SPOILER ALERT: IF YOU HAVEN'T WATCHED MAD MEN, YOU'RE MESSING UP.
Last night, the revolution was televised on AMC, thanks to Mad Men's depiction of the first week of April in 1968. Though, it felt as though the emphasis on the revolution in the mind of Donald Draper was greater than that brought on by the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
The dormant racial tension we've been noticing for weeks finally boiled over and world events—consistently seeping deeper and deeper into the lives of the characters on Mad Men—finally broke the levees in "The Flood" when, during the Advertising Club of New York's annual awards dinner, someone interrupts Paul Newman's speech to announce that Dr. King had been assassinated.
Mad Men creator and showrunner Matthew Weiner has, on numerous occasions, voiced his belief that 1968 was one of the worst years in American history. In the past few episodes, characters have expressed concern for the state of their world. Ken Cosgrove suggests that, if Dow Chemical wants people to like them, they should "stop fire-bombing children." Don's secretary Dawn spent time highlighting the sexist and racist work environment at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. Now, the characters are mourning the death of a civil rights activist who symbolized a sliver of hope in an otherwise dismal Mad Men existence. I think "The Flood" effectively demonstrates that, nearly a century later, we're still wrangling many of the problems that were so prevalent at the end of the '60s.
Michael Ginsberg's father set him up on a date with a teacher, but gave him no warning. "It sounds very 'old world,' but it doesn't feel like it," he observes while on the date. His comment sets the tone for an episode that focuses on rampant white guilt and rings out as an all-too-apt depiction of how society reacts in the face of crisis.
When news of Dr. King's assassination breaks, everyone responds differently. The event's emcee announces that they'll take a 10 minute break to discuss the horrible news. Abe goes to Harlem in a tuxedo to cover the race riots for The New York Times. Megan leans on Don's shoulder. Henry rushes to help the Mayor deal with the fall out. Ginsberg's father covers his face with a blanket in disgust. Campbell storms out of the ceremony to call his estranged wife. Joan cries at the table. When the lights flicker to indicate that they're ready to return to their regularly scheduled program, Peggy asks whether or not they're actually going to continue the event. Don responds with a quick, "What else are we going to do?"
Forty-five years later, we're still asking ourselves the same question. After a bombing in Boston and an explosion in West Texas and a massacre at a Connecticut elementary school and a shooting in Aurora, people chastised companies on social media sites for not canceling their scheduled promotional messages. Some folks planted in front of the television to watch the news unfold. People want more gun control. People want to placed armed guards in school. They posted their condolences on Facebook or poured themselves into their work or tried to lend a hand on Reddit.
In Mad Men, the SCDP folks spent the next handful of scenes debating whether or not it's appropriate to conduct business as usual in the wake of a tragedy. Pete Campbell and Harry Crane have. it. out. in the middle of the office. Harry complains that the revolution is being televised instead of Dean Martin and the Stanley Cup. Pete calls him a racist.
They're both spewing a particularly reationary type of venom. The juxtaposition of Pete on the left and Harry on the right, with Cooper trying to mediate and forcing them to shake hands even though neither is willing to compromise or really apologize is such an accurate demonstration of modern politics. Whether we're clammoring about gay rights or gun regulation or health care or the legalization of marijuana, it feels like most of the discussions are punctuated by door slamming and name calling.
"Nobody will be happy until they've turned the most beautiful city in the world into a sh** hole," Harry yells. This sentiment bleeds through again when Don takes Bobby to see Planet of the Apes and they analyze the final scene. After Charlton Heston screams his guts out and damns the human race to hell, Don explains that people destroyed New York City and the country.
The movie ends as Heston's George Taylor finally completes his journey and realizes that humanity destroyed itself. In the subsequent Mad Men scene, Bobby Draper asks if they can stay to watch humanity destroy itself a second time.
It sounds very "old world," but it doesn't feel that way.
Before the next screening begins, Bobby engages a black theater usher. "People like to go to the movies when they're sad," Bobby says. Don later explains that this comment was the catalyst for a revelation. We learn more about Don Draper in one monologue than we may have known (cumulatively) before.
"I don't think I ever wanted to be the man who loves children. But, from the moment they're born, that baby comes out and you act excited. You hand out cigars. But, you don't feel anything, especially if you had a difficult childhood. You want to love them, but you...don't. And the fact that you're faking that feeling makes you wonder if your own father had the same problem. Then one day they get older and you see them do something and you feel that feeling that you were pretending to have. It feels like your heart is going to explode."
Though it's Bobby's interaction with the usher that elicits this feeling, I felt as though Bobby's response to Don's inquiries about the wallpaper incident speaks more to the "like father, like son" concept. Bobby says he's in trouble because the wallpaper wasn't lined up correctly, blaming larger forces for his own actions, much like Don does in every facet of his life.
Earlier in the episode, Don considers his mortality and ponders the fate of his soul when Sterling's friend(?) Randy pitches his Molotov cocktail ad. "This is an opportunity," Randy says. "The heavens are telling us to change."
It seems as though Don's recognized that he needs to change, which is more than the rest of us can say.