I don’t think it’s improper to suggest that Roger’s interactions with Sally were some of the most endearing moments this series has ever seen, right? I mean, come on. The whole “hold these cards” and “tell me to go get ’em tiger” was some pretty great stuff, wasn’t it? The episode itself was the perfect illustration of exactly why Roger has gotten as far as he has in his life, both personally and professionally.
The biggest takeaway of the week for me? The clear shot Matthew Weiner took at his industry peers during the episode’s final sequence. “Yeah, they’ll bury you with awards, but they’ll never work with you again,” Don is told, suggesting both “Mad Men’s” celebration and the subsequent effects it will have on its creator once the show wraps for good. It’s coming off a very public and very unflatteringly nasty battle with its network, remember — a battle that, as we all know, forced the production to go on hold for an entire year. It would be shocking (shocking!) to find out that such a sequence wasn’t at least vaguely aimed at addressing that situation. “The whole biting the hand thing” someone eventually mumbles. We all know how much Matthew Weiner seems to love Matthew Weiner, and I don’t think there should be any doubt that this quick double-meaning display was yet another example of such.
But, then again, hey — what do I know? Maybe Mona and Roger will elope and Sally and her not-boyfriend will eventually share an awkward first kiss. It seems the people behind this show just can’t seem to help themselves this season with forced lewd sexual scenes, anyways. It’s like it’s imperative that at least once a week they drive home the point that yes, “Mad Men” isn’t for children.
But enough about me. Let’s see what our board of experts had to say …
Adam Campbell (Blog) – Roger Sterling
Roger Sterling was the only member of the “Mad Men” ensemble to not to be confronted with an unpleasant turn of events this week. After a “life-altering” journey to the center of the mind with LSD and the end of his tenuous union with Jane, Roger is full of an infectious joie de vivre that endears him to Sally Draper and especially to Mrs. Calvet. He’s isn’t really a new man, but seems to have reclaimed the confident swagger that he’s lacked since losing Lucky Strike.
Even if he is in the honeymoon stages of divorce with Jane, Roger does understand the “expensive” implications that she warned him of last week. Thus, he needs to sink low once again by taking advantage of spurned ex-wife Mona’s connections to powerful business executives to gain a foothold on leads at the upcoming American Cancer Society ball. Mona’s conciliatory response to Roger’s fishing for leads is out of pity, but ultimately pragamatic. After all, he is still financially supporting his first family and new advertising clients would ensure that she will continue to live comfortably. As for pity, Mona tells Roger “I thought you married Jane because I had gotten old, and then I realized it was because you had.” With a glint in her eye that suggests she too uses carnal knowledge as currency, Mona assures Roger he’ll be “suprised” at the info she can find out by Friday.
Roger’s renewed sense of confidence is put to great use at the Cancer Society ball and the scenes leading up to it. Not to get hung-up on the whole “like-ability” issue once gain, but Roger Sterling hasn’t been this fun to watch, since well, ever. From the moment he strolls in to the Drapers’ apartment with an undone bow-tie hanging around his neck like some annoying but endearing child, his charisma buffs a likeable shine on his often rough exterior. His avuncluar bonding with Sally Draper as his “date” is heartwarming and begs the question as to what kind of father he was to Margaret at the same age. For Marie Calvet, Roger’s impish charm stands in stark contrast to the (figurative) impotence of her husband, thus ratcheting up the sexual tension between them. From the moment they meet eyes, we know it’s but a matter of time.
The illusion of like-ability is ultimately shattered when Sally, in an attempt to find the ladies’ room, instead finds Roger in a particularly jarring sexual situation with Mrs. Calvet. Now that Marie has gotten a taste (for complete lack of a better word) of Roger, might she pursue further trysts with him? It would be bad enough for Don and Megan to discover what happened at the ball, let alone the makings of a full-blown affair. To paraphrase Roger’s musings on Jane earlier in the episode, he’s now in a position to seriously blow up Don and Megan’s lives.
This week, the combination of Megan’s parents’ visit and her success with the Heinz account end up illuminating some interesting things about her character.
Soon after her father arrives, we see Megan seeking his approval and wanting to know what he thinks of her and Don’s apartment (“exquisitely decadent,” he says). She’s also anxious to make him like Don, but she may be fighting a losing battle on that one: “I don’t think anything’s going to make him like me,” Don says as they’re falling asleep. Megan replies, “It’s because I’m his favorite. Why you do think my mother’s so competitive?”
To Megan, her mother is someone with whom she’s in constant competition for her father’s affections and approval — and maybe even in competition for Don’s, too. Megan points out to Don that her mother “touched (Don) six times in one hour.” Don thinks it’s because Marie is French; according to Megan, “that’s not what that is.”
At the office the next morning, Megan comes to Don with an idea for the Heinz campaign that’s inspired by their dinner with her parents. It’s a good idea, but one that Megan is insecure about — “it could be great or it could be terrible,” she says to Don, and she even asks him to tell Stan and Ginsberg that Don came up with it because they’ll hate her. But Don loves it, and he orders Stan and Ginsberg to get rid of the previous idea and start work on Megan’s.
Just when you think the idea may have come too late for SCDP during a terrible dinner with the Heinz executive — especially after Alice, the executive’s wife, tells Megan in the bathroom that they’re fired — through some clever twists and turns of conversation, Megan gets Don to reveal the idea and they don’t lose the account after all.
Like Alice, a lot of viewers may have been prepared not to like Megan, but she’s proven herself to be resourceful and independent. Not everyone may share that sentiment. That scene last week with the orange sherbet didn’t do her any favors, as she came off as petulant and immature. And her father may not approve of her career, telling her that she skipped the struggle and went straight to the end, giving up so she could have “wealth and an apartment that someone handed to (her).” He may also believe that Megan’s love for Don is preventing her from doing what she wants to do, but this episode, more than any other episode with a Megan storyline, showed that she’s doing exactly what she wants to do and what she’s good at. Now she just has to start believing in herself.
You know you are really married when the wife imposes the dreaded “no sex while my parents are here” rule. Luckily, Don and Meghan can always sneak back to the office for a quick romp but the combustible friction caused by the presence of Megan’s parents presents a bigger problem for the Draper household than a lack of sex. “Please speak English,” Megan requests of her parents but of course they only concede to this request when it is convenient for Don to understand them. (I know from personal experience that nothing is as unnerving as having your in-laws argue with you and each other in French. According to my former in-laws, I am full of merde).
Don seems genuinely confused by his in-laws bickering and he is surprised to find out that his mother-in-law is flirting with him. He doesn’t seem to recognize the similarities between Megan and her mother. If he doesn’t pick up on the clues soon he will wake up one day married to an attractive aging alcoholic that likes to perform random acts of sex in amazingly accessible back rooms of ballrooms. (I just have to take a moment to shed a tear for Julia Ormond’s career. It seems like only yesterday she was being touted as the next Audrey Hepburn — even starring in a remake of Sabrina. And now this …).
Surprisingly, there is actually a subplot in this episode involving advertising. Don and Megan demonstrate that they can still work as a team as they charm the visiting Heinz executive and his wife with Julia Ormond in happier times with their stirring “Heinz Beans-Some Things Never Change” campaign. They do a great job of presenting themselves as the perfect couple and this seems to smooth over the reality that this is a hilariously awful slogan to sell beans.
The climax of the episode revolves around the award being given to Draper by the American Cancer Society for his rebuke of the cigarette companies. Sally sets the tone for the evening by appearing in heavy makeup and go-go boots before Don insists she revise her wardrobe. (As Megan’s father observes, someday Sally will “spread her legs and fly away.” I’m not sure if you can blame the language barrier for his obvious dig at his own daughter). Don is appropriately suave and modest during his night of triumph because he knows all this will be good for business. At least he thinks so until he is informed by Mr. Dow-Corning that no one in the room will ever work with him again — not after he “bit the hand.” In the end Draper is reminded again that no good deed goes unpunished — at least not in his world.
As has been the case a lot so far in season five, Joan Harris/Holloway was put on the back burner in “At the Codfish Ball.” The episode focused instead around this season’s central players — Don, Megan, Peggy and Roger.
But Joan’s essence managed to shine through during her short-but-sweet interactions with Peggy, conversations that centered around Ms. Olson’s expectation of a marriage proposal from Abe and, later, her feelings on his actual offer to “shack up.”
Viewers got to see two of the beloved busty redhead’s best assets this week. No, not those — stop being immature. It was her subtle snark and her developing sense of compassion (toward some people, anyway) that were made visible.
When Peggy rushes to Joan for advice after getting an unrelenting request from Abe to meet for a last-minute dinner, the two of them come to the conclusion that he’s planning to offer a ring. When Peggy suggests she should go home and change out of her boring office clothes, Joan replies with an ever-so-gentle, but still kind of judgmental, “Or better yet, go shopping.” No one is better than Joan at the subtle jab, and that sentence proved it. She knows for a fact that none of Peggy’s clothes are appropriate for being on the receiving end of a proposal. Peggy didn’t seem to pick up on it in her flustered state (if she had, I think she and Joan are close enough now that it wouldn’t have offended her), but that was a classic Joan moment.
Later, after Peggy learns that Abe simply just wants to move in with her, she is ready for Joan to be disappointed in the turn of events. She even says so. But given her circumstances with Greg, Joan simply says she thinks “shacking up” is romantic, offers Peggy a hug and gives her a quick piece of advice about marriage.
“Greg has a piece of paper with the U.S. Army that’s more important than the one he has with me,” she says. Peggy offers condolences (though it is still not clear what Joan has or hasn’t revealed about her home life to the rest of the office) and Joan simply replies, “It is what it is.”
This just goes to show how much Joan has matured over the years. There was a time when she would have disregarded Peggy’s feelings and made a calm but scathing remark about the taboo of living together before engagement. But recent experiences may have caused her to change her tune a bit.
Maybe in future episodes, we’ll get to see how Joan’s new mindset affects her interactions with others at Sterling Cooper Draper Price, since the only coworkers she’s had meaningful conversations with so far this season have been Lane and Peggy. Who will be on the receiving end of her newfound softheartedness, and who will earn themselves a piece of her mind, like the one Greg got? Here’s hoping the second half of season five will tell.
Tyler Hannah – Pete Campbell
The many faces of Pete Campbell. Pete’s fantastic display to Megan’s father, Emile, of what he does everyday at SCDP illustrates a major premise of not only this series but of life in general. Everyone puts on a facade. Pete successfully made Emile feel as though his work was meaningful, and Pete did this without knowing an iota of Emile’s work. Often described as sly and serpentine, Pete’s wiliness is not so much his cunning mind but his ability to wear varying masks and fib his way to semi-normalness.
Campbell strives to be Don Draper, but what Pete does not realize is that he and Don are the same. Don is two identities in one; likewise, Pete hides his true self behind the sheen of “Head of Accounts.” Only did we see Pete’s two faces in “Signal 30” when his facade cracked and revealed the counterpart to Don’s Dick Whitman. “At the Codfish Ball” exemplified each character’s facade. Don’s hopes to snag accounts were dashed by the pretense of the dinner at the cancer society. Sally was witness to the darker aspects of adult life. Emile was cognizant of his wife’s infidelity. Megan was humbled from her Heinz success by the realization that her position at SCDP is not her true passion. And Roger, normally aged and professionally impotent, high off his pending divorce and LSD-induced view on life, was “so full of life.”
In essence, then, the dinner was a masquerade ball in disguise. Pete and his cohorts were all wearing their chosen masks as pretext to the role they were playing on that given night. As alone and worthless as Pete may feel, he would take comfort in knowing that he is accompanied in misery and despair if it only were not for the masks. Pete was brave enough to reveal his true identity, whether voluntary or not, and yet again, akin to Don shirking his secret double life, Pete can draw a parallel to his idol.
Everyone wants to be happy. We want our parents to love us. We want to enjoy our chosen professions. We want our romantic relationships to last. Even the most cynical of human beings wants at least one of these things, no matter how hard they try to deny it. Peggy Olson is no different, but this is “Mad Men,” a show that takes delight in pointing out that people so rarely get what they want.
After months of pitching to the Heinz folks to no avail, Peggy gets fired from the account and Megan Draper swoops in with a touch of brilliance and nails it. Peggy is impressed and pleased for Megan’s success, knowing how hard it must have been to sell her idea and land the account, but there’s probably a slight tinge of envy or regret as well. Or maybe she’s too busy thinking about her home life to be too upset about it.
Peggy and Abe seem great together, but after last week’s “incident,” it was unclear whether their relationship would last. This week, we see Abe hanging out at work with Peggy, like they’ve decided to work on making time for each other. Later, fear and nerves arise when she initially suspects that Abe may want to break up with her, but Joan, the voice of reason, suggests that she keep calm and go shopping, noting that there’s a chance she may have a proposal coming her way.
And she does. Sort of. Instead of proposing marriage, Abe very sweetly asks that they move in together. Peggy, all dolled up and pretty in pink, crumbles and it’s heartbreaking to watch. But Peggy loves him and she agrees to give it a shot, which is great until Mama Olson comes along.
For a woman who helped cover up her daughter’s illegitimate pregnancy, Katherine Olson is still a conservative Catholic at heart. She reacts as poorly as one would imagine and accuses Abe of using Peggy. She says that the only reason Peggy wants any of this is because she’s lonely. Is she right? Maybe, but her accusations are so clouded with hypocrisy, that it doesn’t matter. Whether Peggy is in love or lonely or confused or just lying to herself, she deserves a little bit of good in her life. Don’t we all?