Thursday, June 6, 2013

Mad Men: The Flood (6.5)

Mad Men's sixth season is still coming off like a series of disparate elements, the only real link between each character's personal story being that they themselves just happen to work with or operate in the world of the other characters on the show. It feels more and more like a season built upon a cut-up technique, random bits of story tossed together here and there, small insights into lives formed with the smallest of actual arcs. That doesn't necessarily mean The Flood is another underwhelming episode, however. In truth, it's probably the strongest hour since the premiere, even if it maintains the drifting, unspecific structure that made the previous couple of episodes so troubling.

The Flood works because it at least seems to build to something cohesive after a while. Don gets the largest share of the post-MLK material, unsurprisingly, and his monologue about 'feeling' is the best depiction of his recent crisis in a while. It works because it seems to have a source that we're actually familiar with. Sylvia remains an enigma, but Bobby and the idea of Don struggling to be a father are characters and ideas that resonate to better effect. I don't know if we're supposed to entirely have a handle on Don's problems by this point, but I liked how the show reflected his lack of feeling with his surprise at experiencing random bursts of such an emotion, how memories of his own childhood have been weighing in on his conscience of late, and how he's struggling to find an outlet for it all.

One of the problems I've been having with Don's arc this year has been how certain monologues or specific scenes are appearing almost too vague, flashbacks being dropped in awkwardly, supposedly 'deep' lines of dialogue failing to land as well as they should have done. But I've also believed (or at least hoped) that the season would soon turn a corner, and that vague proclamations would give way to something firmer and more cohesive. Don's material here remains elusive, naturally, but it's becoming easier to follow his emotional trajectory. Even greater, it's becoming easier to sympathize with him.

The show initially appeared to be using the MLK assassination as a kind of time stamp on the episode, a reminder that this is 1968. But it soon escalates into a grander statement on the show's characters, how they react to a chaos and violence that has become almost everyday. Some use it to express their own personal woes (Pete's outburst can only really be inspired by his sadness over Trudy's departure, for example), others are encouraged to exploit it to their advantage (Peggy's new apartment), while there are some that use it as impetus for their own evolution (both Henry and Betty sent down new roads as a result of the horror). Ginsberg's father also has some interesting lines about reacting to crisis, explaining to his son that it would be far easier if he were with somebody he loves in a moment of great mourning, instead of still rooming with his dad.

So I liked the way collective mourning spurred on a variety of different ideas, and how most of them were self-involved in the kind of way that huge, awful events can only ever really inspire selfish thoughts about your own life. It also worked well pitted against the emotions of the three black characters seen here, and I use 'characters' in the smallest sense. I don't know if it was an explicit commentary on race relations, but it was interesting to see somebody like Peggy's assistant lock her emotions away in an office, or the theater usher just keep on working. While the white folk were stood around being mostly self-involved, or expressing some kind of solidarity in the most awkward way possible (Joan's hug, which... ugh)

Mad Men has always been rooted in pain, or the desperation to find some kind of escape, and The Flood seemed to focus on that in a more interesting, successful way than in recent memory. For Don, too, the events in Washington only pushed the idea of his isolation. Everybody else seems to have somebody to alleviate their own pain. If they don't, like Pete, it's because people have literally left. But Don is feeling that isolation in spite of having a wife, and children, and a host of associates. This season is Don's story, more than ever before, and The Flood seemed to get it all back on track again. B+


- Megan's award went unnoticed. Blink and you'll miss it. But it's there, a reminder of a life that she abandoned, and an implication that she's becoming the wallpaper, something there most of the time, but also something easily forgotten about.

- Peggy, and I think us at home, has probably been worrying for a while now that Abe would leave her, that her aspirational self-improvement is at odds with the world he occupies and the world he seems perfectly contented in. But then he casually mentions kids, and Elisabeth Moss' face just flickers with surprise and joy, just for a brief moment. It's a really lovely scene.

- I didn't know what to make of William Mapother's big moment. It folded into the central idea of the hour, how people individually react to crisis, but I don't know if it totally worked outside of easy comedy.


Peggy: I was hoping I'd see you! You know, other than on TV.
Megan: You don't watch...
Peggy: My mother and sister do!
Megan: Really? Do they hate me?

Paul Newman: I'm not here because I'm an actor.
Cutler: We invited him because he's an actor.
Abe: That's not an actor, that's a speck.

Roger: Man knew how to talk. I don't know why but I thought that would save him. I thought it would solve the whole thing.

Guest stars
Alison Brie (Trudy Campbell)
Writers Tom Smuts, Matthew Weiner Director Christopher Manley

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