Silver fox

Mad Men, AMC’s ’60s drama reeking of cigarette smoke and sexist one-liners, ran its season five premier Sunday night. Our own 20th century American history professor Alan Brinkley shared his reaction on Speakeasy, a Wall Street Journal A&E blog, considering Don “a kind of Gatsby.” Beware the spoilers.

The new era doesn’t seem to have had much impact on the ad men.   The opening moments of the season begins with a civil-rights demonstration on Madison Avenue, where cretinous ad men at Young and Rubicam are throwing water bombs out of the window down onto African-American marchers. At Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, there are no such juvenile attacks.  Not because they have respect for the marchers, but because the windows don’t open in their building.  Sterling Cooper publishes an advertisement showing that the company supports equal opportunity – eager to embarrass Y&R. But they soon find a crowd of African Americans in the lobby waiting for jobs.  Perhaps needless to say, they had no interest in hiring African Americans.

For a while in this first episode, it seems that Don has reached something close to contentment.   He has moved into an expensive, attractive apartment – not the drab, dark rooms he inhabited before.  His children are spending time with him, and the family looks more or less happy.  Even at work, he seems unperturbed when Peggy presents a failed advertisement for baked beans.  I had thought that by the time the new season began, Megan would be gone – or on her way to being gone.  But no. Don and Megan are married and still together. Megan is even joining him in the company, no longer a secretary but a colleague of Peggy.  And perhaps most surprising, Don has confided in Megan with her darkest secret – Dick Whitman.

But contentment doesn’t last long for the Mad Men, least of all for Don. Megan organizes a surprise birthday 40th party for Don (even though it isn’t his birthday). He plays along while the guests are there, but then turns on her.  He didn’t want a party.  She had embarrassed Don with her sexy song and dance – her birthday present to him.  Afterward, Megan was ridiculed by some of the other ad men, including Roger. By the end of the first episode, Don and Megan are hardly speaking to one another – but the silence doesn’t interfere with sex.

I’ve always thought that Don is a kind of Gatsby – that he creates a veneer to disguise the darkness in his life.  The new season seems to show the veneer once again beginning to unravel.

Sterling via Browbeat Slate