Last night’s episode of Mad Men (Season 6, Episode 5, “The Flood”) managed to make practically every character sympathetic in his or her own way, which is quite the feat for a show featuring so many consistently unlikable people. The event responsible for humbling these people? The assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Since this season takes place in 1968, one of the most tumultuous years in American history, an episode surrounding this event was inevitable, and I think it was the best episode of the season so far.
In addition to making the unlikeliest people sympathetic, this episode also marked the emergence of Bobby Draper as a real character! It’s not all about Sally anymore.
So without further ado, we present this week’s Mad Men Sympathy Rankings. Check out last week’s recap to see how things have changed.
8. Betty Francis (January Jones) (Last week: not ranked)
Betty probably had the least sympathetic reaction to when MLK dies, because it wasn’t much of a reaction at all. As usual, she was pretty emotionless. She barely bothered to deal with Bobby’s strange behavior, allowed her kids to enter the city’s dangerous climate to prove a point to Don (which she wasn’t necessarily wrong about), and was just her usual ice queen self. Her new brunette ‘do hasn’t done much for her personality.
7. Harry Crane (Rich Sommer) (Last week: 2)
Last week I saw where Harry was coming from when he complained about Joan’s position as partner. This week he lost a good bit of sympathy when he complained about the assassination being inconvenient for him in the television department. While I think Pete went overboard by calling him a racist, it was definitely insensitive.
6. Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) (Last week: 7)
I never thought I’d get through an entire episode without finding Pete Campbell the epitome of slime, but it happened this week. I definitely see some hypocrisy in his actions, but Pete surprised me by displaying what I think was a genuine reaction to Dr. King’s death. He called Trudy to see if she was okay and asked to see his daughter, and while I don’t blame Trudy for brushing him off, I felt for him a little bit. Then I remembered he’s Pete Campbell and was brought back to reality. But the sympathy was there, even if his “shameful, shameful day” comment was a bit over-the-top. His remarks about King’s wife and kids seemed a little hypocritical coming from a guy who has consistently displayed such little regard for his own family, but it was nice to see him express concern for someone other than himself.
5. Don Draper (Jon Hamm) (Last week: 8)
Last week I despised Don Draper. How dare he call his wife a whore and then immediately go sleep with his mistress? What goes through that brain of his? But this week, we got some real emotion out of Don, something we pretty much never get. When Don takes Bobby to see Planet of the Apes (more on that in a minute), he has an epiphany and feels proud of his son for the first time. His admission at the end of the episode that his children haven’t brought him the joy they were supposed to is certainly disturbing. But the fact that he actually admits this flaw and connects it to his own childhood is remarkable for Don Draper. Seeing him lying in bed with Bobby was like seeing a fish walk on land. Daddy Don isn’t the kind of thing the audience is used to, and it was nice.
4. Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss) (Last week: 5)
Peggy is continuing her gradual transformation into the new Don Draper. This week she tried to buy an apartment on the Upper East Side and allowed her real estate agent to use the unfolding riots to get a lower price on the place. But unlike Don Draper, Peggy actually displays some apprehension about these decisions, and her eventual loss of the apartment should take her down a notch. Plus, the quiet joy she shows when her boyfriend Abe expresses a desire to have children softens her.
3. Michael Ginsberg (Ben Feldman) (Last week: not ranked)
Poor awkward Ginsberg. His dad is desperate to get him a girl, but Ginsberg is just plain embarrassed. He embarks on the most uncomfortable blind date, during which he admits he’s a virgin and just acts in an all-around humiliating manner. And you know what? I feel for him. Because he cares enough to sew up his dad’s jacket. He earned that sandwich his father is bringing him!
2. Megan Draper (Jessica Paré) (Last week: 1)
What is happening this season? I think I like Megan Draper. Obviously a lot of it has to do with how horrible Don’s been to her. This episode, she wins the ad award she was up for, but she never mentions it. Instead she displays grief over King’s death, shows concern for Don’s secretary, and takes Don’s kids to a vigil in the park. And she agrees with me that Betty Francis is “a piece of work.” You have my sympathy, Miss Zou Bisou Bisou.
1. Bobby Draper (Mason Vale Cotton) (Last week: not ranked)
Finally we get a good Bobby Draper plot! After more than five seasons being played by different actors and blending into the wallpaper that doesn’t line up, he’s finally doing something. Like I’ve said before, it’s so much easier to sympathize with the kids on this show, because they’re being raised (if you can call it that) by such screwed-up people. Bobby’s need to tear off his bedroom wallpaper seems like a classic Sally Draper way of acting out. His awe upon watching Planet of the Apes suggests there might be some hope for Bobby to emerge from Betty’s clutches with his innocence intact. And to top everything off, his comment to a black movie theater usher that “everybody likes to go to the movies when they’re sad” made me cry. Even Don felt something. At the end of the episode he reveals that he’s worried someone will shoot Henry. While Henry is a more publicly important person than Don, it definitely highlights the fact that Bobby has developed a different relationship with his stepdad than with his real dad.
What will happen next week? Will Pete return to being terrible? Will Roger’s creepy insurance man come back? Will Joan give Dawn another awkward hug?