Is it just me, or is ‘Christmas Waltz’ one of the weakest ‘Mad Men’ episodes all season? It’s not because of the characters featured (Harry, Joan and Lane, primarily). I think it’s because one gets the sense that this episode is moving the show along toward the season finale, but as a dramatic arc in itself, it falls flat.

Let’s look back at what happens. Lane is informed by his attorney in England that he owes a crapload of back taxes. Lane panics and resorts to desperate measures. He gets SCDP’s bank manager to extend $50,000 in credit, then tells the execs that a $50,000 surplus should allow for Christmas bonuses.

It sounds fine at first, until Mohawk experiences some troubles and puts a hold on the account. The execs agree to forego their bonuses so the rest of the staff will get theirs. Lane also forges a check made out to him and signed by Don. He seems destined for trouble.

As for good news for SCDP, Pete announces that they may be able to make some headway with Jaguar. He suggests that Don visit the dealership with his wife to test things out. Don doesn’t seem keen on that idea, or of all the extra work. But when Joan snaps at the receptionist when she’s served with divorce papers, Don takes her to the dealership and pretends they’re a couple shopping for a car.

This leads to a frank talk between Joan and Don at a bar. Aside from the flirty nature of their exchange (for a moment I was afraid it would lead to a passionate encounter), Don confesses to Joan that he was once afraid of her, and hence didn’t pursue her. Joan laments that she no longer gets any suitors and that her mother raised her to be admired. Don points at a handsome guy across the bar and implies she could have a fun evening. He gives her cab fare and heads home.

When he gets there, it becomes clear that Don and Megan aren’t in the best place. Apparently Megan had called the office and found out that Don left at lunchtime and never returned. She’s furious and throws her dinner against the wall. Don curtly explains himself and still shows signs of bitterness that she left SCDP.

And, finally, we mark the return of Paul Kinsey. Unseen since he was left behind at the end of Season Three, the ad man has apparently gone through many jobs and is lost. That’s probably why he’s joined the Hare Krishna movement, has shaved his head and sports a robe. It turns out to be mostly because he’s got a huge crush on Lakshmi, a woman involved in the movement.

Paul asks Harry to show a ‘Star Trek’ script to some execs. In the end (and after sleeping with Lakshmi) Harry offers Paul $500 to go to California and follow his dream. Paul accepts thankfully.

The episode ends on a hopeful note, as everyone at SCDP seems excited to take on the Jaguar account, even though it will mean working weekends. Still, there’s a sense of foreboding in the air, isn’t there? Don and Megan may be headed for trouble, and who knows whether Lane could be in jail in a couple episodes’ time?