In last week’s review, we praised Mad Men for the way they work the time period into the show. Even on an episode that contained a historical inaccuracy (Joan makes a reservation at real life NYC restaurant Le Cirque even though the establishment was not open in 1968), the show continued to use the period in exactly the right ways, as a way to frame real life, everyday emotions or personal struggles in the context of a particular era.
Usually, Mad Men plays with large historical events subtly, milking a reaction to something such as the Kennedy Assassination from one or a few main core characters. Tonight’s episode set out to widen the scope of historical impact, trying to use a singular ‘60s era moment to act as a lightening rod that shocks everyone on the show. That moment, it turns out, is the Martin Luther King Jr. assassination, which took place on April 4, 1968, and sent shock waves through major urban eras, like New York City. It happens to be a strange coincidence that an episode dealing with character’s reactions to national tragedy happens so soon after a recent national tragedy. If anything, it makes the episode more poignant, and at the same time, alarming, because it shows the ways in which some people capitalize on or use moments of extreme distress to get the things they want.
First, the episode finds us at an advertising award ceremony, where Megan and Peggy are nominated for their ad for Heinz Baked Beans. When Megan finds Peggy seated at her table with the Cutler, Gleason and Chaough follows, the two embrace warmly. It’s funny to see the two at the award show, nominated for work they did at jobs they no longer hold for an account that SCDP no longer holds, the irony of which is not lost on them. Actually, every encounter between the two women seems a little off. Peggy was always supportive and friendly with Megan, but just below the surface there has always been a tad of resentment. In Peggy’s eyes, maybe it is her that should have been the new Mrs. Draper.
Hear me out. Peggy is one of the few women that Don has had at secretary that he has not put the moves on. Don made Peggy work for everything she achieved at the agency, whereas Megan, after having landed Don, was handed her new job. And all along, every time Peggy succeeded, she so desperately wanted the man’s approval, his recognition, and most of all, she wanted him to be proud of her as his protégé. When Don kisses Peggy on the hand in Season 5 when she quits SCDP, we can almost see Peggy melt and cave; she’s taken aback by his vulnerability, a side of him that she rarely sees yet desperately longs for.
I also think she’s jealous of Megan in other ways, like Megan’s natural ability at everything, and the way that everyone just points it out. Take tonight for instance, when Peggy introduces Megan to CDC’s accounts man, who instantly remarks on Megan’s beauty on how rare she is in the advertising firm. During the exchange, we can almost make out a faint eye roll. Later, after the before-mentioned tragedy, when Don is comforting Megan and Abe rushes off to cover the story, Peggy stands alone and gazes on the gorgeous couple and the wanting in her stare is obvious.
During the dinner, the MLK news is broken, and everyone is at once aghast. Joan tears up, Pete looks pale, the entire audience scatters to use the telephone, knowing very well that the city would be buzzing around the news. The camera cuts around and we get to see initial reactions from most of the characters, but the real feelings come out the next day. Some people are genuinely hurt, but most are just thinking about the tragedy in context of their own lives. There’s no better mix of the two sides butting heads than when Harry and Pete bash heads at the office. Harry complains about the lack of advertising money and the panic of the clients knowing that all of their commercials will be interrupted by breaking news updates, when Pete hears of this, he goes ballistic.
He berates Harry for thinking about business after the death of the great man, and goes as far as to accuse Harry of being a racist, but Harry isnt the only one thinking of the advantages and disadvantages. Peggy’s real estate agent calls to tell Peggy that they can ask for money off in light of the tragedy and the area of the city where the apartment is located. Ginsberg’s father tells him that he should use the grief to get with women, mainly the girl that he step him up with on a date and a bizarre client comes in to pitch an ad that he claims MLK gave to him beyond the grave in a dream. Everyone has an agenda, even Don, who uses the excuse as to why he forgot to pick up the kids this weekend.
After Don loses another argument to Betty and has to go pick up his children, we get into the real meat of the episode. Megan decides to take Sally and Gene to prayer service in central park, but Bobby pretends to play sick so he can spend time with his Dad and con him into letting him watch tv, which he’s been forbidden to do from Betty. Don uses the opportunity to take his son to a movie, Planet of the Apes, for bonding. Watching Don act as an actual father has also been a thing that has always been a bit off, with him always having nothing more but a look of bemused curiosity when it comes to his children. After the movie, back at the apartment, he explains this look, saying that he’s had a disattachment with his kids when they were young due to his own rough upbringing, but now as they grow older, he’s starting to actually love them and feel the pride of a father.
To drive home this heartfelt conversation with Megan, Don goes to ease the mind of his fearful children. He goes into Bobby’s room where Bobby confesses that he’s scared Henry may be in danger, but Don tells him not to worry, that Henry isnt that important. For an episode full of heavy emotions, it was a funny moment of brevity. We can take all of those moments that we can get on a show like Mad Men, and in real life as well.
The Best of the Rest
- Don’s joke at Henry may be poorly timed, with Henry revealing his intentions to become a State Senator, a job he basically has in the bag if he wants it.
- Pete tries to use the shooting to his advantage as well, calling Trudy and seeing if her sense of grief and danger might make her need him. It doesn’t work, with Trudy remaining unattached in a terrific scene from the under used Alison Brie.
- The Rosen’s go to DC this week, to the chagrin of Don. After the assignation, he worries and tries to get in contact with them, but we know that he’s only concerned about Sylvia.
- Abe tells Peggy he doesn’t want to live on the Upper East Side because he wants his children to experience more diversity, news that Peggy greets warmly.
- At the awards dinner, Ted Chaough gives Peggy an awfully suggestive look. We knew he was going to go after her, and it looks like it is bound to start any minute.
- Megan wins an award for advertising because she’s great at everything, apparently.
- There’s a weird Paul Newman moment in the episode right before the MLK news breaks out.