Mad Men Review: "At the Codfish Ball" (Episode 5.07)
Some things never change. That’s the slogan for Heinz baked beans that Megan came up with this week, but it’s also the idea Matthew Weiner and company tried to sell us all on with “At the Codfish Ball”—sort of.
You see, things are changing on Mad Men. Little Sally Draper is inching closer and closer to womanhood. Peggy seems to have finally found a man who can keep up with her. Don and Roger must come to terms with the fact that they’re old-timers in an evolving industry. And Megan’s shocking us all by becoming a pretty talented copywriter.
Her big idea comes when Sally and Bobby (displaced after a stray telephone cord causes Grandma Francis to trip and break her ankle) crash dinner with her insufferable parents. Sally doesn’t like fish, so Megan hops up to make her some spaghetti, remembering how her mother used to always make the same dish for her. She’s struck by the notion of three generations enjoying the same meal, and so she swaps out spaghetti for beans and sells the campaign to Heinz—her first major success as a copywriter.
The Heinz guy eats it all up (pun intended) when she and Don pitch it to him over a fancy meal, and it’s easy to see why. There’s something reassuring about the fact that some things remain constant, especially when the world around you is changing. Remember, this is the mid-’60s. Women and African-Americans are slowly but surely demanding equality. Thousands of men are dying overseas in a meaningless war. All that smoking and boozing you thought was all in good fun 10 years ago? Turns out it can give you cancer. But hey, beans will always taste good, damn it.
There’s plenty about our beloved Mad Men characters that will never change, either—in fact, a couple that we hadn’t seen in a while made their returns tonight. For one, creepy ol’ Glen Bishop is back (and his voice has changed!). Sally’s apparently maintained her friendship with him since moving away, and her phone conversations with him frame the episode. Roger’s first wife Mona’s back too, and she and Roger seem to be getting along like old chums. They smirk at each other about his pending divorce with Jane and exchange the kind of witty banter we’ve come to expect from the Sterlings before he asks her to use her social connections and feminine charm to dig up some information on some of the big wigs who’ll be attending the American Cancer Society ball where Don’s being honored. She agrees, and they share a little knowing look. Could it be that this new, mature Roger is here to stay and he’s realized he loved Mona all along? Nah. More on that later.
Peggy’s mother is back too, and like Glen and Mona, she’s exactly how we expected her to be. After Peggy and Abe decide to move in together (or “shack up,” as Joan so eloquently puts it), they invite Mrs. Olson over for dinner to break the news to her. Her strong Catholic ideals haven’t changed, of course, and she storms off after scolding them for living in sin and delivers the zinger of the night when Peggy asks if she’d prefer she was alone. “You’re lonely? Get a cat,” she says. “They live 13 years, and then you get another one.”
Joan’s a little more supportive about Peggy’s news, and this is where we see that things do change. From the very first episode of the series, Joan’s offered Peggy advice on how to snag a husband. What to wear, what to say, what to eat…her every move revolved around getting that ring, and she viewed it as the be-all end-all for every woman. However, now that her own marriage has crumbled and she’s grown as a person, realizing that she too gleans personal fulfillment from her job, her view on the institution is a little more modern. Of course, she’s the one who plants the idea of a proposal into Peggy’s mind in the first place, but when Peggy explains they’re just moving in together, she gives her a hug and tells her, “I think you’re brave.” “I thought you’d be more disappointed,” Peggy says, and we can tell from the look on her face that Joan’s approval really does mean a lot to her.
Joan’s not the only one evolving. Sally’s growing up. When Grandma Francis (or “Bluto,” as she and Glen call her) breaks her ankle, Sally steps up, calling the paramedics, elevating the ankle with a pillow, icing it and keeping her calm. Then, later in the episode, she gets all dolled up to go to the ball and everyone marvels at how lovely she looks. Don gets a proud papa smile on his face before he tells her to take off the makeup and go-go boots she’s wearing. At the ball, Roger tells Sally she’s his date for the evening, bringing her Shirley Temples and having her stash the business cards he collects in her purse. It’s kind of adorable, and she gets a kick out of being included, so much so that she even tries the fish she’s served (despite demanding spaghetti as a fish substitute earlier in the episode). But while Sally’s changing, Roger, as it turns out, is not. He puts the moves on Megan’s mom, and when poor Sally gets up to go to the bathroom, she walks in on her step-grandmother (ahem, pardon our French) blowing Roger, her “date” for the evening. Shocked, she returns to the table.
There, she joins a tableful of her relatives who all have equally puzzled or grim expressions on their faces. Megan’s mom returns the table slightly disheveled, having just done the deed with Roger. Megan and her father are upset after arguing over whether or not she’s given up on her dreams of being an actress by marrying Don and going into advertising (we can see from the expression on her face and by her non-reaction to scoring her first campaign that she has). Don looks like his world’s just been turned upside down after he’s told by one of the big wigs Roger’s trying to chat up that “no one here will do business with you after the letter, not after you bit the hand that fed you.” And of course, little Sally has just been yanked a little too far into adulthood. Megan gets that dinner table scene with three generations, just as she pictured it, except instead of beans being passed down from one generation to the next, it’s neurosis.
Some things never change.
-“Sooner or later, Don, your little girl will spread her legs and fly away.” Megan’s dad’s got some Roger Sterling-like wit!
-“Didn’t you notice she’s touched you six times in an hour?” “She’s French.”
-It’ll be interesting to see how Peggy and Abe living together will play out. It seems like she really did want a proposal, and the way she said “I do” after Abe asked her if she still wanted to eat was sort of heartbreaking.
-Roger’s LSD trip seems to have restored whatever confidence he was lacking early in the season, but eventually he’s going to have to come to terms with the fact that his old methods—relying on his ex-wife for connections and then chatting people up at parties and galas—aren’t enough anymore. Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce is going to have to deal with the ramifications from Don’s letter, and they’re going to have to get creative to do so.