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Recapping the Mad Men Recaps: Episode 5, "The Flood"

1367245037_dawnjoan.gifEach week PAPER will help you sort through your feelings about Mad Men by rounding up the best and brightest of the MM recaps. Read below so you can compare, contrast, and ponder while awkwardly hugging your secretary.

Did Mad Men do a good  job of dealing with MLK's assassination?

"One of the things Mad Men has always understood was that we can only grasp collective history through our own personal history. That's why the question that's always asked is 'Where were you when it happened?'...the show puts the killing both front-and-center and on-the-sidelines, focusing on examining its characters in the wake of the news." -- EW

"I mostly didn't like the episode. This is the episode where, to intentionally mangle a Malcolm X phrase, the chickens of Mad Men's whiteness finally came home to roost. I'm not saying Mad Men didn't deal with the assassination honestly...But there was more they should have done, and they couldn't do it, because they'd failed to set Dawn up as a character...I think some viewers may look at Dawn's what, eight lines in this episode, and insist that it's proof of the show's integrity -- that they couldn't have gone any further with her because that would have been a clichéd way to deal with the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., by suddenly taking this very white show and making it about the only significant black character." -- Vulture

"On the one hand, it would be impossible to set this season in 1968 and then plow over King's murder. On the other hand, trotting out this tragic event as a plot device feels unsavory, somehow. Yes, I know, there was the JFK episode. That one worked, though, whereas this one felt like it was lifted straight out of 'The Wonder Years' -- only less poignant." -- Salon

"[The episode] seemed to treat race rather obliquely." -- Slate

"It was unlikely Matthew Weiner would be able to top the raw emotional sucker punch of November 22nd, 1963, when it came time to tackle the Martin Luther King Jr. assassination. But he didn't need to, because the country was in a very different place in 1968 than it was four and a half years earlier. As his characters demonstrated, April 1968 is a way more jaded era." -- Rolling Stone

"Ginsberg's story line is one of many throughout the episode that explores the arguably misguided effect King's murder had on Americans. There is not one instance that discusses King's direct impact on civil rights, or on any of the characters on Mad Men. The only African-American characters of note, Dawn and Peggy's secretary Phyllis, are in one scene apiece, and their presence is merely to demonstrate how far removed the main characters are to their black secretaries' experience." -- Rolling Stone

"I love this show, but let's be honest: Matthew Weiner has not engaged with race as enthusiastically as he's engaged with feminism, anti-Semitism, the changing of the generational guard, and other subjects. I think he's afraid of it. He's afraid of doing it wrong. He's afraid of doing it badly. And this fear has come through in the show." -- Vulture

"Peggy tells Phyllis, her assistant, 'It could've been worse.' She's referring to Harlem's reaction to the assassination, but Phyllis' face suggests that nothing could be worse. It's the worst that Dr. King is dead. It's the worst that Peggy doesn't hear how her sentence sounds. It's the worst that these characters can't really connect to help each other. Mostly, we saw the worst in people. That's why you watch in the first place, isn't it?" -- Complex

Do we feel differently about Pete?

"You know it's a world gone terribly awry when Pete Campbell seems like a good guy...Pete is indeed a world-class jackass much of the time, but he's always been remarkably forward-thinking and egalitarian when it comes to matters of race." -- Huffington Post

"Pete slams [Harry] for his lack of sensitivity, calling him a racist. At least Harry is being honest. Pete is using the assassination as a cover for his frustration that Trudy won't let him back into the house." -- Rolling Stone

"Yes, this [episode] makes me like Pete a little. I know. Grief causes people do strange things and all that. [But] Pete is pretty much the only partner on the right side of history here. Pete! With his hairline and his stupid pick-up lines and his Don envy!" -- TV Line

"You're on the verge of cheering for Pete as he creates a space on the show for all of the nation to feel the full force of Dr. King's death, and then he ruins it by reducing it to the personal." -- Complex

Harry still sucks.

"Harry is a shit stick though, and while the real estate agent's opportunism over everyone being upset was borderline, Harry's was over the top." -- Collider

"Harry Crane...is only concerned with how the assassination is affecting TV ad sales. Harry used to be a lovable underdog, but now every time he opens his mouth, my eyes roll like marbles. He seems like the kind of guy who would complain about there not being a White History Month or how women don't like him because he's 'too nice.'" -- EW

"Harry and Pete both may be unhappy, skirt-chasing ad men, but their loud confrontation reminded us how very different they are at their cores. It's hard to think of this kind of tragedy prompting the blinkered Harry into trying to make a real connection with another human being, particularly someone of another race." -- Huffington Post

Joan hugging Dawn was the definition of awkward.

"Joan leans in for an extremely awkward consolatory hug that neatly summed up the office's nervous weirdness about how to treat their black employee on this day." -- EW

"Joan...looked even more awkward trying to hug a surprised Dawn. That sort of emotional moment doesn't come easily to Don or Joan, especially with employees, and the Dawn scene reflected that." -- Huffington Post

"We don't see Dawn, Don's secretary, until 28 minutes into the show when she appears for work the day after. Grief and chaos have made her unemotional and she stands rigid when Joan leans in for as awkward a hug as you will ever see." -- LA Times

"Joan comes into Draper's office to announce that they're closing early and to give Dawn the most awkward, least comforting hug I've witnessed in quite some time." -- TV Line

Does Don have true feelings for Sylvia?

"Don's reaction to the news is one of concern, but not for his wife and kids. He tries to track down Sylvia...It's hard to tell whether Don Draper is falling in love with yet another new beginning, but his worrying seems to indicate there's more emotional attachment there than even he may wish." -- EW

"When tragedy strikes, Don is immediately focused on D.C. and Sylvia, distraught at being unable to reach the Rosens, watching the news for hopes of D.C. mentions that might assuage his fear. Per usual, Don has misplaced feelings." -- Collider

"It might seem like he's starting to feel real love for Silvia, but more likely he's just using his affair to shield himself from the pain of the current moment. (The affair still seems to spring more from Don's admiration and envy of Arnold than it does from his appreciation of Silvia.)" -- Salon

Don bonds with Bobby.

"Don has always...been a cipher to his son. Up until this point, the show has treated the poor kid like window dressing, as much a part of its meticulous recreation of period life as a Zenith television or a pack of Lucky Strikes...But when he ends up spending the day with his father -- the two of them using each other as an excuse not to attend a vigil in the park -- it's clear that the boy's a lot sharper than either us or Don have given him credit for...That his son has somehow inherited his appreciation for art, for the power of imagery, despite his utter lack of involvement, stirs something in him." -- EW

"But because we don't know Bobby that well...Don's big feelings here don't do much for us." -- Salon

"Bobby reassures a black usher that the movie theater's patrons aren't necessarily uncaring about the previous day's events, but that 'everybody likes to go to the movies when they're sad.' It's a heartfelt bit of pure empathy from the mouths of babes, and it makes Don realize that his son has somehow turned out a good egg despite his and Betty's abysmal parenting." -- EW

Does this mean Don's changing?

"Finally, after all this time, Don is realizing the price you pay for keeping others at arm's length until it's too late." -- EW

"The assassination of Martin Luther King gives [Don] another reason to drink heavily. Like he needed one! But it also gives him an opportunity to rethink his role as a parent, to think about his shortcomings and insecurities." -- Vulture

"The assassination of Martin Luther King has forced Don to bond with his son Bobby...He now finally feels the love and the pain of fatherhood. 'It feels like your heart is going to explode.'" -- US News

"Don's emotional revelation about faking his feelings towards his kids left me cold. Get your shit together, Don. Nobody's crying for you anymore." -- Collider

"But at that moment in the empty movie theater, when Bobby reached out to the sad-looking usher, the pretend love became real love...Dammit, Don, stop making me like you again. -- Rolling Stone

"I've sensed brewing Mad Men backlash this season...The most common complaint I've heard is that Don Draper has failed to progress as a character and is congealing into a grim, awful man. I actually find that a fascinating development -- I'm impressed by a show that, steadily over the course of several seasons, manages to turn a sexy pop culture heartthrob into a figure both reviled and pitied. And in this episode, I felt, we saw Don evolve in unexpected ways." -- Slate

OMG, Ginsberg's date.

"'You like kids?' Ginsberg asks a pretty young woman his father has set him up with, before bumbling into a full-on Woody Allen-like confession about his virginity." -- US News

"[Ginsberg's] date with the schoolteacher goes well, despite being cut short by the tragedy and despite his attempt to test her interest by rambling about his virginity. Clearly, she's attracted to the goofy Jewish boy with the Tom Selleck mustache."  -- EW

"I'm optimistic for a second date. After all, Beverly didn't bolt after Ginsberg let it slip that he's still a virgin." -- Rolling Stone

"Based on the charm he displayed on his big date with Beverley, Ginsburg is going to remain a virgin for some time to come. His running commentary on what a terrible date he was, however, was pretty amusing." -- Huffington Post

"The younger Ginsburg is a bundle of neuroses, and while still in the cocoon of not knowing the tragic news, offers an incredibly frank assessment of himself. 'I'm sure my father told you what a Lothario I am, but I am not. I'm very anxious about it. I've never had sex. Not even once.'" -- LA Times

"And they went in unto Noah into to the ark."

"'The Flood' was, in part, about who you call when the flood waters are rising. In the wake of a tragedy like the assassination of an inspirational leader, where do you find your comfort? -- Collider

"The episode's title 'The Flood' comes from Mr. Ginsberg's Biblical admonition, 'In the flood, the animals went two by two. You're going to get on the boat with your father?' It's no coincidence that he cites the story of Noah, the original dad with a drinking problem. When his own personal apocalypse comes, will Don have anyone to march with? -- EW

"Most of the scenes in the rest of the episode featured two people. Two by two, as happened when people boarded the Ark during the flood. This being 'Mad Men,' most of the pairings weren't quite in harmony." -- Huffington Post

"'The Flood' presents various stage of that process - pairing up and becoming parents. Ginsberg's date is its first step. Don is rediscovering it, years into the storm, in his newfound affection for his son. And Pete is realizing he is losing it, as Trudy turns down his offer to return home comfort her and their daughter through the MLK tragedy." -- US News

Peggy's getting it all, but are we happy about it?

"She loses the bid on upper east side condo, but when Abe mentions the prospect of them having children together, [Peggy] lights as if she has won already everything else. The once lowly secretary now has it all, or most of it, anyway: a boyfriend, financial security, a career, a boss who adores her." -- US News

"Abe...is encouraging his girlfriend to buy something in the "West 80s." And Peggy has fallen hook, line and sinker for this plan, even though Abe's not ponying up a cent for this purchase. Why? Because he slipped the phrase "raising our kids" into his argument for moving into a more "diverse area." Those three little words knocked all sense of pragmatism out of Peggy's head and reduced her to a giggling schoolgirl. Don't let that guy's name appear on any legal documents until he's put a ring on it, Pegs." -- Rolling Stone

"When [Abe] mentions the fact that he didn't see them raising their kids in the tony Upper East Side, Peggy radiates relief and joy. Where Don's marriage was a makeshift thing thrown together over a vacation to Disneyland, Peggy's will be one constructed slowly, brick-by-brick." -- EW

"It's hard not to have my heart tied up in knots when Peggy looks as hopeful as she did after Abe mentioned the prospect of children. I desperately want Peggy to have hope in her life...But I can't help but feel that, as with the case with the apartment, Peggy and Abe are not 'meant to be.' In my view, Peggy is settling for this guy, and because she's awesome, I want more for her than she wants for herself. But experience has been a harsh teacher, as evidenced by Peggy's intermittent desire to tamp down her exuberant smile. Oh Pegs. I want more for you, but I also fear that you want more than you're going to be able to handle." -- Huffington Post

"I've never seen Peggy happier. I am eager to follow her quest to have it all (mom, breadwinner, supporter of starving journalist) as well as her real estate hunt." -- Slate

Are we on Betty's side this week?

"What didn't work for me: I didn't believe that Betty, despite being the worst, would really want her kids in the city, to the point of not letting Don just come and get them the next day. Betty may be a horrid mother sometimes, but that seemed unreasonable, even for her. What an ungainly plot contrivance." -- Huffington Post

"Speaking of personally exploiting the assassination: I think Betty's right when she accuses Don of using fear of rioters as a pretext to get out of his parenting duties." -- Vulture

"Betty is petrified that the world is gonna go up in flames, and the flames are gonna creep up to her door. She doesn't want her kids to see the world burning on the TV. She denies it all, to the point where she guilt-trips Don into picking up the kids for the weekend and not breaking their child custody routine." -- Vulture

"Though she requires Don to pick up the kids, is it of any wonder? He did forget them, and he does ignore them (and also, Betty has a tendency to call him during times of crisis)." -- Collider

And Ethan from Lost has a cameo as "Randy!" What does it mean?

"Creepy Ethan from "Lost" turned out as an out-to-lunch weirdo." -- Huffington Post

"Randall was just another reminder that the kind of elegant obfuscation that is Don's stock in trade is largely going by the wayside. Don keeps encountering people who assault his worldview -- hippies, rock chicks, swingers, drugged-out weirdos -- and if, like Harry, he thinks this is all going to stop soon, he's got another thing coming." -- Huffington Post

"It's like Randy is a 1960s version of Saturday Night Live's Stefon." -- TV Line

"'This is an opportunity,' said Randy the insurance guy, an awkward, on-the-nose moment in an episode filled with such moments. 'The heavens are telling us to change.' But even if Don wants to change (which he keeps saying) and tries to change (what could be more of an attempt to change than spending time with his son?), it's not clear that he can change in any permanent way. Sometimes redemption doesn't come so easily." -- Salon

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