Way to bounce back, Mad Men. If last week was Betty’s very presence stopping the show dead in its tracks, last night saw Michael Gladis bring the show back to insane life with the return of Paul Kinsey, aspiring sci-fi writer/best Hare Krishna recruiter ever! While it might have been entertaining to watch the pretentious Paul sink to this point, witnessing the end result was satisfying enough on so many levels. Poor Paul. Despite his delusion of living some kind of a life with the treacherous Lakshmi, he is self-aware enough to realize that no one likes him. That’s why every original character except for Sal (and now I truly believe that we’ll see the former art director at some point in the future) was invited to join SCDP while Paul was left out in the cold. Why is that? Because he has a big mouth (as Joan pointed out so very long ago)? Because his African-American girlfriend, Sheila, was simply a way for him to prove how interesting he thought he was (pretty sure Joan nailed that one on the head, too)? Or maybe because he’s just not that talented (as evidenced by what we can only imagine is a truly awful Star Trek spec script). But while Paul is a character for whom we can feel nothing but pity, former innocent and current douchebag Harry Crane came out on top as the hero of the night. Yes, he screws Lakshmi in his unbelievably awkward office, thus betraying his wife and his supposed friend. But the encounter prompts Harry to lie and dangle false hopes in Paul’s face for the most honorable reasons. Paul as a successful TV writer? Well, stranger things have happened. But at least Harry gives him back something of the original destiny that Paul envisioned for himself, a life where he believed himself to be a genius before Peggy showed that she had the talent, Harry the ingenuity (he created a whole department for himself), and Pete the drive. If we never see Paul again, I’ll picture him reaching (and given what he’s been through in his recent past, that might be enough).
Poor Lane. The specifics of his current financial peril are not as important as what it’s prompting him to do. Acquiring the loan on false pretenses, forging his bonus check before it is rightfully cut, and then drowning in the realization that he’s either going to have to expertly cover his tracks or pray that SCDP lands Jaguar (or pray for some other type of a miracle). Honestly, I keep going back to Lane’s line from the premiere that he’s going to spend the rest of his life in his office. Given that it looks like everyone is going to call the office home for the next few weeks (thanks to Don’s awesome speech), I could see everything falling apart and Lane jumping out a window. Or perhaps he does so before the agency lands Jaguar (the irony being that Lane did open the door for them to even have a shot at the account). I really like Lane, so I hope I’m wrong. But he is in a bad spot.
All powerful moments (and Don and Megan’s trip to the theater was uncomfortably hilarious), but nothing beat Don helping Joan pull herself together after her rapist serves her with divorce papers, their little husband/wife act in the Jaguar showroom, and that heart-to-heart at the bar. No disrespect to Jon Hamm who was beyond sexy in that hat, but my mind kept jumping to the fact that Joan is the ideal woman for every man on this show (hell, even the afore-mentioned Sal seemed to enjoy kissing her while performing Paul’s dreadful play while the gang watched the Nixon/Kennedy election results). The problem is that no one knows what to do with her. The Gregs of this world abuse her because she’s superior, the Rogers take her for granted (but I will give the man credit for offering to help her support Kevin), and the Lanes time everything wrong (I liked their kiss, and Joan is the type of woman who’ll skip over what she views as a faux pas then move onto the next topic of conversation without missing a beat). Pauls have big mouths, the Dons of yesterday were terrified (and I’d guess that many a young man shared this feeling over the years), and the Dons of today only reach for her when they’re drunk and feeling lonely (and Joan is smart enough not to submit). Joan is the whole package: smart, stunning, tough when it’s called for, and warm when she needs to be. No one reads people like her, dispenses better advice, and deserves more than the raw deal she’s currently getting from her soon-to-be-ex who needs to die before Joan signs any papers (maybe then she’ll get his pension or something, but knowing Joan, she’s too classy to take it). So where I can leave Paul wanting and feeling that he’s still better off, I want to see Joan getting, getting respect, accolades, and love. Another great showcase for Christina Hendricks, and an overall fantastic episode.