Mad Men recap: A Death in Memphis

History intrudes on the lives of Don and company as everyone reacts to the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Ep. 05 | Aired Apr 28, 2014

AWARD-WINNING ACTRESS Megan gets nominated for an advertising award, one of the last vestiges of her former profession.

AMC

Like Pete, Don's reaction to the news is one of concern, but not for his wife and kids. He tries to track down Sylvia, who is with her husband on a trip to Washington D.C. It's hard to tell whether Don Draper is falling in love with yet another new beginning, but his worrying seems to indicate there's more emotional attachment there than even he may wish.

There's certainly less emotional attachment, though, when it comes to his children. At the very least, Don has always had some species of a father-daughter relationship with Sally, but he's always been a cipher to his son. Sally's efforts to come to grips with her parents' shortcomings has been well-documented, while Bobby's have been left up to the imagination. Up until this point, the show has treated the poor kid like window dressing, as much a part of its meticulous recreation of period life as a Zenith television or a pack of Lucky Strikes. He rounds out the nuclear family, but has never really been given much to do. (At least he doesn't have as bad a deal as Chris Brody on Homeland, the Job of pay-cable children.)

In tonight's episode, Bobby starts picking at the seams of his life. He peels back the wallpaper in his bedroom because the pattern doesn't match up, which seems to be the illogical act of a child. But when he ends up spending the day with his father—the two of them using each other as an excuse not to attend a vigil in the park—it's clear that the boy's a lot sharper than either us or Don have given him credit for. The two spend some rare father-son time worshiping at Don's personal church, the movies. They see Planet of the Apes, a film with the supremely appropriate theme of man's inhumanity to man, but also one with a twist ending that's often taken for granted. The fact that the planet was Earth all along fills Don and Bobby with visible awe, leading Bobby to exhale, "Jesus." That would have earned a scolding from Betty, but in Don it inspires pride. That his son has somehow inherited his appreciation for art, for the power of imagery, despite his utter lack of involvement, stirs something in him.

This newfound sentiment—you can almost hear Don thinking, "Whoa, this kid is pretty cool, maybe I should talk to him more than once a year!"—is compounded when Bobby reassures a black usher that the movie theater's patrons aren't necessarily uncaring about the previous day's events, but that "everybody likes to go to the movies when they're sad." It's a heartfelt bit of pure empathy from the mouths of babes, and it makes Don realize that his son has somehow turned out a good egg despite his and Betty's abysmal parenting.

Finally, after all this time, Don is realizing the price you pay for keeping others at arm's length until it's too late. He confesses to Megan that he never truly felt love for his children, that his affection was all fakery, and pretty crappy fakery, at that. He's drunk, and Megan tells him he uses a bottle in the way her father uses his intellect, to avoid dealing with emotion. Don may not still have his father's name, but he has inherited his sins. He tries to comfort Bobby, who responds with a shot through the heart: "I just keep thinking, what if somebody shoots Henry?" Oof, that's gotta hurt.

There have been a lot of shots of Don drinking alone this season. Yet another crops up this week at the awards ceremony when everyone else is off mingling, and Don, still chafed from the Heinz thing no doubt, refuses to say hi to Peggy. The episode ends with a shot of him on the rooftop smoking a cigarette, looking like the only living boy in New York as a threnody of police sirens wails below. The final line of Season 5 was "Are you alone?", meant by the girl at the bar as a way to gauge his availability, but loaded with a whole lot more contextual weight. Don has a wife, an ex-wife, three children, a mistress, and a whole office of co-workers, but when it comes down to it, has he ever been able to share his life with anyone but himself?

NEXT: Apartment hunting and old-school JDate...

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