I was reminiscing with a friend yesterday about the "good old days" of Mad Men, about Sal and Kinsey and the strong, established personalities that dominated the first three seasons. Even as superfan who loves pretty much all of Mad Men unequivocally, there's something about turning on the Netflix and going back into the wood-paneled walls of the old Sterling-Cooper.
Then an episode like last night's comes along and I forget all about the old days. Mad Men is as smart, funny, and bittersweet as ever.
Spoilers lurk below.
What's left to say? I may miss the old days, but this show and the decade it's placed in is all about challenge and change. So we get Sally in go-go boots, We get our daughters telling us they're shacking up instead of getting hitched. We get backroom blow jobs and parental misguidance.
This episode was about parents and their progeny. Children following in footsteps, breaking expectations, and forging new ones. Also, a lot was resolved in terms of the season's ongoing plots. Characters achieved goals. Sally got away from her grandma for some dad time. Megan also got some parent time, but more importantly played a crucial role in an office victory. Peggy got some validation for her struggling relationship. Don got an award (Don's gotten an award or an honor every single season except Season 2.) All these accomplishments were hard earned, awkward, and eventually undermined.
Sally had to lie about her fault for her grandma's accident, then, when she felt she was finally settling in a little bit, she gets to catch Roger and Julia Ormand in the act. Her conversations with Glen were funny. Kids acting like kids.
Megan realized and stepped into her role as Mrs. Don Draper, not just in an emotional sense but in a professional one. She lied with a studied ease, and her father is probably right to worry about her soul. Megan is turning into a very good character. Her scene with Peggy confused me though. Did she want to gloat? Did Peggy pull to rug out from under her? I thought Peggy was being genuine, but Megan didn't seem very happy by the end of her speech.
For her part, Peggy was distracted by Abe asking her to move in with him. I have it on good authority from more studied bloggers that in 1966 this was still a very controversial decision. Joan's support though was very important to Peggy because Joan is like her work mom. Peggy's real mom (always nice to see) was not so kind. After all these years and all her success, Peggy is still experiencing the loneliness and insecurity of taking her own path. I'm glad Joan's grown enough to support her.
Don wins an award, but at the ceremony Leland Palmer tells him none of the other rich dudes there will do business with him because of "the letter" from last season. And we're left with the tableau at the end, the new face of the Draper galaxy featuring Don, Sally, and the Calvets. A slightly different study in discontent.
The notable exception is Roger who's having a great season. He buried the hatchet with Mona, his ex (and John Slattery's real life wife). He's after new business like a hungry young man, and he's getting blown by Julia Ormond at fancy parties. He's probably raring to make more money with a second divorce in the works. We'll see if he can convince those rich men that Don won't embarrass them in the paper.
Pete explaining his job to Megan's father.
Don and Roger had one of their best scenes ever. "There's people who have never taken LSD who already knew that."
Roger is terrifyingly good at flirting.
The episode title "At the Codfish Ball" comes from a Shirley Temple song. Make of it what you will.
Julia Ormond was fantastic.
"Spread their legs and fly" was easily the line of the week.
I will be calling Ken's father-in-law Leland Palmer until they give me reason not to.