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Mad Men: At the Codfish Ball

Last night's Mad Men blew us away!

Mme Calvet and Roger Sterling standing together in front of the bar
You know what we mean.

Since we assume you watched the show too, instead of a straight recap we focus on the parts we found most interesting to talk about each week. Be sure to join in in the comments, and cast your vote in our Mad Men Hunger Games!

Mommy's All Right, Daddy's All Right, They Just Seem a Little Weird
It makes sense that Glen—home vandal, mother hitter-onner, possible hair fetishist—returns this episode, as the relationship between him and Sally Draper has always been based on bonding over how fucking weird adults are. And in this episode, bookended by their phone conversations (Glen has apparently been shipped off to boarding school), Sally, at least, has a front-row seat to a few more whopping revelations of adult inappropriateness. She's also the linchpin of an episode that's all about wanting the approval of one's parents, and being unable to keep from disappointing them. Drink up, Sally—it's better that you learn this now.

Megan's parents, the chic, urbane Calvets, are in town, and they've packed several suitcases full of Marxist self-righteousness (her dad), and slightly sinister ennui (her mom, played by the always-amazing Julia Ormond.) Megan's dad, Emile, is in town to see about getting his latest book published; however, his interest in making money from his own writing doesn't interfere with his inclination to dress down Don, in a variety of snotty ways, for achieving financial success. The real loser in this power play is, as ever, the Draper's much-discussed white shag carpet—Emile urges Bobby Draper to refill his fountain pens while sitting on it.

Megan's father clearly loathes Don, so of course it makes sense to bring the whole gang to a dinner hosted by the American Cancer Society, where everybody else hates Don, too. The dinner is supposedly in honor of Don's bold open letter to the tobacco industry on behalf of Sterling Cooper Draper Price, but, as Ken Cosgrove's father-in-law (Leland Palmer alert!) tells Don, SCDP can count on getting exactly zero future business from the room, since nobody can trust a man who bit the hand that fed him.

"Every daughter should get to see her father as a success," says Mrs. Calvet, in convincing Don to let Sally attend the dinner with them. But is the remark also directed, less than charitably, at her husband? The implication is that Megan, by marrying an older man whose ideals are diametrically opposed to her father's, gets a "father" she can be proud of, while her actual father has to contend with life as a once-great man whose ideas—unlike Don's, and, indeed, her own—have no value in the current market.

Mr. Calvet is able to strike back, however, by cornering Megan and appealing to her sense of autonomy, which he sees as compromised by her marriage. He tells her he hates that she "gave up" and urges her not to "let your love for this man stop you from doing what you wanted to do." It's a little unclear whether he's doing it to satisfy his own sense of being the morally superior adult man in Megan's life, or because he really cares about her career. (After all Megan was a sometime actress, rather than a scholar or activist—it's hard to say why her Marxist father would value acting over advertising except that the former is almost guaranteed to keep her struggling financially.)

Either way, this does seem to pick up an ongoing theme of Megan's this season—her need to establish, or preserve, a sense of self outside of Don's established identity. She wants to be valued for her ideas, but she's happy not to take credit for them; she's excited to feel that she's good at the ad game, but when Peggy excitedly tells her, after the Heinz triumph, that "This is as good as it gets," there's an odd blankness that crosses Megan's face. She's kind of a mystery, this one. I've been on the Megan train for a while, but I wonder if, for others who haven't, this episode made them like her more?

And then there's Peggy, who wants to be seen as a success in ways that surprise even her. It was a little heartbreaking to see her show up for her dinner with Abe at Minetta Tavern wearing a pink cupcake of a dress and extra-flippy hair, a sartorial move away from her bohemian leanings that suggested perhaps she's more traditional than she knows. And it seemed in keeping with Peggy's ingrained need for affirmation that, after telling Joan about Abe's proposal that they move in together, she wanted to balance approval with disapproval by dropping the news on her decidedly un-Joanlike mother. Peggy had to know how her deeply Catholic parent, already rattled by Peggy's out-of-wedlock offspring, would react to the news that she'd be shacking up with Abe—and it's worth considering that she wanted that very reaction as a means of recalibrating her own moral compass.

And though Mrs. Olson's reaction was both anti-Semitic (you caught how surprised she was by Abe's love of ham, yes?) and just plain mean (taking back the cake she brought? Cold move), it didn't come out of nowhere. The sentiment that Jewish men use non-Jewish women to hone their sexual skills is, if not exactly a point of pride among said men, enough of an ingrained tradition to have spawned much of Philip Roth's oeuvre, as well as charming t-shirts like this one. And her disquisition on cat ownership was depressing, but had a point: If Peggy moved in with Abe to ensure she wouldn't be lonely, she'd be moving in with Abe for the wrong reasons. Which we already sort of think she is, right?

Finally, there's Sally, who gets to see her actual father as a success on his big night, but who also sees a surrogate father, Roger Sterling, in a position that upsets and confuses her. (Note to Sally: consider knocking on all future double doors.) Already disappointed by a legion of adults, by the end of this episode she's seemingly lost the most childlike and relatable of them—Roger, who brings her Shirley Temples and treats her like she's important—to a strange,"dirty," and grown-up realm.

Assorted thoughts:
Megan has clearly gotten a memo from the future about orange being the color of the year—this is at least the second episode in a row that she's rocked it hard.

- Andi

Don, Megan, Sally, and Megan's parents sitting at their table at the awards dinner
Great dinner party, Cancer Society.

Tell me something good
Last night's episode opened and closed with a telephone call from Sally to Glen. The first one ended up injuring Mrs. Francis, thus setting the wheels in motion for Sally to stay with Don and Megan in the city, and ending in her maturing both in her ownership of white go-go boots and in her knowledge of what grown-ups do behind closed doors at award ceremonies. The last call allowed her to summarize NYC ("it's dirty"), but also to riff on the truly messed up adult relationships surrounding her.

Sandwiched between these late night Sally/Glen convos, this episode showed us many examples of people being told truths about themselves in different forms. Megan's ambiguously academic father was told that the publishers did not like his book. Don was ultimately told by Cynthia Cosgrove's father that, while he was admired for his letter against Big Tobacco, no one trusts him now. Don additionally relied on Megan to be told what his in-laws were saying for the majority of their visit. However, the most interesting instances of being told who you are came from Peggy and Megan.

While at work, Peggy gets a call from Abe where he cryptically says he needs to talk to her over dinner. From the information she gets (they need to talk and they need to talk alone), Peggy thinks she's being told that it's over. After confiding in Joan, Peggy is then told that she, in fact, is being proposed to. At dinner, Abe finally reveals that he thinks they should move in, a moment in which Peggy is told that her relationship is serious, but also non-traditional. After breaking the news to her mom, Peggy is ultimately told that she's settling for being someone's practice wife because she fears being alone.

Peggy and her mother standing together in Peggy's living room, looking serious
Cheer up! If you get a cat now it'll be 13 years before you need another one!

It's interesting that in less than 60 minutes Peggy is both praised for being so brave as to move in with Abe (by Joan, the sufferer of an incredibly flawed and failed marriage) but then criticized for lacking the backbone to get some cats and die alone (by her mother, one of the few people who not only knows about her child but who also helped her sweep that under the rug in order to not jeopardize her options in life). Additionally, Peggy's own shifting interpretation of her relationship with Abe points to two things: Clearly she's not sure what she wants, since all along the way she seemed ready to go along with a break up or a marriage or moving in. The only time Peggy put up a fight with the news she was hearing about herself was when her mom criticized her. Additionally, prior to the dinner, Peggy could only see her conversation going one of two ways: Either it's over or it's forever. Does this indicate that Peggy really is a traditionalist (or, at least, MORE of a traditionalist) and that her mom might be right about her settling?

Assorted thoughts:
Did the pitch-inspiring spaghetti that Megan served Sally and Bobby have anything on it? It looked like just straight-up noodles to me, which intentional or not is a great image given the various levels of poor parenting and supervision going on in this episode. Speaking of, it was ridiculously satisfying to see that dangerously white carpet in the Draper apartment being broken in via new-Bobby and a fountain pen.

- Annalee

Don and Sally at the awards dinner
Hey, at least I put my foot down about the makeup. That's got to count for something here, right?

Put in work
In an episode so focused on interpersonal relationships (I'm looking at you, Roger and Mme Calvet! Sacre bleu!), Mad Men still managed to get a lot of work done last night. Megan's baked beans idea came to her in the shower—perhaps she got her hands on an advanced copy of Imagine?—but it saved SCDP's ass at the dinner table with Mr. and Mrs. Heinz in a classic make-it-work moment. I loved seeing her use the information she gathered in the powder room to save the campaign—Lady Heinz was right; Megan is a natural!

The idea itself—mothers serving baked beans to their kids throughout the history of the world and into Tomorrowland—was a little hokey, but Don and Megan made a crackerjack pitch team. Even though Megan pretended the idea was Don's (a smart move considering how in awe of Don the clients clearly were) she was clearly the one who saved the day. This thrilled Don (and me!), but Megan herself didn't seem too happy about it. Was her father right about her ambitions? Though we haven't seen much from her thus far that would suggest her heart's not in the advertising game, Megan's lack of a celebratory attitude at the office the next day implied that maybe Papa had a point when he said she "skipped the struggle" and therefore couldn't be satisfied with her work.

Interestingly enough, it was Peggy who reveled in Megan's success at the conference room champagne party. As Peggy herself said (in a spate of dialogue that I agree with Julia Turner was "a clunk-o-rama"—why does Peggy always have to spell things out so clearly?), she had every reason to feel jealous of Megan but was instead proud to see her protege excel. Peggy may have her issues with Megan (she's the boss's wife, after all) but her feminist politics continue to bud. She broke the SCDP glass ceiling (sort of) and now she's delighted to see another woman follow in her footsteps (sort of)! If only Megan could feign a little enthusiasm, eh? I wonder how this will play out in future episodes—I hope we get to learn more about Megan's true ambitions.

"At the Codfish Ball" continued its focus on workplace drama at the actual "Codfish Ball" (although that fish on Sally's plate looked like trout to me). Roger was schmoozing the heck out of the connections he asked Mona to make for him (yay Mona!), Don learned that he isn't Advertising's Most Popular Creative, and, in my favorite ballroom maneuver, Pete Campbell worked his account exec magic on an all-too-eager M. Calvet. You may look down your nose at the advertising industry, Professeur, but you just got SERVED.

Assorted thoughts:
The most charming scenes last night came courtesy of Roger and Sally. Is there any conceivable plot twist that could give them a spinoff show? If so, get on that AMC.

As Annalee pointed out last week, the episode titles this season have been pretty literal. What are we to make of last night's "At the Codfish Ball"? Beyond this precursor to "Rock Lobster" by Shirley Temple, I don't have any ideas:

Maybe it's a nod to Sally's Shirley-Temple-drinking innocence? A belated Peter Pan reference?

Once again, I was blown away by the social grace of one Ms. Joan Harris. She was so sweet and understanding of Peggy and her Abe situation, even if she did set Peggy up for a proposal that didn't happen. Her advice that Peggy "go shopping!" for a new dress instead of heading home to change was right on the money without being snarky. She made shopping seem like a fun lark instead of a necessary chore for someone whose closet is full of plaid jumpers. Joan is the absolute best.

I was worried about a potential eating disorder on the horizon for Sally, but last night's spaghetti and fish (did anyone else notice how she took a bite at the ball even though earlier Bobby said she hated fish? She's growing up before our very eyes!) put me at ease.

One last thing: What were we to make of the whole Playtex conversation about marketing different types of bras to different ages of women? Was that scene just there to underscore Sally's growing up (and Peggy and Megan's maturing love and work lives), or is something else afoot? (Or should I say abreast?)

- Kelsey

Notable Historical/Cultural References: The Lovin' Spoonful, James Bond, Edward Albee, Sanka

Inappropriate Office Behavior: It wasn't technically in the office, but we've got to give this one to Roger (again) this week. Keep it in your pants, man!

Previously: Far, Far Away, TKO!

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Comments

3 comments have been made. Post a comment.

I really enjoy your analysis

I really enjoy your analysis of Mad Men Season 5, thanks a lot for sharing it!

I'd like to comment on the bad casting and the badly written characters of Megan's parents. They're supposed to be French-speakers from Canada, but they don't speak French fluently, (not that surprising in the case of Julia Ormond, a British citizen). Why native French-speakers from Canada weren't cast? Even Jessica Paré sounds rusty in French. It's clearly not the language she uses most frequently, and I don't hear a trace of a Québécois or any other typical Canadian-French accent.

Also, I find it kind of odd for a French-speaking Marxist professor from Canada to name his daughter Megan. Why not a French name? Moreover, I have difficulties believing that a Marxist professor's wife in mid-1960's Canada would dress so glamourously. I doubt that an academic's salary would allow her to spend so much on clothes and jewelry. Is she from a wealthy background? Perhaps some more details about that would make her character more believable.

You're wondering, Kelsey, whether that episode made us like Megan more. In my case, the answer is negative. There is something strange about that young woman. While Joan and Peggy are very human and likeable with all their flaws and qualities, Megan seems to me to be just a doll who happens to be Don's wife, so her ideas are pushed forward.
She's trying to assert herself, but unconvincingly. Just watch her listen to her father and to Don. I'm willing to bet though that she'll cheat on Don before he cheats on her, and it will be with a younger man.

Spaghetti

I thought the no sauce spaghetti was a little weird at first, but then I remembered how all the kids I nanny for will only eat pasta with butter and salt. They think marinara is too spicy. Those little weirdos.

I think Megan is great. I like the way they are exploring her success. She seems to feel like she does not deserve it or is uncomfortable with this kind of attention. I imagine no one prepared her to be lauded for this kind of thing not to mention her father's obvious disapproval of the profession.

Another great commentary this week!

peggy

I was disappointed with Peggy for going ahead with the move it. I consider myself to be a feminist, and to each his own about moving in together, but it was easy to tell that Peggy was going forward with it even though it wasn't what she really wanted. I'm not saying that in her heart of hearts she actually wants to marry Abe. I don't think she does, but it was clear to me from previous episodes that he wants to have her to himself and keep her as under his thumb as he can. Even though Abe sees himself as being forward thinking, he still has a controlling guy side to him. I was disappointed that she was excited that he might propose (because I don't think she would really actually want that) and I was even more disappointed when she pretended to be excited about moving in. Her mom's rationale was racist and I guess old fashioned, but she did have a point in a way. Abe wants Peggy enough to have her around whenever he wants her, but not enough to make a commitment to her.