Mad Men, "At The Codfish Ball": some things never change

Quick Take: Mad Men, "At The Codfish Ball"
"There's nothing you can do. No matter what, one day your little girl will spread her legs and fly away." - Emile

Review: Mad Men, "At The Codfish Ball"
(S0507) Like all great shows, Mad Men is far too complex to be distilled into a single thesis statement. Mad Men isn't about any one particular thing. But for the sake of argument, let's say you had to choose a sentence that describes the essence, the core, of the show. What would it be? I've thought about this quite a bit and the closest I can get to a thesis statement for Mad Men is this: All things always change. The idea of change is central to understanding the themes of the show. This is precisely the reason Mad Men is set in the '60s -- an era of American history synonymous with change -- and not another decade. Certainly there were advertising agencies in the '40s or in the '80s, but this show isn't about World War II or Reaganomics. It's about the '60s, it's about change.

It's a cliche, I know, but change is scary. One way people attempt to deal with the fear of change is to hold on to the past. Mad Men has broached this subject before, notably with Don's (Jon Hamm) nostalgia-heavy Kodak Carousel campaign. Last night, the show dove back into these waters with Megan's (Jessica Pare) account-saving Heinz Beans idea. The tag line of Megan's ad campaign is "Some things never change." The idea of things never changing is the antithesis of what this show is about and flies in the face of the reality swirling around these characters -- which is precisely why the idea is so effective. It's easier, more comfortable, to believe that some things never change. Even when all indications point to the opposite: All things always change.

Sally Draper (Kiernan Shipka) is the personification of "change is scary." Regardless of what decade it is, growing up is a terrifying thing to do. Sally is at a point in her life where, on one hand, she feels like she's ready to be an adult. She wants to talk on the phone with boys (Glenn!), wear make up, strut around in knee-high go-go boots and attend fancy grown-up parties. But faced with a truly adult concept -- sex, right in front of her eyes -- she's repulsed, frightened, and completely unprepared.

Everyone is faced with the frightening prospect of change in "At The Codfish Ball." Peggy (Elisabeth Moss), who at one point in the series represented the changing workplace culture of the early sixties, again finds herself smack dab in the middle of a debate between the old guard and the new school when it comes to relationships between men and women. Peggy's boyfriend Abe (Charlie Hofheimer) asks her to dinner to discuss something very important. Unsure what he wants to talk about, even someone as progressive as Peggy "I Want To Smoke Some Marijuana" Olson takes a traditionalists view of the situation and assumes that he is going to ask for her hand in marriage. Peggy fails to recognize that things are changing and people no longer go straight from dating to marriage. Her mind skipped the "shacking up" stage of the relationship.

Interestingly, the change that spooks Don is of his own doing and has nothing really to do with gender roles, or social mores, or race relations. Don -- along with Megan, her wacky French-Canadian parents, and Sally -- attends a gala thrown by the American Cancer Society. Don is invited to accept an award from the ACS in recognition of his "Why I'm Quitting Tobacco" letter. What he doesn't realize until the end of the episode is that his little stunt in the New York Times may have won him a plaque, but it cost him a ton of future business. Companies don't want to work with an ad man who bites the hand that feeds him.

What struck me most about "At The Codfish Ball" -- aside from Megan's mom giving Roger a little mouth-love, which is totally awesome! -- is that Megan is the one who comes up with "Some things never change" idea. The fact that Megan would even be in a position to pitch an idea for an ad campaign is ironic proof that all things change. And not only in the sense that a scant few years earlier, an ad agency would scoff at hiring a female copy writer. The more substantive and interesting change is that Don seems to have learned a lesson from their trip to Howard Johnson. Megan is still Don's wife, but at the office she is a helluva copywriter and her ideas are deserve consideration. Although, I suppose there isn't a strict separation of the Draper's home and work lives, given their decision to have a quick bang-session at the office when the kids are cramping their style at home. Regardless, Don seems to be seeing his wife in a new light. Change is good. Change is scary. Change is constant. Some things never change. 

By Lucas High

About the author

Lucas High is a man on a mission. That mission: to watch television for a living. Drop him a line at lhigh2@gmail.com, on Facebook and on Twitter at twitter.com/LucasHigh.

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