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Monday, April 30, 2012

Mad Men: "At the Codfish Ball"

Mad Men has never been accused of being anything like the failed NBC drama Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, but tonight I started to wonder whether the two shows might have a similar problem. If any of you remember Studio 60, you likely remember how the show's major flaw was that all the characters kept insisting that the late night variety show they were working on was breaking new ground in comedy, while every part of the show within the show was lame and unoriginal.

However, Mad Men is obviously a bit more thought out than Studio 60, so I trust that Matt Weiner wanted the audience to question Megan Calvet Draper's pitch to Heinz. Was it really that great an idea, or was Don just buying it because Megan is his wife and he kind of owes it to her after the whole Howard Johnson's thing?Sure, Stan and Ginsberg seem to think the idea is good, and Heinz buys it right away, especially after Megan makes it seem like it was almost all Don's idea. So at least we know Megan is better at reading the client than Peggy is. But is she really a talented copywriter? After all, we've been told repeatedly that Heinz has no taste when it comes to this sort of thing.

I think maybe the more interesting thing is that, even when they admit her idea is better, Stan and Ginsberg resent Megan for having it. It means more work for them, and her preferential treatment rankles no matter how well-deserved. Most of "At the Codfish Ball" seemed to consist of moving the pieces into place for further revelations. Most of the stories introduced are resolved only in ways that promise more to come. Roger seems recharged and is practically working on the LSD account pro-bono. He's also speaking to his ex-wife again and using her contacts to reinvest himself in the business. Peggy is expecting a proposal after Abe calls her away to dinner, but instead he just wants to move in, to her place. Joan is kind, caring, and surprisingly supportive, but it seems doubtful that Peggy's unconventional (for the time) living arrangement will result in domestic bliss.

As for Sally, well, the show has been teasing a major catastrophe with her for a while. Sally's problem is that she doesn't have a strong adult role model. It seems like her basic instincts are okay, for instance in her calm reaction to Pauline's fall, but her learned behavior is entirely self-serving and dishonest, like blaming the fall on one of her brother's toys when it was really the phone line she had stretched into her room. Tonight, it was tragic to watch her latch on to the utterly charming Roger, only to have the positive effect (she tried the fish!) ruined by catching him and Mrs. Calvet engaged in a sex act which I doubt Sally even understands at her age. So much for that.

What's to become of Sally? Will she and Creepy Glen, who to be fair seems largely de-creepified at his prep school, run off together and live a vagrant life? Will Sally stop eating and get addicted to Pauline's Seconal tablets? Will she poison Betty's ice cream sundaes? (Please?)

Overall, a bit of a let-down after the last three weeks. But then again just about anything would have been.

Other thoughts:

-The dinner scene with the Heinz couple was a nice comic setpiece as the Drapers and the Cosgroves struggled to get on the same page after Megan tells Don they're going to lose the account. I especially enjoyed Ken getting angry with his wife for interrupting Don's pitch. He didn't want her to break the spell.

-They didn't follow up on it in the episode itself, but Abe's move-in proposal sure seemed like a power play to get Peggy more under his thumb. He sure felt threatened by Peggy's comfort level with Stan and Ginsberg's dirty talk.

-Business-wise, the biggest development is probably the fact that despite awarding him an honor for his cigarettes-are-evil letter, Ray Wise clues Don in to the fact that none of the members of the board will let their corporations hire Don. After all, how can they trust that they won't wind up the subject of a similar letter?

-The actor playing Emile Calvet had a great episode, and I especially loved his malaprop (Freudian slip?) about Sally spreading her legs and flying away.

-Still, Roger probably takes line of the night honors with: "For all we know, Jesus was just trying to land the loaves and fishes account."

-In other portentous developments, what are we to make of Emile's disappointment with Megan's new life? When he referred to her dreams, was he talking about her acting, or something else?

-Harry Crane is back, if only to try and tell a story about something he wasn't there to see.

-No Betty (yay!) No Lane (boo!)

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