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TV Review: Mad Men – “At the Codfish Ball”

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In this week’s installment of  Mad Men “At the Codfish Ball,” Don (Jon Hamm) is honored by the American Cancer Society for his infamous Lucky Strike letter. His family accompanies him to the dinner that goes with the recognition. This includes Megan’s parents, Emile (Ronald Guttman, All My Children) and Marie (Julia Ormond, Law & Order: Criminal Intent) Calvet, who come to town for the occasion. But considering that the couple doesn’t exactly approve of Don’s marriage to their daughter, and that their own union is on the rocks, the night doesn’t exactly go so well.

Megan (Jessica Paré) really comes into her own in “At the Codfish Ball.” Not only does she come up with a brilliant idea for the Heinz campaign, she also masterfully finagles the business dinner to sell said idea just before Raymond Geiger (John Sloman, The Ugly Truth) fires them. She proves her creative and business acumen quite nicely. Not only does this show that she deserves the position she now holds in the firm, but it also demonstrates why she is a great match for Don.

Side note: Harry’s (Rich Sommer) telling of the Heinz dinner story and Ken (Aaron Stanton) admonishing him with “You weren’t even there!” is one of the best Mad Men bits ever. Classic!

Don could not be prouder of Megan in “At the Codfish Ball.” He celebrates with her, and makes sure she gets credit in front of her co-workers, despite her initial protest that she doesn’t need it. To the client, sure, Don has to play the master, sharing ownership of her idea. But Megan doesn’t seem upset, understanding the nature of the business. Their excited sex afterwards should erase any doubts of those who still don’t think they don’t have good chemistry or belong together. They have challenges like anyone else. But they also complement and challenge each other, and she can hold her own with him, something few women have been able to do.

It’s too bad Megan’s parents have to spoil her happiness. They come to town with their bickering, making everyone around them miserable. Emilie feels emasculated, and Marie cheats on him. It’s not a healthy relationship, and one wonders how the pair is in any position to judge Megan and Don. Yes, Emilie’s concern that Megan may be giving up her dreams may be valid, but Megan seems to feel fulfilled and satisfied where she is. So why do they have to be such a drag?

Don is riding high in “At the Codfish Ball,” and why shouldn’t he be? He has a wonderful wife, who just saved a major account, and is now being honored in front of lots of important people! But he soon gets a reality check from Ken’s father-in-law (Ray Wise), who helps Don make an important realization. What good is respect if no one trusts you? Don’s success may make people say good things about him, but it won’t necessarily bring him business. Roger (John Slattery) is right. The letter is a mistake.

Sally (Kiernan Shipka) also attends the ceremony. She is feeling so grown up being included, and in her dress, she looks the part, too. After viewers see her talking to Glen (Martin Holden Weiner) on the phone, she seems even more of an adult. But then Sally witnesses Marie giving Roger a blow job. It’s a startling scene to her, and one that disgusts her. In that moment, Sally is shown to still be a child. She has not yet reached maturity; this much is clear. It’s a wonderful contrast for her, and “At the Codfish Ball” illustrates her awkward age well.

Which leads to a fantastic scene where Don, Megan, Emilie, Marie, and Sally all sit with their heads hanging low, a stark contrast to the picture of glee they begin the evening with. Fantastic!

While Don is off getting his dues, Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) faces some tough choices. Abe (Charlie Hofheimer) forces her to prioritize himself over her work. What may be most surprising is that Peggy does so. Up until now in Mad Men, Peggy’s professional rise has been her focus. “At the Codfish Ball” reveals that she wants something more out of life, too. She may not be a traditional woman in many ways, but she does desire a loving husband. Might Abe be the one? Joan (Christina Hendricks) certainly thinks so when Peggy goes to her for advice.

But Abe doesn’t propose marriage. Instead, he simply wants to move in together. Peggy readily accepts. Is this a mistake? Peggy’s mother (Myra Turley) thinks so, telling Peggy that Abe will only use her for practice until he finds the woman he actually wants to get hitched to. This doesn’t seem likely. Peggy and Abe are of a different generation, and Peggy’s mom just doesn’t understand that. For them, living together first is right.

It’s great that Peggy stands up to her mother a bit. She understands what her mom is saying, but also reserves the right to believe her mother is wrong. Peggy is neither naive nor immature anymore. She has earned the ability to make her own decisions. Living with Abe is going to make her happy, so she should do it, and she does. No one else’s judgment matters. Kudos to Peggy for reaching a point where she realizes this, and also begins to see that a career is nice, but it isn’t everything.

Roger is also in a good place in “At the Codfish Ball.” Free of his wife now, he meets with his first spouse (Talia Balsam), and they get along. Roger even asks her for a favor! This is not really something he could have done while still married to Jane (Peyton List). Yet, Jane matters not at all in this situation. Roger is finding some peace in his life, Mona can see that, and it really strips away the conflict that has long boiled between them.

Roger credits his LSD trip for his new worldview. Is he right? Well, that’s hard to say. Taking drugs certainly does make Roger see some things in a new light. But the experience only enhances reality and brings out things within himself that he may have found anyway. It is a catalyst for Roger to make some much-needed changes in his life, but that doesn’t mean he should run off and drop acid again, as enjoyable as that episode is, for him and Mad Men fans.

This serenity is in total contrast of Roger allowing a married woman to blow him, but then, some things never change. Roger remains a horny little bastard, a descriptor meant in the fondest sense.

Mad Men continues its amazing (and somewhat different) season five run Sundays at 10 p.m. ET on AMC.

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About JeromeWetzelTV

Jerome writes TV reviews for BlogCritics.org and Seat42F.com, as well as fiction. He is a frequent guest on two podcasts, Let's Talk TV with Barbara Barnett and The Good, the Bad, & the Geeky. All of his work can be found on his website, jeromewetzel.com
  • http://blogcritics.org/video/article/tv-review-mad-men-at-the/ Stephanie

    Afraid you have read Megan wrongly if you think she is feeling fulfilled as Don’s wife and equal work partner. Sure she loves Don but it isn’t enough to fill a void she shows very clearly she has, each time she is complimented or praised for her work, she very clearly shows she is unable to accept it. And her father’s comments at the dinner table struck home which is why she looked so unhappy after. Think this does not bode well for Don – suspect she will leave at some stage to pursue what she feels is her own destiny in her own way. Well I was enjoying Don’s domestic bliss but it was getting just a bit boring and predictable with everything in his life working out. Irony is she is his perfect match – sad bit is but not right now on her part.

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