The Carousel: Revisiting Mad Men: “At the Codfish Ball” / “Lady Lazarus” (S5E7, S5E8)

Hi, all! Miss Rim here. I got sick and Spiny got busy at work, so sorry about the delay. No matter what your particular favorite episode / season of Mad Men may be, I think most of us will agree that the stretch of episodes from “Mystery Date” to “Lady Lazarus” are astonishingly good TV.

A little housekeeping – we’ll be doing a double review today. Spiny will give us some thoughts about “At the Codfish Ball” and I will write about “Lady Lazarus.” And we encourage you to write your thoughts about S5 as a whole, because we’re done with it!

Later this week, we will do a “Crosstalk” about Season 6, which is (for most people) the most problematic of the series – so gather your thoughts and rewatch as much as you can, we are encouraging / hoping for an epic conversation about that.

After that, we’ll start on Seasons 7A and 7B. The 10th anniversary of the premiere is July 19th and we’d ideally like to have a Mad Men day here on the Avocado that day or close to it. A themed Day Thread, a dedicated thread to discuss the series as a whole, and if anyone wants to discuss fashion or music from the period, or incorporate the theme in a regular thread- that’d be fun too! Change your avatar and username, and go nuts.

Hit it, Spiny….

Episode 7: “At the Codfish Ball” [Spiny]
Directly following up on our last review (Far Away Places), we’re seeing Don and Megan mostly back in newlywed mode after the chaos of last week, Roger still dealing with the fallout of his acid trip and determination to divorce, and Peggy still constantly unsure where she stands with Abe.

The title of this episode comes from the name of a song in a Shirley Temple movie, in which the little orphan girl is raised by an old sailor who found her. Sally is feeling more and more parentless by the day, and she thinks she’s found, not a new father figure, but at least a friend for the night in Roger Sterling. But he doesn’t quite live up to gruff sailors in G-rated family musicals, does he?

The episode is quite clearly about estrangement, both within and between generations, and how it comes about.

The scenes between Roger and Mona, as well as Marie and Emile, would suggest the tolerance of male aging vs. the intolerance of female aging means generational splits can occur even within two partners of the same age. Mona and Marie are the same age as their husbands in reality, and have become a different generation from their husbands in practice. They’re withered matrons, and their husbands are distinguished bachelors on the town. “I thought you married Jane because I had gotten old,” Mona says. “And then I realized it was because you had.”

Meanwhile, everyone loves an innocent young girl, and everyone… doesn’t love a woman. Emile remarks sadly that “one day your IittIe girI wiII spread her Iegs and fIy away.” Don is inspired to tell Sally to take off her grownup makeup and boots. Roger is moved to be talking to a girl who doesn’t dress up for boys yet. No one thinks to question Sally’s story that Pauline tripped on a toy, and she gets credit for acting like a big girl and avoids blame for putting the phone cord in old “Bluto’s” way.

And, of course, Peggy’s worthiness in her mother’s eyes is dependent on her virginity. There’s even generational estrangement between people as close in age as Peggy and Joan. Joan doesn’t disapprove of Peggy and Abe shacking up, but she assumed Abe was about to propose. A socialist beatnik just out of college in 1966 doesn’t propose MARRIAGE to a girl he hasn’t even been dating for very long, and Joan was naive to think he would. Marriage and kids is what old-fashioned Army boys do.

There’s also some parallels with characters who inherited advantages. Ever since his trip Roger says he’s been more aware of how lucky – privileged – he is and how little of his work is about him, rather than what his father did as the founder of Sterling-Cooper. Megan’s upbringing set her up to be a well-educated future trophy wife with an artistic career on the side, and now that she is one her father suddenly feels she’s lazy.

And then there’s Don and Megan’s work, where nobody’s estranged and everything – for now – is a fairly well-oiled machine. And yet it’s not a machine that gives Megan the thrill everyone is feeling on her behalf. When Peggy warns Megan, who is feeling rather underwhelmed by her first big copywriting victory, that her job won’t ever get any better than it is today, the same thing could be said of Megan’s marriage.

Megan’s A+ pitch for Heinz Baked Beans would suggest that generations of parents replace their parents and birth generations of children – unchanging, eternal. The storylines in the episode itself obviously underline how untrue it is that children will become copies of their parents, with identical tastes and identical goals. But even the pitch itself sort of underlines that – the idea that every mother feeds every child baked beans, and Heinz Baked Beans in particular, is a little funny in 2017. (Does Heinz even still sell those?)

Ironically, people put all sorts of fear and shame onto Sally’s sexuality in this episode – the multiple makeup comments, the boots, the leg-spreading, the jeers about Glen’s “girlfriend” – but it’s Sally who truly can’t handle seeing other people as sexual. “How’s the city?” “Dirty.” is one of the best closing lines this show ever had. One word to encapsulate how it feels when you’ve started to realize adults expect the things of you that they can’t live up to themselves.

Discussion Questions
What do you think is the significance of Glen and Sally’s phone calls this season?

Why do you think the writers had Sally lose innocence by stumbling upon Roger having sex, and not an adult she actually knows?

What do you think of Emile’s advice to Megan? How much was sincere and how much was just covering up his disapproval of Don with Marxist philosophical excuses?

And now back to Miss Rim!


Episode 8: Lady Lazarus [Miss Rim]
Full disclosure: I did not realize that “Lady Lazarus” was a Sylvia Plath poem until it occurred to me to research the title of this episode.

But a very cursory “Lady Lazarus” google search yields this:
“The poem can also be understood in a larger context, as a comment on the relationship between poet and audience in a society that, as Pamela Annas claims, has separated creativity and consumption. The crowd views Lady Lazarus/the poet/Plath as an object, and therefore does not recognize her as a human being”

It’s easy to apply this to Pete and his infatuation with Beth. But I’ve always felt this was an episode that belonged to Megan. In “Codfish,” we heard her father admonish her for marrying Don and being a copywriter instead of an actress. In this episode we see Megan reconnect with her love of acting. But everyone has been pressuring Megan to be what THEY want and need her to be. Don wants a work wife in every way, Peggy wants a talented mentee. Neither Don nor Peggy can comprehend Megan’s decision.

Megan went from secretary to copywriter / Don’s wife / stepmom in a few months. She’s always been defined by her relationship to someone else on the show. We don’t know who she is. She’s young enough to not know who she is, but smart and capable enough to know that she needs to find out. And strong enough to ask others to support her.

When I went to the Mad Men exhibit at the Museum of Moving Images a few years ago, there were some notes of Weiner’s on display. “She’s just too young for Don.” was scribbled somewhere. That makes more sense to me now that I’ve been writing about the show. She is straddling two generations, and he husband is aging. The closing montage shows this. “Tomorrow Never Knows” and the Beatles album “Revolver” is significant here – I’m going to just quote Todd here: “it both reflects how the band was the pinnacle of pop culture at the time and was about to use that position to dramatically alter that culture. “

Don has not used his talents and abilities to do important work in a while. I wonder if he’ll ever write an important ad again?

Stray Observations / Discussion Questions:

I’ve been sick, and this is a double review, so pardon if this is short or disjointed. (tho I’m sure my trusty editor will help!)

“Pizza Haus!”

Megan’s fashion game is ON POINT, as always. The houndstooth dress. The wet look coat!

Joan’s reaction to Megan’s quitting. “Oh. OK.” And later, “Second wives, it’s like they have a playbook.”

I love that Peggy admires Megan’s guts in quitting.

What do you think is the significance of Cool Whip being a substitute for “the real thing?” Do you see possible foreshadowing to anyone’s arc?

What did everyone think of Pete and Beth?

Was that an appropriately epic way to use the Beatles in Mad Men? Was it a good montage, or was it only good because of the song?

Does anyone see other parallels with Pamela Annas’ quote about the consumption and objectification of creative people and creative work?