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Mad Men: At the Codfish Ball

"How's the city?"

Lying is frequently depicted as something calculated and cruel, the actions of people wanting to keep negative actions secret, or desperate to keep somebody else in the dark. But, at the same time, lying is sometimes a form of protection. You can lie to yourself in order to prevent inner hurt, or keep something close to your chest to avoid disrupting the status quo. This can't be written off as a bad thing, either. Especially in 1966, it just made things far easier. It's no coincidence that the one act of honesty as seen here ended with anger and parental anguish.

The theme runs deepest through Megan, who salvages the Heinz account and forms every idea of the final presentation, but who feels uncomfortable taking all the glory for herself. She understandably allows Don to present the ideas to the client, but continues to suppress her involvement even when the office later celebrates, and doesn't follow through when Peggy tells her to own her success and be proud of it. Even after the account is locked, Megan can't pluck up the courage to tell her father, who dismisses her success as a mere by-product of her marriage, and berates her for gaining wealth and status with none of the struggle.

What makes all of this fascinating is that Megan is actually talented at her job. She's intuitive, not only in terms of ideas, but also in her ability to read a situation and run with certain moods. She discovers Heinz's initial rejection long before anybody else does, convinces Don to pitch there and then, and projects the idea in a way that she knows Heinz will respond to. But the giant wall halting any real positivity is that she did bypass a lot of the struggle to get there, even if she has the talent to back-up her position within the company. It's just unfortunate, and explains why she's not exactly eager to seek praise.

Lies also reach the story of Megan's parents. They're frequently arguing, even in the company of near-strangers, but they're doing so in their native tongue -- isn't that cover-up enough? It's almost like a different language is that invisible wall between them and others, forgetting that tone and intent can easily break through that barrier. Marie (played by Julia Ormond, who has been stealing scenes all over cable television for the last couple of years) regrets her lost youth, is definitely somewhat resentful of her own daughter and desperate to be seen as somebody sexual and attractive. She's constantly flirting with an oblivious Don, is jealous of her husband's potential infidelities, and instantly falls for Roger -- this confident, showy, arch bachelor and the complete antithesis of her intellectual husband. Their marriage is in turmoil, but nobody seems to really be acknowledging it. It's deny, deny, deny -- and only misery can come from that.

Sally folds into the theme of lying explicitly when she covers up her grandmother's accident by blaming her fall on one of Gene's toys, but also decides to keep a secret after she witnesses Roger and Marie's sexual sojourn at the party. Then again, it's not an intentional secret, as such. She knows what she saw was wrong, but it's more of an instinctive thing, since she doesn't yet understand the actual nature of marital disappointment and infidelity. But she's slowly learning. Men can weasel their way into young women's dorm rooms and commit acts of horror, and the salacious, secret actions of grown ups can leave a bitter taste in your mouth. So to speak. Like she tells Glen in that badass closer, the city is dirty, and she's gradually realizing just how deep that feeling runs.

Disappointment occurs with Peggy here, or at least until she convinces herself otherwise. At first she becomes convinced that Abe is about to leave her, before a pep talk from Joan switches 'break-up' to 'proposal'. Only that's a little too far. It turns out that Abe wants her to move in, another boundary-pushing and controversial act that was deeply frowned upon of at the time. She projects happiness, but there's also a brief sign of sadness that crosses her face. She heads back to work frightened of disappointing Joan, but the opposite is true. Joan, having recently realized that marriage is no easy pie, congratulates her.

Seemingly spurred on by Joan's reaction, Peggy goes against the actions of practically everybody else this week, and actually tells her mother what could have easily been kept secret. Only for it all to backfire, leaving her upset and without a family once again. It's like history repeating itself. Peggy's mother, to our eyes, is unspeakably cruel here. But, considering her faith and the time in which she lived, it must be awful to see your daughter growing up so, I don't know, "damaged". Bastard children, elaborate maternity lies, professional ambition, a Manhattan apartment, now an out-of-wedlock relationship. The world is changing so much, and your own child is seemingly lost in it.

I always feel like last-paragraph 'sum-ups' are a little redundant for this show, but this was unsurprisingly another wonderful hour. Even if you take away the thematic resonance that runs through every one of the stories, Mad Men is still a series that pulsates with power and energy. The interactions, the evocative exchanges, the wonderful performances. Gah. It's spectacular.


- Don and Megan's marriage is based entirely on extremes. There's this crazed lust whenever things go right, Don seeing her as this talented, sexy goddess he needs to sleep with right there and then, while their fights are constantly volatile and violent. It's not healthy in the long term at all, but those heady extremes during their positive moments are seemingly enough to keep them intact... for now, at least.

- Pairing up Roger and Sally was another one of those unexpected delights, the show experimenting with different double-acts and seeing what happens. Their banter was off-the-charts awesome.

- Would Peggy have been so congratulatory to Megan if she hadn't just had that conversation with Joan? Peggy seems to get a lot of inspiration from Joan, and you have to wonder if Joan's own offer of congratulations on Peggy's personal life inspired her interaction with Megan, who she's always seemed somewhat resentful of.

- Apologies for the publishing delay this week, time made like a raccoon and scurried away from me.


Megan: Didn't you notice she touched you six times in an hour?
Don: She's French...

Don: "Kids want beans, and they have forever."
Megan: I had something like, "Heinz Beans: some things never change."
Don: Jesus, I think that's better.

Emile: Don, there's nothing you can do. No matter what, one day your little girl will spread her legs and fly away.
Megan: Wings, daddy.

Emile: I don't understand. What do you do every day?
Pete: Well, what do you do? You're a scholar and an intellectual, right?
Emile: Yes.
Pete: Actually, from what I hear, you're a bit of a trailblazer.
Emile: I don't know if that's true.
Pete: I bet the world would be better off if they knew about the work you're doing.
Emile: You're very kind.
Pete: That, Emile, is what I do every day.

Katherine: You're lonely? Get a cat. They live thirteen years, then you get another one, and another one after that, and then you're done.

Roger: Oooh, baked Alaska. It's flaming, but they probably don't want to wreck the speeches.
Sally: You're wrecking the speeches.
Roger: You're a mean drunk, you know that?

Previously posted at Unwelcome Commentary.


  1. The week got away from me and here it is almost time for another Mad Men episode. I really enjoyed this episode and your review. This was my favorite one so far since it really revealed (no pun intended) a lot that us beneath the surface if the Don and Megan dynamic by introducing us to the glorious dysfunction of her parents. Wow! I really can't wait to see where this all leads.

    I loved Peggy and Joan. They are developing a really great friendship. I am also loving the way that Peggy sincerely tries to be friendly to other women in the office like Megan and Dawn, but her efforts don't always go in the direction she seems to be hoping they will. This is such a nuanced way to represent what it isbluke for women in the work world especially at the time. I am so glad they aren't setting her up to be an envious, scheming climber as so many movies do.

    Sally and Glen's friendship is intriguing. Even though there is a bit of a creep factor to it, I am interested to see where it leads. Right now I am glad she has someone to talk to because she seems so alone, by we will see if Glen becomes a threat to her. A really hope not.

  2. I usually dislike Roger, but he was a lot of fun in this episode. LSD really did enlighten him, and as you said, Max, I very much enjoyed his interaction with Sally. (What a terrific young actress she is.) Megan's parents were so dysfunctional and felt so genuine. We've all met couples like that.

    The early sixties were like the fifties, but the world changed radically by the late sixties. It's fun to see it reflected in Mad Men -- last week, LSD, and this week, Peggy's boyfriend moving in with her.

    Terrific review, Max.

  3. I grew up in the 60s and sometimes there are scenes in this show, props, furniture, conversations, that make me go, wow, I remember that. It was like there were two worlds then - the people like Don and Roger - the Establishment, who were still living in the 50s, and people who were experimenting and changing and opening their minds to a whole new way of being. Listening to rock and roll and growing their hair long. The hair and clothes were like a badge so you could tell the difference. It was an exciting time. I always wished I'd been a bit older so I could have enjoyed it as an adult.

    Loved your review. I'm so glad you'r reviewing this show.


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