WIll Smith and Jazzy Jeff may have been the first to put it to a beat, but it's been a gripe echoed throughout the whole of time, one that young cavemen probably uttered and space children will inevitably grapple with: "Parents just don't understand." Last night's episode of Mad Men, "At The Codfish Ball," called parental wisdom into question, leaving us to wonder what happens when family ties serve to ensnare instead of strengthen us.
Peggy Gets A U-Haul Proposal
Peggy (Elizabeth Moss) and Abe (Charlie Hofheimer) were on the brink of destruction last week, thanks to Peggy's ambivalence about the relationship and her lack of sexual enthusiasm. So this week, when Abe asks her to serious dinner at the Minetta Tavern (which may sound familiar because it is still standing) and Joan (Christina Hendricks) suggests Peggy is not getting the romantic axe, but instead a diamond ring, we're admittedly more skeptical. Plus, was it just us, or was Abe more than a little irked by Peggy's breakroom banter with the boys, which was rife with sexual innuendo about "going up a cup size" and Peggy's "way with the equipment"? Somehow, it doesn't seem that an engagement is exactly looming on the horizon.
Joan's assessment of Abe's intentions may be slightly off (the two are clearly forging a friendship, yet we can't imagine Peggy shared the details on her random movie theater romp), but she does, however, give some good advice about needing to know her answer in case the question is presented. Peggy contemplates the relationship and the answer she's chosen is instantly revealed her choice of clothing. She struts in, grinning, in a bright red dress with a large, gift-like bow and her choice is clear. She's ready to give herself away, which is why it's particularly painful to watch the imaginary proposal get downgraded in reality to a request to move in together and go grocery shopping on the regular.
Peggy's smile, which starts as an indicator of genuine excitement, stays painted on her face throughout the conversation, but when it becomes entirely clear "Hertz or U-Haul?" is the only question she'll get, her cheerful facade collapses, revealing her disappointment. Joan tries to put a positive spin on the situation (and she seems to do so sincerely), calling Peggy "brave" and their co-habitation "a beautiful statement," but Peggy still seems less than enthralled. She may be a trailblazer in the office, but she's not entirely comfortable taking on the non-traditional route, particularly in her personal life; "A freak in the office and a lady in bed," as Usher would put it. As she revealed to Dawn a few episodes back: "I try but I don't know if I have it in me. I don't know if I want to."
Peggy's mom, the monsoon on her daughter's makeshift parade, crushes any peace of mind she may have had about her new living arrangement. She spares Peggy nothing, telling her Abe is "using her for practice" and makes a ridiculous suggestion that, "If you're lonely, get a cat." Her advice may have been off-base, but her wisdom is conventional, even now, and would have been almost unanimously held in the late '60's. Peggy thinks she's being independent, but she is giving the Abe a lease on domestic bliss when she actually wants him to be investing in it. Ordinarily, Peggy's mom is not the voice of reason, but we can't help but think that her words may prove true, and that Peggy invited her over because she subconsciously needed a dose of hard truth.
Meet The Unhappily Married Marie and Emile
Examples of happy, healthy marriages are hard to come by on this show. In fact, we can't think of a single marriage (of those whose innards we're given privy to) that isn't eroded by distrust and disrespect. Megan's (Jessica Pare) mom and dad, Marie (high-end guest star Julia Ormond) and Emile (Ronald Guttman) are in town, and like every legally-binded union we've seen on Mad Men, their union is showing some serious cracks. Their interactions are laced with subverted jabs ("Every daughter should get to see her father as a success") and blatant left hooks ("You wont be happy until I'm dead) that even a flowery French accent can't take the edge off. Suddenly, we understand why Megan is so condoning of her the "kiss and make-up" pattern that she and Don (Jon Hamm) have established; to her, this is what a marriage looks like. It's the status-quo in her parent's relationship, a routine she casually dismisses, but the reality of their marriage is ugly, even compared to some of the tenuous unions we've seen on the show.
Sally (Kiernan Shipka) is exposed to the root of its ugliness at the American Cancer Society Ball, where Don is receiving an award for best break up letter his anti-smoking editorial. Sally and Bobby (Mason Vale Cotten) are at Don's place after Sally's furtive phone conversation with newly minted frat boy Glen Bishop (Marten Holden Weiner) inadvertently lands Grandma in the hospital after she trips over the cord. Don is impressed by her resourcefulness in Grandma's time of need, while we're in awe of how quick she is to blame the incident on Bobby. Sally is lying like a pro (an unofficial mark of adolescence), but it isn't until Megan and her mom deck her out in Judy Jetson attire that Don sees what we see: Sally isn't a little girl anymore.
Still, she's not an adult just yet, which is why Don (in the episode's best display of parenting skills) makes her ditch the lipstick and go-go boots, and also why she's so disenchanted at the ball. There are no glossy marble staircases like she imagined, just a bunch of old men in suits. Grown-up food isn't all its cracked up to be, either, and the anti-climactic cuisine (a gutted-out fish she hesitantly samples) illuminates the title of this episode, "At The Codfish Ball." Adult fare is not yet of her palate, which is why it's particularly jarring when she sees Marie on her knees in front of Roger. When Sally returns to her cold fish, the server asks, "Excuse me miss, are you finished with that?" and her answer is yes. She's had enough of playing grown-up. As she later admits to Glen, she's deemed adulthood as "dirty."
The Adults Sample A Buffet Of Disappointments
To complete the poor parenting trifecta, Megan's father swoops in to taint his daughter's "big beans success," as he condescendingly labels it. Megan is inspired by the one endearing thing her mother does, overlooking mom's shameless flirting with every penis-owner she comes into contact with: She's no stranger to making spaghetti, a long-standing tradition in their house. The maternal significance of this spurs Megan to come up with the winning Heinz pitch; a mother and daughter who resume a pleasurable ritual, regardless of time and place.
Megan not only conceives the idea, but executes it in a pinch when it's revealed they're about to be fired. Megan prods Don into pitching Raymond (John Sloman) over dinner, and the two work seamlessly together, presenting the idea in such a charming manner that their walking papers magically morph into a champagne toast. Don, who was blown away when she first conceived the idea, is electrified when she lands the deal. "You're good at all of it," he says, and he seems genuinely thrilled that Megan is materializing as his perfect match, and so are we. We've retired the fence-sitting: Megan has officially won us over.
Unfortunately for her, her father is not sold on the idea of Megan's advertising ambitions. He thinks she's taken the express route to contentment, and that the short cut will prove "bad for [her] soul." We haven't been given much insight into Papa Calvet aside from his assumed affair and Socialist leanings, but we do know that Megan is her father's favorite. So while his advice ("Don't let your love for this man stop you from doing what you wanted to do") seems like it's a reaction against Don on the surface, we think it's more a well-meaning warning against losing sight of herself and her dreams. We don't know what Megan gave up (acting?) but we do know that, as much as we hate to admit it, our parents know us best.
Plus, her dad's comments give a source to Megan's somewhat stilted excitement when Peggy congratulates her on winning the Heinz account. Peggy assures Megan that, "This is as good as this job gets. Savor it." When Megan offers a sheepish smile, Peggy looks a little confused by her reaction. Megan's father's observations offer insight into her reaction, and also the weight behind the tag-line she supplied for Heinz, "Some things never change." And people most rarely of all.
Other Points Of Interest
- Who knew Roger was so good with kids? We loved his banter with Sally, whom he calls his date for the awards ball and supply his ego by repeating "Go get 'em tiger!" And, as usual, Roger supplied some of the night's standout gems at Sally's harmless expense: "You're a mean drunk," and "I got you a Shirley Temple. It's time you started tapering off."
- The moment when Don's self-doubts about his place at the ball (and in life, generally) materialize when a board member reveals a harsh truth: "He loves your work. They all do. But they don't like you."
- Megan's shifting of priorities for Don could spell serious trouble in the future. If Betty (January Jones) once gave up her modeling career for motherhood, and the result was a deep sense of dissatisfaction that seeped into their marriage, Megan giving up her own dreams for Don could prove disastrous.
- Emile's foreign faux pas: "There's nothing you can do. One day your little girl will spread her legs and fly away." Naturally, Roger is there to laugh along with us.
Written by Shanté Cosme (@ShanteCosme)