Named for a biblical plague referenced by Ginsberg’s dad (who’s worried that his bachelor son is going to walk onto the ark two-by-two with his father), this episode brought us to a place that we knew was coming: It’s an April night in 1968, and Martin Luther King has just been assassinated. Most of SCDP is gathered at an awards banquet, and it’s odd how the show almost botches the moment; somebody yells something barely intelligible, and suddenly everyone’s reacting. Lines form by the pay phones (remember those?), sirens wail, and the banquet, strangely, goes on — Megan gets an award for a commercial, but we don’t see her get it, nor does anyone seem to care. (Just a little reminder, yet again, that Megan was very good at advertising — but we still have yet to see if she’s any good at acting.)
The next day is a strange, half-real workday; Peggy and her black secretary (Phyllis, I think) share a hug and some halting yet heartfelt words; Joan and Dawn share a much more awkward hug (lovely work from Christina Hendricks, who conveys that Joan wants to reach out and do the right thing but has absolutely no idea how) while Don wrong-footedly tries to send Dawn home — never mind that it took her forever to get to work, and that she’s saying that she’d rather stay; he, like Joan, doesn’t know what to say (an odd experience for a silver-tongued ad man), so he wants her out of his sight. Pete (who, as we’ve seen in past seasons, has surprisingly liberal leanings) and Harry get into a hotheaded fight about whether the world should be in mourning or move on — moderated, rather hilariously, by Bert Cooper — and Megan takes Sally and Gene to a vigil in the park, which doesn’t seem to make them feel much better.
It was a haunted, haunting episode, and we know that more darkness is to come: just the mention of Bobby Kennedy (by “Paul Newman” at the banquet, and smiling from a magazine cover in Pete’s quiet apartment) reminds us of what we know and the “Mad Men” characters don’t, yet. And it was fascinating to see how the tragedy was exploited in different ways: by Peggy’s sharklike real estate agent, who used the chaos to try to get a better price; by Roger’s truly bizarre insurance-business friend (and, I’m guessing, LSD buddy) who pitched a tasteless ad idea; and by Harry (who’s becoming this season’s Pete), who was concerned only by how business might be affected.
Amidst the emotion, two more quiet development simmered. Peggy and Abe came to an understanding about their relationship, and her face glowed as he mentioned where he wanted to raise “our kids.” She’d still like a ring on her finger, it’s clear, but these two seem to be creating their own path, and happily so. And Don spent a sweet afternoon at the movies (an appropriate “Planet of the Apes”) with Bobby, and was reminded of something he rarely seems to think about: fatherhood. Later, finding honesty in a bottle, he told Megan that he just pretended to love his kids at first, “until one day, they get older, and you see them do something, and you feel the feeling you were pretending to have. And it feels like your heart is going to explode.” It’s another reminder of how damaged Don was by his childhood — and that yet, somehow, it seems like his kids are going to be OK. “People go to the movies sometimes when they’re sad,” Bobby told a sober-faced African-American theater usher, sensing that he needed to convey that they shared an emotion; it was the right thing to say, and Don marvelled at it.
And what did you think? Did you applaud Trudy for not letting Pete use the tragedy to get back home? Did you notice that Ginsberg and his father have the kind of flat where the bathtub’s in the kitchen? What will it mean if Henry does run for office — will somebody, as Bobby fears, shoot him? And will we see more of the nice student teacher to whom Ginsberg blurted, “I’ve never had sex. Not even once.”?
And what do you make of Don’s concern for Sylvia’s safety? (Photo by Michael Yarish; courtesy of AMC)