Mothers and daughters, fathers and daughters and how slavish devotion to ideology messes with those complicated relationships. There were no small themes in this week’s “Mad Men,” another knockout seg that eased my last lingering concerns (from a few episodes back) about whether the show still had the right stuff.
I loved each of the storylines pursued in “At the Codfish Ball,” penned with real pizzazz by Jonathan Igla and nicely directed by Michael Uppendahl. Roger Sterling delivered a few pearls of wisdom that will rank among the show’s best lines (“Who knows why people do good things? For all we know Jesus was trying to get the loaves and fishes account.”) And I particularly appreciated the deeper colors added to Megan’s palette, with kudos due to Jessica Pare for a great episode. I enjoyed Julia Ormand as her feisty and frisky mother, Marie Calvet, but I was even more impressed by Ronald Guttman’s work as her father, the fulminating and frustrated academic Emile.
I couldn’t help but think of how President Obama has been tarred in some quarters recently as a “socialist” — and how funny it is that in this era of “Mad Men,” Don feels no threat in having a Karl Marx-spouting father-in-law (otherwise he’d never bring him to the awards dinner) but in the show’s first few seasons it would have been major cause for alarm. And yet, in 2012, were Don Draper running for president, it would once again be a liability, and prime fodder for direct mail and robo-call smear campaigns, at least in some parts.
We saw a whole lot of mamas in this episode: Megan’s mom, Peggy’s mom, Megan as Sally’s stepmom, Joan as Peggy’s surrogate mom, Henry’s boozy mom looking like a beached whale and Sally as a mini-mom who performs well under pressure (and bends the truth about the accident to keep herself out of trouble).
My favorite mom moment of the night had to be the scene with Peggy’s mother, if only because she’s so direct.
There’s not a bit of artifice to that woman beyond her hairspray. Mama Olsen calls ’em as she sees ’em. Peggy couldn’t realistically have expected anything else when she invited her over for ham and a revelation about moving in with her boyfriend Abe — as if she hasn’t pushed it enough in mom’s eyes by dating a Jew. The strength of mom’s Catholic ideology is strong enough to be part of Peggy’s DNA, which is why deep down she was really hoping for a marriage proposal from honest Abe.
But Mama Olsen isn’t totally inflexible. “Just lie!” she instructs, noting that Peggy and Abe are not the first couple to want to co-habitate, without the benefit of clergy as Walter Winchell used to say. But when it comes to consummating Peggy’s new living arrangement with a fancy dessert, she draws the line. “I’m not giving you a cake to celebrate you living in sin,” she huffs. Note that as soon as she walked in to Peggy’s place she was delivering special handling instructions for the delicate dessert.
The Peggy-Abe storyline was a 90-degree turn from where I thought it was going, especially after the scene early in the seg of him sharing dinner with Peggy, Ginsberg and Stan at the Sterling Cooper offices. I thought for sure the swagger she displayed with male coworkers was the last straw for him. Shows how much I know, compared to Joan who sussed the situation out pretty well. Joan has been through enough with her creepy husband to endorse Peggy’s move, because after all, Peggy now gets the chance to see if she really wants to spend the rest of her life with Abe. I think it’s the validation from Joan that gives Peggy the courage to be so direct with her own mother, even though she knows what’s coming.
I also appreciated the nuance the writer gave Peggy in allowing her to be genuinely happy for Megan in coming up with the bean brainstorm that saves the Heinz account. Even when Megan isn’t around, Peggy’s first reaction is “good for her” while Stan and Ginsberg are a mix of angry and mopey.
Megan’s mixed reaction to her Heinz victory was so wonderfully intriguing. You’d think she would be doing a tap dance over being able to show her husband that she has a brain as sleek and sharp as her body. Her real genius was the handling of the sticky situation at the dinner with Mr. and Mrs. Heinz after she got the word in the ladies room. That led us to an abbreviated version of one of “Mad Men’s” patented Don Draper pitches — when Jon Hamm pulls out that special melodious tone of voice that could melt butter in the Arctic.
But for all this and the champagne corks popping the next day, Megan seems disturbed by the whole thing by end of the episode, especially after Peggy assures her that “this is as good as this job gets.” Maybe it’s the influence of Papa, pushing her not to abandon her dream just because she’s fallen for, gasp, a wealthy man. Presuming that dream is acting, as referenced in the season opener by one of Megan’s galpals, but not sure. I love that this show is so unpredictable.
In addition to staying out the line of fire of his battling in-laws, Don Draper had two big things to tackle in this episode: the realization that Sally is growing up, fast, and that he’s kind of cooked his goose by the anti-tobacco letter that he thought was so ingenious.
Don doesn’t live by any firm ideology, just like he doesn’t have a firm personal identity (the two do go hand-in-hand), so of course he’s destined to fail with his crafty attempt to take a public stand. Credit to casting mavens for getting the great Ray Wise for the role of deflating Don at his very own American Cancer Society coronation: “They all admire you but they’ll never work with you. How could they trust you after you bit the hand?” The captains of industry that Roger and Pete are trying to court will give Don awards, but not their business. This is going to hurt just as he’s trying to go straight with Megan, and even going so far as to read Papa’s philosophical tome and even learn a bit of French.
(Meanwhile, you just know that smoking-related health issues are going to rear up again. There’s been too much coughing as foreshadowing this season.)
Against all odds, we are seeing Don be a pretty good parent this season. He makes Sally’s go-go boots go-go away with ease, and he lets her know why in a very loving way. “You look like a girl who will someday wear makeup, but not tonight,” he tells her. I liked the way they telegraphed Sally’s expectations of the “ball” — What, no staircase? Fish with the head on?
Don would have throttled Roger had he known that Sally’s big evening out was twisted forever by her glimpse of him being pleasured by his mother-in-law. Ew, gross, wrong, on so many levels. And he’d be disturbed to know Sally was still in touch with creepy Glen, now packed off to boarding school, all these years later. As the mother of a pre-teen, I’m plenty worried for him.
So much more to love about this episode. I could write another 500 words about Roger. Love that his life-altering LSD experience has made him even more of a schemer, and that he’s upfront about it. And love that he’s been telling people, like Don, all about his journey. It was a kick to see Slattery bantering at length with Kiernan Shipka in this seg. That the girl can hold her own against him at her age is further evidence that she is going places — just like Sally Draper.
-- Cynthia Littleton