Mad Men, Season 5
Harry Crane, the bad schoolboy of Mad Men.
Photograph by Jordin Althaus/AMC.
Fellow members of the TV Club,
We’d better get our act together this morning, because the Head of TV—ahem, the Head of Media—Mr. Harry Crane himself is in our midst. I’m the kind of guy who likes to have a beer while he watches a beer commercial, so here’s hoping Harry doesn’t try to sell us a Jaguar ad. After Don’s flirtation with the E-Type last night, I’m a decidedly easy mark. Then again, I’ve always been a karmi and a sense enjoyer, not unlike Harry, come to think of it.
Rich, we’re thrilled you’ve agreed to join us for a session in the Club, particularly after an episode in which Harry featured so prominently. One of the reasons that Mad Men feels so decadent week-to-week is the embarrassment of excellent characters. The supporting players both in and out of the office are often so compelling that you find yourself wanting to follow them after the brief scenes they are allowed. (I’d love to see a spinoff just about Meredith, the firm’s negligent gatekeeper, purely on the basis of her description of Mother Lakshmi: “She’s got a whole story.”) As in other sprawling, high-quality cable dramas, the writers on Mad Men will shuffle the deck each episode, so that a character who has been largely absent in recent weeks, like Lane, is suddenly thrust into the heart of the story.
This must create distinct challenges for the actors on the show. One week, Harry serves as part of the office’s Greek chorus, supplying exposition and comic relief, but upstaged by the events of the A-story. The next week, he is the A-story. The extraordinary thing about the acting on the show is that even in those tiny moments, you and your colleagues manage to indicate, with a glance, a gesture, or an inflection, that though we may not be following them right now, these characters and their relationships are continuing to evolve in the background. In fact, one of my favorite little beats of the whole series came a couple of weeks ago when Harry and Pete have that hilarious, abortive exchange while Pete is in the phone booth. Was the scene written that way? It had the spontaneous awkwardness of improvisation—and real life.
I always figured that Paul Kinsey went off to do something interesting, but nothing could have prepared me for his appearance in a pale yellow turtleneck and matching bedsheet, beardless (sorry, Swans) and bald but for a knotted sikha. I was touched by Harry’s sympathy for his old partner in pretentiousness, who fell off the advertising tree and hit every branch on the way down (McCann, Y&R, K&E, B&B) before finally landing at A&P (as in “the A&P”). Harry has always been a bit of a schoolboy: the part in his hair, the chunky glasses, the adolescent dialectic of observing the rules and breaking them. How fitting, then, that even as he betrays both Jennifer and Paul by seeking nirvana with Lakshmi, he is concentrating on how precisely all of this will play in the alternate moral universe of the Krishnas. “Isn’t that verboten?” he objects, when Lakshmi asks for a drink. Then, as she bends over his desk and offers up her booty, “So this is completely allowed?”
But you didn’t talk about Kevin, Julia—and oh, we need to. The biggest revelation this week was that Roger doesn’t just suspect that the silver-haired miracle baby might be his—he knows. That little exchange between Roger and Joan could take us a week to unpack. Roger has apparently been sending Joan money, nervous that the army is not taking adequate care of his baby mama. Joan is returning the money, because it’s a short-term solution. (“Money solves today, not tomorrow,” Kinsey says, in a bit of wisdom that is either enviably spiritual or eminently practical.) But Roger makes clear that he’ll “cover Kevin through college.” Joan objects to this idea and threatens to limit Sterling’s visitation rights (under the old guise of “family friend”), understandably fearful that it might mess poor Kevin up if he learns his origin story too quickly. When Roger protests with an appeal to the miracle of human life, Joan says, echoing the same dim regard for the male species that she articulates to Draper in the bar, “Yes, and now it’s some other lucky girl’s turn.”
So, when did all this happen? When Roger showed up after the birth with a bicycle for the baby, was that just pantomime for the benefit of others? Did he and Joan already have an understanding? Or has their reckoning happened more recently, in the wake of Greg’s departure? This is one of those instances where I feel a little cheated by the fact that the supporting characters’ lives are proceeding along in the background. I understand that Weiner has places he wants to take the show, but I get frustrated when the record skips ahead as much as it has this season. I mean, just a few weeks ago Megan was dragging Don to the beach on Fire Island, and already Christmas is upon us. The show is hurtling along, and I wish it would slow down a bit.
At least Christmastime brings Christmas bonuses—or should, anyway. How ironic that the fellow charged with managing the firm’s checkbook is incapable of balancing his own. It seems that her Majesty’s Tax Man has come calling, and Lane has turned for assistance not to H&R Block, as you or I might, but to a suave but insistent British gentleman who puts on a tuxedo to make a transatlantic call. He’s part James Bond villain, part James Bond. The show has always enjoyed dragging Lane’s fusty propriety into various transgressions, and last night this entailed lying to the firm’s banker in order to secure a cash advance against projections, lying to his colleagues by telling them that the advance on 1967 revenue is in fact a surplus from 1966, then stealing into the office like a cat burglar and cutting himself a check. I’m glad that we’ve taken leave of the Dick Whitman storyline, but I still enjoyed the layered imposture of Lane tracing the name Don Draper—a forgery of a forgery.
After Mohawk goes on strike (in response, one can only assume, to Joan’s desecration of their lobby ornament), Lane finds himself in a bit of a pickle. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that we haven’t seen the last of Mr. Polito.
Prepare to swim the English Channel and then drown in champagne.
Patrick Radden Keefe is is a fellow at the Century Foundation and the author of The Snakehead: An Epic Tale of the Chinatown Underworld and the American Dream.