It’s Never Just Black and White
Don still isn’t speaking to Peggy after the ketchup show-down, but Megan makes her way over to the CGC table and is introduced to the senior partner of her firm, Jim Cutler (Harry Hamlin) who looks at Megan as if she’s the real prize of the night. The celebrity speaker at the event is actor Paul Newman – who, because of the distance to the podium, no one can really see, and who didn’t sound like Paul Newman, at all – and he’s talking about the 1968 presidential election, including his favored candidate, Eugene McCarthy. Just before he finishes speaking, someone shouts that Martin Luther King, Jr. has been shot and the crowd is stunned. Many of them try to use the payphones to contact loved ones, but, after a 10 minute break, the awards ceremony resumes.
Ginsberg hears the news while he’s on a date arranged by his father and the father of the woman he’s going on the blind date with. Ginsberg’s Dad is worried that, when the flood comes, and they’re heading to Noah’s Ark in pairs, his son will be climbing aboard next to his father. The two do seem to be getting along, and actually having a good time, until the radio breaks in with the news of the shooting. The black employees at the diner walk towards the stools near the radio, in shock and crying.
Everyone returns home, and we see how they react to the tragic event – some are devastated, some are confused and some are simply indifferent, or maybe in a state of self-centered denial. Don’s first concern is for his mistress, Sylvia Rosen, who is in Washington, D.C. with her doctor hubby, Arnie. He tries to contact the couple by going through Arnie’s answering service but can’t reach them. Does this mean that Don is falling in love with Sylvia, or, at the very least, is feeling something more than she’s just another one of his mistresses?
Roger is Roger, not that he’s unfeeling or uncaring, but he knows that there’s nothing he can do to fix or control the situation, so he carries on – ever the pragmatic businessman with a sardonic wit and sense of irony. Just about everyone else at the offices of SCDP are off-kilter, particularly with regard to Dawn, Don’s secretary, and her reaction. As their only black employee, some of the others look to her for some sort of guidance as to how to behave. When she shows up for work the day after, she’s told that she can go home, the office is closing. Joan attempts to console her, as if Dawn’s loss is a personal one, by giving her a very awkward hug. She chooses to stay at work, partly because Roger and Don have an appointment at 3 o’clock, and partly because she feels better just being at the office.
Harry Crane is bemoaning the fact that the agency and their clients are losing money. The television coverage of the assassination and the riots have put regular daytime programming on hold. He even wonders if they’re going to air the Stanley Cup. His rant elicits a response from Pete Campbell that most of us probably never saw coming. Pete lights into him about his single-minded and greedy view of the circumstances, and tells his co-worker that “It’s a shameful, shameful day”, then calls Harry a racist. Before any of us get too attached to the idea that Pete really has a social conscience, it should be noted that he tried to use the civil rights leader’s murder as an excuse to go back home to be with Trudy, without success. Bert Cooper steps in to break the two up, demanding that they shake hands in a spirit of camaraderie. They do shake but there’s nothing brotherly about it.
Peggy greets her secretary, Phyllis, the only other black character on Mad Men, with real concern and a hug that’s sincere and warm. On the other hand, Peggy is a bit distracted by her personal life. She’s been looking for an apartment to buy, and has an offer in for one on the Upper East Side. After King’s death, though, her realtor – a woman who seems to see a golden opportunity in the middle of a tragedy – tells her that the price has dropped because of the riots. Peggy lowers her offer, but loses the place because someone else came in slightly higher. Peggy’s boyfriend, Abe, isn’t disappointed. He takes a break from writing a story for The New York Times about his visit to Harlem, wearing the tuxedo he had on at the awards banquet the night of April 4th, and tells Peggy that he really never cared for the idea of living in a tony neighborhood. He envisioned a more diverse place to raise their children. Once he mentions “our children”, Peggy’s head practically explodes and she turns into a giddy, love-struck schoolgirl. When she asks him why he didn’t say something earlier, he tells her that it was her place, her money and that he didn’t feel it was right to interfere with what really should be her final decision. Abe is one of the good guys, who sees his girlfriend as his equal or even better than that. He makes her laugh and think, keeps her grounded, respects her and loves her to pieces.
Betty is coping with the events by not coping at all. Her husband, Henry, has been running back and forth between home and his work, which means following Mayor John Lindsay around Harlem trying to put out the less literal fires. Lindsay is walking around the city, smiling, shaking hands and kissing babies. Betty is bored and frustrated by it all, but nothing new there. Bobby, hers and Don’s son, is having a prepubescent meltdown of his own. He’s begun to peel off the wallpaper in his room, something Betty sees as an act of total destruction in her pristine home. It could be that the kid is fed up with the whole family situation and just takes it out on the wallpaper because no one is paying any attention to him. Betty, left alone with her children, calls Don and tells them that he has to come get them. It’s his week to take the kids and the riots aren’t going to interfere with her perfectly ordered life. Failing to reason with her, we see Don driving them back to his place in the city, with the three children crammed into the front seat of the car as they drive through neighborhoods in upheaval, sirens sounding everywhere.
The next morning, Don wakes up to find that Megan is preparing the kids to attend a vigil in Central Park. Don doesn’t want to go, so when Bobby feigns illness, he’s more than happy to spend the day with his son. Don and Bobby go to the movies, one of Don’s favorite places for escape, and they see “Planet of The Apes”.
The movie ends, and Charlton Heston’s’ character realizes that the planet that was blown up was Earth – we all remember the scene of the remains of the Statue of Liberty. Bobby, caught up in the moment, sputters “Jesus!”, an exclamation that would normally have gotten him a week in solitary confinement, particularly from Betty. Don, however, looks at the boy with a new sense of pride. The kid gets it – a decapitated Lady Liberty as the symbol of decay and destruction – and he’s still in grade school. They decide to stay for a second showing. A black employee of the movie theater happens to come down the aisle, sweeping up the floors covered in popcorn and empty Milk-Duds’ boxes. Bobby tells the man that a lot of people go to the movies when they’re sad, but whether he’s talking about Dr. King or his own family problems is unclear. Either way, Bobby acted and sounded like the most mature character of the entire episode. Maybe now that Don has noticed the boy’s potential and the fact that he even exists, we’ll see some more father-son moments.
That 3 o’clock meeting that Don and Roger just had to have turns about to be with a stoned property insurance agent, Randy, who Roger met heaven knows where – maybe during a shared acid trip. However they came upon one another, the guy has come up with an idea for an ad to sell insurance. It was something to watch, that’s for sure. First he reminds Roger about what the leader of the Cherokees, Tecumseh said. It sounded like “hom, ohm, uhm, nome”, but Roger thanks him for reminding him, anyway. Then he gets to the meat of his pitch. He spoke directly with Dr. King during the night, a voice from beyond, and beyonder, even, given Randy’s state of suspended reality. Dr. King and he came up with the idea that there should be an ad which features some houses, a few Molotov cocktails and a coupon for homeowners’ insurance. In essence, the message was “angry mobs of Negroes are going to burn every single white persons’ house to the ground, so you better get some coverage for your losses.” As Roger showed him the door, he tells Don “Someone’s gonna do that idea, you know”, and Don says, “Not us.”
Henry finally comes home to Betty and he’s not terribly happy with or impressed by Mayor Lindsay’s approach to the situation in Harlem. He then tells her that he’s considering a run for State senate. Betty is thrilled. It’s the kind of thing she envisioned for herself and her husband from the moment she met him. Henry can’t wait to show the world the real Betty. I don’t know if that’s such a good idea, or even who the “real” Betty is.
Don goes home, gets drunk and talks to Megan about the kind of father he’d hoped he’d be. Even she can see that he’s in no condition for the confessions he’s making about faking affection for his children. Don then goes to Bobby’s room and lies down next to the boy. Bobby can’t sleep and his dad tries to comfort him, but the boy is worried about what would happen if Henry was shot – a dagger straight through Don’s heart. His dad simply tells him that Henry isn’t all that important – maybe saying that made Don and Bobby feel better. Don finally walks to the roof of his apartment building, drink in hand, and listens to the sirens racing though the streets.