First Night: Mad Men, Season Six; Sky Atlantic

view gallery VIEW GALLERY
3.00

Sad men: existential crisis comes to Madison Avenue as series goes astray

Was Matthew Weiner trying to tell us something with the opening shot of the season six premiere? Don, always a bookish type, is on the beach at Hawaii, countering the sunshine with a paperback translation of Dante's Inferno and those famous lines about finding yourself, halfway through the journey of your life, lost in a dark wood.

We've known that Don feels this way about himself since the beginning, of course – his troubled melancholy the defining key for the whole thing.

But watching the double episode that followed it occurred to me that television shows have their existential crises too – moments when success and its obligations come to feel like a burden rather than a reward. Is Weiner a little lost as well?

After drinking in a bar with a soldier on R&R from Vietnam Don picks up his zippo by mistake. Engraved on it is the motto "In life we often have to do things that just are not our bag", a line that seems to pitch Don's mood even darker but could speak for a show-runner too, deep in the thicket of his own creation.

One of the things that makes Mad Men durable is the Weltschmerz, of course – not an over-familiar ingredient in American television. Last night's two-parter was a positive festival of spiritual despair, with the death of Roger's mother adding to his sense of nihilism. Even before he hears the news he's moaning to his psychiatrist about the sheer pointlessness of life, the modern imperative to "move on" always taking you through new doorways, never leading anywhere.

"They all open the same way and they all close behind you", he says mournfully. Then when his mother dies he moans about his inability to feel – until the grief finally spills out over a dead shoeshine's box of brushes.

Don is preoccupied with death too – pressing the doorman (who had to be resuscitated by Don's neighbour) for information about what he saw on the other side. His pitch for a new campaign for the Royal Hawaiian hotel is comically pensive – an image of a discarded business suit on a beach and the legend "The Jumping Off Point". "This is very... poetic" says the client – understandably doubtful about the suicidal undertow.

If Weiner is feeling weighed down at having to put the same old characters through the same old crises he may yet be able to shake it off. Mad Men can still startle, partly because it's prepared to be strikingly banal for long stretches and then suddenly hit you with something odd.

It's also because its oddities are so dark. Sitting in bed with her husband, Betty suddenly spins out an ugly sexual fantasy in which he rapes her daughter's teenage friend. And attending the funeral reception for Roger's mother Don spews up in a corner, as an old lady is reading out her clumsy eulogy .

But at times Weiner's much-praised dialogue can sound grievously flabby. "Well I think it's unfair that it's giving you more work", says Peggy's partner as she labours on New Year's Eve to put right a problematic ad, "but it's about time this unjust war is having an impact on commerce."

Weiner reportedly won't let his actors tweak his dialogue but he should have done it himself in that instance.

We ended on a scene we've seen many times before – Don rolling off the wrong woman and deep in post-coital tristesse. What does he want for the new year, she asks him. "I want to stop doing this" he replies. Was the character speaking there or his creator?

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there