Monday, April 29, 2013

Review: Mad Men "The Flood"

Non Spoiler Review:
It's April 1968, which means Mad Men has caught up to another significant historical event. Megan is up for an Excellence in Advertising Award, and while both SCDP and CGC attend, larger matters overshadow the evening. Betty is dealing (miserably) with Bobby's odd behaviour. Peggy is looking to change her surroundings. Michael gets set up on a date by his father.

The Flood immediately draws comparisons to the Kennedy assassination episode. While the gravitas and foreboding of this one was still effective, I found the pacing to be extremely erratic. I doubt this was done to emphasize the confusion of the characters. It seemed like there were more rapid cuts than normal, and some some truly odd scenes that felt out of place.

Despite the crazy bits, Don had an interesting epiphany (during Planet of the Apes, no less) that rescued the episode. Mad Men usually leaves me pensive, and this one was no exception, ending suitably with Love is Blue as the credits song. Unfortunately The Flood came off as a hodge-podge of reaction scenes constructed around one event.

Spoilers Now!
It's April, and Megan and Don attend the Excellence in Advertising Awards after seeing Sylvia and Arnold off on a weekend to Washington DC (Arnold has been asked to be a keynote speaker). Both CGC and SCDP are seated near the back, meaning they likely won't win. Megan goes over and says hello to Peggy and she introduces him to Jim Cutler, the president of CGC. Peggy is excited about making an offer on a new apartment, close to where Megan and Don live. However, during guest speaker Paul Newman's speech, the evening is interrupted by Martin Luther King Jr's assassination.  Everyone panics that the city will fall into riots. Abe leaves to go and cover the story for the New York Times. Don offers to give Peggy a ride home after the awards finish.

Pete calls Trudy to check in, but despite his efforts to get invited back home, she says no. Don and Megan watch the events unfold on television. Don is concerned Sylvia and Arnold are in DC. Megan actually won her advertising award, but it's left sitting on the couch as they focus on more important matters.

Michael's father sets him up on a date with a friend's daughter, Beverly. They have dinner but that is interrupted by news of the shooting, as well. Michael returns home to tell his sleeping father what happened. 

As Betty listens to the radio, she remembers watching Lee Harvey Oswald get shot. Henry heads into the city to help out the mayor, fearing there will be riots. Meanwhile, Bobby has been peeling the wallpaper off beside his bed and Betty snaps at him for wanting to destroy the house.

One of Roger's LSD buddies, Randall Wash, wants to come in and pitch an idea for his insurance company. Harry is frustrated that all the special broadcasts are upsetting the clients and the ad revenue they booked. Pete snaps at him and accuses him of being a racist, prompting a heated argument that Bert tries to calm. Dawn arrives in at work late but Bert wants to close the office early. Don and Dawn opt to stay. Joan gives Dawn an awkward hug. Meanwhile, at CGC Peggy is surprised Phylis comes in to work and gives her a more genuine embrace and sends her home. Peggy begins to reconsider her offer, but her realtor suggests they come in lower given the riots are close by and will affect potential buyers.

Randall Walsh meets with Don, Roger, Stan and Michael. He's in the property insurance business and pitches an absolutely ridiculous concept to them while rambling on that he was visited by the spirit of Dr. King. Don tells him it's all in poor taste. Roger realizes Randall is a bit crazy and ends the meeting, apologizing to Don for wasting their time.

It's Don's turn to have the kids for the weekend, and he forgets, prompting an argument with Betty on the phone. Don heads out to pick them up and drives home through the city at night. The next day Megan takes Sally to a vigil in the park while Don stays home with Bobby who is not supposed to watch television for a week (according to Betty). So Don takes him to see Planet of the Apes and asks why he's being punished, only to learn the wall paper didn't line up. Bobby is impressed with the ending so they see it again. When he sees the black janitor cleaning the rows between showings, Bobby comments that people come to the movies when they're sad, which seems to impress Don.

Peggy learns they didn't get the apartment and is irritated Abe doesn't seem to care. Given it was all her money, he didn't feel he had a right to comment, but reveals he wants to live in the more culturally diverse and run down West 80s, which seems to inspire Peggy. 

As the riots die down, Henry tells Betty he's been offered a seat in the state senate. Betty is pleased. It's what she wanted for him. He's happy to be able to show her off. But later as she looks at the small dresses she used to wear, she realizes she hasn't been in the public eye for some time.

As everyone goes to bed, Megan is angry Don isn't paying attention to the children and is drinking instead. He admits his own difficult childhood has made it hard for him to feel anything, and he's only been acting like he loves his children. It makes him wonder if his own father had the same problem. He then explains that one day they get older and he sees them do something and feels that feeling he was only pretending to have. It made his heart feel like it would explode.

Don finds Bobby awake so lays with him. Bobby worried that someone could shoot Henry. Don assures him no one will do that. He's not that important. 

The Verdict:
I remain ambivalent about The Flood. It was unusually apocalyptic, with talk of Noah and Planet of the Apes. Despite the heady subject matter, I found it difficult to really get into this given the short and continually quick cuts. As I touched on above, it unfolded as a compilation of interesting moments rather than a strong narrative to keep me interested.

Randall Walsh, despite being one of Roger's LSD buddies, left me scratching my head. He was so over the top he took me out of the storyline whenever he appeared on screen. Mad Men has had some successful bizarre moments but this one fell flat.

What did work was the contrast between Dawn (enduring an awkward Joan hug) and Phylis (thoroughly appreciating Peggy's support). I was happy to see Peggy and Abe work out their housing issues, and this was the first time I actually liked Abe with her. But it seems Ted has an eye for her, as well. More surprising was Pete's reaction and his outrage at Harry, who continues to grow more annoying as Pete becomes more likable.

Finally, Don's confession that he's never really loved his children was a fantastic insight into his character. He and Bobby's afternoon at the movies was one of the more memorable Mad Men moments, especially since his son has been in Sally's shadow all these years. I kind of wondered if Bobby has OCD given the misalignment of the wall paper, but that's likely reading too much into it. I also wonder what Don thought of Bobby's concern for Henry. Does he look at Henry as his real father?

So a rather ho-hum entry this week. Considering Sylvia and Arnold were shuffled off to Washington pretty quickly, it started out promising. We should be getting the Bobby Kennedy assassination within a few episodes, so it will be interesting to compare it with this one.

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