There's this huge risk that period television shows run when they add actual news events into their storylines and have the characters react to and interact with real historical events. They always run the risk of sounding belabored, blase or trite, or we have to sit through self-congratulatory soliloquies about What it All Means. Sunday night's episode of Mad Men tackled the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. with grace and class, and it brought out some unexpected emotions in characters whom we all thought we knew like the back of our kid-gloved, Tiffany-braceleted, Chanel No. 5-perfumed hands. I wasn't around for the MLK Jr. assassination ofs so all I can really do is comment on the characters' reactions as well as the way the show handled the event. Matthew Weiner handled the episode with a degree of sensitivity, and highlighted that MLK Jr.'s assassination was an important event in American history, but he didn't hammer us over the head with Its Significance. The episode has a "Where Were You When You Heard?" vibe to it that makes it seem sincere and authentic.
Apparently, the plan for this season is for you and I to feel guilty about being unmitigated sleazebags.
This episode opens with a back view of Peggy, looking out an apartment window that overlooks New York's East Side. Abe walks in and the Realtor assumes he's the money behind this operation because he's the one with the penis, but Abe tells her that Peggy is the one holding the wallet. Yes, Peggy's one of those career girls the news people have been talking so much about. The Realtor realizes her blunder and excuses herself to go check out one of the bathrooms, presumably to go stick her head in the toilet and flush.
Over at the Fat Betty Francis home, Little Bobby Draper is either going to grow up to be a serial killer or a novelist. I'm uncertain which direction he's most likely headed in. At present, his main hobby is peeling the wallpaper off his bedroom wall, because as he later tells Don, "it doesn't line up."
So, I'll be living in a house full of random junk and cats, and I won't get diagnosed with OCD until 1996? Neat-o!
On a side note, this young scrapper is Mason Vale Cotton. He is the fourth actor to be cast in the role of Bobby Draper. This kid is a scene stealer with a killer sense of timing. He does seem a tad more coached than Kiernan Shipka, who to be fair is several years older, but he holds his own in two scenes with Jon Hamm. I'm hoping he sticks around because ya got potential, kid. I don't know why they're changing the actor nearly every season, but I'm guessing it has something to do with the actors being very young. Either that or Betty is killing and eating the Bobbys and replacing them with an orphan off the street. We all know Henry won't notice and Sally won't care. Betty finds out Bobby's gone all Charlotte Perkins Gilman and punishes him with no TV for a week.
Don and Megan are headed out to an awards banquet, and see Sylvia and Arnie Rosen headed out, too. They are going to a conference in D.C. Megan is up for an award, not for acting, but for advertising, with the Ad Club of New York. Paul Newman's coming! Sylvia appears a little jealous of Megan's success in more than one area, and she doesn't do a very good job of hiding it for the sake of politeness.
The popular girls are never going to stop getting on my nerves, are they?
Copy editor Michael Ginsberg's dad wants to get him together with a Nice Jewish Girl. He gets home to find his dad has a young lady waiting for him, and Pops gives him money to take the girl out for a nice dinner. Dad's determined to get Michael laid, but Michael's determined to cockblock himself. Look at you, says Papa Ginsberg. It's Heim Faber's daughter, Beverly! Heim Faber! Lovely girl. Good teeth, nice hips. What's to complain about? You don't shave, you don't eat right, you don't dress right. I've never seen anyone in my 99 years who needed a good shag better than you do. I didn't survive a concentration camp and the Nazis so you could fail to pass on my genes. Now get out there and get laid!
Ginsberg takes Beverly out for some awkward dinner conversation, since he's a lowly copy editor and not invited to the Ad Club, but she's pretty easygoing. She tells him she won't sleep with him on the first date because she's not that kind of girl, but she does like Ginsberg. They have to cut it short because they hear about Dr. King's assassination. But we like Beverly. She is fun. Could there be a successful marriage in the future for Ginsberg and Mad Men? Stay tuned.
At the Ad Club dinner, Don won't go over and talk to Peggy, but Megan heads over her way and Peggy is pleased to see her. Peggy tells Megan the news that she's paid off her debts (but still has a tax problem) and is about to make an offer on an Upper East Side apartment near the Drapers and they can all be neighbors! Megan's like OMG fondu party. Megan's team is up for this award, too, so we all know that Megan is going to win. Ted shows up and lets Peggy know that he already knows she didn't win and this causes Peggy to make a sour face. Peggy, you really need to get used to Megan getting everything you want.
I think...I think the prize is for being pretty...? Wait, didn't I already win that?
Also, I am wondering what sort of debts Peggy has. She didn't go to college and she doesn't own a car, and this was in the days before the massive personal credit card debt problem. I don't know who she could owe money to. Maybe the Irish Mafia? Her bitch whore sister? 'Tis a mystery. Don finds this whole thing agony. Roger introduces Don to a vaguely creepy insurance friend, who turns up later on in the episode. Ted flirts with Peggy in front of his wife, and makes eyes at her instead of giving his undivided attention to Paul Newman.
I thought it was respectful to the memory of the hotness that was Paul Newman for the production to not find a Paul Newman impersonator. Because, I mean...
Paul Newman apparently did not understand that he was asked to speak at this event so he could look pretty, tell a few inoffensive but lame jokes about lawyers and priests and rabbis walking into bars, and maybe keep a lid the commie talk. Then Paul Newman has to start boring everyone by going on and on and on about his political views. But before anyone from the New York ad world can start shouting about how Paul Newman is a commie, an unseen voice announces to the room that Martin Luther King Jr. has been shot. Quick! Protect the talent!
This interrupts the festivities momentarily. Ted's wife, who is a terrible human being (so I guess we can all see why Ted is hitting on Peggy), reveals that not only is she incredibly catty, but she is also kind of racist! Megan is upset because Megan is the Nice One, and Don and Roger are just kind of like, "Dafuq just happened?" People out in the street start rioting and everyone at the dinner is wondering how they are going to get home.
But the reactions of the main characters are not the most reveling in this scene. Do-gooder Abe runs off to cover the riots for The New York Times, forgetting how much he hates The Man's Institutions. I sort of assumed The Times was one of them. He leaves Peggy alone to shift for herself. Giiiiiiiiiirrrlll. Don gallantly offers her a ride home.
Abe wants to get a good story on the New York riots to advance his career, and he places that before his concerns about his politics or Peggy's safety. You'd think Peggy would be reevaluating her relationship with Abe, but WTF does she know about how she should be treated? Peg, hon, maybe he's only shacking up with you not because he doesn't want to conform to an old-fashioned tradition but because he's just too damn lazy to make an honest woman of you. Find a real man, Peggy! Get a tax break!
Speaking of tools, Pete thinks the assassination of MLK is a good time for everyone to be together, so he phones the estranged Trudy and begs her to let him come home. Trude refuses due to that whole mistress thing. On that same note, Don's worried about Sylvia in D.C. due to the rioting, and he phones her hotel in an attempt to get in touch with her, but he's unable to reach her.
No one knows how to behave around Dawn at SCDP. Joan awkwardly hugs Dawn, and Don insists that Dawn go home, but Dawn insists on staying. Peggy, however, has a sincere moment with her secretary, and lets her leave for the day. The gravity of the situation appears to weigh on Peggy. Peggy gets a call from her Realtor who wants Peggy to make an offer on the apartment, especially since there are riots about ten blocks away. Peggy's Realtor thinks she can use the news to get the building's owners to go down in price, and she takes Peggy's shocked silence as agreement. Peggy later loses the apartment because the building managers got another offer, and Abe tells her that it wasn't really a big deal to him, anyway. He doesn't want to live on the Upper East Side with all those horrid ad execs, and he'd rather drag Peggy down to run-down part of the city and throw up a coat of paint and go all boho chic. Peggy seems a little perplexed. Abe went along with East Side scheme because he didn't feel like it was his place to interfere, but he wasn't honest with her about not wanting to live among the city's wealthier residents. Abe's obviously concerned about getting ahead in his career. Being a well-respected reporter in New York City could lead to wealth and fame and he has to know that. So can really be any different deep down than the soulless Madison Ave. execs he with whom will not stoop to live on the tony East Side? Does Our Girl Peggy really want to live on the Upper East Side?
Harry Crane and Pete get into an argument because Harry's upset that his TV clients are being pre-empted for special reports and he's losing money. Pete is like, "Oh know he better don't!" and he loses it and calls Harry disgusting and a racist. Bert Cooper comes out of office and tells them to apologize to each other, but neither of them can let it go. They start shouting at each other again and ignore Bert, and Pete stalks off. Pete is sincerely upset about Dr. King's death, which is surprising to say the least. Is this a turning point for Pete?
And later, they're letting ME be the moral compass of the MLK Jr. episode. I know, right!
Roger's insurance guy, Randall, wants SCDP to run an ad for his insurance agency. His vision for said ad is the name of their insurance agency, accompanied by a photo of a Molotov cocktail. Much like Peggy's Realtor, Randall wants to take advantage of the event for business purposes. This vision, he says, came to him, when he was visited by (no shit) the spirit of Dr. King. By a vision of Dr. King, he means, "I took a lot acid." Randall starts blathering about all the animals crying, Stan snickers and Don politely tells this hippie twat that SCDP isn't interested in this trite BS idea. Then Randall starts chanting in Cherokee. He does, however, make one lucid observation: That the heavens are telling us to change.
At home, Don's swilling Scotch and watching D.C. burn. Then Betty calls. Betty tells Don he forgot to pick up the kids. Again. Don tries to excuse it away by saying he didn't think he should bring the kids to the city because of the riots. Betty's retort is that Don would go to Canada on his knees to pick up his girlfriend. Bible, Betty, Bible. Preach. So Don has to schlep his drunk ass out to Betty's, pick up the kids, and then haul the impressionable youngsters through the NYC riots. Because Mom said so.
Our parents never loved us or each other. WTF did you expect?
The next morning, hungover Don Draper gets up and finds Megan getting the kids ready to go out to a vigil in memory of Dr. King. Due to the togetherness of this moment, Sally is being a brat to Bobby because he's watching TV and it's the Big Sister's job to aggressively enforce the younger sibling's punishment. Bobby doesn't want to go to the vigil, and Don asks Bobby what Betty said his punishment was supposed to be. Don resolves this with the simple solution of taking Bobby to the movies. See? Not TV. Problem solved. Draper takes Junior to see what else but The Planet of the Apes. Bobby has such a whiz-bang of a time watching a nihilistic feature film about humanity's destruction of itself that he wants to watch it again. Son, you couldn't have made your old man more proud.
Don breaks down in front of Megan, and tells her he realizes that he does love Bobby. He didn't love any of the other Bobby Drapers, but he does love this one. This is a significant step for Don. He realizes that he does have the capacity to love someone and he doesn't have to go through life faking it, leaving a trail of ex-wives, discarded mistresses and fucked up children in his wake. Is there hope for Don Draper after all? Or is Don going to somehow fuck up this second chance and spend the rest of his life spiraling downward in a haze of alcohol, cigarettes and meaningless hook-ups until he is a mere shell of the slick cat Don Draper that was?
Once I was an ad exec with a wife and children. Now I operate an evil undersea secret lair. And am a cartoon.
At the Fat Betty Francis house, Henry expresses his displeasure with how the mayor handled the crisis. He reveals that there is a Republican New York Senate seat up for grabs, and Betty encourages him to run for office. What she doesn't realize -- but that Henry does -- is that her job as a Senate candidate's wife is to look pretty, meet people and smile for photos. Betty's elation fades when she understands that she will have to do a lot of socializing during the campaign, and she doesn't want to meet people looking the way she does. Henry thinks Betty is beautiful and wants to show her off, but Betty hates her body. In her final scene of this episode, she's standing in front of a mirror, holding a green formal gown up to her body. Longing creeps over her face as she realizes how much weight she will have to lose in order to feel attractive again.
Remember when I was hot?
Dr. King is right. You must ask yourself what you are doing for others. But you first have to consider if you are doing enough to feel good about yourself. Self-loathing never done helped nobody. Sometimes the best thing you can do for other people is to do for yourself. #inspirationalbullshit
Mad Men, children. Sundays at 10 p.m. Eastern on AMC.