Monday, October 19, 2009

Mad Men and Drinking, Season Three, Part IV

As season three of "Mad Men" meanders to its conclusion (the desultory pace of the season hasn't exactly been a plot locomotive—not that I'm complaining), one theme has become apparent: things aren't going well for master ad man Don Draper. He's slipping. The world's changing fast and he's not changing quickly enough to keep all his various balls in the air. Certainly, he seems to be on top of the world. He is feted at Sterling Cooper's 40th anniversary party; he landed a huge client in Conrad Hilton for whom he's flying all over the globe; he and his wife just had a new baby; and he's bedding a lovely new mistress. But Hilton is demanding and capricious, ladling out and withholding love like a fickle father; his marriage has not recovered from the revelation of his past infidelities, with Betty cold and snappish and secretly looking elsewhere for comfort; the mistress, daughter Sally's former teacher, is borderline cuckoo and a likely disaster in the making; he's been forced to fire art director Sal and, in the process, reveal an ugly stripe of homophobia; and, worst of all, Betty found the keys to his secret desk drawer and now knows that he's really Dick Whitman, that his (and, thus, her) life is based on a whopper lie.

None of this has caused him to drink more. He drinks as much as he always has, and doesn't seem to think it will ever catch up to him. Don does, however, get a blast from the past when invited one night to Hilton's suite in the Waldorf=Astoria, where "Connie" is pouring from a thin glass flask. This, we learn, is Prohibition booze, of which the old, old Hilton has a case. Don drinks it and winces. "I remember this," he says—a reference to his rural, hardscrabble upbringing.

Otherwise, the whiskey that's winning the prize for most spotlight appearances this season is Johnny Walker Red. Don and that prison guard drink a bottle in the hospital while waiting for their kids to be born. And, in episode 9, Lucky Strike scion Lee Garner, Jr., empties a bottle, with disastrous results—he makes a pass at Sal and, when Sal rebuffs him, gets the poor guy fired. I'm guessing Johnny Walker has a placement deal with MM, but that's OK—the whiskey was dominant in the U.S. market and is entirely period appropriate.

Neither does liquor do any good for struggling, pompous copywriter Paul Kinsey. While working late on a campaign for Western Union, he drains a bottle of what looks like Scotch. The only identifiable word on the label is "North," plus the number 20, which could be an age statement. A fair guess is this is North Port, a Highland single malt that did indeed have a 20-year-old expression. It was situated north of the royal burgh Brechin and was built in 1820 by a family of bankers and farmers. It remained a family distillery until its buying over by the D.C.L. (Distillers Company Ltd.) in 1922. The distillery was closed in 1983 and demolished. There's now a Safeway on the spot.

The North Port causes Kinsey to forget mid-morning the genius idea that struck him the night before. As everyone says to him later, "I hate it when that happens."

Sad, angry Betty, meanwhile, continues to put a considerable dent in the wine cellar.

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