For nine episodes, we've suffered through an endless parade of narcissistic, back-stabbing behavior from a self-absorbed cast of Mad Men players. We've watched Peter clawing Roger and Roger slugging back and Betty attacking Megan and Don while dodging her own troubles. The episodes have been equal parts titillating and depressing. But all of that changed at the tail end of episode 10, when, three weeks before the final bell, Don Draper finally came out of his corner swinging again.
Up until now, Don has been asleep at the switch, shirking his responsibilities as he let the agency he should be leading limp toward the precipice. But in "Christmas Waltz," Don reemerges as the leader, offering "the troops" inspiring words of hope and encouragement after Lane fumbles his attempt to pass along the good news that there will be Christmas bonuses for everyone, except the partners. (Roger literally has to step in and translate Lane's message into English before the employees "get it" and respond with cheerful applause.)
Out of caution, the agency's partners wisely decided to forgo their own bonuses until they have a better sense of the ramifications of a new wave of conflicting reports: Mohawk Airlines will temporarily cut its advertising spending in response to a mechanics' strike and Jaguar has, once more, invited SCDP to pitch its account. This episode clearly portrays the violent ups and downs that constantly beset those trying to stay afloat in the ad world. It's a volatile, unpredictable business that takes no prisoners.
Just when we think the year-end staff meeting is over and episode 10 is about to sign off for the night, a gallant Don steps forward and delivers an inspiring speech. He tells the staff that there are just six weekends left before the (Jaguar) pitch and that they will spend those weekends together. "We will celebrate the holidays together, but it will be worth it. Throw yourselves into the effort and, when we're done, we'll drown in champagne." He promises them that when SCDP lands Jaguar, "the world will know we have arrived."
Finally, the mood shifts. Ten weighty hours after the Season Five opener, we see SCDP staff members smiling and clapping again. Just when the events of Season Five seemed doomed to cycle down further, because our favorite soldier remained missing in action, he returned, filled with that Harrison Ford swagger displayed so well in Air Force One when Ford, as President James Marshall, led the fight against determined Russian hijackers.
Now that Don is back, he appears determined to make SCDP succeed. He announces he will hold a creative team staff pitch meeting in his office immediately following the end-of-year report. It's as if he's waving his finger at any naysayer or troublemaker in his midsts to 'get with the plan' or, in the words of President Marshall, "Get off my plane." And I have no doubt our newly reconstituted Don will do whatever it takes to clear the decks of the non-devoted, even if it means pushing them off the plane himself. Draper's world is going places again. And it's about time!