Last night's episode was a departure from a season's worth of ominous foreshadowing—instead of hinting at death, it focused on rebirth. Evaluating one's life and making changes for the better is a classic Christmastime narrative (A Christmas Carol, It's a Wonderful Life, etc.) as the promise of a New Year also presents the prospect of a new you. Still, any Hare Krishna devotee will tell you that in order to be reborn, one must die.
Of course, dying here doesn't have to mean literal death. It could just mean saying goodbye to an older, lesser version and starting over. Joan will recover from her divorce. Roger will redeem himself. Don will renew his passion for his work. Paul Kinsey will regrow his hair. And SCDP is poised to make the biggest comeback in advertising history when they land that Jaguar account. Or will they? At its core, this episode was about salvation and happiness, and the uncertainty of managing to attain either.
For starters, Lane has secretly put the company in a really difficult position, and has broken several laws by doing so. He's been in some financial trouble—unable to pay his child's tuition and or his taxes—and his plan for embezzling SCDP's extension of credit crumbled when the partners all decided that they selflessly forgo bonuses until they get the Jaguar account at the end of January. Lane is now more invested in creative's success than ever before. Just when we think that Pete Campbell will be the one to die, the writers go head and suggest that perhaps Lane will be the one to take that "giant leap forward" as so eloquently put in Don's holiday party motivational speech. It doesn't look like happiness is in Lane's tea leaves for 1967, but perhaps if he communicates with his partners about what's going on, salvation could be a possibility.
Speaking of salvation and happiness, Paul Kinsey supposedly found some by becoming a member of the newly-founded (in 1966, actually) religion of International Society for Krishna Consciousness. His shaved head and religious garb were no doubt supposed to be jarring, but really, the return of Paul served more to remind us all how different everyone's lives have become since we last saw him at the end of season three. Roger was happily married to his new wife Jane. Joan was sort-of-happily married to her new husband Greg. Don and Betty decided to divorce. And Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce was born on a wing and a prayer. Now Roger is happily divorced. Joan is sort-of-happily divorcing. Don and Betty are both remarried to other people. And the fledgling Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce is somewhere between greatness and financial ruin, depending on who you're asking.
Additionally Paul's new religion—which "rejects the material world in favor of the recognition of one's true identity"—is in stark contrast to the advertising world, which purports to define people by what they own and buy. Along with the play Megan took Don to see, American Hurrah, last night's episode had shades of the anti-consumerism that will serve as a catalyst for the emergence of the counterculture in the late '60s.
Most exciting for viewers, though, was the long-awaited extended scene between Joan and Don. After she had a shit fit in the reception area of the office when she was served with divorce papers, Don came to the rescue. He took her out for a test drive in a Jaguar, and then lots of drinks in a hotel bar. They drank, they flirted, and it could've gone in the direction that these things used to for them. But this isn't the old Don. And this isn't the old Joan. Ending their scene innocently enough was a representation of how both characters have learned from the mistakes in their past.
Although staying out late and coming home drunk did get Don in hot water with Megan, and may have inadvertently made a crack in the foundation of their marriage. Megan looked an awful a lot like the old Betty, sitting at the table, drinking a glass of wine, with no plate in front of her. With the help of Megan and Joan, though, Don had some kind of epiphany. He wants to love his work again. He wants the old Don back. Not the reckless, womanizing aspect, but the part about being a creative genius. But is that even possible for him? If his work is his happiness, can Megan be his salvation?
The lyrics from "The Christmas Waltz"—also the title of this episode—wishes that "your New Year dreams come true." But with all this talk about Krishnas and The Tibetan Book of the Dead, karma is going to be key in determining rebirth. And for some of the SCDP crew, the karma they've put out there could result in their "New Year dreams" becoming nightmares.