Posted on April 15, 2013
Matthew Weiner is good. I mean, he is really, really good. Not only did he torment “Mad Men” fans in the off-season with the idea that newly-remarried Don Draper just might backslide into his old Draper-y ways with the ladies, but he strung them along for nearly two hours in the season six premiere to show them just how bad it could get.
The show opens with Don Draper reading Dante’s “Inferno” on a Hawaiian beach. “Midway through our life’s journey I went astray from the straight road and awoke to find myself alone in a dark wood,” he reads as his wife Megan sips blue cocktails in the sand next to him and worries about getting too much sun. Megan’s commercial debut at the end of season five has led to work on a soap opera and within the first minutes of the show, viewers get the sense that although the Drapers are still together physically, emotionally they’re drifting apart.
Near the end of their trip, Don is alone in the hotel bar. He can’t sleep. A young private en route to Vietnam befriends him. The private, PFC Dinkins, is getting married the next day and asks Don to give away the bride. Don consents, but somehow in the midst of this exchange, he winds up with Dinkins’ lighter, which has “Sometimes we have to do things that are not our bag” engraved on it. Draper spends the rest of the show trying to get rid of that lighter, only to have it show up again when he least expects or wants it.
When the Drapers return to New York, we see that Don has befriended Dr. Arnold Rosen, a cardiac surgeon that lives in his building. Although Don is clearly very tormented about something in this episode, the friendship with Rosen is normal and sort of refreshing. Don Draper can make a friend! How nice! Rosen comes to visit him at the agency and Don gives him a Leica camera from the supply closet.
And then…the ending. Rosen is called in to the hospital to work on a snowy New Year’s Eve. Don goes downstairs, knocks on a door, and is let in by a woman who is…Rosen’s wife Sylvia, who gave Don the copy of “Inferno” to read on the beach. Don and Sylvia are having an affair and under the circumstances, you can’t help but wonder whether everyone’s favorite hard-drinking Creative Director is desperate to get caught. “What do you want this New Year?” Sylvia asks during their tryst. “I want to stop doing this,” Don says in a rare moment of guilt.
Is this guilt progress? Will Draper get back on the straight road? It’s hard to know, especially since I haven’t seen last night’s episode and am trying (and occasionally failing) to ignore any and all “Mad Men” related tweets and recaps until I can. If Matthew Weiner sticks with this Dante construct, I’m guessing things will get worse before they get better. As Don told one of his clients “Something bad has to happen before you get to paradise.” How bad are things about to get? Where is Don’s jumping off point?
Speaking of jumping off points, last season “Mad Men” fans wondered whether smarmy bastard Pete Campbell would kill himself. He hasn’t, but now that suicide talk has shifted to Don Draper. I don’t believe Draper will end it all, but I’m terribly worried about Roger Sterling, one of my favorite characters. Now that Sterling’s in therapy, now that his mother died, now that his favorite shoe-shine guy has died too, I’m concerned that Roger’s sense of being old and expendable may be too much for him to bear.
In the meantime, let me offer this next installment of food-I-make-while-I’m-waiting-to-get-caught-up-on-Mad-Men. In honor of Don Draper’s inability to commit to one type of sugar, I offer a cafe gourmand. The cafe gourmand is a relatively new concept in French cafes that allows diners to have anywhere from three to five small portions of desserts instead of one normal portion. It is perfect for people who are tormented by decision, allowing them to have it both ways in a publicly acceptable fashion.
The three desserts I plated are a cocoa sable, a chocolate mousse and an ile flottante. The cocoa sable is from a Dorie Greenspan recipe in “Around My French Table.” I’ve put two and two together and realized that it is the same recipe she uses for the World Peace Cookies she sells at Beurre and Sel. The chocolate mousse recipe (sans Grand Marnier) was from Anthony Bourdain’s “Les Halles” cookbook. The ile flottante used Dorie Greenspan’s creme anglaise recipe and Rachel Khoo’s technique for the puffed meringues.