Season Six, Episode One: “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”
Death. It’s the first thing you thought of when Don Draper presented that ad with the rumpled pile of clothes lying on the beach and footsteps leading off from them into the unknown.
It was beautiful. It was art. But it was dark.
And so it went for the long anticipated premiere of Mad Men season six. It began with a voiceover from Don silently quoting from Inferno:
“Midway through our life’s journey I went astray from the straight road and awoke to find myself alone in a dark wood.”
This sober sentence seemed somewhat incongruous with its setting: Don, in Hawaii, on Waikiki beach, reading Dante; Megan, in a summery bikini drinking a blue cocktail.
Surely this is Heaven and not Hell?
Beautiful. Art. But it was dark
Don’s dissatisfaction, however, is evident. He seems somehow detached from this colourful scene. Megan is happy and chit chattering; Don is quiet (he has no dialogue for the first five minutes) and his smile strained. They have sex and Megan is giggling but it seems he’s only going through the motions. It’s a pensive, slightly unsure Don, not the confident, alpha male we’re used to, although he still quite convincingly wears that costume, even if it is starting to look a little anachronistic.
He’s played Don Draper for a long time, the lead role in a hit play. But the audiences are moving on, the supporting characters are starting to shift around him and the set is slowly being dismantled. The future has finally caught up with him.
Back at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce it’s clearly the late 1960’s, the men are starting to look shaggier and shabbier and are definitely turning on and tuning in. The ubiquitous liquor bottle has been replaced with the marijuana cigarette. And as generously as SCDP’s senior executives partake of the grain, so do the younger generation of the herb.
As in Hawaii, Don feels awkward in these surroundings. He’s still creatively brilliant but but…
One night at the hotel, whilst still on holiday in Waikiki Beach, he’d been sat having a solitary drink at the bar, when a drunken young soldier serving in Vietnam had engaged him in conversation. “Were you in Korea?” he asks.
“Briefly,” answers Don. Or was it Dick? Which one answered? Both served, both died and were then reborn.
This well-intentioned young man reminds him of that fraud, that stolen identity.
He is an impostor, not just Dick Whitman playing Don Draper, but for all his outward success he still feels like that hapless failure inside. “Noone loves Dick Whitman,” as Megan had jokingly cooed in the season premiere of season five.
In Dante’s tenth circle of Hell, the deceptive are punished. These are the alchemists, the counterfeiters, the perjurers and the impostors. As they afflicted mankind with their disease, they are afflicted with diseases in the afterlife.
Sinon suffers from a burning fever; Myrrha is mad.
And Don is himself and no more.
Image Credit: AMC. Artist: Brian Sanders