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'Mad Men' recap, 'The Flood'

AdulteryAssassinationsMartin Luther King Jr.CultureKiernan Shipka

At last, more insight into Don Draper's psyche. Now that old Don is back, most of season six's sins have been cyclical, from revisiting adultery and prostitution to a hefty resurgence in Don’s liquor bill.

The reboot of old Don has sometimes made this season repetitive and dry. But it’s to serve a point: Don’s stuck in a vicious cycle of debauchery as a means to self-medicate. But can he change?

This episode, on the other hand, was shocking -- filled with feelings of panic and anguish, rather than dread lingering from season five. The jarring game-changer? Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination.

Don and Megan are on their way to an advertising awards ceremony when they run into Sylvia and the doctor. Megan is nominated for the Heinz Baked Beans ad, while the Rosens are on their way to D.C.

The awards are so swanky that they hired Paul Newman to speak. SCDP’s nosebleed seats, on the other hand, leave little to be desired. They’re so far away from the stage that Joan actually busts out her glasses and insists she needs binoculars.

While Paul Newman is speaking, a man shouts from the audience that Martin Luther King Jr. has been assassinated. The shouting was so muffled that I couldn’t figure out what he had said until later. But with Joan crying and Don comforting Megan, it clearly wasn’t good news.

Don seems more wrapped up in the riots than the assassination itself -- mainly the ones in D.C. instead of in Harlem. So much so that he forgets it’s his turn with the kids. But still, he uses the danger in the streets as an excuse not to pick them up.

“I guarantee you’d go to Canada on your knees to pick up your girlfriend,” Betty tells Don. You mean calling his mistress’ D.C. hotel room while his own wife is distraught? Eh, close enough. But the guilt trip works, and Don spends time with his kids.

As intriguing of a character as Sally is, and as great of an actress Kiernan Shipka is, it’s refreshing to see another one of Don’s neglected kids in the storyline: Bobby.

And neglected he is. Bobby is picking and peeling at the wallpaper, then pushes his bed over to hide it. His reason? The panels didn’t line up.

Uh oh. Looks like he got his mother’s gene for anxiety -- this time in the form of OCD. Betty predictably overreacts: “You’re destroying this house!” No, destruction is the rioting outside, not your son’s compulsions. Rather than ask why or talk him through this worrisome behavior, she grounds him from watching TV.

What she fails to notice is that Bobby’s obsession with evenness is Bobby’s way of avoiding his anxiety (Weiner’s main theme this season), either to cope with a cold and distant mother or an absent father.

And absent Don is. Sure, Don spends time with Bobby at the movies -- doing exactly the opposite of what the ex says, in typical bitter divorcee fashion. But later Megan comes back from the vigil with the kids to find him alone in the bedroom, drink in hand.

“Is this what you want to be when they need you?” she scolds him.

Of course it isn’t. He wants to be the dad who loves his kids. But he finds himself faking it.

“The fact that you’re faking that feeling makes you wonder if your own father had the same problem,” he divulges. And cue “Cat’s in the Cradle” playing in my head.

Later Don goes into Bobby’s room. In what looks like a precious father-son bonding moment, he tells him to fall asleep. Then he walks outside to the patio with a contemplative stare at skyline, sirens blaring in the background. He’s alone, as he always is.

The day after MLK’s assassination, Dawn comes into the office to Don’s surprise. Joan awkwardly hugs Dawn, saying, “We’re all so sorry,” with an implied “... for you.” I’m surprised she didn’t spring for a sympathy card.

The person who most needs a hug at SCDP is Pete. He looks more distressed than Dawn, who insists on working, even when Don tells her to go home.

After the news broke, everyone at the ad awards is standing in line to call their loved ones. Pete’s impatience while waiting in the crowd comes off as his typical petulant behavior (of course, Pete, because you’re the only one with family to call).

But when he rushes home to call Trudy and Tammy, it’s a bit endearing. Sure, she still has that 50-mile radius restriction -- for which we salute her for sticking to her boundaries when Pete says he doesn’t want them to be alone -- but you can tell she appreciates the gesture.

So he deserves pat on the back for checking in for his young daughter and soon-to-be ex (it’s more than Don could do). But it’s not like he could possibly have an iota of a redeeming quality? Not skeezeball Pete.

Guess again. After Harry gripes about clients pulling ads and interrupted ‘Bewitched’ episodes for news coverage on the assassination, Pete calls him out for being a racist.

“It’s a shameful, shameful day!” Pete roars. He says it’s not one to worry about money and calls Harry a pig (hinting at greed, the fourth circle of hell, and continuing with the Dante’s ‘Inferno’ theme this season).

Burt insists that the two shake hands, only Pete stops in mid-shake to ream him out even more. “I mistook this for a work day,” Harry fires back. Pete has the last word: “Let me put this in terms you’d understand: He had a wife and four kids.” Burn.

(Confession: I think this might have been the only time in the history of the show when a female viewer has swooned for Pete, even if for a second. Barely. Ew, I need to shower after admitting that.)

Pete is undoubtedly SCDP’s most loathsome partner. But his progressive stance shouldn’t come as a shock, or be confused as insincere. He looked disgusted when Roger serenaded Jane in blackface and suggested that Admiral TV market to the black demographic. In fact, after Admiral TV scoffed at his pitch, Roger chided Pete, “If it isn’t Martin Luther King Jr.!” I’m sure he’d take that as a compliment. Glad to have you aboard, Pete. Sometimes.

Peggy’s got the best view with the brightest future in this episode. She tries locking down an apartment in the Upper East Side with mostly her money, not Abe’s (moving on up!), she has a better table at the ad awards than Don and crew (with the prospects of winning awards year after year, according to Ted), and she has her boss making moves.

In “The Doorway,” I chalked up Ted’s flattery as an effort to take Peggy under his wing. Like a mentor should. But after he took Abe’s seat for a hot second and gave Pegs bedroom eyes while sitting next to his wife at the awards, it won’t be long before these two have an affair.

Not that I’m the biggest fan of Abe (that goatee bothers me), but I don’t trust Ted. He didn’t seem that fazed that Peggy’s minions mocked her with the deodorant ad, whereas Don would have encouraged her to stand up for herself. Just keep it professional at CGC, Pegs.

Where Don lacks in parental involvement, Ginsberg’s father more than compensates. He surprises Ginsy with an arranged date, practically shoving money for dinner in his hand.

Ginsy’s a befuddled mess at the diner, confessing he’s still a virgin. In the words of Peggy’s pushy relator, “Get a hold of yourself.” Ginsy, she said you’re handsome. Why are you fretting?

Some advice: Take a deep breath, ignore your father’s nitpicking of your lackluster sewing skills, and ask her if she’s seen any movies lately. Or anything other than the “So, you like kids?” option you went with. Next time, set up your own date and think of conversation starters ahead of time.

That way when the flood (or in ‘Mad Men’ world, a tragedy, which is likely RFK’s assassination just two months later) comes, you’ll have someone to board the ark with. And that time it won’t be your father.

MORE HIGHLIGHTS FROM “THE FLOOD”

FOURTH TIME’S A CHARM: Mason Vale Cotton is the fourth actor to play Bobby Draper. Maxwell Huxabee and Aaron Hart played the role in season one and Jared S. Gilmore for two seasons. Now that Bobby has more speaking lines, maybe they’ll actually stick with this kid?

BIGGEST SPOILER: So, ‘Planet of the Apes’ was actually on Earth the whole time? A “Spoiler Alert” in the introductory credits would have been nice.

WORST PITCH OF THE SEASON (SO FAR): This time it didn’t come from Don, thankfully. Randall, the “just awkwardly waves, doesn’t shake hands” insurance guy, had a vision from MLK’s ghost. The reverend’s message: A burning Molotov cocktail with the company’s name at the bottom. Stan the Stoner sums up everyone’s reaction with a giggle.

BEST INSULT DISGUISED AS REASSURANCE: “Henry’s not important enough to be shot,” Don tells Bobby, who’s worried that Henry will be assassinated. Snap!

SADDEST DRESS: How depressing was it to see Not-So-Fat Betty hold an itty-bitty blue dress up to herself in the mirror? Especially after Henry shared his ambitions to run for state senate. “I can’t wait for people to meet you ... really meet you,” he tells her. (Uh, you sure you really want that?) With looks being her main source of self-esteem, does this mean less whipped cream shots?

MOST LIKELY TO GET A CALL FROM THE IRS: Yikes, Peggy has tax problems? Not another character with dubious financial woes.

BEST QUOTE THAT SUMS UP THE EPISODE: “Everyone likes to go to the movies when they’re sad.” -- Bobby Draper

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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AdulteryAssassinationsMartin Luther King Jr.CultureKiernan Shipka
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