Mad Men, 5.07 “At the Codfish Ball”
Weiner, who runs this show with a balanced head as well as an iron fist, remarked that “At the Codfish Ball” is about disappointment. Indeed, this sentiment is perpetuated in each of the primary story lines of the week. However, there is a deeper subtext in this episode – a thread that has been spreading like black ink all over the white carpet with which this season began. The life cycle.
Megan’s idea for the Heinz pitch is a marvelous one. A mother and daughter interchange through all of history and into the future — the same people swapping back and forth and performing the same functions. “At the Codfish Ball” might have been about disappointment on the surface, but, “Some things never change,” a shrewd tagline for Heinz, was consistently bubbling up.
First, we saw Sally come to her step-Grandmother’s rescue by following a procedure she surely learned from her mother. She then shacks up with her father (and father’s in-law’s) for a few days. She is allowed to tag along with everyone to the American Cancer Society Ball and see Don receive an award for his audacious letter from season 4. While out shopping with Megan and her mother, Marie, sally buys a new dress, short at the knee and preferably accompanied by high boots. Make-up, boots, and all, Don sees her and forces her to remove the make-up and boots. Sally’s transformation into her glamorous mother has always been inevitable, but only now is it actually beginning to happen. After experiencing the adult life for an evening, she can only call Glenn and say, “It’s dirty.”
The episode features a good deal of time with Peggy and Abe. Peggy begins to suspect a proposal after receiving a strange dinner invitation, but Abe asks to move in. The dinner scene is prepared with excellence and is made terribly painful to watch. We can see Abe’s satisfaction and sweaty nervousness. He doesn’t see what we see in Peggy, a deep disappointment in not getting what she expected. It’s an element to relationships that we all have experienced, proposals or not. In this way, Peggy is connected with her Catholic mother and the cycle crosses the threshold yet again. She knew exactly how her mother would react to the news. She probably feels the same way. One question remains, is Peggy more afraid of being alone or more in love with Abe?
When Don and Megan make the pitch to Heinz, it is yet another variation on the theme of Don’s genius. But this time, there are more layers of complexity in how the content of the pitch mirrors the character’s problems. Megan says that “A mother and child and dinner” is all there is to it. The cycle, yet again. Perhaps the most intriguing area of this exposition is in Megan’s reaction to the news and in her interaction with Peggy. Peggy’s reaction to Megan’s success was layered with so many pieces of subtext. This season is digging into the way that personal and professional relationships interweave. Essentially, Peggy regurgitates the same line she had just received from Joan. You can even see on her face that she doesn’t believe what she is saying. After Megan walks away, it’s as though Peggy realizes that she was lying and, most importantly, that Joan was lying to her. It’s all just about moving into the powder room to put on your face.
“At the Codfish Ball” is so full of reference to the girl becoming the woman. In Sally, Megan, and Peggy, we can’t help but recognize how they are entering another phase of the lifecycle presented to Heinz. They’re all living their own advertisements. Roger looks back at his childhood during last weeks trip and recognizes the point where everything fell apart. Even baseball has been corrupted. Even more than disappointment, this episode was about the patterns of history, the patterns of change, and the inevitability of corruption. “It’s dirty.”