Season Six, Episode Five
While everyone will remember this episode being the one where Martin Luther King, Jr. dies, the title hints at the central theme throughout, which is how the characters on Mad Men pair up. Just take the beginning scenes where Peggy is searching for an apartment with Abe, and where Don and Megan bump into Dr. Rosen and Sylvia. While we frequently see these couples apart, “The Flood” concentrates on them together, plus others.
Like I already mentioned, the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. is the main event that occurs during the episode. The news spreads during an advertising award ceremony after a distant Paul Newman announces he’s supporting Eugene McCarthy for president. Someone shouts out that Dr. King is dead and chaos ensues. I particularly liked how everyone was in a panic to make a phone call and waited in line to call their loved ones. I still remember of a time that existed before cell phones came about and it just increases a chaotic situation when you can’t reach that certain someone instantly.
Back to the advertising awards, it’s important to note how Don avoids Peggy in the beginning when Megan walks over to say hi. The Heinz pitch was a week ago, but it’s still fresh in Don’s mind and he’s still not very happy about it. Even more importantly is Ted’s obvious crush on Peggy (can’t wait for that spark to kindle soon). When the news of Dr. King gets out, Abe leaves the awards on a job for the Times. This provides us with my favorite shot of the episode, with a scared Megan in Don’s arms alongside Peggy all by herself.
Being the fifth episode of the season, it’s been a while since we’ve seen Ginsberg. Here, he’s set up with a lovely young girl, Beverly, from their parents and go out on a date. Ginsberg is blind-sided but his father didn’t think that would matter much because when he refers to the Biblical flood, would Ginsberg want his father to be with him or a young woman. But their date is cut short when the news of Dr. King is broadcasted over the television at the diner.
Another couple that the news affects is Pete and Trudy. As Pete attempts to mend things (temporarily) by offering his comfort during the upsetting times, Trudy is able to decline his presence. This surely doesn’t look good for any chance of those two working things out, but the bigger problem is that this probably means we’ll see less of Alison Brie.
Finally, Don takes the news as tragic and troubling as anyone else, yet he deals with it much more internally. He didn’t engage in a yelling match like Pete and Harry did at the office. He didn’t offer a hug like Peggy and Joan did to their African American secretaries (though while Peggy’s hug was meaningful, Joan’s hug with Dawn was just awkward). While Megan takes his children to a vigil in the park, Don takes Bobby to the movies to see Planet of the Apes. Sometimes, the movies is the best place to go to just escape from the real world. Even Bobby suggests that people to go the movies when they’re sad to the African American usher. I’m not exactly sure how much of a role Bobby is going to play for the rest of the season, but he certainly had more to do with the plot in this episode.
We end with Don giving an explanation for his distant behavior towards his children during a time when they need him.
“No. 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 proud and excited, 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, and it feels like your heart is going to explode.”
Jon Hamm delivers this monologue perfectly and it’s the show-stopping moment of the episode. Don is more concerned with the safety of Sylvia than he is with Megan and his children and he cannot function when he is this distracted. But overshadowed by the events of Dr. King’s assassination is Don’s inner demons breathing life into his guilt as a father, and the suffering of his own childhood. We know Don’s going to keep on fighting because that’s all he’s ever done, but Don is a man who doesn’t like being in the passenger seat. He needs to be in control or else his bad luck could strike him down again.