This recap is dedicated to my good friend Johnny for his birthday. Thanks for reading John! You are generous and handsome.
- This morning I taught him how to part his hair.
One thing Mad Men consistently reminds me of is that the 60's were a really insane decade. There are a lot of cliches to wade through, and boomers are the worst, but it was a crazy time in American history.
"The Flood" takes place during the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. The characters hear the news at an advertising awards ceremony that Paul Newman is speaking at, an event that Matt Weiner and co. dug up and decided to use. The irony, acknowledged openly by Megan and Peggy, is that the award is for them, who no longer work at SCDP, for the Heinz commercial, who is no longer a client. Even funnier, they win.
The news breaking during the ceremony is a strange and jarring moment, as it was probably meant to be. Heavy shades of the JFK assassination episode "The Grownups" ran through this one. That episode spurred a sea change in the Mad Men universe, the Draper divorce. This one causes many of the characters to open up to each other, to reach out, but nothing so dramatic as Betty's "I don't love you." Don, who at first avoids Peggy, offers her a ride home. Pete tries to reach out to his family, but Trudy's foot is still irrevocably down, in spite of a nice conversation. Abe sort of casually tells Peggy he wants to have children with her. Henry decides to run for the New York state senate. The Draper children come to town for a visit in spite of riots and unrest.
There's another side as well. Harry is frustrated by loss of revenue because shows are being preempted. Peggy's realtor tries to exploit the racial tensions to make a low ball offer on an apartment she's trying to buy. Notably, both of these characters are thwarted. Pete calls out Harry for the same reason he was complaining about in 1963, leading to an office closing argument.
We also get the first Bobby Draper story line since Season 2 I think, with new Bobby peeling at the misaligned wall paper and having his mind blown by Planet of the Apes. A surprise moment of empathy from him inspires Don to recognize his son as a person for the first time, as he admits in a tearful monologue to Megan, that he had to learn to love his children, that he fakes all the emotions he's supposed to feel.
Don's revelation is moving, but kind of ho hum as he becomes harder and harder to empathize with/care about. Another implicit irony, Don spends the episode getting drunk and avoiding his kids while pining after his mistress who is visiting DC, where the worst riots are taking place. It's clever misdirection, admitting one thing to Megan while obfuscating the actual source of his misery. But Don is so fucked up and pathetic as he continues to displace his emotions. Even Pete, desperate to see his family, desperate for any human contact, comes across as more human than Don. Don's revelation is too late, of course, as he reaches out to Bobby again, Bobby confesses he's worried about Henry getting killed. Don is less and less relevant to the life he made. He removes himself.
—Don's little proteges, Pete and Peggy, channel him in strange moments but are both worlds ahead of Don emotionally. Peggy proved that years ago when she actually faced up to her "big secret." Pete actually feels the need for his wife and child that Don fakes. Pete and Peggy are two very fresh, realized characters who keep me watching the show. Speaking of which...
—I would like to take this moment to appreciate Pete Campbell. Vincent Kartheiser somehow makes this strange man sleazy, humane, hilarious, and sincere in one of the most odd and convincing characters on television. He never misses a moment.
—Elizabeth Moss also has a wonderful moment as Peggy's face reflects a flood of emotions in five seconds of screen time. (GIF? I can't find one.)
—Ginsberg gets his first major screen time of the season as his father sets him up with a pretty Jewish school teacher. Their date is fairly charming as he blathers on like a maniac, admitting he's a virgin and bad with people. The night is cut short when news of the assassination breaks. Ginsberg's father might be one of the laziest, old-world-Jewish-parent stereotypes I've even seen. He gets a great moment though, pulling a blanket over his head when he hears about MLK.
—Martin Luther King is just the tip of the iceberg. 1968 still has race riots, RFK, the Democratic convention, and more that I might be forgetting. It's nice when the show is able to weave history into the plot, like the Nixon/Kennedy election or the Cuban Missile Crisis. Sudden national tragedies are trickier, and even a good episode like this one feels obligatory.
—Roger's acid buddy was baffling, a surreal and comic touch, contributing to my growing conviction that this season is very strange so far. He delivers a message of violence and hope at once. At least his insane rambling gave us Stan's amused incredulity.
—Megan pointedly calls out Don on his alcoholism. He manages to change the conversation, but I still see their relationship failing or combusting soon.
—Great parallel moments of Peggy hugging her secretary, realizing it's the right thing to do, then Joan misreading the moment and trying to do the same to a baffled Dawn.
—Ted Chaough, whose last name I officially give up on, shoots Peggy a very meaningful look at the awards dinner. I hope they don't hook up. I thought they might, but we'll just have to wait and see.