Mad Men, Season 6, Episode 5: “The Flood”
Written by Tom Smuts and Matthew Weiner
Directed by Christopher Manley
Airs Sundays at 10pm ET on AMC
Leave it to Mad Men to recapture the power Planet of the Apes’ ending must have held for audiences that hadn’t been inured by decades of spoilers. Juxtaposing the scene on the beach and all that it implies with the violence that swept the nation in the wake of Dr. King’s assassination only serves to deepen its significance. “Everybody likes to go to the movies when they’re sad,” and Mad Men is a show that’s always understood this. The moment of empathy Bobby shares with the theater attendant, and his horror at the film’s closing scene, elicits an emotional response from Don. He had gone to the movies to escape, to ease his worries about Sylvia being in the midst of the worst of the violence in DC, but the film shoved it in his face. Yet it managed to inspire a deeper kindness from Bobby, a boy disturbed by the fact that the seams in his wallpaper are showing. Don references this moment in the midst of the heartbreaking monologue he delivers to Megan, implying it was the first time he ever felt anything for one of his children.
“The Flood” invites direct comparison to “The Grown-Ups,” the other episode that devoted an hour to the fallout from a major political assassination. That episode examined the collective response to the Kennedy assassination, everyone gathered together watching the events unfold on TV. “The Flood” examines the way people react individually and makes for a much richer episode. A lot of characters see an opportunity in the tumult. Abe jumps at the chance to get published in the Times. Pete tries to re-establish his connection with Trudy and the kids. Henry is motivated to run for office by his experience with Mayor Lindsay in Harlem. Harry sees only opportunity lost, voicing concerns that were likely in the forefront at the time, and allows Pete the moral high ground in a way that is true to his character.
A common gripe leveled at Mad Men is that it fails to engage with people of color during a time in which their struggles were at the forefront. It’s probably a legitimate complaint, but what Mad Men does wonderfully is capture white people’s inadequate, or condescending, reactions to things like the death of Dr. King. Look at the awkward embrace Joan bestows upon Dawn. Dawn doesn’t even pretend to reciprocate it, she’s so uncomfortable. Don looks on with a smirk but continues to treat Dawn like a child. Or consider the seven different expressions Peggy cycles through (care of some brilliant acting by Elisabeth Moss) when Abe expresses his desire to live in the west 80’s. Even those who want to be comfortable with the shifting of tides are, at their core, deeply ambivalent about things or unable to respond appropriately.
The only person completely at ease is the insurance salesman Roger seems to know from the acid parties he attends. He pitches an ad for property insurance featuring a picture of a Molotov cocktail and claims it was a coded message delivered to him by the spirit of Dr. King. The way he carries himself calls to mind the time Ginsberg claimed he was a “full-blooded Martian.” We spend more time with Ginsberg tonight, as he awkwardly blurts out that he’s never had sex about five minutes into a date his father arranged for him. When he returns home and tells his father what happened, he pulls the covers over his head and goes back to sleep, perhaps the only rational response.