In-laws. If you ever hear someone say they enjoy the company of theirs, it’s because their spouse is within earshot. As has been the case with Mad Men in the past, it seems dads just don’t take to the idea of their little girl shacking up with Don Draper (Jon Hamm). Perhaps it’s intimidation or competitiveness, or because something in their genes tells fathers that everything bad they’ve ever thought or done is exemplified in the man who has taken their daughter away. The former certainly isn’t hard to imagine – especially with Megan (Jessica Paré) recognizing the competitiveness in her own mother, then, naturally, the same would be true of the father.
In ‘At the Codfish Ball,’ we finally get to meet the woman Megan has been talking French to all this time, and wouldn’t you know it, it’s the lovely Julia Ormond as Marie, and “Have a drink. Become nice again,” is the first reference we have to the woman – from her husband Emile (Ronald Guttman), no less.
All season, Mad Men has been dishing out references to time and the gradual realization that no matter where you are in your life, those around you will be growing older and having experiences of their own. Sometimes those experiences will exceed even the dreams and expectations you’ve had for your own life – or, in the case of a father, the dreams he has had for his child.
‘At the Codfish Ball’ tells this in thorough fashion by having the in-laws present not simply to make Don feel uncomfortable, or judged, but as an example of how the haves and the have-nots can interpret generations of experience and expectations differently. It’s not as though Emile is hurting financially; no, it’s that he feels everyone’s eyes on Don, and knows that with advancing age will come the reminder that his achievements were not held with the same regard as this new interloper in his family. Sure, Emile can cover it with his differing ideologies that suggest him to be an intellectual, communist, socialist – whatever. But when Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) strokes Emile’s ego – having only just made his acquaintance – it’s clear Emile’s desires for himself lie far beyond his philosophy.
That is the thing with bitter pills: they affect those most unwilling to swallow them the same as the few who had been blissfully unaware their existence. By episode’s end, there is the sense that everyone: Don, Megan, her parents and even Sally (Kiernan Shipka) have all been unwittingly exposed to some unpleasant truth that, even while basking in the glow of success, there is an ugliness somewhere just waiting to dim the lights.
After riding high with her success in saving SCDP from losing the Heinz account, and being the only woman at the table not being actively shushed by her husband, Megan was having a banner week in her professional life. That it be capped off with her husband receiving an award from the American Cancer Society should have been the stuff dreams are made of. Unfortunately, as some parents are wont to do, Emile reminds his daughter of the dreams she once had, and accuses her of simply skipping to the end, rather than experiencing success through the pleasure of earning it.
In a way, Emile’s disappointment in his daughter is most apparent in his bitter remark at the too adult stylings of Sally Draper, who is simply excited to watch her father receive an award. The line is an insult not just to the women in the room, but to Don as well, as it was delivered with the belief that any interpretation would see it as a mere confusion of language.
It seems that’s just the way parents are, especially when Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) tries to share with her mother the news that she and Abe (Charlie Hofheimer) are planning to move in together. Considering the way her mother reacted when Peggy told her she was moving into Manhattan, there was no way the idea that – to a very Catholic woman no less – the idea her daughter would soon be living in sin would go over well. Sadly, this only adds to the sense that Peggy was given some sort of consolation prize, anyway. After briefly letting her imagination think the worst, Peggy is turned around by Joan (Christina Hendricks), who suggests a proposal may be on the table. Rather than marriage, though, Abe just wants to move in, and Peggy gives him the answer he wants to hear, even though he didn’t ask the question she’d been waiting, and maybe even hoping for.
The episode is also still processing (as we all are) the mind expansion of Roger Sterling (John Slattery) during last week’s ‘Far Away Places.’ After coming to the realization that the game had been rigged in his favor, as Emile suggests has happened to Megan, Roger sets out to get himself back into the game, and not allow the passage of time or the Pete Campbells of the world to tell him it’s too late to keep trying. Naturally, that means accompanying Don to the award ceremony in search of new clients. The result of Roger’s new outlook on life is winning the very explicit affections of Marie, and forever tainting Sally’s view of New York City.
If there is one thing to be taken away from ‘At the Codfish Ball,’ it’s that Bobby Draper (Mason Vale Cotton) suggests what would make the best episode of Mad Men ever: Roger Sterling as babysitter to Don’s children.
Mad Men continues next Sunday with ‘Lady Lazarus’ @10pm on AMC. Watch a preview below: