Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Mad Men and Drinking, Season Four, Episode 4

"He's a drunk."

That's how Don Draper was described in the episode "The Rejected," and for the first time in the history of "Mad Men." The utterer of this until-now-unspoken truth was Alison, the sweet and faithful secretary Don used one night and discarded the next morning earlier this season. (The idea has been obliquely hinted at previously this season, though. The nurse neighbor of Don's mentioned her father was a drunk when she helped him to bed. And, last episode, when Lane poured out for Don some of the Irish whiskey his dad sent him as a present, he referred to dad as an alcoholic, therefore tying Don together with his father's habits.)

I think it's official with this episode—Don Draper's drinking is no longer fun. It's not romantic or charismatic or manly or even funny. It's overdone, and it's rendering him irresponsible and, as young Joey in the office said a couple episodes back, pathetic. He reaches for the bottle at all hours of the days and usually ends up soused, falling asleep on the couch in his Village apartment, which always seems to be draped in eternal darkness no matter how many lamps are turned on. "Why is this empty?" he asked in the first scene, shaking a drained bottle of Canadian Club during a morning conference call with Lucky Strike. "Because you drank it all," replies Alison, who's just about had enough. Don reacts by grabbing the bottle of Smirnoff instead.

Is Don headed toward Freddy Rumsen Land, set to hit bottom and then grab the life raft of AA. Hard to imagine a man as stubborn and proud as Draper would accept that reality. And, if he did, I think it would present the series with a style problem. Cocktails and drink has been such an integral park of the series' aesthetic, it would be hard to adjust to a sad-sack, on-the-wagon Draper who's no longer man enough to handle an Old Fashioned or six. A lot of the wit and edge and, yes, plotting of the show comes from that constant drinking and smoking and carousing. Well-behaved, reformed Mad Men just don't have the same appeal as the private rogues we've come to know.

At a bar with his father-in-law, Pete Campbell gave a brand shout-out, ordering "Dewer's on the rocks." Peggy, meanwhile, goes to a radical downtown "happening" where pot and beer are the primary stimulants. The event makes Don's encounters with beatniks at the Gaslight in season one seem positively quaint.

Another old New York restaurant got a big cameo, as Pete, Harry Crane and their old colleague Ken Cosgrove met for lunch at Jim Downey's Steakhouse. The restaurant was located at 49th and Eighth Avenue, and attracted a lot of show folk. Downey's closed in the 1980s.

As a side note, I'm enjoying how Harry, head of the television department, is now peppering his talk with Yiddish expressions the more he travels to L.A. on business. "Those ganefs at CBS are killing me," he remarks at Downey's, to which WASPy Pete can only wrinkle his brow and say, "Those what?"

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