Mad Men has made use of historical events in the 60s, such as JFK’s death and the Cuban Missile Crisis in the past. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s death in “The Flood” set the stage for this episode.
As usual, these events only act as mirrors to continue the show’s character storytelling. These characters are removed enough from the civil rights movements, to largely care about their own well-being among riots, the safety of their significant others public or private, or in Harry Crane’s lowest denominator case, television sales.
For both the audience and Don’s heart, Bobby Draper finally has a moment where he matters. Bobby is already showing the signs of Don and Betty’s psychological problems passing onto him. Like Sally, the effect of this is a boy who’s growing up too quickly and with too much anxiety. But Don understands this solemn maturity more than a normal, sunny-skies seeing kid, or wife for that matter. When Bobby and Don go to Planet of the Apes, they both need the escape.
Don is worrying about Sylvia throughout the episode, even if he knows she’s likely safe. Along with falling into enough of a trance to forget she told him they were going to DC, I continue to believe Sylvia’s aggressiveness dissecting Don’s soul is making a mark more than passive affairs do.
Pete’s surprising empathy for the civil rights movement, is juxtaposed against his failing relationship at home. Perhaps because Pete has always been an outsider to his work peers, he more easily relates to the civil rights movement. He also has to care about something at this point without a marriage to attend to.
Ginsberg, Peggy and Betty’s scenes felt like they could’ve been in any episode instead of attached to the Martin Luther King episode, but I suppose their arcs indicate that among upheaval, characters still had to attend to matters like finding an apartment, dating to appease a father and preparing to trophy-wife it for a senator. For the characters in this episode including Don, their relationships are more important to them than the African-American strangers in the civil rights movement or rioting, or Dr. King. That world is as distant as a film screen in comparison.
Although I enjoyed the Don scenes as always, this episode felt a “ho-hum” as a whole. Mad Men reacting to tragedy has been covered and the side-plots felt as if showing yet another day in the life. Which perhaps is the point, though at the cost of excitement for the viewer.
By Julien Rodger