November 2, 2009By Joe Diliberto Posted: Nov 2, 2009
MAD MEN set itself a tall order in dealing with a historical moment as well-documented as the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, but the Emmy-winning AMC drama succeeded in evoking what it felt like to get the news that the president had been suddenly murdered. (BTW, Walter Cronkite's legendary announcement came when he cut into AS THE WORLD TURNS.)
There was a palpable sense of societal vertigo to go with the characters feeling torn asunder themselves. Don and Betty still had not found their footing following the ugly revelation of his former identity, and so many other characters — Pete, Jane, Roger, Betty — were still questioning where they fit in the world. And then the entire old order dropped out beneath their feet. "What is happening?" Betty cried when Lee Harvey Oswald was shot dead right before her eyes on national TV. In those days, the political globe was more rigidly segmented into the Free World and the Communists, with the West held up as the model of peace and stability. So to have its leader savagely struck down by seemingly random violence made everything seem potentially unstable and nonsensical. So many other historical treatments of Nov. 22, 1963 tend to focus on the sadness, but MAD MEN went for the disorientation of a nation decapitated. The Draper family has also lost its head, and is stumbling around, disoriented, like a chicken with its head cut off that doesn't know enough to lay down and die.