Mad Men, Season 6

The Center Cannot Hold
Talking television.
April 30 2013 1:17 PM

Mad Men, Season 6

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Things fall apart.

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Photo by Michael Yarish/AMC

Hanna, Paul,

Seth Stevenson Seth Stevenson

Seth Stevenson is a frequent contributor to Slate. He is the author of Grounded: A Down to Earth Journey Around the World.

You’re right, Hanna, about this episode’s realistic portrayal of tragedy filtered through self-preservation. Many characters respond mostly by asking: What does this mean for me? Harry’s nervously checking TV ratings, Peggy’s making an opportunistic offer on an apartment, Henry’s springboarding into a campaign run, that weird insurance guy wants to associate his brand with the spirit of MLK, and Pete is seizing an excuse to reunite with Trudy. Basically zero people are discussing the state of racial relations.

The episode also deftly captured that late-‘60s sense of profound entropy. Megan’s father applauds “the escalation of decay.” Bobby is picking at wallpaper and “destroying” Betty’s sense of order. Planet of the Apes is in theaters, with its vision of a post-apocalyptic Earth. Even property insurance guys wearing suits are tripping balls now—asking for ads that show lit Molotov cocktails, questioning the existence of property itself. Strange days. (It’s only Peggy and Abe who indulge creative instead of destructive impulses, with their talk about making babies and using “lumber and paint” to rescue a fixer-upper house.)

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I couldn’t help but wonder how living then might compare to living in those shaky weeks after 9/11, when anthrax envelopes were killing people and the jittery mood made all sorts of horrors seem suddenly possible. In a rare moment of selflessness from Betty, she frets about what kind of images her kids might see if she allows them to watch the news. I thought she might even tell them to “look for the helpers.”

For the obsessive Mad Men cryptologists among us, there was much on offer Sunday night. Commenters have noted the episode’s many references to words and their absence—interesting, in light of Don’s seven minutes of silence to kick off the season. The psychonaut insurance guy says nonverbal communication is his goal (though in the end it’s actually stoned ranger Stan who manages the trick in that meeting, uttering no words but making clear his feelings nonetheless). Bert is adamant about Pete and Harry “erasing these remarks” after their spat. Pete attempts to draw out his food delivery guy and have a chat, but the fellow remains totally mute. Nobody knows what to say at a time like this. “The man knew how to talk,” Roger says of MLK. “I thought it would solve the whole thing.”

Don wants to talk to Sylvia Rosen, quite ardently it seems, but his efforts to reach her by phone in D.C. are in vain. Which made me contemplate who chose to sandbag down with whom when the episode’s titular flood rolled in. Pete was near desperate to be with his wife, but Trudy wasn’t interested. Ginsberg ran home to his dad—though his dad urged him to instead run home with Beverly Farber, that fetching Jewess. Betty actively works to kick her kids out of her house. Dawn, amazingly enough, wants to be at SCDP. And Don finds himself driven to check in on Sylvia, though he hadn’t yet bothered to check in on his children.

It’s a shameful, shameful day,

Seth

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