“The Flood” centers on what happens to everyone in the Mad Men world when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination takes place in April of 1968. The main folks at Sterling Cooper Draper Price find out when someone shouts it out at the ADDY Awards, interrupting Paul Newman’s speak that members of SCDP and their close competitors can barely see from the back of the room. People are immediately aghast, and, in New York, their second reaction is usually fear about a potential violent aftermath.
Beyond my sadness at the general cynicism in so many responses to King’s death, the most heart-wrenching part of the episode for me was how thoroughly this destroys any happiness Megan might have gotten in winning an Addy. The larger issue makes her achievement a complete non-event. I feel like the show never lets her enjoy success. But she and Don host Bobby and Sally for the weekend, which gives the show a rare chance for real father-son bonding between Bobby and Don. They go to see Planet of the Apes together and connect in their own quirky way.
Betty and Henry are very much a team these days. When Henry must walk out Harlem behind his boss, Mayor John Lindsay, Betty doesn’t object. She accepts his work. When he feels inspired to be hungry for power and decides to run for a republican seat in the state senate, Betty shows Henry her public face of support. Once alone she then re-processes the information, this time in terms of her appearance. Betty still thinks of her value and her weight as necessarily linked, so her upcoming role as a candidate’s wife scares her. It is a compelling issue that, frankly, our society still hasn’t fixed.
In the most tender plotline of the episode, Peggy wants to buy an apartment. She and Abe share an awkward moment when the realtor wants to discount Peggy’s opinions in favor of Abe’s when he appears late to the showing. This should be a sign that the realtor is a no-good person; once the assassination occurs, she wants to drive the purchase price down based on the nearness of the apartment to Harlem. It doesn’t work and at first Peggy is very disappointed to have lost the chance to buy a nice place. The ensuing conversation however shows that Abe does have opinions about where they live and certainly feels very committed to their future together. This touches Peggy deeply; perhaps she hasn’t felt as secure as she’d like to be doing the whole cohabitation without marriage thing.
Pete and Trudy come fairly close to reconciliation in the hours after King’s death. Pete cannot stand the loneliness of his apartment, so he calls his estranged wife, hoping to offer solace and perhaps come home in this emotional time. It is a low down dirty trick, and it almost works. My heart broke to see Trudy gripping her telephone receiver and trying not to cry. She does see through exactly what Pete is trying to do, and that knowledge helps her stay strong.
Pete actually comes out as the class act for once when he nearly comes to fisticuffs with Harry Crane. Crane is continuing his campaign to be the new worst-guy-ever on Mad Men by thinking of the assassination in terms of profit because of the news coverage that is cutting into the programming used to anchor his ad sales. Bert Cooper has to break it up.
Dawn and Phyllis, Don and Peggy’s black secretaries both manage to make it to work the day after the assassination. They are each offered some time off mostly because no one knows how to handle the situation socially; Phyllis gratefully accepts but Dawn chooses to stay. This job matters to her. Joan attempts a hug that ends up being more than necessarily awkward, but I still think Dawn is on a path of being more fully a part of office life and the show. I hope so, because she’s a really interesting character.
I wanted to save the best for last this week because “The Flood” is dark and heavy story. Here’s a lighter moment to savor. Because of their matchmaking fathers, Ginsberg gets to go on a date with a lovely girl named Beverly. Morris Ginsberg hadn’t told his son that this was planned, but their date seems to be going well. Beverly works as a student teacher while going to Hunter College and is just as cute as she can be. Evidently Ginsberg thinks so too, which might be why he gets so flustered and accidentally reveals that he is a virgin. Undeterred, they show real interest in one another. When they do hear the bad news, they feel like cutting their date short. The show doesn’t make anything definitive, but if Morris has anything to do with it, Beverly will be back.
There’s a lot more to be said (I left out a really weird mini sub-plot about an insurance pitch because it was so missable), but really the episode simply deserves a thoughtful watching.