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Enterprise: Dancing Around the Issue on Mad Men

"You used to love your work."

One of the thematic ribbons running through Mad Men has been the notion of how one either balances their work and home lives, attempts to merge them, or jeopardizes one through the pursuit of the other. Work is, well, work. It's something that might define us--especially several of the characters on Mad Men--but is also a means to an end ("That's what the money is for!") in terms of both financial stability, security, and glory. The modern hero's quest, one could argue, is a capitalist one: the accumulation of wealth and fame the end goal, things like family and relationships the necessary sacrifices along the way.

On this week's episode of Mad Men ("Christmas Waltz"), written by Victor Levin and Matthew Weiner and directed By: Michael Uppendahl, the entire episode largely revolved around the notion of enterprise, both in a literal and figurative sense, with several characters engaged in risky, speculative behavior that may or may not backfire magnificently. (The episode also offered a return to form after last week's disappointing "Dark Shadows." I wasn't able to review the episode due to the intrusion of other work--aha!--as I was covering the network upfronts all last week, but this week's installment was better realized, I felt, and less obvious and on the nose as last week's.)

For Don Draper (Jon Hamm), much of his life has revolved around the professional sphere, and he attempted to fuse his work and home lives together by bringing Megan (Jessica Paré) more fully into his world, giving her opportunities that many could only dream of: a highly sought after position as a copywriter at a top agency, flexible hours (she was married to the boss after all), and the ability to work alongside her husband during the day. Megan's disinterest in this world, and what Don views as her rejection of its ideals and potential, continues to drive a wedge between the couple, as seen at the beginning of "Christmas Waltz." As Don steps further into Megan's world--an outing to see the play American Hurrah, with its anti-consumerist (and specifically anti-television advertising) messages--he's frequently reminded of the fact that she turned away from his. "No one's made a stronger stand against advertising than you," he tells her, bitterly.

Because Don's view of himself is inexorably linked to that of work, he sees Megan's rejection of advertising as a larger rejection of himself. Because work and identity are so intertwined in his perception, they're inseparable. An attack on one is an attack on the other. Picking up a dinner check for a friend of Megan's who has just insulted his profession is anathema to Don, despite his ease with denigrating acting as a profession. Perhaps, quite possibly, because Don doesn't see acting as a true enterprise. He's been "acting" his entire life but it's been for self-survival, rather than for a check. He can't shrug off his identity as easily as the actors in American Hurrah after the show. He lives and breathes the role every day.

The crack that Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) makes ("Yes, you may have to stay past 5:30.") rankles not only because it's emanating from Pete, but also because it's a reminder of what's been lost: Don and Megan would frequently head out early to spend the evening together but, as we see within "Christmas Waltz," they're increasingly living separate lives... and the speech that Don gives at the end of the episode, a St. Crispin's Day-style oration for the Madison Avenue set, underpins this even further: he's not only willing to sacrifice his evenings, but his weekends to the Jaguar campaign and therefore to the larger stability of the agency itself. No more early evenings, no more midday rendezvouses with his young wife: Don recommits himself to one aspect of his life over the other, and it's telling that the sacrifice occurs after Megan angrily slams a plate of dinner against the wall when Don stumbles home, drunk, after his afternoon with Joan (Christina Hendricks). Marriage, it seems, is an enterprise as well.

Elsewhere, it's Lane Pryce (Jared Harris) who is engaged in a highly risky enterprise of his own. After learning that he owes the Inland Revenue £2900, Lane engages in theft, deceit, and outright larceny in order to pay off the taxes he owes the British government, lying to Rebecca (Embeth Davidtz) about why he needs her to stay in New York for Christmas, borrowing a further $50,000 from the bank in order to pretend there are surplus funds and SCDP can afford to pay out Christmas bonuses to the employees, and then forging Don's signature on a check in order to pay off the debt when he learns that the partners (and junior partners) will wait until January to take their bonuses.

But Lane's sense of enterprising spirit comes at a series of steep costs, both financially and spiritually. His lies accumulate, as does his guilt and his crimes. A white lie to protect Rebecca from the truth is one thing, but lying to the bank, the partners, the employees, and possibly to himself is another. And just when he thinks he's in the clear, there's another cost, another debt to be paid. (Here, it even materializes as the fee for his tax lawyer, which Lane puts off until after the new year.) To echo the words of Paul Kinsey (Michael Gladis), newly attuned to Krishna consciousness, money solves today's problems. (It's something that John Slattery's Roger ought to understand as well: his efforts to support the child he had with Joan are rejected outright, despite his insistence that he supports Kevin through college. He sees Joan as more mercenary than she is, reading her anger as irritation that Roger's ex-wife will get a chunk of his finances in the divorce. She sees Roger's financial input as a means of control and of ownership over both Kevin and her.)

What Lane doesn't realize is that, due to his financial slight of hand, there will be bigger debts to pay later, even if he's dodged the financial guillotine for now. Paying today doesn't mean that the consequences won't catch up to you later. If anything, Lane has stumbled into even deeper quicksand. (I feel quite bad for Lane, even as he engages in outright fraud. It's about more than just financial stability: it's a matter of honor, and he's willing to break whatever rules he has to in order to maintain the illusion that he's keeping everything together.)

Whatever latest cause Kinsey espouses, there's likely to be a woman in the mix as well, whether it be the civil rights movement or Krishna consciousness. And sure, enough, even in this situation--with Kinsey flunking out of advertising and into the yellow robes of a Hare Krishna recruiter--there's a female angle to be worked. (Getting into women's pants by devoting himself to various causes is his version of enterprise, if we're being honest.) Lakshmi (Anna Wood), however, has her own agenda, one that doesn't involve Harry Crane (Rich Sommer), Kinsey's terrible Star Trek spec script (the literal Enterprise here), or Hollywood connections. She sleeps with Harry in an effort to get him to stay away from Kinsey and when he rejects the notion that she has anything else to offer him, she slugs him.

Is Harry's effort to help Kinsey, even though he knows he will fail in Hollywood, really offering him a lifeline? Or is it further pushing him down the rabbit role? For all of Kinsey's talk about rejecting material possessions and consumerism (he would fall in line with the characters in American Hurrah on the surface), he's still looking for elusive fame and fortune, seeing the spec script as an important work but also as a stepping stone to professional advancement, leveraging his friendship with Harry to push himself in another direction altogether.

Kinsey's enterprising ways--luring Harry to a Hare Krishna meeting, preying on his vulnerabilities and generosity, as well as their friendship--backfire spectacularly here. He's given $500 and a bus ticket, and told to pursue his dreams in Los Angeles. In this scenario, both Kinsey and Harry are using money to solve today's problems as well: Harry gets rid of Kinsey, and Kinsey is bought off with promises of success. While Harry may have freed Kinsey from the clutches of Lakshmi, he's sent him on a collision course with a rude awakening in Hollywood. $500 might pay for today, but it's not paying for tomorrow. His final words sting the most: "All these people said they'd do something for me and you're the first one who did." Ouch.

While I was thrilled to see the return of Kinsey--and certainly didn't expect him to turn him in quite the way that he did--there was something about the Harry/Kinsey storyline here that didn't quite coalesce completely. I can't put my finger on it precisely, but in retrospect, it didn't entirely come together for me.

I did, however, love the entire sequence between Don and Joan, as they test out a Jaguar (posing as a deliriously happy couple), drink the afternoon away at a bar, and engage in the sort of intellectual flirting that the show does best. (Joan's cool but sultry composure here is at odds with the fiery display she put on after being served divorce papers in SCDP's lobby, where she threw a model of an airplane at the ditzy receptionist.) The two discuss starting over after divorce and reminisce about the past, particularly how Don was terrified of Joan and how she was always being offered up flowers by her suitors, who didn't include Don. "My mother raised me to be admired," she trills in pitch-perfect Joan-speak. Joan is, let's be honest, used to being admired, but she's lost her self-confidence. It isn't as easy as walking through a crowded bar anymore. She is now a single mother and wonders just when she brings that up on the first date.

Don and Joan's easy intimacy is the result of years of familiarity, and Don's chivalry here (offering Joan both an escape route from the office and his coat) is the perfect antidote to her malaise and anger. Just as she accuses Roger of moving on to the next girl after he tries to financial support their child, he turns the tables on her: how many times has he left her alone with a card from another man? Has her own enterprising ways, collecting suitors, led her to a landscape where she is raising her child alone? It's interesting that what Joan sees as her marriage's failing--Greg (Sam Page) choosing to be away from his family rather than with them--is the choice that Don largely makes at the end of the episode as well, choosing work over home, profession over personal, career over marriage.

Don might not feel anything from the quivering red Jaguar, but it's not, as Joan guesses, because he's happy. Perhaps, it's because he's not: no longer happy at work nor at home, Don is becoming desperate to feel something again, a connection that's overtly missing from his experience in the Jaguar as he returns it. Even his lack of emotional register when Megan throws a tantrum and orders him to sit down and eat with her signals a deep disconnection from the world around him.

But when he does rally, Don chooses one enterprise over the other, opting to commit fully to the agency rather than his marriage. The flowers he sends aren't to his wife, but to Joan in the end, as he jokingly positions himself as "Ali Khan," Romantic play-acting from a man who had been living without pretense of late. Don's decision is an admission that there will be more late nights and working weekends to come, more missed dinners and further distance between himself and Megan, with whom he's growing increasingly estranged. Both endeavors have their own set of risks, but in choosing one over the other, Don perhaps subconsciously admits that--for him--work (or, in the abstract sense, money itself) may not solve tomorrow's problems, but it might just offer a distraction from today's.

On the next episode of Mad Men ("The Other Woman"), Don is challenged by a pitch and Peggy contemplates a trip.

Comments

Ally said…
re: While I was thrilled to see the return of Kinsey--and certainly didn't expect him to turn him in quite the way that he did--there was something about the Harry/Kinsey storyline here that didn't quite coalesce completely. I can't put my finger on it precisely, but in retrospect, it didn't entirely come together for me.

Absolutely. When the episode was over I told Q that with the exception of the resolution scene, the Paul story didn't work for me. I found the whole story forced and inorganic. I felt like they wanted to do a hare krishna story, and just forced this on-the-nose, not very interesting take. I was glad to see Michael Gladis again, but everything in the chant scenes was off and looked inauthentic.

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