Mad Men Recap: Meet The Parents

The episode title, "At The Codfish Ball," is a Shirley Temple song from the 1936 movie Captain January (video below) about all the different fish "from the herring to the whale" going down to a jamboree, at the bottom of the sea. In their own jamboree, old and new characters come together for multiple gatherings of fish: Megan cooks Dover sole, they eat fish at the Heinz dinner, Stan finished the shrimp in the office, and Sally picks at her fish at the American Cancer Society dinner aka the Codfish Ball. Unlike the intimacy of the past few, this episode zooms out to show us a wider view, bringing in a great crew: my favorite characters Glen and Mona, Peggy's mother (who's great I just like her less), and Megan's communist and sexpot French parents Dr. Emile and Marie Calvet. Let's party.

Megan's parents and Don's kids are staying at the Draper lovenest. With all three generations in the house, we see the disconnect between parents and children and the widening of the gap. At the same time, members of the same generation who usually stand alone are teaming up for support: Sally and Glen, Roger and Mona, Don and Megan, Megan and Peggy, Peggy and Joan.

So Glen is still awesome and talks to Sally on the phone from boarding school, "weeknight, nice". (Also his presence is meta-generational since he's MW's son.) He gives us our date cues, we know it's September because he's back in school (were there others I missed?). He and Sally have the cutest relationship. I'm pretty sure she pretends to be his dad's secretary when she calls. We haven't heard from Glen since he moved away after his massive blowout with Betty in the finale, but it seems like they talk all the time. She mocks him about his camp girlfriend, "oh come on, her again," and he asks if she bought the Spoonful album. Glen went to camp and came back with a broken heart and new songs to buy. Yup, sounds about right.

Mona returns, looking fabulous. Just last episode I was wondering whatever happened to Mona and here she is! Roger decided to start trying in life again so he calls Mona to ask for her help getting the Firestone Tire account (and perhaps reconnect with his family? We almost forget he has a daughter, too). Mona agrees to help, since he's still supporting her and because post-LSD enlightened Roger is amazing. He's walking around dropping hilarious truth bombs on everyone. He tells Mona, "My whole life people are telling me I don't understand how other people think and it turns out it's true". Even better, he tells Don, "It's very interesting, but a lot of times, you think people are looking at you but they're not, their mind's elsewhere." Don responds, "Lots of people that haven't taken LSD already know that, Roger." And his best: "Who knows why people in history did good things, for all we know Jesus was trying to get the loaves and fishes account."

All last week's tension between Don and Megan seems to have dissolved and the two of them appear stronger than ever, seamlessly dealing with her parents, his kids and Heinz. Dr. Emile is a communist who disapproves of Don, his job and his fancy apartment and Marie is a competitive, alcoholic slut (that sounds aggressive, but I just mean it factually). They have the familiar dysfunctional relationship we're used to -- it's just in French. He has a young girlfriend, they snap at and mock each other, what else is new.

Don's very cute reading up to impress Megan's parents. He's reading The Fixer by Bernard Malamud (just came out in '66, considered high brow fiction) in bed and then the French dictionary in the office. Last week, Don and Megan fought because he didn't take her career seriously, but this week he could not be more proud of her success. Based on serving Sally spaghetti the previous night (like her mother and her mother's mother had before her), Megan comes up with this cross-generational idea for Heinz. It shows mothers serving beans to their children, going back to the cavemen era through time to the future on the moon: "Heinz, Some Things Never Change." Done. Don loves it, the boys love it. Don's totally turned on by her talent (he just didn't know that she had any before -- and how would he?).

At the Heinz dinner, Don and Megan turn into a super hot creative Dream Team. When Raymond's wife tells Megan she likes her so much, she hopes that they can still be friends, Megan clues Don in that they're about to be fired and prompts him to do the pitch right there at the table. Don starts selling and Megan sets up the tagline by adding, "We'll always be busy and rushing around, but a mother and child and dinner, that'll never change." Alley-oop. It's been so long since we've seen that Draper magic in action, but he kills it and she kills it and they got him. Raymond says, "It's the future, it's all I ever wanted."

Megan is excited about the idea and great in the pitch, but the next day when everyone's congratulating her, she's pointedly unexcited. What happened? Peggy's so sweetly proud of her little protégé. She excitedly congratulates her and says she'd be jealous but she feels like she's experiencing her first time again. Peggy tells her, "This is as good as this job gets." And that might be what it is, this is as good as it gets and it's still not what she wants. Earlier, Megan's dad tells Don, "My daughter pretends to find interesting what I find interesting because she loves me." When he says this it seems to mimic the way Megan had acted with Don (remember: "I like going to work with you because you love work and you love me"), but not the way she felt about this. She seemed genuinely inspired about this idea but I guess her parents got to her. Her dad hasn't even yelled at her yet, but it seems like the mere presence of her parents, her awareness of their disapproval and the reminder of what she once wanted (is it acting??) is sinking in and casting doubt on her career. Later at the awards dinner, her father tells her he's hates that she "gave up" and that her love for Don shouldn't stop her from following her passion. She doesn't want to hear it, but considering her earlier reserve, she already knows it's at least partially true and something she can't ignore. *What is her passion? We haven't heard of anything besides acting and I feel like that's not a career her intellectual father would support.

Meanwhile, Peggy's been dealing with her own generational conflict with her mother and Abe. Abe calls and insists on seeing her, "How's Minetta Tavern sound for dinner?" (#SomeThingsNeverChange), so Peggy runs to Joan to move a meeting and talk about what this means, a great Peggy/Joan interaction we haven't gotten since they dished about Don's proposal. Peggy thinks Abe's going to break up with her, but Joan tells her, in her experience, a man insisting on a meal means a proposal. Joan informs her "men don't take the time to end things, they ignore you until you insist on a declaration of hate" (so true). Joan sends her off shopping and she arrives at dinner all girly, wrapped up in a pink bow with pearls ready to accept his proposal. Since when you're properly dressed for something it never happens, Abe proposes... they move in together. It's so sad (and Moss is so great) as you can see Peggy's hopes dashed across her face while she sits there smiling. She keeps herself together and says yes anyone to this second-rate proposal -- ironically getting to say 'I do,' only when asked if she'd like to eat.

Unsure about the situation herself, Peggy is nervous to tell Joan, who was once the beacon of convention, outlining her path to marriage. Joan responds skeptically, "Shacking up?" but she quickly changes her tune and says, "Good for you." Joan got the "dream" and married a doctor, but he raped her and left her for the army, so who's to know what's good anymore? Joan calls her "brave" and comforts Peggy's bruised ego, allowing her to be happy with her decision.

Peggy tries to be an adult and invites her mother over for dinner with Abe to tell her the news. Obviously, this doesn't go well. I feel like I know her religious, judgmental mother well enough at this point to know she's not going to support her daughter -- who already had a baby out of wedlock -- living, yet again, in sin. Her mother takes back her cake (!) and tells Peggy that Abe will just use her for practice 'til he decides to get married to someone else and that if she's lonely she should buy three cats and then die -- simultaneously confirming all her deepest fears and showing her how little she gets her. And to keep up with the father-daughter theme running through this episode, her mother assures her that her father would be equally disappointed in her not living up to her potential. Thanks, Mom. Her mother is great calling Abe Abraham and her surprised/skeptical "really?" when Abe says ham is his favorite. (Maybe he's not proposing because of the religion issue? His parents probably don't accept her, either.)

Don and Sally's father-daughter dynamic mimics Megan and her father's. Sally is trying to act grown up throughout the episode taking care of Pauline's ankle and buying a dress to request to go to the grown-up dinner. When she comes out all dolled up she looks absolutely adorable, but Don just stares at her in disbelief at how grown up she's become and immediately makes her take off the boots and makeup. Dr. Emile tells him knowingly (and somewhat accusingly), "Don there's nothing you can do, no matter what, one day your little girl will spread her wings legs and fly away," the too-true meaning behind a father's fears.

At the American Cancer Society dinner, they all go down to the bottom of the sea and no one comes up unscathed. Before he accidentally scars her for life, Roger and Sally are great together. She's his date for the night and they're all each other needs. He brings her a Shirley Temple (!!) and she puts his business cards in her purse and says, "Go get 'em tiger," and she teases him about ruining the speeches. (Anyone see Kiernan on The B in Apt 23? She kind of played that same role, telling Dawson to shut up.)

Don, Sally, Roger and Marie get up from the table and leave Dr. Emile to tell Megan she gave up on her passion, and by the time they all come back they're all disillusioned to their lives (except Roger, but he doesn't come back).

Don has an eye-opening conversation with Ken's father-in-law, Ed Baxter, who tells him everyone at the American Cancer Society likes his work but they don't like him. They'll bury him in awards, but they'll never work with him after he "bit the hand." It's not until this moment that Don realizes how potential clients really see him and what kind of damage his letter actually did.

Inspired by Roger's 'try everything, having everything' speech, Marie's the one who really goes down, on him, in the back room -- and Sally walks in! Oh man, this is horrifying. Sally's seen so many bad things at this point, but her grandmother blowing her date. Calling Dr. Edna!

By the time Sally, Don, and Marie sit back down with Megan and her father at the table, all five of them (six including Peggy) are disillusioned, jarred by an uglier reality they can't un-see. In the final words of the episode, Sally sums it up: The city is "dirty."

A few other things:

This episode is like Megan's Heinz pitch. We see how many things never change: cheating husbands, retaliating wives, disappointed parents, protective fathers, disillusioned children.

Julia Ormond is great as Marie.

That white carpet continues to be a bad idea (and symbolic) -- Dr. Emile stains it with ink, like he's about to stain their marriage with doubt.

I loved Pete's flattering Dr. Emile to explain what he does all day, and how much Emile loves it.
We haven't seen much of Pete since he fell apart in "Signal 30," but he seems to be relaxed and doing much better.

Does anyone think Roger and Mona will hook up again? I'd like to see more of her.

I'd really love to see Glen react to Fat Betty.

What else? Thoughts?