'Mad Men' TV Review: Addressing The Assassination Of Martin Luther King, Jr.
This week’s episode of Matthew Weiner’s Mad Men, “The Flood,” throws its characters for a spin in the aftermath of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Mad Men has featured famous historical moments many times before, but this one is particularly difficult to watch. The shock and pain of Dr. King’s death is felt deeply not only in the lives of the cast, but in the structure of New York City itself. The chaos that ripples through the characters’ lives is traumatic and, in many ways, universal. They are reminded that once again they have little control of the world around them and are helpless to what seems to be the deterioration of their country – no matter how powerful they may think they are in the office. The tragic inevitability of the turbulent events of the 1960s is sobering as a viewer, especially as the characters remain unaware of what lies ahead. Weiner has been critiqued in the past for not offering much commentary on racism despite the series heavily exploring sexism and homophobia. While this episode may not exactly correct that imbalance, it definitely begins to offer perspectives on race that had never been part of the show before now.
Before the news of the assassination breaks later in the episode, we begin with a shot of Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) staring ominously out a window at Manhattan skyscrapers. Before we can worry she’s taken up Don’s (Jon Hamm) habit of gazing out the window attempting to appear forlorn, we learn that she is looking at an apartment to buy. Peggy, from Brooklyn, has made it to the Upper East Side. Could anything be more gratifying as a viewer? Peggy is the character we want to see succeed, she is the one genuine “success story” who has slowly and steadily risen to the top. Watching her come into her own is a refreshing shift from the rest of the cast’s melancholic flailing. She is the sole buyer of the apartment while Abe (Charlie Hofheimer) is just along for a ride.
The whole Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce team, along with all of the other ad bigwigs in New York, are to spend the evening at an awards ceremony for excellence in advertising. Megan (Jessica Paré) has been nominated from her copywriting days, and as she and Don are on their way out of the building, they run into Dr. Rosen and Don’s favorite partner in philandering, Sylvia. How is their weird and freakishly prolonged eye contact not a dead giveaway to their spouses that something is very wrong there?
At the award ceremony, we run into the whole SCDP crew as well as Peggy and her new agency. She is the only one at her agency up for an award – perhaps her new workplace is lacking in the talent she was used to seeing at her old job. Paul Newman, a special guest at the ceremony, is in the middle of making a speech when news of Dr. King’s death breaks out. Abe, journalist that he is, dashes uptown to Harlem to report as people begin to riot throughout the city. Megan and Peggy embrace in light of the news and Don stands by awkwardly, alone.
Pete (Vincent Kartheiser) is incredibly distraught over the assassination and it shows in everything he faces in this episode. He calls Trudy (Alison Brie) to see if she is handling the news well, and she is still firm on her previous assertion that he stay away from the house. Once again, she is handling herself the way every other ad man’s dissatisfied housewife wishes she could. She is unafraid to take a stand against Pete and his shame over the situation is visible. He is disgusted that most people in the agency are concerned about how the murder will effect their profits rather than equality.
In a rare look into the personal life of Michael Ginsberg (Ben Feldman), he is on a blind date set up by his father when he finds out about Dr. King’s death. His father is determined to set him up with a wife or girlfriend, much to his neurotic dismay.
Don forgets to pick up his children from the Francis home in the aftermath of the shooting. Betty (January Jones) insists that he take them despite his reluctance to drive them through the city. They pass through Harlem on the way to his apartment, and the children start to take in the damage that has been done to both the morale of the country and to New York City.
Peggy doesn’t get the apartment, and Abe at last opens up to her about not wanting to live on the Upper East Side. Her relief at him sharing his feelings with her like an equal partner is clear all over her face. Peggy and Abe’s progressive relationship and her status as breadwinner is encouraging for so many of Peggy’s peers who aren’t so lucky. She shows us that there is hope of something beyond being forced into the position of a housewife or a “lesser” partner in a relationship.
Don takes Bobby (Jared Gilmore) to the movies as Megan takes the other children to a vigil in the park. He pouts more, drinks more, and Megan picks his brain about it (as if we’ve never seen this pattern before). In a move he would never have pulled with Betty, he opens up to her about his difficulty in connecting with his children. Once again, Megan is sympathetic and once again, Don ends the evening on his dark rooftop staring out into the emptiness. The one surprising aspect of this routine is that instead of just pouting and emotionally shutting down, Don actually communicates with his children. He comforts them about Dr. King’s death and is open with them in a way he is rarely able to be. Good going, Don. On top of that, with Dr. Rosen and Sylvia away in Washington, D.C. he’s not even able to cheat on Megan this week. Look at you Don, being an almost-sort-of family man. Impressed.
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