One of the underlying themes of Mad Men is not how the major events of the tumultuous 1960s effected people but how the small cultural shocks all added up so that society had drastically changed from the beginning to the end of the decade. As such, Mad Men episodes that are focused on the major events of the 1960s usually fall flat and end up recycling various “Where were you when…?” cliches. Which makes this episode, “The Flood,” all the more interesting. While the inciting incident is a very specific event in American history (which would be the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4, 1968), the theme of the episode (and its title) come from Ginsberg’s father’s commentary about who people turn to in times of need.
The centerpiece scene was the announcement of the assassination at the ANDY awards. (On a side note: The event with Paul Newman being interrupted at an awards banquet in the midst of an endorsement of Eugene McCarthy for president with the news of the assassination did happen.) It then took the time to clock everyone’s reactions; from Peggy telling Abe to be careful as he leaves to cover the story for The New York Times, to Henry dashing into the city to help Mayor Lindsay deal with the riots, to Don telling everyone to go back to the banquet and then trying to track down The Rosens who are in Washington D.C. (which was overrun with riots when the news of King’s death hit), to Trudy maintaining her banishment of Pete by saying that he didn’t need to come home and be with them. More and more this season we are seeing race finally filter into the largely white world of the characters with everyone’s reactions the next day from awkward hugs to the black secretaries and more. There’s a prevailing sense of dread that’s hanging over the characters this season and the year of 1968 in general and it’s only going to get worse; two months from now will be another famous assassination that will cast a pall over everything.
Another interesting facet that emerged from the episode is how people will try to exploit the tragedy for their own purposes. While Harry’s rather gross complaint about the constant news coverage eating away at commercial time was out of place and inappropriate (which is a recurring theme for Harry so far this season), Henry sees it as an opportunity to advance his political standing by jumping on an opportunity to run for Senate. Peggy and her realtor use the moment to try and lower her bid on a new apartment. And Abe of course takes it as an opportunity to get a scoop that could make his career.
And while this event brought some people together, it pushed others further apart. Pete’s attempts at a detente with Trudy are shot down leaving him more alone than ever. Megan’s view of Don’s neglect of his children is colored by her own resentment of her father’s “Marxist bullshit.” And to be fair it does provoke some soul searching from Don in that he admits he didn’t like his children till they did something that surprised him and made him take notice of them (which could be said about all of Don’s relationships frankly).
It’s hard to do a full-on synopsis/recap with an episode like this, since the historical event is given so much breathing room and space, so I will conclude with some bullet points:
* It’s interesting to see that the two nominees (and the win) were from the two SCDP employees that no longer work there (that would be Peggy and Megan, which leads credence to the oft-repeated theory that Megan’s true calling might actually be in advertising). And of course, no one really cares about Megan’s triumph in the face of historical events.
* Dawn staying at the office the day after the assassination felt like a callback to Peggy’s habit of working through national tragedies by working. Then again, everyone was in such a daze that no one knew what the appropriate course of action was to be.
* Betty’s 180 when she heard about Henry’s decision to run for office was a sight to see. I guess this is what finally causes her to ditch the weight and go back to being a blonde.
* It was surprising to see Bobby Draper get a storyline all of his own. From his Betty-like OCD with the off-line wallpaper, to seeing Planet Of The Apes with his dad (complete with a Don-like “Jesus” after the first showing and his line “Everybody likes to go to the movies when they’re sad”) it was interesting to see Don attempt to bond with his middle child, even though said child rains on Don’s parade by voicing his concern for Henry’s well-being.
* Harry is really being painted as an asshole this season, no? His off-color comment (pun intended) was another in his long line of inappropriate behavior. While the change in Harry from hen-pecked team player to major asshole feels sudden and unearned, it does feel of a piece with the times getting cruder and him channeling the crudeness of the West Coast into the very East Coast mindset of his contemporaries.
Photo Credits: Michael Yarish/AMC