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The New York Police Department raided the Stonewall Inn, in the West Village of Manhattan, on the night of June 27, 1969. The stated reason was that the Stonewall had been operating without a liquor license, a situation that couldn't be remedied by the establishment, as the N. Y. State Liquor Authority refused to issue gay bars credentials at that time. So the NYPD arrived, just as they had at the Snake Pit and the Sewer, and the Checkerboard and the Tele-Star. Only this time the raid caused a riot, with the Stonewall's particular community (homeless LGBT youth, drag queens) pushing back against the police, in a sometimes violent demonstration that lasted six days.
On last night's Mad Men, entitled "The Strategy," the NYPD, after five episodes of relative peace compared to the frequent sirens and simmering societal unrest of last season, appeared on the scene to harass two gay men. It's June, 1969, and Frank Sinatra's "My Way" is all over the radio. Chevy's Bill Hartley, in town for some bad news about the XP, received the physical beating; Bob Benson, called in to pick him up at the station, walked away with only verbal abuse. In the cab afterward, Hartley mentioned, briefly, his arrangement, that his wife knows.
What makes a family? "The Strategy" displayed all manner of arrangements. There's Pete and his mistress Bonnie, though Bonnie isn't happy about being excluded from Pete's visit to see his daughter. Pete, the worst, isn't happy that Trudy might be seeing someone else. It'd be "immoral," which: see the adjective clause in that earlier sentence.
Don is losing his family. Your long-distance relationship is ending when your partner wants to bring her things back to L.A. Smart money is on Megan asking for a firm separation next week. (The delayed kiss when they meet at the office? Yikes.) There's always another woman on the phone asking for Don. Last week it was Stephanie, this week it's Peggy. That they're two women Don hasn't slept with is beside the point now. Don shouldn't be with other people.
Peggy is turning that same corner into loneliness forever. The miniature "Suitcase" portion of the episode found Don and Peggy drinking again, and together, while mulling over a pitch that's really about a failed way to live. Don's greatest pitch remains "The Carousel," which was literally assembled from the photographic remnants of his broken marriage. The Burger Chef pitch is shaping up to be Peggy's Carousel, born from the loneliness of peering into the cars (and lives) of housewives across the United States and finding only fear and shame. Peggy just turned 30. She has a child that is no longer hers. She stabbed her last boyfriend in the chest. In 1969, with Don Draper as your drinking companion and dance partner, you do it your way, for American bootstrap inebriation and depression. (Peggy needs to meet Ellen Willis right this second.) Remember, "The Suitcase" concluded with a sunny moment between Don and Peggy. The dance set to "My Way," tender as it is, is crucially undercut by the airplane-of-loneliness scene it fades into. It's a sound bridge that sobers you up just when you're expecting it to gently send you off into the remainder of your Sunday night.
So how about some realism to clash against that sentimental Sinatra. "Realistic" is the word Bob uses when making his family-centric pitch to Joan in the form of an engagement ring and the fact that he has had sexual relations with a woman at least once (probably). That might sound like a joke, but the scene plays out in just the saddest way possible. Before you go cheering for Joan's desire for love, remember that Bob proposes after escorting a bloodied and bruised gay man from a police station where both were verbally ridiculed by a cop who, in theory, is supposed to look after the well-being of all citizens. From that perspective, maybe Bob's pitch is, as he says, "realistic."
Of course, Joan does deserve love and sexual satisfaction and a strong partner, someone to help raise Kevin that isn't Joan's mom. But, to quote Peggy, "does this family exist anymore?"
Not on Mad Men. There are only the small moments of goodness shared among weary people, like dinner under fluorescent lights at your local fast food establishment. At Burger Chef, you can still buy the dream of family while the garish red paint practically screams at you to get out. The places offering real community for those in need, like the Stonewall, those places are having the fire hoses turned on them.
Ross Scarano is a deputy editor at Complex. He tweets here.