California Literary Review

Mad Men Recap: “At the Codfish Ball” (Season 5, Episode 7)

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May 2nd, 2012 at 3:39 pm

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Sunday’s Mad Men was a bit of a doozie, and I’m late to the ball due to a crazy weekend. So here we go.

The women of Mad Men are what make the show worthwhile for me – and this was a very lady-centered episode. Particularly, the focus was on mothers and daughters, on seeking mama’s approval while struggling against the parameters your parents set for you. Sally, Megan, and Peggy are having mommy issues – which, knowing their respective mothers, is not a surprise.

Remember what phones used to look like? Photo credit Michael Yarish/AMC.

The episode opens on a grungy dorm hallway, in which two kids play some semblance of lacrosse as a toweled boy sidles past. Who should come to pick up the hall phone, but Glen, Betty’s former nemesis and Sally’s “former” friend? He asks Sally if she’s bought the new “Spoonful album,” and she says, “It’s all over the radio,” which tells us this song has hit the top 40 (the airwaves are now firmly entrenched in that scary rock’n’roll of the 60s). Sally has stretched the phone cord across the hallway, and Pauline immediately trips over it. As “Bluto” rolls around on the floor moaning about her ankle, Sally bosses Bobby into getting her water and keeping her calm. She later tells everyone Pauline tripped over one of Gene’s toys – a lie designed, even years later, to keep Betty from knowing what was really happening with Glen. Of course, since Pauline broke her ankle, Bobby and Sally yet again migrate to Manhattan to Don and Megan’s apartment.

(Speaking of Betty, her obvious absence in this episode could be considered either a major flaw, or a very purposeful move from the writers – she’s no mother to Sally.)

Mad Men S05E07 Marie Calvet

Marie Calvet: Unhappiness personified. Photo credit Michael Yarish/AMC.

Megan’s parents Emile (Ronald Guttman) and Marie (Julia Ormond, in a gorgeous casting move) are in for a visit, bringing with them their myriad problems. One of the first things we hear from Emile is a tossed slur: “Have a drink,” he tells his wife, “become nice again.” Since Sally doesn’t like fish, Megan, ever the dutiful wife and nanny (though I wouldn’t go so far as to say “mother”) produces spaghetti for dinner. Marie remarks with a sad smile, “I used to make spaghetti for Megan.” Then the pretty, sexy, sad Frenchwoman imbibes enough to stagger away from the table and pass out with a lit cigarette. Removing the butt tenderly from her mother’s fingers, Megan finds herself blessed with a brilliant idea.

Megan’s vision of the Heinz baked beans commercial is undoubtedly great – and she has the ear of the big boss, after all. Her daydream of a mother feeding a child baked beans over thousands of years, cinematically dissolving from homo erectus to the gay ’90s to spacemen, is better than anything Creative has come up with. One assumes Peggy would be threatened by this development – but she’s too preoccupied with her relationship with Abe to think about work. (This is a first.)

When Peggy receives an urgent call from Abe, demanding she get dinner with him that evening, she assumes the worst and immediately approaches Joan for advice. Joan tells her that when a man won’t take no for an answer to a dinner invitation, he wants to propose. “But that’s you,” Peggy says, referencing the massive differences between the way each woman deals with men. She takes heed, though, and buys a pink dress with a bow, one that mirrors Joan’s purple Peter Pan-collared confection. Abe doesn’t propose marriage, though. He asks if she’d like to move in together; “Your place would be better,” he says. After Peggy says yes, that would be fine, he asks her if she still wants to eat. “I do,” Peggy says, with a complex, sad, and contemplative expression.

Meanwhile, Don, Megan, Ken, and Cynthia struggle to romance Heinz at a fancy dinner. When Megan discovers via bathroom chatter that they’re about to be fired, she prods Don to pitch her idea just in time to save SCDP from the chopping block. Her manipulation really is a magnificent thing to behold. Her deference to Don is odd and disappointing, though; “Little did I know,” she says to the Heinz couple with guileless eyes, “I had given him an idea!” However, even this is a startlingly smart play: the Heinz guy, who’d previously responded with contempt to Peggy’s femininity, wouldn’t have taken seriously anything Megan came up with – and I think she knew it.

Mad Men S05E07 Marie and Megan

Megan has so much to look forward to. Photo credit Ron Jaffe/AMC.

Once again in this episode, we’re aware that Megan is smarter than she seems; she sees more than Don does. Megan knows she’s her father’s favorite, and that’s why her mother is so competitive. “Didn’t you notice she touched you six times in an hour?” Megan asks. “She’s French!” Don answers dismissively. “No, that’s not what that is,” Megan says, and if she could pat him on the head and finish with “honey,” I think she might’ve. When her parents get into a screaming match, she once again has to explain their behavior to her clueless husband.

When Peggy congratulates Megan the next day, Megan seems strangely nonplussed about the whole situation. “Take credit,” Peggy tells her. “This is as good as this job gets.” She sees herself in Megan, and considers it a good thing – so why is Megan acting so oddly?

Mad Men S05E07 Peggy and Katherine Olson

Chin up, dearie. Photo credit Ron Jaffe/AMC.

Peggy invites her mother over to tell her Peggy and Abe are moving in together, a fight ensues. “I’m not giving you a cake to celebrate your living in sin!” her mother cries. “I’d rather you’d lied.” Peggy, trying to act like an adult, didn’t ask but told her mom her life plans – and still she’s upset and disappointed when her Catholic mother dismisses her. Why should he buy the cow, Katherine basically asks, when he can get the milk for free? It’s exactly what Peggy is wondering and dreading, and it stings.

Mad Men S05E07 Don and Sally

Are you my mother? Photo credit Rob Jaffe/AMC.

Megan’s parents accompany Don, Megan, Roger, and Sally to an American Cancer Society ball. The association wishes to reward Don for his letter to the Times dismissing big tobacco; what they don’t know is that he was really berating Lucky Strike for firing Sterling Cooper. Sally, dressed in white flat boots, a pleated skirt, and sparkles, surprises the hell out of Don when she waltzes out of her room looking every bit the teenager she’ll shortly be. She revels in Roger’s attention all evening. After his playful flirtation with Sally, though, Roger finds a new conquest: miserable, lovely Marie. She indulges him with a clandestine treat behind a closed (though not locked) door – and of course, Sally walks in mid-blowjob. (I don’t know about you, but I raised my hands and waved at the screen, murmuring, “Oh no, honey, walk away!”)

Mad Men S05E07 Roger and Marie

A newly single Roger Sterling is kryptonite to a miserable housewife. Photo credit Michael Yarish/AMC.

While his wife is pleasuring another man, Emile, a Marxist scholar, berates his daughter for selling out. His harsh words, which question her true goals just as she’s saved SCDP from Heinz’s dustbin, sting Megan to the bone. Megan and Peggy are both the recipients of a parent’s acid tongue this episode – and both end the episode staring forlornly into space.

Sally once again calls Glen, and when he asks “How’s the city?” she replies vehemently, “Dirty.” And it is. Oh, my, is it ever a dirty world.

What did you think? How did you respond? Do you think Megan’s hiding something? Do you think Peggy and Abe are in it for the long haul? Share your thoughts!

  • Rombauer

    Nice review, my first time here.
    Personally I think good things are in store for Peggy and Abe.
    There seems to be more to Megan than is showing.

    Oh, I liked the screen shots also!

  • Mimi Stratton

    Great review, probably the best written one I’ve had the pleasure of reading. And I look at ALL the Mad Men re-caps!

  • jules

    The blustering and posturing of this piece is depressing.

  • Mimi Stratton

    Huh? to comment above.

    The music by David Carbonara is always outstanding and adds to each episode. The quasi-circus snippet played while the assembled cast sits around the ballroom table, in varying degrees of glumness, despondency, confusion, and shame, underscores the lack of purpose and meaning in their lives. And to add to the dark carnival atmosphere, the valance above their heads looks like a circus tent fringe. “Send in the clowns! Don’t bother, they’re here.”

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