I have to admit: as skeptical as I am about religion and politics, when it comes to relationships, I'm a complete naif. I am, in fact, I'm a bit of a pollyanna; it's against my nature to see the bad or deceptive in people.
For example: big ad agencies are breeding grounds for extramarital affairs. The late nights, the high stress and emotion, the teamwork it takes to put together and pull off a successful pitch--all conspire to make certain ad people more vulnerable to temptation. When I worked at a big agency, I was always the last to know. Even years later, I didn't know. "Of course, everybody knew about Blake and Allison," a colleague once said to me years after the fact. "Of course," I agreed, but my mind was screamingHoly shit! Blake and Allison were having an affair??
It's tough to get smacked with the reality of the big, dirty world, but, hey--we all have to grow up sometime, and some of us have to grow up sooner than others. This means you, Sally Draper, and "At The Codfish Ball," Episode 7 of Season 5 of Mad Men, is a great place to start.
For the first time this season, we're treated to an episode that's not obsessed with death--although this mortal coil still winds around our characters and occasionally trips them up. "At The Codfish Ball" opens with a doozy: Sally is talking with her old pal Glen on the telephone, and Pauline, who's babysitting, trips over the phone cord and breaks her ankle--which gives Sally an opportunity to show how grown-up she can be in an emergency. Don has to get the kids and bring them to his apartment--
--which isn't convenient. Last season--or was it the season before, already?--Don's brashness made him a hero to copywriters and a pariah to clients everywhere. When Lucky Strike fired Sterling Cooper, Don wrote a sensational and scalding "Why I'm Quitting Cigarettes" letter and published it as an ad in the New York Times. Now the American Cancer Society is honoring Don at its annual gala. The room will be loaded with big fish, and Roger, who's been a man without a country since Lucky Strike left, is all set to dangle his bait.
Megan's parents, Emile and Marie, have come in from Montreal for the event. Emile, acommunist ("or a socialist or Maoist or something," says Don) and a writer, is appalled by the opulence of the Drapers' lifestyle. Marie is bitter, bored, self-destructive; she's tired of Emile's affairs with his grad students, and she spends dinner drinking and flirting with Don. Megan knows her mother and follows her into the bedroom after dinner, where Marie is passed out lit cigarette in hand.
Megan's a smart one. She knows the kids won't eat the fish she's prepared for dinner, so she makes them spaghetti--just as Marie did for her. It gives Megan an idea for the Heinz Beans pitch: moms since the Iron Age have been serving beans to their kids, and they'll keep on serving them in the Space Age. Don embraces the idea and tell the creative team to get the boards ready for presentation.
But Raymond from Heinz has other ideas. At dinner, Megan finds out Heinz is about to fire SCDP. She tells Don--who presents Megan's idea at dinner and saves the day. Actually, Megan sets it up as Don's idea, which is really what Raymond wants. The next day, Don gives Megan all the credit and everyone in the office congratulates her.
But is that what Megan wants? Her parents' visit has unsettled her. Her father accuses her of giving up her principles. We shall see, in episodes to come, just how far the apple has fallen from the tree.
Speaking of fallen apples, this week's sidebar story involves Peggy and her boyfriend Abe. Perhaps sensing the possibility of an office indiscretion--the creative guys she hangs out with talk about her tits, for Jehovah's sake--Abe asks Peggy to move in with him. The disappointment and terror and wonder and acceptance and even delight play across Peggy's face in the space of a couple of heartbeats. It's an extraordinary performance by Elizabeth Moss.
Alas, Peggy's mother is not so happy. She's minimally tolerant of Peggy dating a Jew. But moving in with a man--especially a Jew--is like dating a Negro: not acceptable. As an act of childish naivety, Peggy's decision to live in sin takes the cake--which is literally what her mother does as she stomps out the door.
Which brings us back to poor Sally Draper. Sally asks to go see Don get his award, and Don agrees. But he's not happy when Sally appears in make-up and go-go boots. He's not ready for his little girl to grow up yet. “One day your little girl will spread her legs and fly away,” Emile says, proving that Roger Sterling doesn't get all the great lines.
Too bad for Don. At the gala, Sally sees Roger--her ostensible date for the evening--getting frisky with Marie. Sally is shocked and confused. She's been smacked in the face with the stinking codfish of adulthood.
As have we all. Don learns that the captains of industry will hand him all sorts of shiny hardware for his boldness--but they'll never hand him their business. They're all afraid he'll turn on them, too. To imagine otherwise has been hopelessly naive.
But that's life in the big city. As Sally tells Glen at the end of the episode, "it's dirty."
She's right. Being an adult means getting your brain dirty. You have to be skeptical. But I believe the occasional lapse into cluelessness is preferable to falling into cynicism.
Except when it comes to priests and politicians. You just can't trust those bastards.