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Mad Men: "The Flood" OAD 4/29/13 ***SPOILERS***


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#1 OFFLINE   phrelin

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Posted 29 April 2013 - 02:47 PM

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:

 

wonderyears02.jpg

wonderyears03.jpg

 

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:



mm605.jpg

 

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.

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#2 OFFLINE   spartanstew

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Posted 29 April 2013 - 03:31 PM

I was surprised at how many of the "elite white folks" in New York were saddened by the death of MLK. I guess I just assumed that most New Yorkers of that period were racists, and while I certainly didn't expect them to be cheering, I didn't think they'd be as upset as so many of them appeared to be.

I'm sure Directv can't wait to get their hands on your unit.

 
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#3 OFFLINE   Maruuk

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Posted 29 April 2013 - 05:55 PM

That's a very good point. After experiencing 5 years of the opposition's attitude towards Obama, I think today there'd be certain folks celebrating in the streets. King would be cast today as a "radical socialist", a borderline terrorist as Obama has been. His philandering and desire for "wealth redistribution" would be brought to the fore and trumpeted all over the web from Drudge to Brightbart to Fox. The sea change from then to now is right in Phrelin's Lindsay descriptor...

 

"Liberal Republican."

 

Forget 1968--a shockingly large contingent of Americans have retrogressed to the 1920's. Weiner should have closed the show with "Strange Fruit."



#4 OFFLINE   Stuart Sweet

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Posted 29 April 2013 - 06:51 PM

Wow, phrelin, you pulled out all the stops. An excellent review that deserves a better response than I can give right now. I promise to give it more time tomorrow.
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#5 OFFLINE   Stuart Sweet

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Posted 30 April 2013 - 08:25 AM

And... now it's morning.

Mad Men doesn't do too many episodes that are completely consumed by a single event. Of course, the assassination of Dr. King was earth-shattering, and the fact that it took place on the day of an advertising awards show makes it irresistible.

Phrelin has done an outstanding job of recounting the details of both the event and the episode, to the extent that there's very little else to discuss by way of the minutia of the plot. There are some grander things I'd like to discuss and a few bits of inconsistency I'd like to add; in no way should any reader take that as any attempt to annotate phrelin's review or even add to it.


First, kudos go to AMC for not advertising this episode the way that major networks would. If this show aired on NBC, it would have been the subject of a blitz of advertising proclaiming "Where were you when the shots were fired" and "the most shocking Mad Men ever." AMC kept quiet about the program and so the shock was even more amplified.

We have some new characters to deal with: "Randy" is clearly a very unstable influence ad it would be surprised to see an actor as recognizable as William Mapother make a one-time appearance. The same can be said for the suddenly-grey Harry Hamlin. We're likely to see him again.

Since Phrelin did a great job on the plot synopsis, let me go out on a tangent and ask, is it just me or are the fashions of '68 just HIDEOUS!?! Maybe it's my own prejudices slipping through but they're just awful in my opinion. I know the ladies' clothes are period accurate but there is just nothing to like there. Ye gods. That red-collared houndstooth check thing that Joan was wearing? Holy guacamole. Even the fashionable Megan looked like the sofa in a gentlemens' club in her (accurate, I'm sure) red and paisley evening wear. Betty looked frumpy as she always has lately, but her scene holding up a party dress I suspect that we should be seeing her trim, blonde and sporting hideous fashions soon too.

Also I feel more and more that the lack of attention paid to dates and ages in the early episodes is coming back to bite Mr. Wiener and company (pun intended) in the later ones. If I recall, Joan was over 30 in 1960, making her possibly 40 here and yet she has a young child and no sign of wrinkles. Moreover, I feel like Sally and Bobby should be older; if they were roughly 7 and 5 in 1960 they should be 15 and 13 in 1968; neither character feels that old.

I enjoyed this episode to an extent but feel a bit guilty for being jaded about this sort of episode. We've seen so much TV where every character reacts to a single life-changing event, and while the events of the story predate the news stories of the '70s, '80s, '90s, and of course 2001... the program aired in 2013. This sort of script is by now a bit overused and at the end of the day we've seen it before and it's hard to get into the heads of the characters who haven't.
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#6 OFFLINE   Maruuk

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Posted 30 April 2013 - 12:21 PM

What is the deal with Betty/JJ? Is she just wearing fat suits and face putty or is JJ actually fat now?? Man, the show has really brutalized her character, leaving Dorian Gray Don/Dick untouched.

 

Yeah, this was truly one of the worst fashion tragedy zones in US history. Poor Megan!

 

Randy is totally credible to me. Reminds me of Don's greatest line ever: "Sterling Cooper has more failed artists and intellectuals than the Third Reich." In my work with major ad agencies, I met these types: ad agencies scooped up a lot of slacker creatives who doped up a lot and got very spacey and weird. Got into conspiracy theories and all manner of looniness. The agencies tolerated this as long as they didn't contaminate the clients with it. In Randy's case, he's the client so there's nobody to fire him.


Edited by Maruuk, 30 April 2013 - 12:29 PM.


#7 OFFLINE   Jaspear

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Posted 02 May 2013 - 11:33 AM

A couple of non political things I noticed on this week's episode:

 

For the first time, Don's TV had a completely steady picture - no fading or rolling.  Don must have subscribed to Chuck Dolan's Sterling Manhattan Cable:

 


In 1965, Charles Dolan, who had already done pioneering work in the commercial use of cables, won a franchise to build a cable system in Lower Manhattan in New York.[7] The new system, which Dolan called "Sterling Manhattan Cable", became the first urban underground cable-system in the United States. Rather than stringing cable on telephone poles or using microwave antennas to receive the signals, Sterling laid underground cable beneath the streets of Manhattan — because the multitude of tall buildings blocked television signals. In the same year Time-Life, Inc. purchased 20 percent of Dolan's company

 

 

Also, the set designers used a 10 digit push button phone at Don's apartment.  The first "Touch Tone" phones did not have the star or hash keys.

 

In the 1950s AT&T conducted extensive studies and concluded that push-button dialing was much faster than rotary dialing.[3] On November 18, 1963, the first electronic push-button system with Touch-Tone dialing was offered by Bell Telephone to AT&T customers in Carnegie and Greensburg, Pennsylvania.  This phone, the Western Electric 1500, had only 10 buttons. In 1968 it was replaced by the twelve-button 2500, adding the asterisk or star (*) and the pound or hash (#) keys.

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#8 OFFLINE   phrelin

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Posted 02 May 2013 - 05:08 PM

A couple of non political things I noticed on this week's episode:

 

For the first time, Don's TV had a completely steady picture - no fading or rolling.  Don must have subscribed to Chuck Dolan's Sterling Manhattan Cable:

 

 

Also, the set designers used a 10 digit push button phone at Don's apartment.  The first "Touch Tone" phones did not have the star or hash keys.

Interesting information. I didn't know there were 10 button phones. You are far more observant of the details than most, including me.


"In a hundred years there'll be a whole new set of people."
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