This week’s episode of Mad Men (Season 5, Episode 7: “At the Codfish Ball”) took its title from Shirley Temple’s song, “At the Codfish Ball,” from 1936’s Captain January. The film is about a girl who lives in a lighthouse and gets sent to boarding school by a truant officer. Eventuall, Shirley gets saved from the horrors of education by wealthy relatives who basically buy her freedom. The themes of the movie carry over into this week’s episode, with deals with girls, both old and young, adjusting to growing up. Without further ado, let’s get into this week’s episode.
Megan Sells Some Beans
It turns out that basic cable television’s most dysfunctional couple can actually work well together when they, well, work together. Megan comes up with a great idea for Heniz beans while fixing up dinner for Sally and Bobby when they unexpectedly drop in on her and Don after a minor grandma-ankle mishap. Megan actually wows Don with her idea (the tagline: “Some things never change”) and there is possibly a hint of a spark that she might realize that Megan is good for something other than accompanying him to dinners with clients and looking pretty.
The real clincher is when Megan, Ken, Don, and Ken’s wife Cynthia all take the Heinz guy and his wife out to dinner. During a ladies’ room chat, Megan learns that the Heinz guy is planning on firing Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce before they’ve even heard her winning idea. Megan quickly lets Don know that they are about to get the boot and they both start working their magic. Megan gives Don all the credit for the idea, perhaps realizing that the Heinz guy’s traditional wife wouldn’t really appreciate the idea coming just from her. The Drapers sell the idea beautifully and Heinz agrees to keep them. Champagne all around!
Of course, this win in the office had to be matched with Megan’s dissolving family life. No, not with Don, for once. We get to meet Megan’s parents who are in town from Montreal and they are a real doozy of a couple. Megan’s father is some sort of Situationist intellectual, a professor back home who can’t seem to sell any of his books any more. (Maybe he should try writing in French and selling them in France, May 1968 is less than a year away.) Meanwhile, Megan’s mother is a drunk who nearly burns down the Drapers’ apartment when she passes out with a lit cigarette in her hand. The two of them are clearly unhappy, and it is later revealed that Megan’s father has been cheating on her mom for some time. Megan meets this news with a shrug and a sigh, although her father’s philandering ways could explain why she is worried that Don might start cheating on her. There are some serious daddy issues going on with that girl.
The couple’s arc during the episode was topped off at the American Cancer Society gala that was being held to honor Don for writing that anti-tobacco ad way back in Season 4. Megan’s mom slinks off to give Roger Sterling a blow job and Megan’s father tells her and she is selling herself short by staying with Don. Megan married her way into wealth and into a job promotion, she didn’t earn either of those two things through hard work and long hours, like the ones that Peggy is logging. “You skipped the struggle and went right to the end,” Megan’s dad tells her. What’s worse is that we now realize that Megan actually does have talent for advertising, which probably explains her father’s disappointment in her. Megan is taking the easy route to success. How can she grow her talents, deal with the failures, and learn to appreciate her success if all her advantages are caused by her being Mrs. Don Draper?
Speaking of Peggy, she had a double-dose of disappointment in this week’s episode, first in her personal life and then in her professional life. Although, in typical Peggy fashion, she wouldn’t let anyone see her secret unhappiness. First, Peggy and her boyfriend Abe are having issues since she has to work long hours and has Ginsberg and Stan making wisecracks about her “bosoms.” When Abe calls Peggy to insist that she meet him for dinner at a nice restaurant, she is convinced that he is going to dump her, but Joan convinces her that he will propose. Pegs happily goes out and buys herself a pink dress for the alleged proposal dinner and, well, it all goes downhill from there.
It turns out that Abe doesn’t want to propose to Peggy. Instead, he wants them to move in together. Well, have him move into her place. The look of stifled disappointment on Peggy’s face is spectacular. (All the Emmys for Elisabeth Moss, please!) However, Peggy quickly accepts Abe’s offer. Now all they have to do is tell Peggy’s mom.
But, before we go there, let’s talk about Peggy’s bean issue. Peggy already pissed off the Heinz guy when she went off on him at a meeting and he said he wasn’t impressed with her pitch. After Megan comes up with her winning idea for Heniz, and assists Don in selling the pitch at a dinner, she is celebrated by the whole company. But: Twist! Even though Megan is expecting Peggy to get jealous and start hating her for coming up with the account-winning idea, Pegs proves that she can handle some creative competition with style and grace. “This is as good as this job gets,” Peggy tells Megan. “Savor it.” Peggy is a great sport, and she clearly enjoys seeing her fellow co-workers flourish, but you can’t help but notice some sadness in her tone. Peggy may support her co-workers, but that doesn’t mean that she didn’t want to win the Heinz account. And just because Peggy is a career woman doesn’t mean that she didn’t want a ring.
So, let’s go back to Abe. Pegs and Abe throw a dinner party for three to break the news to Peggy’s staunch Irish Catholic mother that they are moving in together. As you can imagine, it doesn’t go well, and Peggy’s mom storms out of the apartment in a huff. In the world of Peggy’s mother, a girl can either get married to someone or die alone, there is no room for the messy in between situations that exist in the modern world. Of course, Peggy’s mom might be under the impression that Abe and Pegs weren’t already sleeping together, but that’s a whole other issue.
The parallels between the final lines from Peggy’s mom and Megan’s mom are really interesting. Megan’s father is upset that Megan is selling herself short on success by taking the easy way. If Megan was fighting for her job she would have fought to take credit for her Heinz idea. Megan doesn’t really have to worry about her job or financial constraints because she has everything that she could ever want. Meanwhile, Peggy has had to fight for everything that she has earned. What Peggy’s mother is upset with is that she is choosing to settle by shacking up with a not-so-interesting guy who is OK with her working long hours and earning her own living. Peggy’s mother wants her to either go out there and fight for a husband or go sit at home with her 13-year-old cats. Sure, Peggy’s mom offers up a completely traditionalist and bleak situation while Megan’s dad wants her to take the world, but both parents are concerned with their children selling themselves too short in one way or another.
Sally Grows Up
Sally is secretly calling Gene at his all-boys boarding school and telling him all of her troubles. Since they both come from “broken homes,” they can both relate to being shuttled between two different families.
Sally’s big moment comes when Don agrees to let her come to the American Cancer Society gala. Megan and Megan’s French mama take Sally shopping and get her a sparkly silver mini dress with white go-go boots and mod make-up. Basically, the grooviest ensemble that any tween girl could hope for. However, Don makes Sally change out of the boots and make-up after Megan’s father’s malapropism about “spreading legs.” Don is finally realizing that his little girl is growing up, and that’s all the more reason for him (in his mind) to make her wash off her make-up and take off her boots. Save that stuff for your stepmom, Sally!
Roger, who is also attending the gala, takes little Sally under his wing, which is appropriate since Roger is basically a big kid anyway. Roger fusses over Sally, fetches her Shirley Temples, makes her hold his business cards, and she clearly loves all the attention. Who wouldn’t? Just because Sally is technically a tween doesn’t mean she can’t tell that Roger is a silver fox.
Of course all of that comes crashing down, eventually. Sally, clearly high on her very adult night at the gala, confidently struts around the party and starts peeking behind doors, where she discovers Megan’s mom giving Roger a blow job. Yikes! Sally is clearly horrified and she sheepishly walked back to her table with Daddy Don. But is she upset at the blatant sexual act or the fact that it was her silver fox Roger who was getting it on with a married woman? Probably a mix of both. When Sally returns home to Don’s apartment, she sums up her experience in the adult world perfectly during a phone call with Gene. “It’s dirty.”
“I’ve been on a trip.” Roger Sterling about his LSD experiment. And you won’t shut up about it, Roger.
"Too much chinese takeout and Peggy might have to go up a cup size,” Stan about Peggy. Says the guy who is testing the limits of the fabric on his polos.
"Oh, you two were actually working,” Roger to Don and Megan. He’s just saying what everyone is thinking.
Roger: "You know, sometimes you think people are looking at you but they're not, they're minds are elsewhere." Don: "Lots of people who haven't taken LSD already know that Roger." Probably one of the best Don-Roger exchanges of the season. "I think I should be jealous. But when I look at you I get to experience my first time again. This is as good as this job gets. Savor it,” Peggy to Megan. Finally, someone who isn’t trying to stab their co-worker in the back.