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WHO DO YOU CALL AT THE END OF THE WORLD?: MAD MEN, SEASON 6, EPISODE 5, “THE FLOOD”

April 30, 2013

Last week here in Boston where I live, sudden news stopped us all short and moments lengthened and bent as the horror of what was happening sunk in. When I learned what was going on, I was at a bar with my friends, about to order a raspberry UFO. Immediately, I took stock of the important people in my life: my boyfriend was with me, my parents were safe at home, my sister was near the bombings but was safe, safe, safe.

On this week’s Mad Men, something similar happens: in just one minute, news of Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination is shared and it feels like the end of the world. Who matters now, where do you want to be, who do you want to keep near you?

Don wants to be with Sylvia, who is with her husband in DC. Peggy wants to be with Abe, but he abandons her to run into the action, to get the story. Betty wants to be with Henry, but he too leaves her to run towards the trouble. And Pete, too late, wants to be with his family, with Trudy and Tammy. Ginsberg comes home to be with his father, who simply covers his face with a blanket.

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This episode is about the end of the world – Bobby and Don go to see Planet of the Apes, and stay to watch it again – but it is also very much about fatherhood. Drunk after the day with Bobby, Don talks for a long time about what it feels like to be a father. “Especially if you’ve 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,” he says. Then, he goes to check on Bobby, who can’t sleep because he’s thinking about the possibility that Henry – very much a kind of father to him now, and a much larger presence in his life than Don is – might be shot. Don lies down next to him then, and they almost look like brothers.

Megan, on the phone with her father right after the news has come in, says, “My father just hides behind his intellect. He doesn’t want to feel any emotions.” As she says this to Don, who is staring at the TV, it’s clear that she’s married a version of her dad. Meanwhile, Pete suddenly wants to be a father, and in his fight with Harry Crane at the office, even invokes Martin Luther King’s fatherhood as a reason to honor him. “The man had a wife and four children,” he says. Yeah Pete, you used to have a wife too.

Ginsburg, unhinged at a diner, bluntly asks his date if she likes children. His main relationship now is with his father, who tells him that during The Flood, the animals went into the ark two by two. “What are you gonna, go in with your father?”

And Abe, in an offhand comment, tells Peggy that he pictures them with children. He sees himself as a father, too.

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And yet, as I said, the world feels like it’s ending. “Everybody likes to go to the movies when they’re sad,” says little Bobby (who, by the way, is REALLY getting his day in the sun in this episode. Bobby gets to talk and stuff! It’s his TIME!). He’s talking to the black man who’s cleaning the movie theater, and he seems to be trying, somehow, to empathize with him. Coupled with Bobby’s desperate desire to make his wallpaper line up by peeling it off, it seems that for the first time he’s trying, ardently, to put himself out there in the world.

This episode continued to deepen my sadness for Don. He can’t stop thinking about Sylvia, and wondering if she’s OK in DC, even going so far as to try and reach Dr. Rosen by phone. But again, the question is: what will make Don happy? He seems to think that Sylvia is somehow his salvation, just as he did with Rachel Menken, with Suzanne Farrell, and then with Megan. In many ways, he is like a boy looking for a mother.

A few other things to note:

– I am consistently amazed with Matthew Weiner’s ability to keep me confused about my emotions re: Pete Campbell. Last week I decided once and for all that he was a wiener/weasel/the worst, and this week he’s getting little pieces of my sympathy again as he stands up for the work of MLK. His staunch defense of the civil rights movement reminded me of the time that he tried to convince the Admiral television people to market their product to African Americans. He seems to be a bit ahead of the curve as far as race relations, and yet he’s such an asshole in so many other ways. Pete! What are you?!

– There was an interesting parallel between Peggy and her secretary, Phyllis, and Joan with Dawn, in their respective offices on the Monday after it happened. Both Peggy and Joan hugged Phyllis/Dawn, but Peggy’s hug was genuine whereas Joan’s was perhaps the most awkward hug that’s ever existed. Peggy said, “I’m so sorry,” whereas Joan said, “We’re so sorry,” and that simple pronoun switch succeeded in making Peggy seem empathetic and Joan seem condescending and out of touch.

– Roger’s friend, Randall Walsh, wants to sell insurance by reminding people that everything is easily blown up. Although he seems to be insane, it’s an apt idea.

Feel shaken again on Portable.

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