Welcome Back Kinsey
Mad Men Season 5 Episode 10 recap
At our house the boy has an oft-repeated phrase employed during Mad Men. He takes great delight at muttering “Shut Up Pete” after most bright, Peter-like declarations. It's not like it's a revelatory statement, but it's surprising how often it comes in handy. Nothing sharper than that is necessary, nothing less than that would be effective. It's exactly appropriate.
Similarly, I used to groan every time Paul Kinsey came onscreen. His dumb pipe and his dumb sweater and his stupid groovy parties were annoying to me but I recognized that he was an appropriate relic of the era and that every office has to have this guy, the one who is annoying by nature, and because he never met a topic he didn't already know everything about, and who regards the actual work part of his work with a sniff that you'd expect from a Pete Campbell, but actually get from a Paul Kinsey. He was irritating, but rightfully so, much the way that Harry is a sniveling nerd with no redeeming features, but that's a lesson you learn in the work world too. Not everyone who's a misfit has a heart of gold; some are just legitimately awful, which is fine.
But I didn't expect the Kinsey we saw last night.
It was partly the turtleneck, right? That awful, cheap yellow turtleneck that was apparently not a uniform, since Lakshmi and others didn't have to don it - I felt like he was strangling and I wanted to whip him out of it with scissors, the fact that he would be sweaty and awkward underneath notwithstanding. How quickly can you fall from the man you used to be? According to Mad Men timelines it's been three years since Kinsey was left behind, not asked to continue with the others to Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. According to Peggy, he landed at at least five firms since then, which I thought was a little excessive. It's not that improbable, but Kinsey was also relatively accomplished. He'd have to have been burning an awful lot of bridges to fall so fast and so hard.
So now we see why.
Did you notice what a good job they did with that group of Krishnas? All young yuppie-esque New Yorkers looking for something. And all brought in by Paul Kinsey. I don't know exactly what I thought was the saddest part - that his recruiting techniques were a repurposing of his advertising skills? That he still wanted to be a part of the most secular part of the secular world? That his spec script was terrible? That might have hurt the most of all. Mad Men spends all kinds of time discussing whether or not its characters are going to step up to the life they're meant for, whether Don or Megan or Peggy can pull out all the stops to reach the heights they're capable of, but struggle to reach because of lives and loves and complications. We haven't really seen someone who didn't have it. Even Freddy Rumsfeld was good. Unable to actually function in meetings, but talent wasn't the problem. Kinsey's script is terrible (and I automatically believed Harry when he said it was true, which says something, because he bugs me something fierce, right down to pretending he slept with Lakshmi because it was “okay”). There's not much you can do with that except wish the person well. Hope they'll get away. Do what you can to sever them from a cult that's never going to give them what they want.
So now do you see why Don's so frustrated with Megan? To have talent is one thing but to walk away from it is, in many cases, nothing short of a sin -- and not just because the alternative, “acting”, isn't exactly being painted in a flattering light. He cares about her mind, not just her body. They have an actual, real intellectual connection. And she's throwing it away. To Don, I suspect, it isn't just about talent - it's about Megan casting aside the chance to be closer to him, to experience things together, to have a shared experience they can both relate to. To walk away from it isn't just irresponsible, talent-wise, it might be seen as fearful. Lazy. She's scared to be the person she's supposed to be, and if she fails as an actress, well, you can explain that as almost everyone fails as an actress. It's an easy out. And they both know this, that his respect for her dropped when her respect for his work dropped, and they are going to continue the patterns of being married, by God, you don't get to skip dinner to hang out with the office siren, because it means something. I believe Don when he suggested Megan likes flying into a rage as foreplay; I also believe she hates herself for it. She's going to be a proper wife with a proper husband, and have him respect what she does: your basic cake-and-eat-it scenario.
So it's not hard to see what the allure is when it comes to Mrs. Harris.
We have a term among our friends - certain men are women-lovers. Not merely straight, they're the kind of guys who love all women somehow, see something that makes each one special "at times", as Dylan would say, and can fall in love in moments, over and over again, a thousand times a week. Don's not quite a woman-lover, although he might have been if his circumstances had been different. If he'd had the luxury and security not to have to struggle all the time, he might have found something to love in every woman he meets, not unlike Roger Sterling. But circumstances have meant Don has to distinguish between work women and those available for flirtation and intrigue. Joan should fall into the latter category - indeed, she has for many years. But, like any good woman-lover, Don knows to spring into action when he's needed. Joan's hysterical rage at the front desk not only reminded me of people's attitudes towards millenials in today's workforce, but demonstrated the age gap between her and the little girls who can't imagine that they'll ever be in a situation like that old lady.
So I loved that Don took her out for what she needed - to be reminded of who she used to be. I loved that she didn't need any help in running the scam at Jaguar, that the two of them were, in so many ways, evenly matched as mental equals. I especially loved that moment - that drunk-soaked but not forgetful moment - when he broached how they could have been, once upon a time, but aren't, and she smiled at the knowledge that she could have him, but won't. That moment has happened with so many booze-fueled nights, and you only make a confession like that to someone you truly trust. "We could be, under different circumstances. We're not going to, and we both know that it's not a good idea, but...we could". They're truly equals in this way - effortlessly attractive, the opposite sex wrapped around them for as long as they can remember - but being mature about the fact that following through on it would be a bad move for both of them right now. Of course, in real life, this confession about how “we could, but...we can't” is usually followed quickly by actually doing the thing you swore was a bad idea. As ever though, this show is subtler than we are, the poor slobs living through this in real life.
Don then handles the disparity between them (he's going to be attractive for many more years, while Joan's shelf-life will be shorter) the only way he knows how: with some drinks and reminders that she's still a beautiful woman, and can have the male gaze if she wants it. But it took him a lot to tear himself away, and I'm willing to bet he took a pretty long drive before he made it home.
As for Lane Pryce - his doings and dealings and sputterings about a lack of bonus took up a lot of the episode but it was hard to connect with him, since he's so rarely real in front of anyone we know. He stole money to pay his British taxes, he lies to his wife and has no compunction about how easily he knows what to do to forge the cheque and get the funds. But Lane has always only mattered in contrast to the others, in ways that his Englishness interrupts him being the Madison Avenue man he admires. As a stand-alone guy with a chilly wife and some money issues he's just so...pedestrian, and it's not helped by having him appear in most of his scenes by himself. Lane is better when he's plaintive about not understanding the hows and whys of Manhattan. As a man driven to the drastic measure that is stealing, the move seemed unearned, and if we were supposed to presume he was a sociopath who's always had this kind of calm, well, that's not so true to the man we know either.
It's so easy to spot a fake when everyone else is being the only versions of themselves they can, isn't it? Joan can only be Joan, and Don can only be Don, no matter how many hats he has. It's why “shut up Pete” is so applicable and also totally doesn't matter: Pete Campbell, like many people in this company, is loathsome sometimes, but he's being himself. As are Roger and Peggy and (ugh) Harry. It might be one of the reasons why Kinsey doesn't work here anymore - try as he did, he couldn't manage to be an authentic version of himself. Lane isn't the only one who would do what he did tonight - I bet you anything Peggy would, under similar circumstances - but he's the only one who might have hidden this aspect of himself for as long as we've known him.