Mad Men season 5 episode 7 review: At the Codfish Ball

Don's in-laws come to visit in another revelatory episode of Mad Men. Read our review of At the Codfish Ball here...


This review contains spoilers.

5.7 At the Codfish Ball

Bracketed by illicit phone calls from Sally to creepy Glen (do you think showrunner Matthew Weiner knew such an unflattering epithet would be coined for his son’s character?), At the Codfish Ball introduced us to the French-Canadian loins whence Megan sprang: M. et Mme Calvet, played to Gallic perfection by Ronald Guttman and Julia Ormond. 

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Since that eventful weekend at Disneyland, there’s been a question mark hovering over where Megan came from, and now arrives our answer. She’s the youngest and favourite child of a Marxist academic father, the reluctant rival of a flirtatious glamourpuss mother, and one of this week’s three chastised daughters.

Megan, Peggy and Sally all provoked the ire of their parents in At the Codfish Ball, Megan for selling her soul to advertising and a wealthy husband, Peggy for living in sin with boyfriend Abe, and Sally for sporting a pair of Go-Go boots and a face-full of make-up. 

It was Sally who’d committed the lesser crime, and her early scenes colluding with Roger at the titular ball (actually a Cancer Society banquet through which the cast happily puffed away) were a joy, though something tells me she’ll have a hard time looking him in the eye at their next meeting… Poor Sally’s psycho-sexual development has ever been a little too heavy on the psycho, and this recent shock won’t do anything to help.

Don and Megan had recovered from last week’s disastrous mini-break, and coalesced into an ad-pitching dream team over dinner with SCDP’s  unhappy Heinz client. Megan’s manipulation of the impromptu Heinz pitch was an impressive sleight of hand, and judging by Don’s reaction, every bit as effective foreplay as the dominatrix act from episode two. Though she faced the indignity of pretending it was Don’s idea to the client (a lie SCDP’s unreconstructed males are happier to believe than the truth), she did find real support from one corner: Peggy.

It’s an odd thing to feel proud of TV characters, and lord knows Mad Men’s scheming adulterous lot give us scant opportunity to do so, but pride best describes the feeling of seeing Peggy, previously tetchy about Megan’s rapid ascent to the copywriting position she had to claw her way to, congratulate her colleague on fixing the Heinz account. 

The same goes for Joan’s bolstering of Peggy after the ‘moving-in’ anti-climax, her recent experiences with Dr Greg perhaps having softened her tongue when it comes to other people’s relationships. SCDP’s women were on fire this week, rising above the in-fighting and cattiness recently seen from the likes of Roger and Pete, to support each other. Peggy and Joan are aspirational TV characters this series, and not just for their wardrobes.

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Which brings us to Megan’s parents, about whom the same can’t quite be said.  You could tell things weren’t going to run smoothly from the look on her father’s face as he entered the Drapers’ expensive, stylish Manhattan apartment. For bourgeois-hating Emile Calvet, he may as well have been walking into the Sun King’s Palace of Versailles. Julia Ormond was a fabulous surprise as Marie, and her repartee with Roger fizzed enjoyably throughout their scenes (though admittedly, Roger fizzes with everyone, as seen in his reunion with Mona and momentary pairing with young Sally).

Stuffed with LSD-inspired insights, Roger was a delight this week, and won quip of the episode by a mile with the line: “Who knows why people in history did good things. For all we know, Jesus was trying to get the loaves and fishes account.” Will his being on the receiving end of Marie Calvet’s special attention develop into something more significant we wonder, or is it just another of Mad Men’s brief dalliances?

Kudos to young Kiernan Shipka once again for being fantastic to watch. Whether she’s struggling to maintain adult-like composure in the face of a fish starter, or opening a door she really rather she hadn’t, she’s not only believable but capable of doing a surprising amount of the heavy lifting in her scenes.

Were we to sum up what actually happened in this week’s Mad Men, the list might go something like this: Don’s in-laws came to visit, Megan saved an account, Peggy moved in with her boyfriend and they all went to a fancy party. 

While other shows would be hard pressed to find enough revelation and drama in those events to make for a really satisfying hour of television, Mad Men operates something like a pair of compasses, the fractional movement of one arm creating wide, sweeping curves at the other. Don’s in-laws didn’t just come to visit, they came to spit at his bourgeois achievements and er, spit out something else altogether. Megan didn’t only save an account, she took a step forward in the trail blazed by women like Peggy in the workplace, albeit diffidently. Peggy didn’t just move in with her boyfriend, she joined a generation that rejected accepted norms. And finally, that wasn’t just a fancy party, it was a  really fancy party, in what Sally discovers is a really dirty city.

My only complaint is more of a query: why couldn’t we have swapped that waltz for The Lovin’ Spoonful’s Summer in the City over the end credits? That would have been perfect.

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