REVEIW: Season 6, Episode 5
Up till this point in the series, set in turbulent 1968, historical events have simply been simmering in the background. While there have been countless, and to be honest, at times slightly forced allusions to the Vietnam War in pretty much every episode so far, the tempestuous global events have not impacted enormously on the direction of the storyline.
In fact this is the natural order of things in Mad Men which although set with meticulous detail in the 1960s, the real historical events of the era are almost always experienced in the background. Seeing as this is how things usually work in real life, this has always served the programme well and helped to gloss on another coat of realism to a series famous for its obsessive sense of detail.
This attention to detail extends to making sure the ice cubes are historically the right size and shape depending on whether they are cooling Don’s Old Fashioned at a Midtown bar or his customary hatful of scotch at home. In fact the programme’s creators are so fanatical about every detail that they released an apology this week because during last week’s episode a character said she had made dinner reservations at the Manhattan restaurant Le Cirque, which did not in fact open until 1974.
While this slip up was an accidental break from series policy, this week’s episode marked a deliberate departure from the established order of things by bringing historical events very much into the foreground with the assassination of Martin Luther King.
It was an interesting decision because in the past even huge events such as the Kennedy assassination have not been thrust so firmly into the limelight and so it would lead you to believe that the event perhaps marks a huge turning point in the lives of all the characters – as well as obviously the rest of American society going on in the background.
Perhaps another clue to this can be found in the episode’s title The Flood; a title that evokes the sense that this is the start of a great tide that will wash everything away and alter things forever. This palpable sense of fear and foreboding for the future is only further accentuated by Bobby and Don watching Planet of the Apes in the cinema (and then again straight away!) – a film that of course ends with the iconic shot of Charlton Heston shouting in despair at the ruined Statue of Liberty as waves wash over him. Seeing as the Statue of Liberty is such a famous symbol of New York this surely is not coincidental.
However this being Mad Men, one meaning behind the episode’s title was never going to be enough so we also see it referenced very clearly by Ginsberg’s father who talks about the need for a man and a woman to be together when things are worst, like the animals going two by two into the ark.
The theme of the various relationships and how they react to the dark events occurring is therefore very central to this episode. We see Peggy and Abe and the prospect of future children together, while Pete attempts to reach out to Trudy but is rebuffed firmly – in fact poor old Pete even gets rejected by the man delivering his Chinese takeaway when he tries to strike up a conversation. If he wasn’t so repugnant you would almost feel sorry for him.
Henry and Betty also seem to be in for an interesting ride ahead and it will be intriguing to see how long Betty’s enthusiasm for being a political wife lasts – the shot of her forlornly holding up a dress that was now too small for her hints that her original delight at Henry running for office may soon fade.
Meanwhile Don and Megan’s excruciating-to-watch marriage clanks on and although his rare opening up to her about fatherhood at the end of the episode may have kept things ticking over a bit longer, his preoccupation with the safety of the Rosens (and presumably Mrs Rosen in particular) can’t be read as a particularly good sign.
Of course the other huge theme that this episode brought forward was that of race relations – unsurprising given it centred around the assassination of Martin Luther King. Perhaps nothing symbolised things better than Joan’s intensely awkward hug with Dawn, Don’s secretary. This single hilariously embarrassing gesture perfectly encapsulated the lack of understanding and it will be fascinating to see how things develop on this front.
I think that overall this episode may turn out to be one that is looked back on as a point when everything began to change, for better or worse depending on the character in question. I also hope that it doesn’t mark the start of historical events looming too heavily over the storyline because while it arguably worked in this episode – and I’m still not totally convinced – it would as already discussed prove a big departure from one of the things that has made the programme such a success.
As originally seen on Independent.co.uk