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Friday, 5 of March of 2021

Mad Men – “At the Codfish Ball”

“For all we know, Jesus was trying to get the fishes and loaves account.”

Emile, Marie, Megan, Don, and Sally sit at a table at the awards ceremony.

Times are tough.

Not a hook in sight.

There’s so much disappointment in this week’s episode of Mad Men it’s hard to even collect it in one room, even when that room is a ball room. That’s not to say Mad Men doesn’t have its share of shame/disappointment themes throughout the series but this week’s makes you feel particularly sorry for just about everyone, even Don. It was, like, a contagion brought down from Montreal by Megan’s parents.

With how humbling the season has been for so many characters, you get the sense that this year is about one man, the only dude that’s been on the top the whole time. There is no humbling him because he is so humble. There is no backstabbing him because he doesn’t care. Episode after episode, there is one man that always comes out smelling like a rose. This is the year of Ken Cosgrove.

Everyone else: you’re screwed.

But it’s probably that way by design. Drama is built out of people treating even trivialities with an attentive lour. There is no story without conflict and obstacles. A show full of Ken Cosgroves would be boring if a bit more feel-good. But, without someone like Cosgrove, one might assume that the universe is collapsing on these people all the time, that they were fated to be part of the darkest timeline. With Kenny kicking around, we realize that these people are doing it to themselves.

Take Don for instance. Things seem to be looking up for him. His wife is turning out to be a superstar in the company and impressive even to him in his professionally jaded old age. Their power couple tandem brought an account from the brink, establishing this pairing to be stronger than Don’s last marriage where the wife was obligatorily supportive but never really involved. Here, they are an actual team.

But it might have been Don standing on his own that’s caused their company to struggle so much. Don’s letter to the cigarette companies was a bold move, one that put them on the map and so concretized Don’s position as a figurehead/messiah/idol you’d think he was Cristiano Ronaldo in a Nike commercial. It was strong. It was progressive. It might’ve totally screwed him.

When sitting with The Devil at the bar (aka Ray Wise aka Cosgrove’s father-in-law), it’s revealed to Don that, even though these people at the ball would give him an award for speaking out against evils of the tobacco industry, none of them would touch SCDP because of how they “bit the hand.” The very move that put them on the map might have also strangled the agency in the long-run. All the big names on the board will entertain them but never hire them. Don needs another drink after that.

Speaking of drinks, Roger and Marie (you read that however you want). With Roger not even fully aware of how badly he’s striking out (though his team-up with Sally is THE MOST ADORABLE THING THE SHOW HAS EVER DONE) decides that it’s time to act on his new almost-singledom and enter into some consensual acts with a married woman that hasn’t had the opportunity at an LSD-fueled breakup yet. What makes Roger’s scenario so upsetting is that he doesn’t even know how big he failed. Only in the light of Don’s information do we know how fruitless the evening will be for him. And, as he gets head from Marie (I never thought I’d see Julia Ormond mime a BJ), the character doesn’t have the benefit of knowing how depressing it is. He feels he’s on the brink of a new age of success and womanizing and, really, he’s just an old man grasping at straws and getting as far with a woman as a 15-year old in the back seat of a hatchback. He’s chosen a path and, for a man who’s as sensitive and drained of self-esteem as he is, will only lead to misery.

With orchestra seats to Roger’s theater of sexual sadness, Sally’s all grown up now. Still one of the top three most intriguing characters on the show (Don’s not one of them), Sally struggles to grow up and find her independence. Going to the ceremony, wearing a new dress Marie and Megan picked out for her (even having the guts to present it to her father while wearing makeup and knee-high boots), and then being Roger’s “date” to the shin-dig, she’s fooled into thinking that she is accepted by the grown-ups. She even eats the fish! She’s competing with the Walt-ified Glenn, who’s already had a girlfriend and ribs his friends about “balling” their sisters. I’m sure she missed that veil of innocence though after she saw first hand what balling means. She did, didn’t she? I’m not sure I understand what balling means.

Megan’s disappointment is less jarring. Her success puts her deep into the relationship with this company as a copywriter instead of doing what she wanted to do when she got to New York. Her miserable father reminds her that getting married and selling beans is not how she wants her life to turn out, partially as a reminder, partially because he hates her industry in the gaze of his politics, but mostly because he wants success for his daughter that he could never have. That’s right: the success she’s having as SCDP is actually failure. And you see the trepidation she feels for it throughout the episode.

There no time where you see her trepidation more than with Peggy. Peggy looks sincere when she congratulates her on winning back Heinz (an account that Peggy herself put in jeopardy) and tells her that her victory is like Peggy’s victory. From that interaction, things get — complicated.

To get it out of the way, Peggy agrees to move in with Abe (after a brief proposal scare) and tells her mother, who we haven’t seen in ages because, and this is the only reason I can imagine, Matthew Weiner is bored with her character. It’s too bad they can’t bring back Lee Garner, Jr, to hit on Mom so they can spirit away her character. The resulting argument stemming from her mother’s disapproval of shacking up proves only that things are only going mediocre at home and her work is suffering. More importantly, her relationship with Don is suffering.

Peggy already seems disappointed by Megan’s increased role in Don’s life as being the confidante, especially after their night in “The Suitcase.” But at least that was only in his romantic situation. Peggy has no interest in that. Never has. But now Megan is encroaching on Peggy’s professional arena. Before hiring Ginsberg, she was warned that he might try to steal her position but it looks like her biggest competition is actually the wife eclipsing her on all fronts. As she struggles to be like Don (and can’t), she also has to suffer a decreased role in his life. When was the last time we saw Don ask Peggy for her opinion on something? The last time he fully supported her on anything? The last time they talked just the two of them when he wasn’t harried about Megan being kidnapped?

I see a fight ahead. A rumble. A tussle between these two ladies. Probably not a physical altercation. Did they have KY wrestling in the ’60s?

Overall, a very subtle episode but those are sometimes the best this show has to offer. A lot of interpersonal angst, parental relationship strife, but, mostly, people dealing with their disappointing lives. Except Ken. He just got Heinz back without even trying. Everything’s coming up Cosgrove.

Other things:

  • God, Glen’s old and somehow still so creepy. If this was a Lindelof operation, the kid would’ve been written off ages ago.
  • It’s weird when physical things happen on this show. I’m not sure if I can laugh or not.
  • What kind of accent is Emile supposed to have? German? French-English? Is that what Canadians sound like?
  • I love that Roger and Mona are on good terms. I like their chemistry. And I like how she makes him look so desperate.
  • Handshake.
  • People that need to have more scenes together: Peggy and Joan, Peggy and Roger, Peggy and Don, Peggy and Ginsberg, Peggy and Sally, Sally and Roger. There’s a theme here.
  • Joan’s jab at Peggy’s clothes is much like when she opened the door after Lane kissed her: smooth, outwardly unassuming, but inwardly, to the victim, very assuming.
  • Roger: “I’ve been working this morning, too.” Don: “You finished yours, now you’re moving onto mine?”
  • “Moving in together” is such a commonplace next-step nowadays but it seems like half-assed, non-committal bull pucky when applied to Peggy and her situation. It’s pumped up by Joan, sure, but, somehow, Abe comes off looking like a jerk.
  • How disconnected is the guy from Heinz that he thinks kids are raving about beans?
  • “I don’t know what the Canadian equivalent of baseball is but this is a homerun.”
  • I love this section about Emile calling the grad student instead. Don doesn’t even blink when Megan tells him who her father called first after getting rejected. Because Peggy is like Don’s grad student and he would tell her anything. It’s an allegory for the conflict Don’s not dealing with: who’s more important now?
  • “One day, your little girl will spread her legs and fly away.”
  • I’ve loved Pete’s cameo roles in the past two episodes. “That. Is what I do everyday.”
  • Seriously, can we just get some Roger and Sally webisodes?

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