Harry: The clients won't take make-goods; they want their money back.Mad Men is, as I've said before, a show about the 1960s told through the perspective of the squares who ruled the 1950s, so it's no surprise that when we reach the horrific evening of April 4, 1968 (Bono was wrong), it's through our white protagonists' eyes that we see the hours which follow, and not through the few secondary black characters in our universe.
Pete: That's disgusting.
Harry: I don't know. Enough of this crap already. All these special broadcasts preempting the prime-time schedule. Bewitched, Merv, Dean Martin. You know they might cancel the Stanley Cup?
Pete: How dare you! This cannot be made good. It's shameful! It's a shameful, shameful day!
And because it's Mad Men, a lot of it looks awkward to contemporary eyes, chiefly Joan's uncomfortable attempt to hug Don's secretary, Dawn, who wants nothing of it; and Harry Crane's focus on the business bottom line and his white privilege ("It's costing all of us. When is it gonna stop? Nobody will be happy till they turn the most beautiful city in the world into a shithole"). But most seem deeply and authentically affected by the tragic news, even Roger Sterling.
Which leads to the question of what they do with the news. Betty gets selfish while her husband Henry Francis acts nobly (true to life). Pete, while perhaps the most liberal of the SCDP principals, still uses it as an opportunity to try to woo Trudy again. The guy last seen as Ethan of The Others on Lost seems just as creepy as an insurance executive-slash-LSD buddy of Roger's. Peggy focuses on real estate and her future, one in which the 2nd Avenue Subway still never happens.
And Don ... well, Don regresses again, caring more about his mistress in D.C. than about how his kids are processing the news, taking Bobby to see a movie (Planet of the Apes) and hitting the bottle again, and then, somehow, we see him reach a moment of clarity we haven't seen since that episode with all the swimming:
Megan: You’ve got a bottle. Is this really what you want to be about when they need you?We're left, again, with the question which opened Season 4: Who is Don Draper? And who does he want to be? Because 1968 doesn't exactly improve from here for the world writ large. A concluding thought, from Matt Zoller Seitz:
Don: No. I don’t think I ever wanted to be the man who loves children. But from the moment they’re born, that baby comes out and you act proud and excited, hand out cigars. But you don’t feel anything. Especially if you had a difficult childhood. You want to love them but you don’t. And the fact that you’re faking that feeling makes you wonder if your own father had the same problem. Then one day they get older, and you see them do something and you feel that feeling that you were pretending to have, and it feels like your heart is going to explode.
I was torn about this episode. On one hand, it seems to me a pretty realistic portrait of how upper-middle-class to wealthy white New Yorkers might have reacted to the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. It doesn’t do anything that you wouldn’t expect a Mad Men episode about a major historical event to do. It’s true to itself in that respect.
But at the same time, this is the episode where, to intentionally mangle a Malcolm X phrase, the chickens of Mad Men’s whiteness finally came home to roost.