I haven’t read much about last night’s season opener of Mad Men but I was struck by the mix of melancholy and comedy we have come to expect, in equal measure from this show. Don reading Dante on the beach in Honolulu seemed a bit heavy handed for an opening shot (what cheaper way to telegraph midlife crisis than have someone read the first lines of the Inferno?) — until we met the woman who lent him the book. And who amongst us hasn’t tried something difficult in the hopes of getting laid?
Don has literary aspirations, of course; remember him sending a volume of Frank O’Hara’s poems off to a mystery recipient in season two? (Turned out it was the widow of the real Mrs. Draper, the fellow whose identity he stole…) And his own conflicted soul finds some solace in Meditations in an Emergency. But he also wonders about the value of the pleasure he seeks, which is what makes him the hero of the show. Was there ever a more conflicted babe magnet?
Don has played the role of whore and mistress before himself, most notably when one of his conquests confessed that she had heard gossip about him and now wanted “the full Don Draper treatment.” For an adman he doesn’t appreciate being reduced to a brand and left her tied to a hotel room bed and then broke down while his daughter watched him shaving at the end of that episode — that damn mirror again!
Roger, as usual, got most of the best lines last night, calling him “Don Ho” when he returned from Hawaii, and then breaking up his mother’s memorial service by shouting, “This is my funeral!” He is more fun in the same sense Falstaff was, and seems just as doomed. Though Don might want to try that therapy stuff.
Post-LSD Mad Men runs the risk of parody at times — the hippies that Betty met on St. Marks weren’t that far removed from Blue Boy and the freaks from central casting that peopled shows like Dragnet when I was a kid. But as 1968 dawns at the end of the episode, Don seems to be changing only on the inside. He was the only one of the men whose sideburns had not crept past his earlobes, and I don’t think we have to worry about him appearing in paisley soon. Remember at the end of the last season, which took place in 1966 (the creators seem to have consciously passed over most of 1967, which is probably just as well), Don was listening to the Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows,” with its lyrics inspired by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, at Megan’s request. Except he lifted the needle off the record before it was done as if to say: Turn off your own damn mind. I will never relax.
Float downstream, maybe.