“It’ll all be like a dream,” says Sylvia when Don and Megan run into the Rosens at the elevator. I’m sure people felt that way when Dr. King was assassinated. For many it probably felt like a nightmare. It didn’t seem right that such a man like Martin Luther King, Jr. should get shot. Perhaps for a few jaded white folks it seemed inevitable, but damn it, this wasn’t supposed to happen.
Oh, I should probably mention this before I forget: The Rosens are going to DC.
This episode of Mad Men, titled “The Flood,” is entirely about how people react to these kinds of situations, and obviously, there are some variations. I know that Matthew Weiner strives for realism whenever he depicts historical events. He doesn’t want everybody to be crying because that just wasn’t the case back then. It cheapens the characters and it rewrites history. Recall when Don came home from work and Dr. King was giving his iconic “I Have A Dream” speech. Do you remember what Don did? He stoically turned off the radio. It wasn’t an affront to Dr. King. He just got home from work; he was tired. He didn’t want to hear this speech regardless of the content.
Harry not only wants to turn off his radio, he also wants this story to stop interrupting scheduled television programs. I would be lying if I said I have never shared that sentiment before. I think Harry is primarily looking at the business aspect of everything and how their clients are consequently losing money. I suppose that makes him a great company man, but it’s a pretty lousy thing to say.
Pete Campbell mitigates some of the guilt we white people feel doesn’t he? “It’s shameful! It’s a shameful, shameful day!” he screams at Harry. Right on, Pete! Should we believe that Pete is totally sincere when he says this? To me there is no doubt. Pete has always been a trailblazer on this issue. I mean, he wasn’t marching at Selma, but Pete was a proponent of integration. Back in Season 3, Pete pitched the notion that Admiral should run its ads in African American markets. This got him in some serious heat from the client, and consequently from Bert and Roger. However, Pete was unrelenting on this.
You get the sense that Pete wants some companionship on this day. He calls Trudy, and she essentially rejects him. Pete keeps trying to offer her some solace but she acts uninterested. She even pointedly tells him to not stop by on Saturday. I’m so sad: It’s actually looking like my all-time favorite couple is in the inchoate stages of separation. Pete subsequently attempts to converse with the Chinese delivery guy but the delivery guy apparently doesn’t speak English. Pete is all alone in his apartment in the city. Give me a call Pete; I’ll talk to you! Let’s see, have you read the latest Ebony?
This is mainly what Ginsberg’s dad is talking about; that a catastrophe is precisely the time when “a man and a woman  need to be together the most.” Ginsberg kind of shrugs it off, but some of our other couples seem to agree with his dad. Betty and Henry take comfort in each other as do Peggy and Abe. Henry has this adorable line saying, “I can’t wait for people to meet you.” Peggy and Abe are relieved that they are just a part of each other’s lives.
Oh yeah, the Rosens are in DC in case you were wondering.
Megan takes Sally and Gene to a vigil while Don spends some quality time with Bobby, who wants to watch the television, but his mother forbids it for a week. Don has the solution: “Planet of the Apes!” They even hang around for a second viewing! Bobby talks to the African American usher, inquiring as to whether this usher had seen the movie, “Planet of the Apes.” he has not. Bobby continues, “Everybody likes to go to movies when they’re sad.”
“I don’t think I ever wanted to be the man who loves children. But from the moment they’re born, that baby comes out, and you act proud and excited, hand out cigars—but you don’t feel anything, especially if you had a difficult childhood. You want to love them but you don’t. And the fact they’re feeling that feeling makes you wonder if your own father had the same problem. And one day they get older and you see them do something, and you feel that feeling that you were pretending to have. And it feels like your heart is going to explode.”
If Jon Hamm doesn’t get an Emmy this year my heart is going to explode.
This is Don’s staggering monologue from his scene with Megan toward the end of the episode. But what is he talking about here? It’s more of the nihilism that we expect from Don Draper. I’ve always kind of thought that Don felt this way but hearing him say it, hearing him say, “You want to love them but you don’t,” is a little jarring.
I think the last few parts about feeling “that feeling you were pretending to have,” is about Bobby talking to the usher. Don is truthfully proud of his son for being moved by the passing of MLK and for commiserating with the usher. Bobby is actually looking like Don here. I’m reminded of the “Mad Men” pilot episode where Don is talking to the African American busboy, asking him what kind of cigarettes he smokes.
It’s a beautiful moment, but we still wind up in bed wishing the fear would subside. We wish we could fall asleep, or I suppose, wake up from that aforementioned dream. We wish we could wake up and everything would be in place and the wallpaper would line up. But of course, that won’t happen, because we’re trapped. Don is trapped.
So the final verdict on this episode hinges on how “Mad Men” utilized this tragic event. Did they simply use it as fodder to churn out one of their thirteen episodes? No, I don’t believe so. This episode gave us tangible character development. My favorite one of these types of episodes remains the one where Marilyn Monroe passes away, “Six Month Leave,” because that episode used that event more in the background as opposed to the foreground , but "The Flood" was a very cool departure from the status quo of this fictional world. Just the scenes of Don and Bobby at the cinema and of Don’s monologue were worth the time spent watching this episode.
Other things to do in the wake of such a tragedy include finding the nearest black person and hugging them, talking about your visit from the ghost of MLK, looting/rioting, complaining about looting/rioting, sitting through the rest of the advertising award show, hiding behind intellect, watching TV, avoiding the TV, going to work, etc.
The closing line in Planet of the Apes is also apropos to the MLK assassination: “You Maniacs! You blew it up! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to hell!”
Randy, property insurance guy: “Are you forgetting what Tecumseh said? ‘He ah ho ah ho ho.’” Roger Sterling one-liner of the night: “I had forgotten that.”
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