âDo you have any soft drinks?â?
âWe have all the soft drinks,â? this is the Groucho Club, she didnât need to add.
10 minutes there was enough to shatter any illusion I had that I was Don Draper. Mind you, there were plenty at the Mad Men season premier trying harder than me. The invite said, âdress to impress,â? and those of us attending had rushed to the hair cream, handkerchiefs and razor-sharp shirts like an account exec with his first crack at the bourbon.
We were at least in good company: as the sixth season opens, even Don Draper and Roger Sterling are finding it hard to be them. 1967 is coming to an end and it feels like the world is going with it. For all the glamour of its image, the series has always shown the venality of its charactersâ lives. The partners of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce may fill a few fantasies, but they are not nice people and their culture isnât a pleasant one.
Some have missed the point and called the series racist, sexist and homophobic â but in presenting these realities of the era without comment, Mad Men is not condoning them. It is crediting its audience with the independence of thought to conclude for themselves how awful it all was (and maybe still is). It isnât Heartbeat.
Four or five series ago, Don and Roger gloried in their own competence and vitality, but these opening episodes reek of death. The tranquillity Don finds in Hawaii isnât from a brochure, it is â as he sees in the mirror of his own copy â the peace of the grave. This isnât a desire to die, but an appreciation of the serenity an ending would bring: like laying your head on a soft cotton pillow at the end of the day and cutting off the background hum of everything.
Grim as it may seem, itâs a good place for Mad Men to be. The next series will be the last, but the lords of Madison Avenue arenât going out with a bang: the world they knew is already gone and now itâs a question of what they will be left with. Mad Menâs time will soon pass and it may be years before we see another show so well written. So close the door, sit down and take a drink. Do enjoy the cocktail, because it is very good.
Season 6 of Mad Men, airs on Sky Atlantic from Wednesday 10 April at 10pm