Mad Men Season 5 Episode 7 – At the Codfish Ball

Not exactly Happy Days…

Tonight’s episode of Mad Men was building up towards a dinner hosted by the American Cancer Society, at which Don Draper was to receive an award for the letter he wrote at the end of last season – denouncing tobacco, after Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce had lost the Lucky Strike account.  Don is concerned that he is being a hypocrite for accepting the honour, when his intentions were not to discourage people from smoking, rather to find a way of attracting new clients to the agency.  As it turns out, it is in fact the American Cancer Society who are disingenuous; they are happy to give Don an award, but the act of biting the hand that fed him has discouraged any of them from even considering working with him in the future.

Before that comes to a head (and more on Roger’s encounter with Mrs. Calvet later also…) Don is able to attract one piece of new business to the firm, but it is all thanks to Megan that Heinz signs on with SCDP.  Inspired by a family meal, Mrs. Draper comes up with an idea for a commercial for the baked beans company – a mother feeding her child the product through the ages and into the future – and is then savvy enough to realise that the firm is about to be fired at a dinner meeting, without ever having the chance to give their new suggestion.  By relaying this information to Don, then setting him up to deliver a stirring pitch of the proposed advertisement, Megan forces a complete turnaround from Heinz, who agree to sign on with the agency immediately.  Not only does this bring in a new client for the firm, it also makes Megan a legend in the conference room the following day, as the tale is recounted to others in the agency, and she also wins praise from her boss, Peggy.  Nevertheless, the victory is bittersweet for the Canadian, as she knows even this success will not gain her the approval of her father, Emile.  The Professor – who Don describes as a “Communist, Socialist or Maoist” – chastises his daughter at the awards dinner for her willingness to accept the riches and privileges of being Mrs Draper, forgoing both her own dreams and the principle of hard work in the process.

After a rocky start to their relationship, Peggy and Joan are now each other’s confidants at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, and it is to Mrs. Harris (or should that be Ms. Holloway) that Ms. Olson turns when she is concerned about the urgency with which her boyfriend, Abe, wants to meet her for dinner.  Fearing being dumped, Peggy is then excited when Joan tells her that, in her experience, such requests usually end in a proposal rather than a break-up, and suggests that she should go shopping to prepare.  Neither of those prognostications is correct however, as Abe in fact wants to move in with Peggy, something which first disappoints her but, upon consideration, she decides it is a perfect step for them to take.  Marriage was clearly not far from her mind though, as she gives her answer as a clear “Yes” in a manner that would be more suited to accepting a proposal, and when asked if she wanted to eat she said “I do”.  Nervous about telling Joan the news for fear of judgement, Peggy is relieved when the initial reaction of “Oh…shacking up”, swiftly changes into warm congratulations from her new-found friend at the agency.  This acceptance appears to give Peggy the courage to tell the news to her mother, a Catholic who whole-heartedly disapproves of such living arrangements and makes a quick exit when told about it – but not before telling Peggy that her Jewish boyfriend will just use her for practice before marrying someone else and having a family.  Mrs. Olson does give her daughter a good alternative to moving in with Abe, stating that she can prevent loneliness by buying a cat, replacing it twice when it dies after thirteen years, and that will see her through to her own passing.  I guess we will find out next week if Peggy goes with Abe or a new cat…

Sally is still speaking to the creepy kid, Glen – who in season one was watching Betty Draper go to the bathroom, stealing a lock of her hair, and telling her that he “wished he was older”.  Now he is away at boarding school and Sally phones him with apparent regularity, enough for the other boys to think that she is his girlfriend.  At the beginning of the episode, she is again being looked after by Grandma Pauline – as Betty and Henry are in Michigan (perhaps meeting with that clown, Romney) –  but her babysitter is felled by the cord of the telephone, forcing Sally and Bobby to Manhattan to stay with Don, and making Pauline dream of the invention of a cordless phone.  This unexpected visit to her Dad’s gives Sally the chance to attend the dinner at which he will be honoured, and thus provides Megan with an opportunity to take her step-daughter shopping for an outfit for the occasion.  While everyone else is impressed with how she looks, Don tells Sally to take off both the make-up and the boots, or she can stay at home and miss the whole event.  However, this reluctance to be allowed to be too grown up, too fast, by her Dad is far from the worst part of her night.  Sally is playing the role of Roger Sterling’s date for the evening, collecting business cards and giving words of encouragement to him, making her feel like she is an adult and even motivates her to try fish, which she had previously eschewed in favour of spaghetti.  A few hours later, she is wishing away all of this maturity when she witnesses Roger getting a blowjob from her step-Grandmother, though she still has Glen to turn to if only via the phone.

Roger’s path to that seat was one of happiness and inspiration, both feelings he had garnered following last week’s LSD trip that culminated in the ending of his marriage to Jane.  He has a new lust for life and enlists the help of his (first) ex-wife to gain information of the board of the American Cancer Society so that he can try to win new clients for the agency.  As Lucky Strike had been his only relevance to Sterling Cooper, Roger now wants to get back in the game, unaware that these attempts will be futile, since nobody from the Society wants to work with Don after The Letter.  It is his drive and ambition that attracts Mrs Calvet to Roger and, as she is upset with her husband who was crying to a graduate student over a rejection by a publisher rather than to his wife, she takes him to the private room to give Sterling his only success of the evening.  The last but one scene ends with everyone returning to the table unhappy: Don over the lack of business he can attract; Emile and Megan over her non-pursuit of hard work and her dreams; her mother because of the infidelity of her husband and now herself; and Sally due to what she has just seen.

After the previous episode’s disjointed three-story narrative, tonight’s hour was a return to form for the more straightforward storytelling Mad Men does so well.  There was also two very funny parts: Roger assuring Don that he need not worry about being hypocritical, since it was perfectly possible that “Jesus was just going for the loaves and fishes account”; and Pete explaining to Emile what value he adds to the agency by buttering him, telling him that more people should know of the excellent work he is doing, then telling him “that is what I do every day”.

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