Mad Men Review: “The Flood” (Season 6, Episode 5)

Jessica Pare in Mad Men

One couple that used to make the most of a political assassination was the Campbells, who got closer in the wake of JFK’s passing. We got a hint of Trudy’s inner fire then, when she got all lady MacBeth, and inspired Pete to shanghai his clients out of the old Sterling Cooper, and we see more of that this week. Peter tries to use the unrest on the streets as an excuse to come back home, and while Trudy looks like she might cave on the idea for a moment, she quickly returns to her hardline, “No Petes Allowed” position, even going so far as to detail how easy it will be to excise him from future family gatherings. Ouch. When Pete lets it out on Harry, who’d normally be in lockstep with Pete for focusing on the business impact of the shooting, there’s a hint of his more progressive background coming through, but everything Pete does ultimately comes back to what Pete wants. “Let me put this in terms you can understand: that man had a wife, and four children,” Pete says, cutting through all the political and racial tension at play, and paring things down to the essentials. Those essentials just happen to overlap with Pete’s own problems at the moment, but maybe it does take earthshattering tragedy to make Pete relatable for a day.

And similarly, it really did seem for a while that Bobby Draper would only be a character of interest in Mad Men if a virus wiped out every human on earth that wasn’t a near-mute shapeshifter. Sally has always been the only Don-spawn of any real note, and Kiernan Shipka’s general absence this season has been noticeable. So why bring Bobby in now of all times? Don taking Bobby to the movies just to spite Betty’s “no TV for a week” punishment is funny in and of itself, but with everyone’s minds on racial injustice, and the fear that civilization itself could collapse at any moment, there was no better time to give Don an excuse to go watch Planet of the Apes (the episode, ironically, goes so far as to spoil the film’s big twist ending).

Silent bonding is about the only kind Don can stomach, so it makes sense a movie theatre is where he and Bobby would finally connect a little. But it’s when the boy tells an usher that “everybody likes to go to the movies when they’re sad,” that Don finally notices the family resemblance that we see when watching them watch the screen. Sure, it’s another thesis statement that skirts the line of hamfisted, but sometimes “mouths of babes” is the only way to get such a point across. The moment doesn’t make Don think “aww,” so much as “AHH, OH MY GOD, THIS REALLY IS MY SON!” As Don drunkenly, unapologetically explains to Meghan, he’s never felt the love for his children that he knows he should. “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.” It’s a tremendous scene for Hamm, who invites you to hate, and pity Don more than ever, by admitting he knows there’s something fundamentally broken about himself.

But I still wound up loathing Don by the end of the episode, and it wasn’t because of that scene. It’s what followed, when he tries to be the father to Bobby he felt like for a brief moment, which made me furious. Cozying up to Bobby in bed, he swallows his frustration at the boy’s worries for Henry’s future safety in politics, and helps his son go to sleep. Pretty moving, right? Many viewers have been growing tired with Don’s inability to change, so maybe the answer to all his problems has been sitting right in front of him, small, quiet, and only around every other weekend. Could little Bobby Draper, of all people, be the one to save Don?

Of course not. Don Draper is a desperate man, and a desperate man will look to fix what ails him with anything that gives even the slightest whiff of an easy solution. Meghan couldn’t do that, and now the only time their relationship shows signs of life is when they attack each other. And with Sylvia out of town, there’s no one for Don to leech off of, emotionally or sexually. Maybe he’s getting flashes of those moments when he and Sally connected, from before Henry, Betty, or even the civil rights movement turned her sour towards her father, but amid all the catastrophes in his head and outside his door, Don is looking to grab onto the first thing in arm’s reach that can make him feel decent about himself. For now, that’s Bobby Draper. God help that kid.

  • Stray Thoughts

-It’s a shame I used up my Game of Thrones analogy already, because “The Flood” actually imitated that show’s weaknesses more than its strengths this week, as this episode jumps around furiously, trying to get a read on everyone’s reactions to the tragedy in Memphis. I didn’t even touch Ginsberg getting setup with a nice Jewish girl by his Tateh, or the bizarre meet the creative team has with one of Roger’s acid-dropping pals, a property insurance salesman who claims to have been visited by the ghost of MLK.

-So, who thinks Dr. Rosen knows about Don and Sylvia? His crack at Don about their trip to D.C. seems almost too innocent, right? Furthermore, just how invested in Sylvia is Don? Could you imagine Don making a check-in phone call for any of his old mistresses?

-Ginsberg has never been a character that has struck me as particularly essential, but like Dawn last week, I’ll wait and see whether his outing this week was worth the time. Etching in the side-characters is important, but we’re already well aware of his domineering father, and problems with getting ladies. Granted, his open admission of being a virgin was a hilarious icebreaker.

Here’s the paper Don was reading in the movie theatre. I personally enjoyed Don asking Bobby if he wanted to stick around to catch a repeat viewing of Apes, as that’s something my father used to do with his father for Bond films.

-There are certainly parallels to be drawn between the role the media plays in this week’s episode, and the recent events in Boston, though I’ll leave the analysis to those better informed of the latter. I will say jumping in on a broadcast announcer mid-sentence saying “…the civil rights movement, has been shot to death,” might have been a bit too on point, but maybe I misheard.

-Joan putting on glasses to try and makeout the luminous, blurry actor playing Paul Newman was a nice little gag, and excuse to see Christina Hendricks try on focal wear.

-Speaking of which, the Christina Hendricks Johnny Walker ads have been weird, but the Jon Hamm voice over for an American Airlines spot is just F-ing insane. So the idea is to rope in viewers using people from a show that’s based on revealing advertisers as essentially being con artists? And American Airlines is trying to create a nostalgic reminder of the old school glamour of flying, the same week the episode is all about the civil and racial unrest that came with “old school” America?