Commentary

Episode 605: The Flood -- Or, Family Guy Meets Planet Of The Apes

MadBlog-605For all the complaints of the (eroding?) viewership of “Mad Men” this season, “The Flood” was a rock-solid, satisfying episode. It seems the series has found its footing again, as a national tragedy spurs a flood of emotions, epiphanies, and even a few acid jokes.

The shock of history sure amps up the drama. It opens on the evening of April 4, 1968, the night of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King in Memphis. As we’ve seen again and again, (most recently with the chaos of The Boston Marathon triggering memories of  9/11,) these terrible events evoke a desperate fear and yearning in people to get to their loved ones and hold them tight.

The assassination is key: against it, the ad business is trivial and our cast of characters come to focus on life's real meaning, the Biblical two-by-two thing that Papa Ginsberg preaches about: Peggy with Abe, Don with Bobby, and Pete with Trudy.

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Still, this is “Mad Men,” and there is never one answer. The genius counterpoint for the Bible narrative (and, after all, MLK was a man of the cloth) was the inclusion of the movie “Planet of the Apes,” which takes the idea of evolution, and pure science, and turns it on its head. Venal humans have wrecked their planet and a race of apes has taken over and now treat the humans as long-suffering, filthy beasts.

But first, let’s tend to the tony awards dinner. The ANDY Awards scene brilliantly replicated that post-cocktails moment when men and women, preening in their formal evening wear, feel drunk and a little hollow, and grumble about their table placements, not knowing that their comfortable existences will be upended in seconds.

MMadBlog-605adhu Malhan, past executive director of the New York Ad Club, said the evening went exactly as shown: Paul Newman was in fact there to give a speech, and used the time to endorse Gene McCarthy for President over Bobby Kennedy (who would be assassinated that June).

Still, blanking out Paul Newman’s face and (unsuccessfully) faking the voice was a bit weird, helped only slightly by Joan’s joke about needing binoculars.

As New Blue Eyes was ending his speech, someone in the audience shouted out a question, asking if he’d heard that Dr. King had been shot. Newman hurried off the dais and out of the joint.

There was indeed a 20-minute break. Then the show actually went on, (“What else are we going to do?” as Don put it.)  The next day in The New York Times, ad columnist Phil Dougherty gave the death of MLK a one-line mention and devoted three entire columns to the evening’s winners. Really.

Race is still a painful issue in advertising today. Although there are more African-Americans on the account and managerial sides, there are still precious few in creative.

MadBlog-605And while "Mad Men" is struggling mightily to open the story to black characters, (and we got restaurant cooks and a movie usher in this episode) they still come off as stiff and two-dimensional.  Peggy was able to give her colleague a warm hug, but the embarrassing moment between Dawn and Joan was a magnificent way to illustrate the gulf. We also saw the general guilt, wariness, and uneasiness of whites paying their condolences to black people in the aftermath, as if a family member had passed.

As a kid in the suburbs at the time, I remember my parents discussing the photos of a beaming Mayor Lindsay walking the streets of Harlem, keeping the peace in New York City throughout the night. I thought it was a heroic act until last night, when Henry mentioned that the handsome mayor mostly cared about the safety of the photographers, and previously had quietly made deals with neighborhood thugs to prevent looting and rioting.

Henry is a solid, mature guy, perhaps the only one in the cast. He has saved those kids by steadying Betty and offering them all a stable home. Betty knows it, and is trying to keep up her end. But his desire to run for higher office awakens all of her nascent needs to be beautiful and the center of attention. (I predict the diminution of the fat suit and the return of blonde Betty. How soon do you think?)

I loved the bit with Bobby tearing the blue and white wallpaper. I thought the poor kid probably had OCD  -- the lines did not match up! Lest we imagine that Betty has morphed into a nurturing person, she accuses her son of “destroying the house” -- while the country is falling apart at the seams.

Meanwhile, Don, is worrying about his inamorata, but the way he blushed in the lobby of his building when meeting them, I couldn’t tell whether the object of his lust was the doctor or his wife.

Before they leave the lobby, innocent Megan kisses the wife twice. Sylvia says, “When we come back Monday, it will all be a dream.” (A reference to “I have a dream?”) Will Sylvia be hurt or killed in DC?

MadBlog-605Don snaps out of that morbid reverie when Betty calls, insisting that although he forgot, he must pick up the kids. (Megan’s line, “She’s a piece of work,” was pitch-perfect.)

The next morning, when Bobby says he’s too sick to go to the vigil, (and how appropriate is it to take almost-five-year-old Gene to a vigil, anyway?) ghost dad Don offers him an aspirin. (“A temporary salve on a permanent wound,” as Pete put it once.

They end up at the movies, the absent father and grieving son, bonding over the wrecked planet of the future. (What are we leaving to our kids?)

Now that we finally have a permanent actor in the role of Bobby, Don is able to see that his son has feelings -- he cares about the usher -- and like Don, understands that “people go to the movies when they’re sad.”  He also says “Jesus” just like his dad.  And Don also knows what it feels like to be punished by Betty. And he has created another son with father yearning.

Don’s soliloquy about fatherhood is beautiful. At last, he can start processing some of his deep pain and admit to Megan the awful truth that (despite the picture-perfect photos in the carousel) he felt nothing at their births, just as he suspected his father felt nothing. Obviously, the idea of birth is a complete trauma for a kid whose Mom died delivering him.

MadBlog-605Meanwhile, Pete suddenly feels his loneliness, and connected to being a father as well. He has always had sensitivity to racism. But getting on his high horse with Harry, describing MLK as a “father with four children” seemed to me as hypocritical as Don was last week in attacking Megan for play-acting a kiss.

I must admit that I still kind of cringe whenever I see Ginsberg’s dad. I can’t fit him into history. The Jews with Yiddish accents who worked in the garment district and lived in tenements on the Lower East Side mostly came here in the early 1900s. He doesn’t seem like a Holocaust survivor, either. But I loved the scene with the Virgin Michael and his date in the diner. She seems terrific, and would be an encouraging addition to the show. (Oddly, she sounds just like Peggy.)

Abe’s character also strikes me as crazily histrionic and energetic, verging on a stereotype of a Jew. But his expectation of raising kids on the Upper West Side (they could probably buy an entire brownstone for that $28,500)  sure made Peggy see what’s important.

I loved the opening trademark shot of the back of the head. This time, however, it featured Peggy’s stiff ‘do, not Don’s. She surveys her domain the way the partners were shown last year canvassing their new office floor. The two-bedroom apartment, all white linen walls and shiny dark parquet floors, complete with terrace, in a 1960s white brick building on York and 84th, was the perfect female analogue to Don’s Upper East Side apartment, with his sunken living MadBlog-605room and bar stools.(BTW, I think that Don’s open kitchen rarely existed at the time.

But anyone who has lived on the East Side had to roar at the agent’s outright lie about the coming of the Second Avenue subway. It is still not completed! But it is actually being built now, tearing up Second Avenue block by painful block.

Did the venal agent, who was using blood in the streets to get a better deal, actually doublecross Peggy? (Perhaps the co-op board would not have approved a woman?)

By losing that copy of Don’s terraced apartment, and getting Abe’s truth about where and how he wanted to live, Peggy actually dodged a bullet in more ways than one.

At the end of the episode, Don is on his terrace, a master of the universe -- and once again, existentially alone.

 

In 1968, in response to picketing and political problems, Y & R developed a “Give a Damn” campaign for the Urban Coalition. The wonderful, iconic advertising that resulted included this song.

16 comments about "Episode 605: The Flood -- Or, Family Guy Meets Planet Of The Apes".
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  1. Randall Hoffner from ABC, Inc., April 29, 2013 at 9:07 p.m.

    I lived on the (Lower) East Side in this period, part of the time in a walk-up with bathtub in kitchen like Abe. I don't remember anybody talking about the coming of the Second Avenue subway then.

  2. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com, April 29, 2013 at 9:20 p.m.

    Thanks, and yes, Randall, cool young types like you were living in the LES in railroad flats with bathtubs in the kitchen. Were any of your neighbors like Mr. Ginsberg? And the second ave subway has been talked about uptown for 45 years or so-- that is true.

  3. Jodi Bornstein from None, April 29, 2013 at 9:40 p.m.

    Barbara - there certainly has been plenty of complaining about Mad Men this season but is viewership eroding? As for Jewish stereotypes, I agree about Michael Ginsberg's father who seems like a character from Fiddler on the Roof stuck into Mad Men by mistake. I also find Virgin Michael and Abe almost interchangeable at times since they are both such annoying characters on the show. Do you think we will ever hear about the baby Peggy put up for adoption? Does lonely Pete (suddenly more sympathetic in this episode) have any clue about his son? I agree that there will be some bad news about Sylvia. I loved the scene when Don called the doctor's office and then had to give up on finding anything out. I wish I could remember more about what it felt like as a kid in the suburbs (same age as Sally) when Martin Luther King was killed, and I was wondering if my mother, like Betty, turned the TV off and wouldn't let us watch.

  4. Jonathan Hutter from Northern Light Health, April 29, 2013 at 9:40 p.m.

    In the recesses of my memory, I recall wooden planks on second ave in the 70s, so I suspect that plans were underway in 1968. On more relevant details, I still have trouble believing in sincerity from Pete. I think he called out Harry to make Harry look bad, not out of a sense of social outrage. But, GQ had a great tweet during the show, "you know it's bad when Pete Campbell is disgusted by you." So much went on, it was a great episode (despite what some have said on Facebook!) and another great column. I can't wait 'til Sunday, because Mad Men gets better every week.

  5. Helen Klein Ross from Making It, Novel of Madison Avenue, April 29, 2013 at 10:10 p.m.

    Great recap, Barbara. I, too, loved the opening scene on Peggy surveying her (almost) new domain. And LOL--the long-promised 2nd Ave subway which I do agree RE agents were pimping even back then. Though I was surprised Peggy's rejection didn't come via co-op board refusal--in the 60s single women were even refused credit cards by dept stores insisting that a man had to cosign.

    The MLK thing, though? I didn't believe it would've been so much on the radar of white corporate execs so far below 125th St--or 96th which in those days was considered the beginning of Harlem. Certainly, they wouldn't have closed offices. MLK holiday was instituted in 1983 and even then it met with a lot of resistance. But I assume episode is Weiner's answer to complaint that race relations hasn't been dealt with enough as a central theme. (Though, in his defense--I don't believe it would've been central to his protagonists.)

    Thanks for reaching out to the NY Ad Club. Love that award ceremony actually happened that night and that Newman was there, using the pulpit for political endorsement. (McCarthy? Really??) Remember when people got dressed up for ad awards shows? I recall gowns and tuxes hanging on the backs of office doors, for people to change into after work.

    Agree that Fat Betty's days are numbered. Finally!

  6. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com, April 29, 2013 at 11:11 p.m.

    Jodi-- there has been some drop off since the season opener. and tons of complaints! And Michael and Abe are hard to tell apart!
    Helen-- you make a great point about Martin Luther King Day and the reluctance to institute it even in 1983. Maybe Weiner is making up for his bizarre treatment of the JFK assassination (when the world did stop) and Roger pressed on with his daughter's wedding.

  7. Rob Frydlewicz from DentsuAegis, April 30, 2013 at 2:51 a.m.

    As a 10-year old at the time of MLK's assassination, I remember it well because it happened a few days after we got our first color TV. I was watching "The Flying Nun" with my older brother & sister when it was interrupted by the news bulletin (my parents were out doing food shopping). The next day I was surprised to see smoke rising from the black section (the Hill District) of Pittsburgh due to rioting, because I didn't know there was a black neighborhood. Back to the episode, I found it curious/telling when Peggy's boss took the seat next to her at the awards ceremony and she didn't mention that it was her husband's seat. And then the flirtatious looks between the two after he changed seats. There's definitely an affair looming. And little Bobby sure put the dagger in Don's heart (as cold as it might be) when Don came into his room to comfort him and Bobby confided that he was worried about someone shooting - his stepfather!

  8. Irwin Starr from Landings Eagle, April 30, 2013 at 5:27 a.m.

    There are many postmortems of Mad Men, but Barbara continues to top them all!

  9. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER, April 30, 2013 at 12:46 p.m.

    Some people at DDB then were working for McCarthy (Evan Stark, for one); some others were about to work for Bobby Kennedy (Bernie Endelman who had a three-person, one client agency). I think DDB ended up working for Humphrey in the fall or at least offering up creative work. I recall Garry Wills talking about the cleverness of Humphrey's work, and how Nixon's more workmanlike stuff was more effective.
    But Lindsay is treated really badly: reference might have been made to his heroism in the summer of '66 which was really a bad time (Watts riots notably, but ones in Harlem too).
    I have to disagree with Barbara, though, about Henry. Wasn't he the sleaze who failed to pass along Don's call to Betty re: health? He's also a doofus for leaving future VP Rockefeller for a guy who would switch parties and get crushed running for President against McGovern in 1972.
    Re: apartments. I knew a guy who bought a 2-bedroom on Sutton Place for $32,000 in 1969. And just a little later Barbara Walters didn't buy a 14-room apartment for $250,000 because Alan Greenspan advised against it.
    The real estate agent is one of the best additions to the show and is clearly one of the writers acts of revenge against that type which is in abundance wherever fine homes are sold.

  10. Larry steven Londre from Londre Marketing Consultants, LLC and USC, April 30, 2013 at 2:46 p.m.

    Excellent article, Barbara. I thought you'd mention Don knowing that three had died in Washington D.C. and that he seems to be truly concerned about Mrs. Rosen, and the doctor. You also brought up the point that the realtor may have been the selling agent for another couple so Peggy never had a chance to buy. At any price. Interesting. Can you trust a NY realtor, anyway? Tough business, with limited credentials.

  11. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com, April 30, 2013 at 3 p.m.

    Thanks so much for the really excellent comments, everyone!
    Not sure if you noticed the song at the bottom, but here's some more background on it:

    wiki:"Give a Damn" was released as a single in Summer 1968. In spite of not receiving airplay in several markets because of the curse word in its title - and because it was a comment on racial equality that became the theme song for the New York Urban Coalition - and because of the speaking sound of an African American man from the ghetto, heard before the song's fade, which nobody understood what he was saying, right up to his evil laughter - the song became a regional hit where released and overall made No. 43. It was also performed live on an episode of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, resulting in CBS' Standards and Practices division receiving numerous complaints about the song's title being used during "family viewing hours". One such complaint reportedly came from Richard Nixon (Tom Smothers, 'Geraldo' Interview, 1987). "Give a Damn" would become John Lindsay's campaign song during his successful run for Mayor of New York.

  12. Randy Parker from E-Poll Market Research, April 30, 2013 at 4:41 p.m.

    I saw some season 6 promotional photos from AMC which appeared to show skinny Betty. Not sure if these are actual production stills, but look at #142, 154 and 157 in this slideshow:
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/14/mad-men-photos-season-6_n_2875560.html#slide=2220992

  13. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com, May 1, 2013 at 2:11 p.m.

    @Randy-- Good point about skinny Betty.
    Don showed his jealousy of his son's fear (and love) for Henry. Is is Henry's turn to show his jealousy now?

  14. Ron Goldner from The GOLDNER Agency, Inc, May 1, 2013 at 5:10 p.m.

    Great comments and observations as always, Barbara.
    Back in June '73 I was a newly hired assistant media buyer working for
    SSC&B. Around the first of the year (74) we left 575 Lex Ave (the yellow Grolier building) for our new digs at 1 Dag Hammarskjold Pl on Second Ave. One of the key selling points to management was this building (all the way over on the east side) was going to have a stop built right into the basement along the planned Second Ave. subway line.

  15. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com, May 1, 2013 at 5:19 p.m.

    Great nugget, Ron!
    Perhaps the subway will make it to 1 Dag Hammarskjold (say that fast!) s by early 2014 ? (prob not!)
    Still, that would be 30 years later that it got there. Not bad!

  16. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, May 25, 2013 at 10:26 p.m.

    I was on Temple University campus (in North Philadelphia, primarily an African American community) the day after Martin Luther King died. Classes were cancelled. It was said it was the first time ever the school officially closed. Campus was empty. The school opened up to neighborhood and community meetings. To the best of my recollection when I was young and very tired, not much of note happened at Temple.

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