Every week for the sixth season of AMC's acclaimed series Mad Men, our roundtable of Eleanor Barkhorn (Sexes editor, TheAtlantic.com), Ashley Fetters (editorial fellow for TheAtlantic.com's Entertainment and Sexes channels), and Amy Sullivan (National Journal correspondent) will discuss the latest happenings at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.
Barkhorn: Last week we asked whether Mad Men could ever address race as well as it has tackled gender. This week's episode gave us more fodder to answer that question, and I don't know about you two, but to me the answer continues to be a resounding NO.
News of the Martin Luther King Jr. assassination burst into the New York Ad Club's awards gala, stopping the festivities before they even began. This seems like a good metaphor for race in the show itself: Ostensibly Mad Men is about advertising, but because of the era when the show's set, it's impossible to ignore the turmoil beyond Madison Avenue. News from the outside world keeps breaking up the party. (This is true of subjects other than race: Remember when the JFK assassination ruined Roger's daughter's wedding, or when Marilyn Monroe's death made Joan want to spend the day in bed?)
There was a wide and realistic range of responses from the white characters. Henry and Abe both saw the assassination as a turning point in their careers. Harry Crane only cared about how the news affected TV advertising. Joan gave Dawn an awkward hug. Peggy gave Phyllis a slightly less awkward hug. Michael's dad told him to go have sex. Lots of the characters turned to work for solace. Most interesting of all, Pete showed signs of empathy. After his own wife refused to let him come home, he acknowledged the personal tragedy in the event: "That man had a wife and four children," he reminds Harry, in perhaps the episode's most poignant piece of dialogue.