To its credit, Mad Men has always kept a focus on its own characters and has rarely used 1960s history in an easy and lazy way to create some drama. Quite a few events of the decade have been allowed to pass by, often without much comment. But there are obviously going to be exceptions (like season 3's JFK assassination episode "The Grown Ups"), and now this season's handling of another public figure's murder: pacifist civil rights campaigner Dr Martin Luther King.
Luckily, "The Flood" didn't waste too much time on simply having its character react to the news of King's killing; it merely ruined a swanky awards ceremony and led to scenes where characters were glued to the evening news, or got into interesting arguments about the attention King's death is attracting--in the case of liberal-minded Pete (Vincent Karthesier) and self-serving Harry (Rich Somner). But as the titled suggests, also inspired by a Noah's Ark comment made by Ginsberg's father, King's death felt almost apocalyptic on a sociological level. It was no coincidence that Don (Jon Hamm) took his son Bobby (Mason Vale Cotton) to see The Planet of the Apes at the cinema, being one of the era's most popular science fiction epics with an infamously downbeat ending... during a time when the actual news was full of stories about public unrest, reprisals, and arson.
Speaking of Don and Bobby, I very much enjoyed their father-son bonding moments throughout "The Flood". It seems clear to me that Bobby has OCD given his fixation with the unaligned wallpaper in his bedroom, but that also worked as a symbol of society's current state and his relationship with his father. Don's admission to wife Megan (Jessica Paré) that he's never felt any love for his children, but has been faking it all these years, was a marvellous and insightful moment... made better when he revealed actual love was felt towards Bobby earlier that day (when he witnessed his son's empathetic comment to a black usher). Maybe that's because Martin Luther King had died the day before, but Don saw that the changes in attitude towards race are filtering through to the next generation. Don's life is characterised by an inability to stop repeating past mistakes, so perhaps for the first time he's beginning to see his kids as a lasting legacy that will evolve beyond him.
The rest of the episode was more of a mixed bag for me. I still don't really have any big connection to Ginsberg, or feel any desire to watch his character on this show. He's a nice enough ingredient in the workplace, but I think Matthew Weiner's misjudged how much audiences care about his home life with his overbearing father who's desperate to marry him off. Even worse if the problem of Peggy's (Elisabeth Moss) long-term boyfriend Abe (Charlie Hofheimer), whom I quite honestly forget is even dating her half the time. This episode involved Ginsberg going on an arranged date with a pretty girl (a little tedious, but he was surprisingly forthcoming about being a virgin), and Peggy missed out on the chance to move to the Upper East Side... which Abe is happy about, because he'd prefer they live in a more socially varied area in the West. A wise decision.
Overall, "The Flood" had some really great storylines and others that perhaps weren't so interest to me personally. But I enjoyed many of the smaller moments: like the reveal that ex-employee Megan was the only person to win an award on behalf of SCDP at the awards bash; Bobby being more concerned about his stepdad's safety than Don's; various characters taking advantage of the public mood (Peggy's estate agent, Pete trying to get back in Trudy's good books); and the weird scene with insurance man Randall (William Mapother), who claimed to have communed with Martin Luther King's spirit. Although the latter scene was inserted kind of awkwardly and perhaps didn't justify being part of this episode, unless the intention was to lighten the mood with strangeness and remind us of Roger's (John Slattery) LSD trips last season. In which case, job done.
written by Tom Smuts & Matthew Weiner / directed by Chris Manley / 29 April 2013 / Sky Atlantic