The shark is rapidly approaching as the summer of 1968 comes closer on “Mad Men.” With Don Draper’s Sterling Cooper merging with Ted Chaough’s firm in “Man With a Plan,” the longtime rivals compete while a few historical notes are heard in the background.
Early in the episode, one of the new employees asks Stan if he worked on the “daisy,” a reference to one of the most famous television spots in American political history. In 1964, Lyndon Johnson’s campaign ran an ad showing a little girl counting down while picking a daisy. Eventually, the child’s countdown stops and a more frightening voice replaces hers, intoning “10…9…8…,” until reaching zero, followed by a nuclear explosion. Then Johnson himself comments, “These are the stakes. To make a world in which all of G-D’s children can live...Or to go into the dark. We must either love each other or we must die.” The narrator concludes, “Vote for President Johnson on November 3. The stakes are too high for you to stay home.” Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona, LBJ’s Republican opponent, had made some frivolous comments about the use of nuclear weapons and the Johnson campaign repeatedly tried to make Goldwater look like a warmonger. Though the “daisy” ad aired only once, it went down as a classic example of negative advertising. Ironic that it would be Johnson who would Americanize the war in Vietnam after his landslide victory.
Meanwhile, Sylvia is upset that she hasn’t heard from her son, who is apparently in France. “All of France is on fire,” Sylvia tells Don. Indeed, a student/worker uprising basically shut down France in May 1968 as they protested the policies of President Charles De Gaulle. Her comment reminds us that 1968 was a turbulent year across the world, not just in the United States. In addition to France, Mexico was racked by protests that the government violently quelled months before Mexico City hosted the 1968 Summer Olympics. Inspired by the reformist government of Alexander Dubcek, the “Prague Spring” thrived in Czechoslovakia as openness came to part of the Iron Curtain, at least until the Soviet Union sent in tanks to crush the movement in August.
Discussion of the 1968 election is heard once again, as the new co-workers express their allegiances to McCarthy, Kennedy, and Nixon. Don observes that “Humphrey has all the delegates,” a reference to Vice-President Hubert Humphrey’s hold on the Democratic political bosses who still controlled the nomination process in 1968. After RFK’s victory over McCarthy in the California primary on June 4, he told the audience at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, “Now it’s on to Chicago and let’s win there,” a reference to the site of the Democratic convention. In all likelihood, Kennedy would have lost to Humphrey, but RFK never got the chance as he was shot and killed by Sirhan Sirhan as he left through the hotel kitchen, only two months after the murder of Martin Luther King, Jr. in Memphis.
“I don’t understand what’s going on. It seems like they’re shooting everyone,” declares Pete Campbell’s mother after hearing of RFK’s assassination. Megan is also visibly upset while watching television coverage but Don seems nonplussed and distant, more focused on the end of his affair with Sylvia than in the events of the day.