Books Behind the 'Mad Men' Premiere
SPOILER ALERT--You may want to stop reading if you don't want to know plot points from the season 6 opener of "Mad Men."
"Mad Men" is back--season 6 began Sunday night with a two-hour premiere called "The Doorway." This most literate of TV shows has always employed a mixture of fiction and real-world references to create a gloss on American society, so we at Bookish watched closely last night for literary and book-related hints. We didn't have to wait long.
We were quickly plunked on a Hawaiian beach where we found Don Draper holding a copy of Dante's "The Inferno." Soon, Don had put down the poem and become embroiled in the life of a grunt, on leave from Vietnam to get married. With his history of impersonating soldiers, you might have thought he'd be more careful, but this is Don Draper, a man who can't seem to keep anything on the up and up. Watching PFC Dinkins getting a break from the horrors of war on a Hawaiian beach brought to mind classic Vietnam books like Michael Herr's "Dispatches," or Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried," though O'Brien's "In the Lake of the Woods," about a veteran's mental anguish post-Vietnam and the damage it does to his marriage may be more apt.
Back in wintery New York, Peggy Olsen wrestled with both food poisoning (from newfangled vegetarian food) and a "Late Show" comedy skit that made fun of GI atrocities in Vietnam (seems they were making necklaces out of purloined Vietcong ears) which made Peggy's ad for headphones suddenly a bit too edgy. Phyllis Diller had been the host of the show, we were told, and hadn't done enough to smack down the gag of ill repute--we know what Peggy doesn't, though, namely that Diller would go on to create the greatest memoir title of all time, "Like a Lampshade in a Whorehouse."
Talking of the real world, on the actual New York Times bestseller list for December 31, 1967, one book stands out with regards Vietnam: "Report from Iron Mountain," by Leonard C. Lewin, was thought at the time to be the leaked minutes of a real government body advocating constant war (it has since been generally agreed to be satire). The number one fiction title was William Styron's "The Confessions of Nat Turner," his often-criticized retelling of one slave's rebellion in 1831. Often-criticized, that is, for its rape-fantasy subplots, echoed in this first episode by Betty Draper's bedroom bizarre tease of her politician husband, Henry Francis, involving his pretend pursuit of Sandy, an underaged friend of Sally's.
No surprise later, then, that poor fiddle-playing Sandy disappears into oh-so-scary New York city, where a bunch of Occupy-forebears make goulash in a dirty pot while smoking pot. We'd seen Megan force Don to smoke the evil weed in Hawaii to improve their sex life, and now we saw Betty being offered a drag--she declines, and instead gets her hair did, moving from blonde to a sort of death brown (note to Betty: read Anita Loos' novel, "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"). The new color was dreadful, especially as it turned her usually-serene smile into something that made her look desparate.
In other news, Roger Sterling is in therapy and lost his mom, but could only cry when the guy who cleans his shoes died. Joan Harris posed seductively for a corporate photo, and Pete Campbell sported a Satanic, swept-back haircut while massaging Don's shoulders.
We ended as we have so often ended in "Mad Men," with Don in bed with yet another paramour saying, "I want to stop doing this." The newspaper headline that finished the show read "World Bids Adieu to a Violent Year," but with 1968 to come, we can only hope the Summer of Love yields more in the way of real passion on "Mad Men" season six.