opened the opportunity of getting the Jaguar account back following the firing of Edwin Baxter. They must compete with other companies though to gain the account and in his new found passion, Don rouses the troops and gets the applause that Pete Campbell has always lusted after.
This was an average episode of Mad Men all said and done, there were some good segments here and there but the return of Paul Kinsey was a mistake. That being said, an average episode in a series which is flawless and hits it out of the park every single week more or less is instantaneously forgivable and I only hope for the best in the last 3 episodes.