TV Club

Mad Men recap: Don and Joan flirt in a bar, and Rich Sommer talks.

Don and Joan go for a drive. Plus: Questions for Rich Sommer!

Don and Joan have their moment

Still by Jordin Althaus/AMC.

Is Mad Men ever better than when Don is talking to a woman at a bar? This week’s episode, “Christmas Waltz,” featured three main storylines: Lane’s financial woes; Don’s day out with Joan; and the return of Kinsey, who introduces Harry Crane to Hare Krishna. We’re lucky to have Rich Sommer, the actor who plays Harry, joining us for this week’s TV Club, and I’ll have questions for him in just a moment. But first we’ve got to talk about Don and Joan, whose scenes together played a bit like fan fiction.

Don consoles Joan after she’s served with divorce papers at the office, an encroachment on her turf that causes her to hurl a model Mohawk jet at the receptionist. (What was Chekov’s line about toy airplanes in the lobby?) He grabs her by the waist, puts his coat around her shoulders, and takes her to the Jaguar showroom, where he writes a $6,000 check so he can take her for a spin.

The Jaguar bit allowed them to pantomime coupledom (“We have four children altogether.” “She really wants me to take her for a ride.”) in a manner that should satisfy the ‘shippers. It seems appropriate that a test drive was the occasion for these intimacies—Joan and Don are both high-performance machines, and they have just-chaste-enough fun flirting, admiring each other, and enjoying old Sinatra tunes. (No avant-garde Beatles in this bar!) But the scene also recalled Don’s night with Peggy in Season 4’s “The Suitcase.” On both occasions, Don lets his guard down with a female colleague he respects but has not pursued romantically—and finally explains why he never made a move. (In Joan’s case, he notes, “You scared the shit out of me.”) After perhaps a few too many drinks, they also talk about marriage, and divorce, and whether men inevitably grow bored with the familiarity of their wives. Joan knows that as a single mom, she won’t find it as easy as Don did to start over. But Don bolsters her confidence and points her toward a handsome stranger—“Stand over by the jukebox. That looked pretty good before”—then heads home, after some aggressive drunk Jaguaring, for a fight with Megan, who wants to know where he’s been.

John, Patrick: What do you think accounted for the gleam in Don’s eye at the episode’s close, as he gave a rousing speech about SCDP nabbing the Jaguar account? Was he jolted by Megan’s dig about how he used to love work? Or is there some deeper, Joan-related charge at play?

Meanwhile, Harry Crane has quite an escapade. Rich, I loved Harry’s petulance as he tried to avoid meeting with Kinsey, his incredulity upon arriving at Hare Krishna HQ, and his knowing wink upon meeting Lakshmi: “Ah, I get it.” But I have to say, Harry seemed a lot nicer in this episode than he has all season—and this is an episode in which he fucks his buddy’s girlfriend! (Because, she tells him, she “burns for him” in a way his wife does not. Score one for Joan’s theory of marital relations.) But Harry’s genuine concern for Kinsey’s welfare, the vision of his daughter’s face that floats before him as he chants, the revelation that he and Jennifer are having another kid: We saw Harry the sweetheart in this episode, not Harry the wisecracking boor. When he gave Paul that money—shielding him from the truth about his lack of talent, and his no-good girlfriend—he was at once trying to absolve himself of his sin, and doing his friend a genuine kindness. He’s become a marvelously queasy mix of menschiness and selfishness.

Rich, I’m curious to hear what Harry Crane’s evolution has been like for you over the years. When we first met Harry, he was the office straight man—a tightly wound counterpoint to swinging Kinsey and sensitive Sal. Over the past few seasons, and particularly since he began to work with the television industry, he’s become a whole lot looser—so loose, in fact, that he’s often kind of a jerk.

What has it been like for you to enact that change? Have the writers explained to you what is going on in Harry’s mind? Or has his evolution been a mystery to you? How have you carried the Harry of the first few seasons into your later performances?

Also, can you explain how you approached the chanting scene? That must have been tough to play, as Harry’s skepticism laced with lust resolves to some kind of transcendence. Why do you think that experience spoke to the character?

I’ll leave it to my fellow analysts to tackle the Lane plotline—but I fear the embezzling Brit isn’t long for SCDP, or the world.

Look at your watch,