Just last week we were lamenting how this show emphasized a stagnant Don Draper over the other compelling characters. This week, not only did Don immediately get more compelling when placed against the backdrop of the MLK assassination and paired with his young son, Bobby, but the other characters got some important screen time, as well.
I have been wanting Mad Men to tackle the riveting racial flashpoints in the late 1960s, and finally the show got to it. The reactions:
Joan: “We are all so sorry,” to Don’s black secretary, Dawn, followed by an awkward side hug.
Don: Here’s a man who pretends everything, even his “love” for his children. But in the aftermath of the assassination, when he takes Bobby to his favorite sanctuary, the movies, Don feels real love for his son. His heart is gonna explode. He has to drink through it. An amazing monologue performed by Jon Hamm, as a new parent I “got” what he was saying even without having a “difficult childhood” like Don’s. If love were plotted on a line chart of your child’s life, the moment he or she is born is not likely the point where the line is at its highest. You do find your love grows deeper and fuller even though you can’t imagine it getting any more intense. And it’s wonderful. Don’s issue, of course, is that feeling anything at all, especially something so authentic and powerful, nearly wrecks him.
Pete: As slimy as he is, has long been the most socially progressive of the account men. Even in the halcyon days of Season 2, it was Pete who was pushing the agency to do work in “the Negro markets.” The argument between “old” world mentality (represented by a different-kind-of-slimy Harry) and Pete’s worldview seemed a little heavy handed in the way the director framed that shot. But how about that Bert Cooper stepping in to broker peace, eh?
In general, I thought the writers handled the sense of tension and the rush to find out more information in a time way before Twitter quite well, in that it didn’t totally overtake the episode. It originally got laid out much as they depicted the Kennedy assassination, but obviously the reactions to MLK were and continue to be far more complex.
- We were treated with more Michael Ginsberg, whose own position as a bridge between old world (his dad, devout Judaism) and new world (the Mad Ave life, creative bohos) creates a real point of friction for him as he wrestles with growing up and — who knew — virginity. More Michael, please.
- Don’s so great at exploiting loopholes. Young Bobby is not allowed to watch TV for a week, but Betty didn’t mention movies. Planet of the Apes. “Jesus.”
- “I was trying to communicate without words, but it’s not working.” That was one of many gems from Randy the creepy insurance guy (and also the crazy guy from Lost). Roger mentioned Randy “talked me off a roof once,” which leads me to believe Roger has continued his LSD trips.
- What was going on in Washington? The killing of MLK led to a series of dark, dangerous riots in the U Street neighborhood, which finally started revitalizing around the 2008 election of Barack Obama. Read more about the riots from The Washingtonian magazine, which did a look back.
- Harry Hamlin is a long way from his days on LA Law.
Megan winning the award for advertising after all, Betty’s identity crisis and Peggy’s effort to buy her own apartment as a single woman, are additional themes I also want to explore but this episode was so packed that I hope one of you other bloggers can take on those stories.
As Tecumseh said, Heya ho, ho, ho, heya huh huh ho,