Martin Luther King Jr.’s tragic assassination takes place during this week’s Mad Men, setting up an episode that finds the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce folk fumbling their way through late 1960s race relations. Spoiler alert: Though usually well intentioned, those interactions are at times unbearably uncomfortable to watch.
The fear and sadness that permeate the hour also knock something loose in Don, who realizes that he actually kind of likes his kids (better late than never?), and serve as a counterpoint for a happy realization of Peggy’s. Let’s review what happens in “The Flood.”
BEFORE IT ALL BEGINS | At the beginning of the episode, a gussied-up Don and Megan run into the Rosens in the building’s lobby. (Last week’s row about her job is buried/tabled/forgotten, I suppose?) The Drapers are on their way to The Ad Club of New York’s awards dinner; the Rosens are D.C.-bound for a medical conference at which Arnold’s giving the keynote address. They make small talk for a few moments, and Don’s distracted by the nearness of his mistress, who remarks that “Come Monday morning, it’ll all be a dream.” They part ways, and the Drapers arrive at the dinner. Megan makes a beeline for Peggy over at Cutler, Gleason and Chaough’s table, and the two women have a nice, easy quick catch-up. Before all of the horribleness begins, a quick list of things I enjoy about the dinner (in no particular order): the sheer Priscilla Presley-ness of Megan, Peggy’s green bow, Harry Hamlin as Jim Cutler, Peggy’s description of him (“He’s like Roger with bad breath”), Joan’s asymmetrical blue stunner and the fact that Peggy and Megan – neither of whom still work at SCDP – are the only nominees from both that agency and CGC.
Sigh. On to the terrible stuff. As honored guest Paul Newman is addressing the attendees, someone shouts out that Dr. King has been killed. Amid the growing murmurs, the least sensitive emcee in the world takes the microphone and announces, “Let’s take 10 minutes to talk out this terrible event and then resume the program.” People crowd the payphones; Abe manages to nab a New York Times assignment covering the unrest in Harlem, and he takes off. Unbelievably, the program does continue, with Megan taking home the 1967 Andy Award of Excellence.
At his bachelor pad, Pete calls Trudy and offers to come out and stay at the house to make sure she and Tammy are safe. Though it looks like she wavers for a moment, she eventually tells him no. “I don’t want you to be worried,” he says, making me believe for the very first time in their relationship that he really, truly cares about her. (Yes, this moment – and one we’ll talk about later – makes me like Pete a little. I know. Grief causes people do strange things and all that.)
MEANING WELL, DOING WORSE | The next morning at SCDP, Harry’s bitching about how all of the primetime network preemptions – including their unaired commercials — are upsetting the clients and losing the firm money. Pete’s incensed that his colleague is being so selfish and short-sighted. “It’s a shameful, shameful day!” he bellows, and the pair argue until Bertram steps in and makes them shake hands. (“A” for effort, dude.) Let’s take a moment and talk about how Pete is pretty much the only partner on the right side of history here. Pete! With his hairline and his stupid pick-up lines and his Don envy! Let’s keep our fingers crossed that he reverts next week; I’m not sure I’m ready for Campbell making me feel anything other than strong distaste.
Don’s MIA secretary Dawn arrives late and – oh, honey – immediately asks if he wants coffee. Joan comes into Draper’s office to announce that they’re closing early and to give Dawn the most awkward, least comforting hug I’ve witnessed in quite some time. Don still has a 3 pm with some weirdo acquaintance of Roger’s (played by Lost‘s William Mapother), and Dawn says that if he’s staying, she’d rather work than return home. So Don, Stan, Michael and Roger sit down with Randy, a property insurance guy who has a very awful, fear-mongering ad idea that involves a Molotov cocktail, a coupon, Native American chanting and the ghost of MLK Jr. It’s like Randy is a 1960s version of Saturday Night Live‘s Stefon. (And Stan’s giggle during the meeting is awesome. We’re going to assume he’s baked in every single scene for the rest of the season, yes?) After he leaves, Roger remarks, “Someone’s gonna do that idea, you know.” Don’s reply: “Not us.”
“YOU BLEW IT UP!” | National nightmare be damned: Betty won’t take any excuses for why Don can’t come pick up the kids for his joint-custody weekend. So he drives out to the ‘burbs and returns with Sally, Bobby and Gene… then basically allows Megan to have the only interaction with them. She takes Sally and Gene to a vigil in the park, but Bobby – who’s already on Betty’s list for peeling off some wallpaper – fakes illness so he can stay home with dad. Don discerns that Betty grounded their son from the TV… then takes him to the movies to see Planet of the Apes. “Jesus,” young Draper says after the final scene of the flick, his mind officially blown. They stick around for a second showing, which gives Bobby the chance to have a sweet interaction with an African-American usher. It’s hard to tell right then, but Don has a moment as he watches his son.
Of course, that doesn’t stop him from drinking himself silly later that night, leaving Megan to put the kids to bed. “Is this what you really want to be to them when they need you?” she asks him, taking the glass out of his hand. “No,” he responds, then basically admits to faking love for his offspring until witnessing Bobby’s kindness toward the usher. “You feel that feeling you were pretending to have and it feels like your heart is going to explode,” he says, deeply affected. A step in the right direction, I guess?
MOVIN’ ON UP | Peggy puts in an offer on an East Side apartment for her and Abe (New Yorkers, did you laugh or cry at the line about the projected finish of the interminable Second Avenue subway construction?), but eventually loses to another bidder. Abe’s not that sad, which she reads as disinterest in their living situation but which is actually because he wants to raise their kids in a more diverse neighborhood. It’s very worth a rewind to watch Elisabeth Moss nail Peggy’s reaction to his matter-of-fact declaration. This pairing is growing on me.
MAN OF THE PEOPLE | As a result of helping Mayor Lindsey keep the city calm after King’s death, Henry realizes he wants to run for the Republican seat in the state senate. Betty is on board. “I feel like I’ve been asking you to do this since I met you,” she says. He’s also happy that it will allow people to get to know her – though when she later holds up one of her evening gowns and realizes it won’t fit her newly zaftig frame, she seems far less excited. (Am I alone in hoping Betty never loses her weight? Let’s face it: Bugles are good. People get fat. It happens. And the struggle makes her far more interesting/compelling in my book. Thoughts?)
Now it’s your turn. What did you think of Michael’s kinda-date with Beverly – and his admission that he’s a virgin? Do you think Don’s had an epiphany regarding what really matters in his life? What are the odds the Rosens weathered D.C. OK? Sound off in the comments!