Wednesday, 2 May 2012

MAD MEN, 5.7 – "At the Codfish Ball"

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Mad Men's at its best when tackling relationships, so it's no wonder "At The Codfish Ball" was so vividly enjoyable, because it was crammed full of them. The best revolved around Megan (Jennifer Pare), who had to deal with the arrival of her French parents, Emile (Ronald Guttman) and Marie (Julia Ormond), whom it transpires aren't as keen on suave Don (Jon Hamm) as one would expect ("his manners are studied"). It became clear in a later scene that Emile believes his daughter's found a shortcut to luxury and denied herself the satisfaction of succeeding through her own hard work. There was also the curious suggestion that Megan's actually kept her true passion a secret, as it has nothing to do with advertising. Is it singing? Dancing? Interestingly, this was the episode that proved Megan actually has talent as a copywriter—with her imaginative pitch for the Heinz campaign proving a resounding success. For Don, getting a taste of Megan's skill was like the ultimate aphrodisiac for the inveterate ad man. He finally believes he has the perfect woman: a combination of Betty's beauty and Peggy's talent. Is that fair? But is Megan really the woman she's presenting herself as to win Don's respect, given her father's veiled comments at the dinner table?

Not for the first time this season, Peggy's (Elisabeth Moss) storyline was the weakest of the bunch. It's hard to derive much pleasure from her love life with Abe (Charlie Hofheimer), as it just doesn't interest me. Still, it was interesting to see Peggy's reaction to Joan's (Christina Hendricks) theory Abe was planning to propose, although simultaneously obvious he wouldn't because it was openly theorised. Instead, Abe just wanted to move in with Peggy (still a big deal in the '60s, out of wedlock), and Peggy's indomitable mother clearly doesn't approve. This was quite the episode for disapproving parents. So is Abe really just using Peggy as "practice", destined to ditch her for a girl who's more marriage material (i.e less ambitious)? Or is Peggy's mother just a cynical battleaxe from a pre-war era, considering how common it'll become for unmarried lovers to live under the same roof fairly soon? And has Peggy only agreed to cohabit with Abe because it makes her appear like an adult in her demanding mother's eyes? If so, that plan didn't go so well.

I also enjoyed the scenes with Roger (John Slattery), who genuinely believes his LSD trip last week has been of great personal benefit. He's even talking to his ex-wife Mona about his "life-altering" experience, getting on with her better than ever, and during the climactic American Cancer Society dinner made a move on a woman who's more age-appropriate than young Jane. Unfortunately, the object of Roger's attention was Megan's mother Marie, who's so enamoured with the silver fox she give him a blowjob in a backroom. A sexual act witnessed, accidentally, by curious Sally (Kiernan Shipka), who spent this episode trying to behave like an adult in the big city: dressing like a grownup, installed as Roger's "date" at the table. Sally was having a delightful time, despite the evening's mounting disappointments (no staircase, bad food), but that all crumbled to dust when she saw Roger receiving oral sex. It's hard to tell what kind of effect that will have on Sally, but clearly it's the kind of thing that opens a youngster's mind in unpredictable ways. Should it be a worry that she's also still in contact with erstwhile creepy neighbour Glen (Marten Holden Weiner), too? When she reported back to Glen afterwards, describing the city as "dirty", it felt like Sally's again having her innocence squeezed dry.

Overall, "At The Codfish Ball" was another lovely episode of nuance and surprises. I especially loved the performances of guest-stars Ronald Guttman and Julia Ormond as Megan's parents, and there were some hilarious lines—most notably Emile's mistranslation (intentional?) that a little girl like Sally, wearing make-up and boots, will soon "... spread her legs and fly away". Or Roger's remark that "for all we know, Jesus was trying to get the loaves and fishes account." Absolutely wonderful.

Asides

  • Ken's father Ed was played by Ray Wise, which marks this season's second connection to Twin Peaks after the earlier appearance from M├Ądchen Amick. Is one of the writers a fan?
  • I guess the lack of Betty this season has been down to January Jones' real-life pregnancy, and perhaps other commitments. Not that I miss Betty, but it does seem odd she isn't an important part of the show these days.
  • Kudos for the camera shot of Emile, Marie, Megan, Don and Sally all sat around their dinner table; each looking miserable about personal matters. Emile's lost his daughter to a lifestyle she hasn't earned, Marie's cheated on her husband (the first time?), Don knows that some clients will never trust him again, and Sally's slowly learning that adulthood has more downsides and disappointments than she ever imagined.
written by Jonathan Igla / directed by Michael Uppendahl / 1 May 2012 / Sky Atlantic