Roger Sterling (John Slattery) and Don Draper (Jon Hamm) in...

Roger Sterling (John Slattery) and Don Draper (Jon Hamm) in “Mad Men,” Season 5. Credit: AMC

And last night's "Mad Men," entitled "At the Codfish Ball:" What have we got to say about this one? Where to begin? With fathers and daughters, and the sins of the fathers revisited upon the children, ad infinitum -- or ad naseum.

"How's New York?," the lascivious and not so little-any-more Glen asks Sally. Says she, "dirty." The French word for "dirty" is "Sale"; ah, the word play of "Mad Men." But it also refers to how Sally feels about herself.

This was an important episode and a good one; another fine outing. Nothing wrong with this season. But enough! Let's get to it:

 "At the Codfish:" Refers to -- as all you adept Googlers well know --  that old Shirley Temple soft-shoe ditty from "Captain January." It was a huge hit in the late '30s (Tunas trucking left and right...Minnies mooching what a night...There won't be a hook in site...At the Codfish ball"). But fix in your mind the plot -- baby girl rescued by lighthouse keeper, played by Buddy Ebsen. He raises her and is forced to give her up, though all live happily ever after...Consider that idea of older men and younger women -- fathers and daughters...fathers and daughters...and what really do fathers give to their daughters? The sins of the father are passed along as much as any genetic code...

 And recall that line Emile (Megan's father) utters upon seeing Sally dressed up as though she were about to compete in "Toddlers and Tiaras:" "Daddy, one day your little girl will spread her legs and fly away...” Roger, as much a reprobate as Emile, laughs heartily at the line. Don, who should probably punch Emile in the mouth, is momentarily shocked: "Did he just say what I think he said?" you can imagine Don thinking.

  He did, and Don knows it's true...

 The sins of the father...

 Emile and Marie...Megan's parents and how perfect they are. Emile is of that French  post-war intellectual type -- modeled in the image or shadow of Jean-Paul Sartre, with his "Maoist" leanings and disdain for anything redolent of America, just then exploding with every capitalist impulse he so deeply despises. But...at the same time, a lecherous old man with a taste for young women. (Marie is of course a second or third wife...)

  In other words, Megan selected for her husband someone who was exactly like her father and yet who is his diametric opposite as well. Marie, then, is something of a portrait of Megan in the future: She's a cynical reprobate who finds her brief pleasures where she can, even with Roger...Is this also Megan's future foretold? 

The sins of the father...

Roger and the 1919 World Series: We can get a clearer idea of what this vision meant. I liked the idea of time travel (in my post last week) but Roger's had time to think about it. He lost everything when he lost Lucky Strikes, he explains/complains. Like the game, everything he had was lost when the game was thrown; interesting analogy to equate a corrupt World Series game with a product that causes lung cancer -- but it was certainly used to look into the soul of Roger Sterling, where there is only rot and decay. "My whole life I've been telling myself I don't understand how people think, but it turns out it's true..." Roger's insight into himself is chilling... Roger is a hollow man -- the man in the gray flannel suit, except there's nothing in the suit. 

Meals and the hell they bring: Each episode of "Mad Men" frames its stories and its deeper meaning within settings that repeat each other or parallel one another. It's a Russian doll storytelling device that holds the key to the puzzle...

Last night, as an example: food and meals. "At the Codfish Ball" refers obliquely to the movie, specifically to a fish that Sally would not eat -- which forces Megan to make spaghetti instead, which gives her the inspiration to save the Heinz account, and frame the entire episode.

But at the ball itself, Sally finally eats the codfish -- a horrific image of Sally flopping a grotesque dead fish with her fork. The episode came full circle, but within the episode we had about four -- maybe five -- meal scenes. In each scene, people are at a table -- eating -- but of broader significance conveying news that invariably is bad news. Abe doesn't really want to marry Peggy (the scene at Minetta Tavern -- that old classic place on MacDougal -- still there.) He just wants to "shack up" with her (Peggy's mom's term.) Over dinner, Mr. Beans really plans to fire SCDP -- not give them the business.

At the codfish ball, Don learns that he's really never going to get any business again -- the observation conferred by the Ray Wise character -- because the entire corrupt (my word) business of selling stuff to people believes Don has stabbed it in the back.

There are other examples, but the pattern is obvious -- what should be an occasion for celebration is inverted to become an occasion for revelation. But the revelations are all tinged with horror -- the horror of what really lies in the hearts of people.

Sally witnesses Roger being serviced by Marie at the codfish ball. "Dirty," says she. Yup.

Top Stories