Saturday, May 26, 2012

"Mad Men" and Drinking, Season Five, Part II: Mr. Leary, I Find Your Product Fascinating

I wrote in a previous "Mad Men and Drinking" post that I suspected there would be more drugs than drinking in Season 5, and such is proving to be the case.

Not that there's more drug-taking among the show's major characters. Not a bit. These guys will always put the booze away. But the drug episodes are the cultural signifiers in the season's depiction of 1966. They get the spotlit turns.

Nowhere was this more evident then in the "Far Away Places" episode, in which Roger Sterling is lured quite unknowingly into a very civilized LSD party in a tony Manhattan apartment. Roger is skeptical—he begins his trip with the statement "Well, Mr. Leary, I find your product boring" and heading for the bar. But his experience picks up after a while, including a Stoli vodka bottle that plays orchestra music when you open it. By the next morning, LSD has accomplished nothing less than altering his entire world perspective. He realizes that he and Jane must split—and do so amicably. More importantly, he sheds a portion of his self-centerness. "People always said I didn't understand how other people thought, and they were right," he explains. Of course, being Roger, he can't stop talking about it. By the next episode, he's become the office bore, bringing up his vast experience with LSD every chance he gets.

Of all the people to drop LSD on the show, who would have thought it would be Roger? Roger! Mr. Martini. The vest-wearing, WWII establishment man. It's one of the more clever plot twists of the season.

Pot turns up again fleetingly a few episodes later, with Stan and Peggy working late, passing around a joint. It's been three years since Peggy tried, and liked, the stuff. One imagines she indulges fairly frequently. With Michael Kinsey gone, Stan Rizzo must be her office connection, though it has been mentioned that Ken Cosgrove samples marijuana from time to time. And Harry was comfortable with a casual toke in episode three.

So, let's count it up here. In the small office of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, Peggy, Harry, Ken, Stan and Peggy are all acquainted with dope. That's pretty impressive.

The best drink order of episodes four through ten came from Don Draper. Arriving at a dinner party at Pete Campbell's suburban home, he called for something "Big and brown." The order echoed his elegant Season 4 call for a drink "Simple, but significant." At that same party, Don gave Pete the tip of keeping a fridge stocked with beer in the garage.

The finest drinking advice was given by Roger, who was schooling Lane in how to keep up with a client at dinner, drinking-wise, and not get plastered. "You order a Scotch, rocks and water. You drink half of it until it turns see-through. Then you order another." Beautiful. I made you understand why Roger was such a good account man in his day. Later in that episode, the client, Roger, Don and Pete end up at a high-end brothel that's stocked with Tanqueray. Roger drinks Gibsons. (Roger actually drinks a lot of Gibsons, but I've never heard him refer to the drink by that name.) One girl lures Pete away with the odd come-on line, "I want some rum, but I think it's in my room." Who wants rum, outside of a tiki drink, in 1966?

Speaking of tiki, in the episode "Dark Shadows," Roger takes a client to Trader Vic's! They drink out of barrel-shaped vessels. The location is somewhat ironic, because the businessman represents Manaschewitz wine, which is coming out with a more mainstream product, Monarch wines, that Roger wants to rep. This same episode gives Peggy her best drinking-related quip of the season so far. Walking into the common work room with a Rheingold beer in her hand, she asks "Am I the only one who can drink and work?"

The most varied display of spirits came in the episode "At the Codfish Ball," which saw a visit from Don's French-Canadian parents-in-law. Don buys Cognac for Marie, his wife Megan's mother. "You remembered," she coos. Her husband, Emil, doesn't necessarily approve of her drinking. "Have a drink," he snarls. "Become nice again." At a dinner with Megan and Ken, courting the Heinz rep and his wife, Don calls for "A bottle of Sauternes and six glasses." Now, that's class. When the pitch goes well, Ken asks, "Should we change that Sauterne to Champagne?" They do.

Later on, at an American Cancer Society ceremony honoring Don (remember his Times letter denouncing Lucky Strike?), Don and Ed Baxter—Ken's father-in-law and Corning bigwig—order Old Fashioneds. And Roger gets little Sally Draper a Shirley Temple, joking "It's time you start tapering off." At a more plebeian dinner, where Peggy and her boyfriend Abe host Peggy's Bay Ridge mother at her apartment, Harvey's Bristol Cream is the preferred poison. (Peggy and Abe also dine at Minetta Tavern in that episode.)

It's interesting to observe who drinks brandy in "Mad Men." Bert Cooper, who rarely indulges, opts for brandy when he does. Otherwise, the only people we've seen sip the French nectar are the British Lane Pryce (the Brits have always had a taste for the stuff) and Betty's new husband, the white-shoe Henry Francis. What do these fellows have in common? They're upper class—Lane by virtue of his nationality, Henry due to his high birth, and Bert because of his money.

Who drinks least in the show, besides Bert? Probably Megan, who does not like it when Don comes home drunk. (Get used to that, girl.) But this season Pete's been cutting back fairly severely, partly in reaction to Roger's intemperance. And guess which character is the most unhappy these days? Pete. Give that man a drink.

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