“I went astray from the straight road and woke to find myself alone in a dark wood,” reads Don Draper, the Hawaii sun reddening his hairy chest, early in the Season 6 premiere of AMC’s Mad Men .
What better than Dante’s Inferno for some light beach reading?
While this may or may not be the start of a mid-life crisis — with Draper, who can tell for sure? — Mad Men is pondering mortality even more than usual.
Series creator Matthew Weiner has again asked critics not to reveal certain details, including the year in which the new season is set. I’ll note only that carnage is in the air and Woodstock is, as yet, no more than the name of a town in the Catskills.
The suicide of Jared Harris’s Lane Pryce last season goes unmentioned, but death is on everyone’s mind, from the young Vietnam-bound soldier whom Don (Jon Hamm) meets in a bar to John Slattery’s dead-inside Roger Sterling, who can’t manage a tear for his just-departed mother.
Even Don’s young son, Bobby (Mason Vale Cotton), is in a morbid mood.
“I like the case,” he says about a friend’s violin. “It looks like a coffin.”
Weiner, who wrote the two-hour premiere, is in peak form here, conjuring the late-’60s mojo without resorting to cliché. Even if marijuana sweetens the office air, Don himself remains stubbornly out of time — he admonishes his copywriters for cheapening the trendy word “love.”
He isn’t the only one caught off guard by cultural changes. Protégé-turned-rival Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) is gob-smacked when an innocuous ad campaign takes on grisly connotations in the aftermath of a gruesome development in Vietnam.
“I want you to be yourself,” says a photographer snapping Don’s office portrait.
The ad man looks utterly baffled.