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"?
– 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.