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Mad Men Season 6 Ep. 5 Recap: 'The Flood'

Photo: Michael Yarish/AMC

As always, spoilers lie ahead…As with the assassination of JFK in season three’s “The Grownups,” in “The Flood,” a national tragedy–in this case the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr–has stopped the the characters of Mad Men and their insulated world in their tracks. And just like “The Grownups” the crushing world events outside seep into everyone’s personal lives, shaping or warping their decisions as well as their interactions with others.

Don and Megan haven’t exactly been on the same page this season. Megan’s career is blossoming while Don’s is struggling at the moment, and when he isn’t acting detached at her dropping bombs like having a miscarriage, he’s calling her a cheap whore for doing a love scene whilst running off to bang Sylvia, his latest mistress and wife of his friend (or as close to a male friend as we’ve seen him have at this point) Dr. Rosen, a few floors down. Needless to say, they and we are a long way away from the halcyon days of “Tomorrow Land.”

Though they seem all smiles as the episode begins, glammed up for an evening at an advertising awards banquet. Naturally they run into the Rosens, who announce they’re heading to a conference in D.C. where Dr. Rosen is speaking. During their chit chat Megan explains she’s up for an award for her work on Heinz baked beans, though it’s worth noting she dismisses Sylvia’s “you’re really are good at everything” (well not everything) compliment by downplaying her crucial part in landing the account. You’d expect this would push one of Don’s many buttons–I’ll take abandonment and control issues for 200–but he’s too busy making googly eyes at Sylvia to be notice–which is also why he had to be told they’d be in D.C. three times before walking out the door.

Once at the banquet, he gripes about SCDP being pushed to the back table, and stays back when Megan notices Peggy and goes over to say hello, but not before instructing her to tell Peggy her radio spot for laxatives is the sentimental favorite. Hmmm, I’m all for Don not taking the petulant brat route he’s been traveling down this season, but I don’t know if the words laxative and sentimental could, or should, ever belong in the same sentence. Anyway, Megan and Peggy hug, and Peggy congratulates her on her soap success, though admits she hasn’t seen it, but says her mother and sister watch. “Do they hate me?” Megan asks with glee, an interesting position for her to take given Don hated her enough for her entire fanbase last week.

Peggy introduces her to Jim Culter, head of accounts for CGC (a.k.a Roger with bad breath) and after some rather depressing shop talk (both are nominated for they did work for SCDP, though both have jumped ship, and in Megan’s case, so has the client she brought to the company) Peggy gushes about the apartment she’s thinking about buying, but then tries to downplay her own success by saying she’s only looking because of a tax problem. In a nice moment of sisterhood, Megan encourages her to enjoy what she’s worked so hard for. It’s soft call back to last season’s “At The Codfish Ball,” where Peggy gave her similar praise after landing Heinz.

Roger introduces Don to Randall Walsh, an insurance guy who clearly must be on some good LSD, as he tells Don they’ve already met and their meeting was a success. Walsh does seem to have been plunked down into the proceedings, but his strange manner (he doesn’t even shake hands! He…waves) definitely added some much needed humor such a heavy episode. All is going well as guest speaker Paul Newman takes the podium (“I need binoculars,” says Joan) until someone screams out Martin Luther King Jr. has been killed. Everyone of course reacts in shock and horror, but the show must go on. Megan buries her head in Don’s chest, and while he does comfort her, he also comforted Betty during JFK’s assassination. Or at least attempted to, as their marriage was officially over after she found out about his Dick Whitman past. Megan hasn’t learned the truth yet, but Don’s world is crumbing in every other area of his life, and it doesn’t mean their union won’t fall apart as well. Especially since he tries to out to call Dr. Rosen (meaning Sylvia) in D.C.

When JFK was assassinated,  Don was strangely detached, pushing Betty to attend Roger’s daughter’s wedding and telling her to turn off the news. While he doesn’t avoid watching coverage of MLK’s assassination and the subsequent riots, he’s still checked out emotionally, forgetting to pick up the kids (“You don’t even know how strange they’re acting,” Betty says),  and staying home while Sally, Gene and Megan go to a vigil, and knocking back the alcohol. Though he does take Bobby, who faked a stomachache, to see Planet of The Apes.

Of course, the original’s big reveal is Charlton Heston’s character hasn’t actually traveled to a foreign planet, but to a decimated Earth destroyed by humans. Part of me thinks Weiner’s drawing parallels to MLK’s death, the riots and the general insanity of the late 60′s to the film is way too obvious; then again, it does strike a realistic chord as many who saw the movie at the time probably drew similar parallels while watching it. Bobby certainly does. “Everybody likes to go to the movies when they’re sad.” While he may have bonded a bit with Bobby, Megan joins Betty in calling him out for his aloofness with his kids. “You don’t have Marx, you’ve got a bottle,” she snits, referring to an awful comment her own father made about the assassination and connecting the dots between both his and her husband’s cowardly attitude toward emotion. Though she also unwittingly makes a case for the “you marry your father” school of thought.

Anywho, her remarks give Don the opening for a quiet, reflective moment we only got a glimpse of at the end of “The Doorway,” as he admits not feeling anything when his children were born and only pretending to love them, citing his own horrible upbringing. This would just come off as self-pitying if Don was exaggerating about just how much his childhood sucked, but most importantly, if he hadn’t busted out this gem about finding love for his children. “Then one day they get older, and you see them do something. And you feel that feeling you were pretending to have. And it feels like your heart is going to explode.” Don then goes to lie down in Bobby’s bed. Bobby tells him he’s afraid Henry may be shot. “He’s not that important,” Don says, both reassuring his son and getting dig at Henry. Don then heads outside and lights a cigarette as police sirens wail, the chaos of the streets and society now irrevocably at his doorstep.

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Peggy’s story covered somewhat similar territory, at least in terms of thinking about family. As mentioned before, she’s looking to buy an apartment, and forgive me uber serious MM fans, but she so had a Sex And The City/Miranda moment when the broker assumed Abe was paying for the place. If Peggy is Miranda, Abe is certainly behaving like Steve, calling himself “a trusted adviser” instead of a boyfriend, and thinking of her money as her instead of “what’s yours is mine.” Though Peggy calling him “an interested party” isn’t much better. Their relationship seems stable, but there is clearly some sexual tension going on between her and Ted, as was made abundantly clear by Ted sitting in Abe’s seat (wink wink) at the banquet and the longing look he gave to her after saying she’d be a shoe-in to win an award next year. The news about MLK then calls Abe away to work, leaving her alone to see Don comfort Megan. Her secretary rams the point home when, referring to what felt like the inevitability of MLK’s assassination, says “I knew it was going to happen. He knew it was going to happen. But it’s not going to stop anything.”

Peggy’s “I’m so sorry,” to her secretary irked me as being patronizing (i.e. “I’m so sorry your people’s leader died) but it comes off as genuine. At least way more genuine than Joan’s “We’re all so sorry,” complete with awkward hug, to Dawn when she arrives at the office. Dawn, who unlike Peggy’s secretary (and like Peggy in the wake of JFK’s assassination) wants to be in the office to take her mind off things, gives her a bewildered look that screams “Yes girl I’m sad too, but it was MLK, not my daddy.” At first I figured  Dawn’s reaction to the news would be a major subplot, and kind wanted things to go that way. But after further consideration, I’m glad “The Flood” didn’t go that route. One, it would have been so cliche and obvious. Plus, we’re just getting to know Dawn as a character (which is partly the show’s fault, but hey, no use crying over spilled season five milk) and it’d be a little jarring to have an entire episode built around her. And in the end, Dawn’s only a minor character; this is a show about a particular group and class of folks, and how their world is being turned upside by the events of history. MLK’s death just brought the issue of race, something they’ve had the luxury to ignore, front and center for them.

But back to Peggy, who, after silently agreeing with her broker to engage in some scuzzy scheming to get the apartment (let the fear of the riots drive other clients away), doesn’t get the place. “What are you gonna do?” Abe deadpans, causing Peggy to lash out at him that she feels alone in wanting to move. Abe tries to blame his flat reaction on covering MLK, which Peggy dismisses by accurately (IMO) telling him he’s having a blast working on the story. Abe confesses he pictured them raising their kids in a place with more diversity, and fixing up a place together. Peggy looks thrown by this (their kids?) at first, but her face lights up and she reassures Abe he’s a part of her life, so he gets a say in wherever they live. Looks like her mother may have been wrong about this one. Oh Pegs, beware of the extramarital affair.

Pete also reached out to Trudy, but was firmly (but I might say calmly, given the events) kept at arm’s length by Trudy. It might explain his outburst with Harry at the office the next. Of course, most of his rage (as did mine) came from the fact Harry’s an insufferable douche bag who only cares about money and ad space, so much so he can’t stop whining about air time being sucked up by special reports on the assassination.This is shouldn’t be a surprise–after all this is the same man who referred to the civil rights movement as “stirring up trouble” and dismissing it as “bad for business.” He deserved every ounce of Pete’s indignation. God, I can’t believe I’m on Pete’s Campbell side in something.

Compared to his partners, Pete has always been forward-thinking and pragmatic when it comes to race. He recognized the potential for black consumers when it came to Admiral television a few seasons back, brought up buying ad space in Ebony and Jet, and recoiled at the sight of Roger in blackface. His reaction doesn’t come off as fake or patronizing, but it’s hard not to see some of his own personal drama fueling his anger; while he’s obviously very much alive, he’s basically dead to Trudy and Tammy, except as a figurehead to keep up appearances.

Ginsberg got some screen time this week, and went out on a blind date his father set up. The scenes with he and his date Beverly gave him the chance to show some endearing vulnerability to go along with his general kookiness, and the two do seem to have some chemistry, but it didn’t resonant the way Don and Peggy’s story arcs for me. His father telling him tragedy is the perfect time to snag a girlfriend may come off as sleazy, but isn’t off base. Though Ginsberg’s desire to couple up may come less from actually liking Beverly and wanting to escape his father.

Henry and Betty’s story line interested me the least, but it did lay some groundwork for future episodes. Henry was called in to work the riots, making sure the mayor came out looking good and maintaining his popularity. The back alley dealings with corrupt cops and dirty politics of dealing the unrest make Henry sick. Sick enough to go for the state senate. Betty is happy for him, and the chance of becoming a senator’s wife seems to be inspiring her to drop the extra weight in a way nothing else could, if looking at herself in mirror with one of her old dresses is any indication. But is that what she really wants? The way she strokes her now black mane and walks away makes it appear as though she may be conflicted going to back to her old existence as a trophy wife.

Of course, I could be reading too much into the scene, but what’s Mad Men without a little (or a lot) of overanalyzing?

Other Thoughts:

–Am I the only who thinks Bobby 5.0 looks like he could be Andrew Rannals’s (GirlsThe New Normal) son?

–Who else thought Stan was on cloud nine during the meeting with Walsh?

–Weiner hinted with Abe (Peggy saying he was “having the time of his life” covering MLK’s assassination and the riots) and with Henry (being exhilarated going Harlem) but I wonder if they’ll explore the idea of the media/politician/reporters getting a thrill from covering violent/dark subject matter? Season five’s “Mystery Date” dealt with this somewhat, but it’d be interesting to explore in the context of Abe and Peggy’s relationship, and the affect it could have on them

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