SONIA BRAND-FISHER: A much anticipated episode of “Mad Men” begins and ends with balconies, one of our characters looking at them from inside a potential apartment, and one out on one looking over New York. The assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. is tackled in this episode with that same disorientation and strength as was the JFK assassination in Season Three. The reactions from Pete, Don, Dawn, Megan, Peggy, Betty, and Henry show a range of emotions teetering on the edge of a very real understanding of the world they live in, but not quite able to process the very real implications of a society that would destroy such an influential and inspirational leader.
The repetition throughout this episode of people saying they don’t know why they are so surprised, or that they are not surprised, or they make some physical indication that they hoped that it wouldn’t come to this hit very close to home in the wake of recent national tragedies. You really don’t know how to feel, and you should be surprised, but for some reason you aren’t, and that’s terrifying. We have seen Don process loss and chaos with his usual stoic perseverance punctuated by a moment of depressing realization. Watching Don basically admit that he has never loved his kids in the way that he feels he is supposed to felt incredibly cathartic to me, because it always seemed so obvious to me that there was that ambivalent disconnect with his children. Sally and Betty have their own fraught relationship, but I never doubt that Betty loves her children because her entire adult life has been a labor of love. Don and Bobby, however, have rarely had the opportunities to engage and converse. Bobby’s line about people going to the movies when they are sad was very sweet, and very empathetic on his part, but it surprises me that it’s that moment that makes Don feel as if his heart will “explode.” Sally has shown her fair share of insight, empathy, and strength during this series, but Don does not feel that same swell? It is interesting, and I wonder if Bobby was just in the right place at the right time.
Ginsberg and his father, Morris, are two characters that I hoped we would see more of in this season, and I am very happy we did. “You gonna get on the ark with your father?” made me laugh hysterically. Morris pushing Ginsberg into his absolutely hilarious date with Beverly was a very necessary piece of comic relief during this episode, which was actually deepened and strengthened when they hear news of the tragedy together. Morris has followed the thread of wanting to see his son successful and happy in love since we were first introduced to Ginsberg, and it is a thread that sounds a particular note in this episode, when everyone is trying to take comfort in those they love.
Peggy, similarly, had no one to comfort and hold her when Abe took off uptown to report on the response to the assassination for The New York Times (“Don’t do anything stupid.” “It’s too late, I’m going to Harlem in a tuxedo”). However, Peggy is in such an interesting place as she tries to negotiate her newfound professional success and the implications of her position of power as it relates to her political/personal life with Abe and their flourishing relationship. Sure, she wishes he could be there to hold her in a time of tragedy, but from the small surprised smile on her face when Abe mentions the idea of having kids one day, I think that she knows that parts of her life are falling into place in ways she never had anticipated before.
NAVA BRAHE: After watching “The Flood,” I am convinced there will never be another television show that will accurately depict human emotional responses better than Mad Men. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination, as experienced by a bunch of self-absorbed white people, could not have been more timely, as Sonia pointed out, so soon after this latest period of national turmoil.
For me, the two most telling scenes in the episode were the ones where Bobby noticed the uneven seam in his bedroom wallpaper, and Harry’s meltdown over lost ad revenue because of all the televised news coverage in the aftermath of Dr. King’s murder. I can personally relate to both because, as a child, I had textured “grasspaper” covering the walls of my bedroom, which didn’t stand a chance against my curious fingers. Bobby was indulging his childhood curiosity by trying to tear away what was covering his walls, revealing that underneath the badly hung wallpaper, there were more layers of mystery. Watching him do that sent chills up and down my spine. Harry’s ranting about all the “make goods” he would have to issue reminded me of a short-lived job I had at a New York-area radio station, where I had the misfortune of being present on the day when a legendary disc jockey had a fatal heart attack in the middle of his show. The entire sales department began squawking in unison about the very same concern, with no regard for the human life that ended so abruptly. My reaction was exactly the same as Pete’s, although I was in no position to voice it, much as I wished I could have.
I agree that Ginsburg’s father’s attempt at procuring a shidduch for his son provided much-needed levity in the midst of all the turmoil. Like Sonia, I wish we would see more of this father-son dynamic, the way we were given insight into Peggy’s relationships with her mother and sister in earlier seasons. Peeking into the lives of secondary characters is a welcome departure from the increasingly tedious angst constantly displayed by Don and the rest of the gang.
Speaking of Don, I was not surprised by his confession of not loving his kids; rather, I was saddened by it. Early on in the series he at least made an attempt: he built Sally a playhouse in the backyard, albeit with much needed fortification from beer. The older he’s gotten, the more self-absorbed he’s become. The older Sally and Bobby have gotten, the more they seem to notice that both parental units have checked out on them. It was heartbreaking to watch the phone interaction between Don and Betty, when she called to chastise him for forgetting to pick up his children, and it was even more depressing to witness Don’s reticence to attend the park vigil with Sally and Megan. It also didn’t seem like Bobby’s conspiratorial stomach ache had the desired effect; Don didn’t seem too pleased to have to sit through “Planet of the Apes” twice. I don’t even want to touch Bobby’s comment to the usher in the theatre. I might just short-circuit my laptop with my tears.