If you’ve been following my recaps, you’ll know that I’ve been rather pleased with this season of Mad Men, save for some seemingly off editing and thematic issues here and there. ‘At the Codfish Ball‘ not only manages to keep the season running in high gear, but truly feels like the show again. I can’t really put a finger on what exactly it is, but something about the overall feel of the episode just feels right. If nothing else, it’s quite welcoming and refreshing to see some of the advertising work aspects come into play.
A more apt name for the episode might be ‘Dinners and Daughters,’ as these two themes connect throughout the entire episode, serving to display this season’s continued focus on cultural and generational differences. Sally, Peggy and Megan all are looking to make a path of their own, but seem hung up on others’ acceptance which only leads to being let down. Along with the focus on these three young women, nearly every scene revolves around dinner in some form or another. This provides a sort of symmetry throughout all of the episodes storylines, but also serves as a great way to feature more of the cast without spreading each storyline thin.
Peggy has a slightly tough turn this week. Starting with meeting Abe at a nearby restaurant, Peggy initially thinks he’s going to dump her. After discussing with Joan, however, Peggy gets caught up in the idea that Abe is going to propose to her, only to be visibly deflated when he merely suggests that they move in together. It is a step further in their relationship and, in all honesty, one that Peggy would seem way more apt to go after. You can’t help but see her disappointment though as soon as she realizes there is no proposal or ring. This hurt is only furthered when Abe asks if she’s ready to eat and she simply replies, “I do.”
In celebration of their decision, Peggy invites her mother over, which, from what we know of her mother, was probably not the best decision. Even before Peggy tells her their plans, Peggy’s mother is already taking jabs at Abe’s Judaism and manliness. Once she discovers they plan to live together unmarried, Peggy’s mom comes a bit unhinged, as one that knows her character would expect. Peggy claims that she didn’t want her mother’s approval; she just didn’t want to lie to her. Her mother claims to have preferred the lie.
Megan gets a chance to shine a bit this week. During her earlier meal with her parents and Don’s kids, she stumbles upon a home run of an idea to use on the Heinz project. Not only does it get the show more focused on “the work,” but it’s almost mesmerizing watching Megan and Don genuinely working together. Their power couple routine then pays off massively at their dinner with Heinz. Megan learns that Heinz is going to quit working with SCDP, and helps set Don up on a wonderful pitch of her earlier idea that leaves the Heinz people floored and basically eating out of their hands.
The troubling part comes when everyone begins celebrating the next day, but Megan seems distant and indifferent. She runs into Peggy who is overjoyed and congratulatory, reminding Megan to take in this moment, because this is as good as it gets. To me, it seems that Megan’s made the realization that this isn’t what she wants to be doing. She’s spoken in that past about how she wanted to be an actress. This sentiment is echoed by her father later on as he insinuates she is living for Don rather than for herself.
Then there’s Sally. She’s back to talking to creepy Glenn, which in all honesty seems to provide something stable for her. It’s her phone call with Glenn that inadvertently leads to Grandma Harris tripping over the phone cord and breaking her ankle, leading Sally to spend with weekend with Don, Megan and her parents.
As everyone prepares for the Awards Banquet that Don is to be honored at, Sally presents herself in go-go boots and full on makeup, neither of which Don was prepared for or is going to allow. The night is not lost, though, as Roger is quick to be Sally’s “date” for the evening, and the pair has a great evening of cracking wise and note taking.
It all comes to an abrupt end, though, when Sally stumbles into the wrong room and catches Megan’s mother going down on Roger. This upsets Sally tremendously, as one would expect. To me, though, it wasn’t the act that disturbed her the most. Over the recent seasons, we’ve seen Sally start to explore herself and spy on a nude Megan. Sally’s obviously got growing up, maybe more than we’re currently aware. To me, I think she was more upset that Roger would be her “date,” yet turn his back on their fun times as soon as he could.
Some other notable moments and quotes from the episode:
– The episode’s title references a song of the same name sung by Shirley Temple, who often received pedophilic connotations to explain her stardom. A possible nod to Sally’s eagerness to grow up?
– The return of creepy Glenn. Why isn’t he wearing pants?!
– Sally referring to Grandma Francis as Bluto made me laugh.
– One of the first things Megan’s father says to Don is, “My daughter pretends to find interesting what I find interesting because she loves me.” Don sort of shrugs it off, but by episode’s end, this could be quite a telling line for Megan’s future at SCDP.
– “I see she’s convinced you she’s particular. I’m the proof she is not.” A lovely bit of self deprecation, courtesy of Megan’s father.
– Megan’s parents are almost completely dysfunctional. This serves to further why she needs everything with her and Don to be perfect, as she obviously does not want to end up like them.
– Megan’s father encouraging Bobby to refill his inkwell on the white carpet.
– “I thought you had married Jane because I had gotten old and then I realized it was because you had.” – Mona, taking a jab at Roger.
-Joan and Peggy’s mutual respect continues to grow and is a joy to watch.
– “Men don’t take the time to end things. They ignore you until you insist on a declaration of hate.” – Joan
– Roger was on point the entire episode. From his talk with Mona, to his newfound understanding thanks to LSD, to his interactions with Sally, Roger was by far the best part of this episode and, as always, the most entertaining.
– From the mouth of Roger Sterling:
“My whole life people have been telling me I don’t understand how other people think and it turns out its true.”
“For all we know Jesus was trying to get the Loaves and Fishes account.”
– Pete showing Megan’s father what “he does” was just a perfect Pete moment.
– Ray Wise showing back up as Ken’s father in law was a welcome sight. An incredible actor who did a wonderful job of letting Don know that respect does not garner business.
– That final shot of Don, Megan, her parents and Sally at the table, all of them putting on a mask of happiness in the face of disappointment.
The episode ends with Sally expressing to Glenn that the city is indeed a dirty place. Considering what she saw, one can’t really blame her. Sally, Peggy and Megan all suffered disappointments this week, and it will be interesting to see where next week and the rest of the season takes them from here.
– Matt Hardeman