Mad Men "The Flood" Review: Think of the Children!

By MaryAnn Sleasman

Apr 29, 2013

Mad Men S06E05: "The Flood"

It's April of 1968 in Mad Men's America and the year is starting to take a turn for the apocalyptic—in the form of, say, a massive, world-shaking flood of awfulness?—with the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis. In just a few months, the public will also see the loss of Bobby Kennedy, continuous race riots, and a disastrous Democratic National Convention. Yet in the face of it all, life went on. It does that. Even 45 years after this particular tragedy, as we face our own we-interrupt-this-broadcast moments, we go to the movies, we (try to) buy apartments, we attend frivolous awards ceremonies, and we disagree with friends and co-workers because like Don said: What else are you supposed to do?

Both Megan and Peggy found themselves up for awards for work they did at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. Megan ended up winning the honor, but by the time that announcement was made, no one actually cared anymore—and frankly, Megan probably didn't care at any point in the evening—because far more pressing news had already come to pass. The resulting turmoil surrounding MLK Jr.'s assassination led to a few moments of introspection, but mostly a lot of awkward. I mean, how about that Joan hug?

It was certainly a testament to how far race relations had come since the first half of the '60s that even though the predominantly white characters on Mad Men mostly fumbled their way through painfully stiff condolences and self-congratulatory overcompensation, in many cases, they were still socially conscious enough to realize that this was not something they could brush off as if it didn't affect them. Pete, in particular, seemed the most shaken of the SCDP higher-ups and more than anyone, he considered the most human aspect of King's death: A woman and her four children had lost their husband and father on this "shameful day." Why can't you just let me hate Pete Campbell uninterrupted, Mad Men? Why must he be not-a-douchebag at least once a season? 

Pete's outburst when Harry lamented that all of his programming was being preempted by news coverage, despite its slightly self-absorbed origin stemming from Pete's rejection when he called Trudy and asked to come home during the crisis, was still among the more sincere reactions from the men and women of (and formerly of) Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. Joan's obligatory hug when Dawn finally made it into the office was painful to watch, and Peggy and Don's insistence that their black secretaries go home seemed more about making themselves feel better than actual concern for their employees' well-being. To be fair, Peggy's secretary seemed like she would have rather been elsewhere, but Dawn was firm in her wish to stay at work as long as she was needed. 

Contrast Dawn with Pete's AWOL secretary and Harry's illusive Scarlett, both of whom were nowhere to be found in the office, and who were assumed to be watching news coverage somewhere, and you see yet another example of privileged white individuals using the tragedy for their own gain. We never got confirmation of where they were. Who's to say they were even watching the news? 

Elsewhere, Peggy's realtor conspired to get her into a swanky East Side apartment on the cheap by low-balling the sellers in light of racial tensions in nearby neighborhoods, and Abe jumped on the opportunity to cover the riots in the city for the New York Times. Henry Francis, disgruntled with Mayor Lindsay's corruption, accepted an offer to run for the state senate, and Betty fantasized about being in the spotlight again as an up-and-coming politician's wife. Anyone betting she'll be blonde again next week? 

The most sincere responses, the only ones that didn't seem tainted by ulterior motives and overwhelming self-consciousness, were those from the youngest—both mentally and physically—members of the community (because let's be real here, deep down inside, Pete Campbell is a child). Ginsberg and his blind date, Beverly, cut things short when news of the assassination broke. His father, who went back to napping on the sofa and appeared to care the least about King regardless of the news, berated Ginsberg for not pursuing Beverly more earnestly because animals boarded Noah's ark two-by-two and all that, and who does Ginsberg think he's going to face the flood with? 

Megan declared herself sick of her father's "Marxist bullshit" when the old man applauded the "escalation of decay" in the wake of MLK Jr.'s death. Oh, Mr. Calvet, you crazy. Megan took Gene and Sally to a candlelight vigil and both she and Sally were angry when Don not only refused to go, but on top of that refusal, allowed Bobby to stay behind as well. They saw Planet of the Apes twice and Bobby reached out with what was probably the simplest and most eloquent response to everything, which was weird, because it was Bobby, "Everybody likes to go to the movies when they're sad." 


The late '60s get a bad rap due to all the turmoil that characterized the latter half of the decade, and rightfully so when you contrast the worldview that characterized the first half of Mad Men's sixth season with that which will characterize the second half. However, as Mad Men has regularly illustrated, life goes on after tragedy. For all the awful that happened in the final years of that decade, there was some good as well: the moon landing, Woodstock, and the birth of the modern LGBT rights movement after Stonewall. Many of the older faces on Mad Men appear to be indulging in the cynicism of the time or ignoring the happenings around them altogether except with regard to their bottom line—Harry. The children and the youth of Mad Men are the ones who are able to navigate the precarious social waters without making complete asses of themselves (well, except Pete, but that's just Pete) and it's important to see that, even as we descend into the part of the decade where everything seems to fall apart, ultimately, all is not lost. Eventually, the flood waters will recede.

It's a little bit strange to think of a heavy episode like "The Flood" as being ultimately hopeful. We have the luxury of knowing that even though the world appears to be taking a turn for the worst in the spring of 1968, and that things will certainly get very dark for awhile, we ultimately survived. Despite the instances of inequality that still exist decades later, for the most part, the majority of Mad Men's characters—or at least the ones who aren't affluent, middle-to-old-aged white dudes—will leave the '60s behind with far better opportunities than they had when we initially met them.


What did you think of "The Flood"?



NOTES


– The best part of Insurance Guy's incredibly poor-taste ad pitch was Stan's face. 

– "You don't have Marx. You have a bottle." Lol, oh, Megan. 

– Don's monologue about faking love for his children until they did something that made the fake feeling become real was lovely, but also sad. I've always thought that, all things considered, Don wasn't the worst possible parent ever, especially when the alternative was Betty. and we've seen many positive interactions between Don and his children in the past, especially between him and Sally. To think that it was all a show, or at least forced, is kind of heartbreaking. 

– Speaking of heartbreaking (and here after I complimented Don for not completely sucking as a father in the past) those poor Draper kids were on nobody's radar for pretty much the entire episode. Betty didn't feel like dealing with them. Don actually forgot about them, and then both Betty and Don used the events surrounding Dr. King's assassination to justify pawning them off on the other. Classy. 

– Don and Sylvia are getting really obvious. Kind of hoping they get caught soon because I'm sorta over their shenanigans.

– Are Peggy and Abe a healthy couple or not? This is a point of contention in my house. I'm always impressed when they manage to work through their issues using their words, the way grown-ups are supposed to do. I like that Abe manages to support Peggy even though she kind of stands for everything he's against and that he doesn't get all weird and threatened by the fact that she's the breadwinner in their home. My other half is less enthusiastic about the pair and has taken the stance that Abe is a deadbeat and knows just what to say to Peggy to keep that gravy train rolling. What do you think?

– Do you think we should've gotten more perspective from Dawn?

– Did Peggy's realtor intentionally sabotage the sale because she disapproves of  Peggy and Abe's relationship?

– Why is Joan so awkward this season? The boob-hug with Dawn was the worst example so far, but she's been off all season, in my opinion. 

– So far, Trudy's holding steady. I'm impressed. Do you think she'll manage to keep Pete away all season?

– Remember when Harry used to be kind of a bumbling doofus? I miss that Harry. 

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  • fumbduck25 May 01, 2013

    One time I would like to watch the 30 second preview of next week's episode and be like "Wow I can't wait to watch Mad Men next week" instead of my usual response of "Holy random clips Batman".

  • un0rmal Apr 30, 2013

    I never got the impression Abe is a deadbeat. I feel they're a healthy couple using their words. I don't like them togheter in the long run - she needs someone flashy. But I like them right now.

    Trudy will cave. Of course she will. And we do need some more Alison Brie on the screen.

    I miss Harry! Yes! I loved him in the start. He was a big favourite of mine. But now. He's just annoying.

  • dh4645 Apr 30, 2013

    best parts of the ep were Pete going off on Harry, the awkward Joan hug and how smitten Peggy got after Abe mentioned kids. ha.

    it did seem like the realtor intentionally sabotaged Peggy.

  • current Apr 30, 2013

    I think by the episodes' end it contradicted itself in the the way MLK Jr.'s shooting supposedly affected the white nation/cast in the main. It's unlikely, as history has demonstrated, that that many whites of the time, regardless of social standing, particularly cared about Dr. King in any real current/future sense with regard to black citizens. What rang more true was how Pete, for example, paralleled the death more with his sense of loss as a family man. It was, however, laughable when 'the event' was suggested as being used to swing favour in deals or, at fault for causing financial ills was rejected as crass! This is a cut throat firm in a cut throat business irrespective of time, class or race. However, the point was further made with Peggy cooing over her relationship woes with Abe and complaining at his journalism. Get real, love!
    Too many shows get all self-righteous in trying to air race aware/sensitive issues in some guilt laden manner. America, we're at fault. Really? D'oh! Mad Men fell into this trap and did so at the expense of failing to air the few black characters it had to gain a real sense of perspective. What was portrayed was the constant asking of Dawn, as a surely, 'crippled' black whether she needed the day, which felt patronising and failed to actually eek out what Dr. King and his demise meant to black people - over and above the presented white confused outrage. The staff are clueless and more concerned with being sued for offending black staff one week, then devastated the next by the shooting. What was aired, was either blacks as emotionally crippled/stunted, disenfranchised or as riotous in the background - Freuds' set of three in reverse order respectively, if you will! And, 'the background' being the key here.
    The overall lack of clarity in the show and true awareness of the times also by it's characters, to the detriment of black people, was summed up with Abe and Peggy at the end. In that they are somewhat portrayed as being the hip, and with it, younger couple of the times. And yet when they fail to acquire the new home, Abe suggests to Peggy that they move further out of central New York into areas in which housing is being 'done up' (by whites) fairly cheaply (or gentrified to use that ghastly modern term!) and escape the property ladder and/or hubbub. An idea which, glaringly appeals to Peggy on all levels. This reality for blacks and/or the poor, meant them being further uprooted and ghettoized into slum zones with ever increasing crime rates and rapidly declining social and living conditions. What it meant for whites though, was "Welcome to Suburbia" - or tv and movie franchise heaven!
    It's both sad and ironic when an often intelligent and well written show leaves one thinking that the most socially aware character in it is the dippy actress portraying the actress. That can't be right. Right?

  • Plonked Apr 30, 2013

    I dont seem to be enjoying MM as much as I did with the first four seasons. And I dont want to feel that way since I only discovered the show just before christmas. I rushed through six seasons so I could be caught up with the rest of you. Gosh I loved watching a few episodes with my hubby after we put our monsters to bed at night.

    My favourite scene from this episode was Stan trying his darn hardest to keep a straight face when the insurance guy was trying to pitch. Im so over Don and Syliva's affair. Hurry up and get caught so Megan can throw a big tantrum and slap Syliva. I really can see Megan doing that.
    Kudos to Pete for his whole speech and going off at Harry. You get a gold star there my boy, even though I think you are a total twit.

  • mrjimmyjames Apr 30, 2013

    I'm not sure why you would immediately ignore everything bad about Pete because of one moment on the show. These characters are supposed to be complicated and grey like in real life. Not simple and black and white. That's what makes the show interesting. In reality Pete isn't really much worse than Don; he just doesn't have the charm to pull it off. Many of these characters are deplorable and villainish. But no bad guy is bad all of the time.

  • patsully Apr 30, 2013

    I forgot in all my hatred of Pete, that his character is often more liberal than his conservative co-workers, so his outburst at Harry caught off me guard. But it also fit perfectly in line with a growing need to lash out in frustration after causing his marriage to fall apart. With no one to go home to and comfort, Pete had to deal with the tragic MLK news on his own. That leads me to believe that he'll search for his own Megan - a clean start - instead of embracing his bachelor pad lifestyle for the time being.

    I loved Don & Bobby time, which was a surprise. Bobby's frustration over the poor wallpaper job clearly hints at a potential future in advertising. I wonder if Don's realization that he actually cares about his son will finally cause a change in him... I don't expect it to, but I think it would be more believable than Sylvia finally being the woman who makes him walk the straight and narrow.

  • ToddMurray Apr 30, 2013

    I didn't see anything resembling "sincerity" in the least from Pete this week. When he called Trudy and asked if she wanted him to be there, it wasn't selfless on his part; he just didn't want to be alone in the city with everything that was going on. Thus, when he told her "I don't want you worry..." it came off extremely narcissistic, as in "I don't want you to worry (about me)." She responded accordingly and hung up with him. The following day, his argument with Harry was an echo and extension of his conversation with Trudy (who called that day's actions "shameful" first) and reflected upon his own shameful behavior, causing him to be separated from his own wife and child. Harry might have come off as tactless, but he wasn't wrong in worrying about the clients or the bottom line - someone has to worry about those things - and he was the only one who seemed to be doing anything resembling work.

    I got something completely different than you from Ginsberg's father. Upon hearing the news of MLK's death from his son, he pulled the sheet up over his face, so as to not let his son see him expressing raw emotion. Men just didn't let their sons see them cry in that day and age. Ginsberg's mustache is awful, btw.....

    I have no idea what was up with Bobby peeling wallpaper, except for it being a catalyst for Don to take him to the movies instead of allowing him to watch TV (Betty's punishment), which then allowed Bobby to say something deep and moving to the usher, which in turn allowed Don to feel an emotion that he'd apparently been faking through all of his time as a father to three kids. Speaking of that drunken diatribe about his kids to Megan - I guess that was supposed to be a redeeming and defining moment for Don this season, but it just didn't pull it off for me. He's been so unlikeable this season, his admittance to faking it for his children made him look that much worse. In seasons past, he at least had win after win at work, now he's circling the drain more than ever.

    As for Abe - I don't like him at all. I don't like him in general (an anti-establishment ideologue - almost a reverse "elitist") or as someone for Peggy (soul-sucking deadbeat too caught up in his own agenda to be the supportive person that Peggy needs). Peggy DESERVES to be on the Upper East Side, she NEEDS to be on the Upper East Side. Abe doesn't ground her, he drags her down. Hopefully she'll realize it and move on (or have an affair with Ted that causes her to move on - whatever gets ya there!).

    I'm wondering about Dr. Rosen and his wife, Sylvia. What happened to them in D.C.? Did they make it out okay?

    No Bob Benson this week. Would have been interesting to see how the eternally positive bootlicker handled this crisis....

  • layle1 Apr 30, 2013

    Unless Bobby obsessing about the unmatched wallpaper is another manifestation of Betty's neuroses being visited on the kids. At least, that's why I thought he kept tearing it. A good hanger tries to match the pattern.

  • J_Pip Apr 30, 2013

    You hooked me with your first sentence and then I had no choice but to read all of it even though I didn't want to... aaand agree with it. Well everything except Don being unlikeable. I am wondering why they haven't had that scenes with doing actual ad work this season, those are always enjoyable.

    Bob Benson was back at FBI headquarters for an emergency meeting because of the events...

  • ToddMurray Apr 30, 2013

    Thanks! And don't get me wrong, I like Don. It's just that they are painting him with a darker brush this season. Getting wasted and puking in the middle of the wake for Roger's mother; the ongoing affair; being a hypocritical and judgmental ass about Megan's love scene on her TV show; not wanting to have anything to do with his kids, etc. In the past, he would at least have moments of brilliance and triumph for us to admire, this season he's being out-pitched by Peggy and losing clients (Heinz Beans). Not a single winning moment for him (or us) to relish in.

    Bob very well might! Or he was still trying to find some toilet paper for Pete.... :)

  • annton Apr 30, 2013

    This show is beginning to slip. I I felt like I was watching people with a 2013 perspective of the world reacting to 1968 events. There were very few characters in this episode with apathetic (or delighted) reactions to the news of MLK death, and unfortunately, I have to believe that even in the progressive advertising community, at least one or two individuals had to be pleased by the news. It's as if the show's writers wanted to play it safe on this one, and while I can understand why they would want to do that, it made this episode feel less authentic, a problem I've been observing this entire season.

  • sodapopgirl721 Apr 30, 2013

    the thing that always worries me about shows is that the longer they go on, the longer they have to crap on everything they built up. don;s speech about faking his love for his kids broke my heart because don always seemed like a dare-i-say good father, not just because anyone looks like a better parent in comparison to betty, but the "ask me anything" with bobby the first year, the way he tried to help sally get over her fear of baby gene, his flat-out refusal to hit his kids and recoiling when betty did so right in front of him, hearing don say he faked his love for his kids was truly heartbreaking.

  • radiumgirl Apr 30, 2013

    ALL OF THIS. Yes. I always thought that one of Don's best redeeming qualities was how he was actually a decent father a lot of the time. I guess he should still get some credit for being decent even if he was faking it? But that's just so sad. :(

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