In this episode of "Mad Men" we are reminded by Morris Ginsberg (Michael's dad) of the flood myth, the version we know from the Hebrew Book of Genesis. Two-by-two every creature on Earth paired with a mate in the face of disaster. Morris believes Michael needs to be paired and to create a family to fall back on in times of crisis. At this point, because the show is set in 1968, I'm going to stray slightly to bring up a different series.
On January 31, 1988, a pilot for a new show aired after the Super Bowl introducing us to the suburbs of 1968 filled with typical American families. One of the primary female characters, a 12-year-old girl, Winnie Cooper, has learned that her older brother was just killed in Vietnam. The shock of this loss affects the six year course of the series primary story arc, including the relationship between Winnie and the primary character of the series, Kevin Arnold, her best friend, a 12-year-old boy who had idolized her brother.
The "wage earner" in the story is Kevin's dad Jack. He offers a stark contrast to Don Draper. Jack holds a management job at NORCOM, a defense contractor. His wife, Norma, is a homemaker.
Unlike "Mad Men" the characters of "The Wonder Years" (which won an Emmy in its short first season of six seasons) are people the "average American" can relate to:
In each year of the "The Wonder Years" series the stories take place 20 years previously, It offers clues to why the Don Draper née Dick Whitman of 1968 feels alienated, unable to form and maintain relationships. The world of everyman America is an abstract concept for Don that is not a part of his family history. Dick Whitman was a lost child of poverty who through accidental circumstances and opportunistic choice became Don Draper, an adult of means, skipping the middle class generation that was the norm for Americans of his generation for whom the GI Bill and public universities gave opportunities.
But it is most important to note that "The Wonder Years" was about the younger generation not found in the offices of SCDP. It was about people the age of Don's kids, people like Sally and Bobby.
In a scene near the end of this week's "Mad Men" episode a very introspective, somewhat inebriated Don describes to Megan about how sometimes fathers fake their love for their children. “One day they get older and you see them do something and you feel that feeling that you were pretending to have.” More about this later.
That scene is indicative of a theme in the episode - in the face of the second national tragedy in less than five years, the "Mad Men" characters search for solace in their families. American history moves them to discover what they have close to them or what they don't have.
We know there is a flood of events coming that washes away the pre-1963 American culture, the culture of Don and Roger and Betty and Henry. There won't be room for everyone on the ark, just the wise and angry few. Wisdom in this episode of "Mad Men" came from Bobby, anger from Sally. They will be on the ark with Winnie and Kevin.
But I have digressed....
The evening of April 4, 1968, began with these two couples leaving their condo building:
Notice that both women are wearing red, one a designer piece, the other not so special. We can't help but notice which Don is looking at. It's not Megan who is dressing for that world we and Dick Whitman cannot be a part of. The Rosen's are going to D.C. The Draper's are going to the Fourth Annual Andy Awards put on by the Advertising Club of New York.
The depiction of the events is offered in a New York Times article printed the next day. While Paul Newman was speaking about his support for Anti-Vietnam War Presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy:
"A man stood up amid the formally dressed assemblage in the Grand Ballroom and asked, 'Do you know, Mr. Newman, sir, that Martin Luther King is dead, sir? What have you to say?'"
"The actor was plainly shocked. He returned to his seat on the dais without a word. The program was halted for about 10 minutes as many people rushed to the phones. When the program resumed, its mood was more somber."
Yeah, more somber while Jack Tinker & Partners won for the Alka-Seltzer commercial about a man talking to his stomach. But, then again, as Don said: "What else are we going to do?"
Much of the interaction in the episode reflected a self-conscious attempt by "enlightened" white characters to somehow participate in a "shared" emotional experience that at that time was a tragedy felt within the black community. Matthew Weiner and co-writer Tom Smuts, who has no other writing credits on the show, explored the difficulties of the sharing process across racial lines.
In the 21st Century we're used to "shared grief" created by TV and the internet - the death of Princess Diana affected behavior around the world. But in 1968 people struggled with what to do. The assassination of JFK brought America to a halt for days. On April 5, 1968, Reverend King was not yet a national hero. Don suggests closing the office, but hey there's stuff to do. So we'll give the black employee a hug and a personal day off. As Peggy's black secretary summarizes it: "I knew it was going to happen. He knew it was going to happen. But it's not going to stop anything."
Don and company have to deal with an intriguingly weird new character Randy, played by William Mapother who we know best from "Lost". He was visited by the ghost of King. He also wants to use the situation by putting a tear and a bomb next to his insurance company's logo along with coupon at the bottom. But what he says next is the best line of this season so far:
"In that tear are all the tears in the world, all the animals crying."
The ark metaphor again.
Ginsberg's dad asks him: “You gonna get on the ark with your father?”
But Ginsberg does have his father.
Peggy, condo shopping because she has the money now, only discovers through her real estate agent's failure that maybe she has someone. She beams when Abe comments that he couldn't see them "raising their kids there."
Pete reaches out to Trudy. Pete discovers he has nobody. Not even the Chinese food delivery man will talk to him. And we see the next day that Pete is angry, striking out at Harry.
In this episode Betty and Henry are back and they have each other. Betty could worry about Henry because he's walking the streets of Harlem. In fact, liberal Republican Mayor John Lindsay got it right though Henry says he didn't like the compromise. Instead of hiding out in a bunker like many big city mayors, Lindsay immediately left a Broadway play and drove with his aides to Harlem. He consoled his constituents most affected by the tragedy. He also continued the policy of police restraint started by the Police Commissioner in prior long hot summers. "We are not going to shoot children in New York City," Lindsay stated.
(In contrast, Democrat Richard Daley, Mayor of Chicago, America's most segregated big city north of the Mason-Dixon Line, ordered his police to "shoot to kill" during the April 1968 riots. Chicago suffered the worst rioting of that time in the nation. The Democratic Party, using incredibly bad judgement, stuck with its decision to hold its National Convention in Chicago in August 1968.)
Anyway, Henry tells Betty he's going to run for state senate. "This is what I've wanted for you," she responds with a smile. Then Henry says "I can't wait for people to meet you, really meet you." Betty's smile fades. Later we see the real Betty holding up a dress from her thin model past in front of her new "enlarged" body. We know Henry doesn't see the problem that will dominate her thoughts.
And then there's Don's personal concerns. His first worry was clearly for Sylvia Rosen who was in D.C. where the rioting was bad. Megan wins an award for SCDP and it appears nobody cares. He forgets to pick up his children. And it's Megan who has to take Sally (and the "baby") to the park for the vigil.
Here's where it gets weirder - yeah weirder! Don takes Bobby to see "The Planet of the Apes" (I'm not going to comment on that movie choice - there is only so much one can deal with). After seeing it, they decide to stay in their seats to see it again. As the usher, an older black man, comes by to clean up the trash on the floor, Bobby interacts with him. And then with wisdom beyond his years says: "People like to go to the movies when they're sad."
That, of course, brings us back to Don's explanation to Megan which in full was:
"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 excited. You 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. It feels like your heart is going to explode."
Cue the end music "L'amour est bleu"/"Love Is Blue", the 1967 Paul Mauriat orchestral "easy listening" version that was a number-one hit in the USA for five weeks in February and March 1968. Weiner ironically gives us Mauriat's version with the lyrics missing, lyrics that would have been suitably depressing particularly with the events of 1968 in focus:
Blue, blue, my world is blue
Blue is my world now I'm without you
Gray, gray, my life is gray
Cold is my heart since you went away
Red, red, my eyes are red
Crying for you alone in my bed
Green, green, my jealous heart
I doubted you and now we're apart
When we met how the bright sun shone
Then love died, now the rainbow is gone
Black, black, the nights I've known
Longing for you so lost and alone
Edited by phrelin, 29 April 2013 - 03:57 PM.