Entertainment Magazine

Mad Men 5.7: “At the Codfish Ball”

Posted on the 02 May 2012 by Entil2001 @criticalmyth

Contributor: Henry T.

Written by Jonathan Igla
Directed by Michael Uppendahl

Every character on “Mad Men” could easily be so happy and content with their lives. It would suck much of the drama out of the show, but it has occurred to me that this show may be the saddest one on television right now. Even in a moment of triumph for the firm — Megan saving the floundering Heinz account — the joy feels somewhat muted, possibly because business still remains tenuous.

Review #3476: Mad Men 5.7: “At the Codfish Ball”

Everyone seems to be living up to these various forms of lofty expectation from the previous generation, from which only disappointment and atrophy will follow. It’s really ugly, though strangely compelling to watch. I have to fight the urge to reach into the television and shake some sense to these people. They just can’t seem to see the cycle of perpetual mistakes that are being made, and in some cases, this continues from each generation to the next one. The players are different, but the outcome is always the same. Growth and change just don’t seem possible right now.

Living up to the expectations of the parental units is something that every person has had to face in their lives. If you step back and say, examine the circumstances by which Don and Megan got together, you could understand why Dr. Calvet just doesn’t like Don. On top of Megan being his favorite daughter, the professor has ideological differences with what Don does for a living. It may have gotten her what appears to be a good living, but Dr. Calvet worries about how long it will last. This must be especially troubling given that Don is on his second marriage and has young children as well.

Dr. Calvet probably sees a lot of himself in Don. It’s revealed in this episode that he’s had affairs with young grad students (and may prefer younger women judging by the age difference between him and Marie), and Don is significantly older than his daughter. The warning signs of a bad or slowly dying marriage surround Don and Megan. We’ve already seen the degradation of Roger and Jane’s marriage. Now, we see a marriage where all the couple does is bicker (in French to leave Don out of the conversation no less), and they’re staying together probably so that it doesn’t break Megan’s heart.

The good doctor puts it out plainly to his daughter at the end, telling her that she had essentially abandoned her ideals and dreams for something that just won’t last. Even as she has demonstrated her natural ability in the advertising industry. The euphoria from that last-second Heinz pitch, a keen demonstration of how well Don and Megan work together to schmooze a client from the brink, is succinctly replaced by disappointment and sadness.

The most stinging example of disappointing a parent was in Peggy’s storyline. There’s no indication of how much time has passed since the previous episode, but we have to assume it’s a relatively large chunk. Big enough for Peggy to have settled in and become comfortable with Abe as her boyfriend. There were inklings that Peggy was a little discontent with their relationship. Maybe that still remains. She’s easily one of the boys when they’re sitting around at SCDP with pitch ideas. It’s Abe who looks visibly uncomfortable. It’s not an easy fit with the two of them.

That unassured feeling continues when she discusses things with Joan. Joan puts the idea in Peggy’s head that he might propose at dinner where Peggy’s first instinct is a breakup. Given Peggy’s history with men, it’s an understandable train of thought. When she showed up at the dinner in that garish pink dress, I was thinking it would go either way. Could be bad news, could be the best news she’d possibly expect. Abe ends up in the middle: Proposing that they move in together, and you can see the disappointment wash over Peggy’s face when she says, “I do,” which is a phrase normally associated with marital vows. That was where her head space was, and she tries to keep her spirits up in the face of something less.

Time passes, and she gets her head around to the fact that this arrangement works for her. She goes to tell her mother the good news. Only, her mother continues to put her down when the news comes. Peggy is a thoroughly modern woman, very far ahead of the times she’s living in, and that clashes with her mother’s Catholic, traditional values. Her mother has just never accepted her daughter’s choices, and even though this isn’t the first time she has done this to Peggy, Peggy continues to seek her approval. There’s nowhere else for her to go. She’s been getting less and less praise at work from her “parent” there in Don, engaged in what appeared at first to be a rivalry with Don’s own wife, and now she faces personal disappointment. There is now a question as to whether Peggy can recover from this.

The next generation also get unexpectedly affected by the actions of the generation before. Sally gets to see her father get an award through some freak circumstance (her phone conversation with Glenn causes Pauline to trip and break her ankle) and it’s cause for some accelerated growing up on her part. She interacts with Megan’s mother, which isn’t a great thing since Marie comes on to every man she meets as revenge for her husband’s callous disregard of their marriage, and wants to wear clothing that is beyond her years. Even I knew the go-go boots had to go. The makeup was questionable, but the boots were a definite no-no. Sally gets a glimpse of her father’s world, and it seems like too much too fast at first.

Everyone promises that it’s going to be this glamorous affair where you get dressed up in expensive clothing and party all night. It doesn’t even live up to that standard. Sally’s disappointed that the ballroom has no grand staircase. The only meal served is a nasty-looking dead fish that doesn’t look edible in the least. Her interaction with Roger is fun (and is really the only purely joyous portion of the episode), but that doesn’t reveal the truth behind the awards ceremony. Don is being honored by the people he scolded last season in the full page New York Times ad. The truth is that no one in the industry will touch Don for fear of reprisal in the same manner as the ad. Don has effectively cut off his company from a large source of money, and that could prove to keep SCDP from attaining any firmer ground to stand on.

It starts out all well and good. By the end, the rot underneath the glossy veneer comes bubbling to the surface. The party was not something Sally expected, and that’s capped off by the shocking (well, it must have been shocking from her point of view) sight of Marie giving a blow job to Roger. Given what happened after Sally went to her father’s place, I doubt she’s going back to the big, dirty city any time soon. All she is going to find is, like almost every character in this episode, a lot of disappointment and letdown. Everyone would do well to adjust their expectations next time.

Grade: 9/10

Back to Featured Articles on Logo Paperblog