"At the Codfish Ball", the latest episode of Mad Men, was an episode about relationships. Now, saying that Mad Men is a television show about relationships is redundant, but its true and so it has to be said. Each week, this show presents us with characters, characters that we have come to know so well, in different emotional, spatial and "thematic" distances from each other. And by watching how these people interact in different settings-at work, at home, working while at home, making a home at work-we will perhaps learn how to pay attention and learn from each of the relationships in our own lives.
More specifically-as far as relationships go-last night's episode was all about "teams." I am an avid sports fan, especially the NBA, so the idea of a team and how people fill their roles on a team has always fascinated me. When working with or playing on a team, you have to know when to take the dominant role, when to look for individual success and when to subvert the desire to excel individually and support the other people you are working/playing with. The operating principle of my day job is to observe the work flow in all areas of my office and figure out what I can do to put the people I work with in the best position to do their job well. Within that framework, I always have to carefully measure when to make sure my work stands out and when to let it blend in with the success someone else receives due in part to my set up. Any point guard in basketball will tell you the same thing.
In "At the Codfish Ball", we were presented with many different "teams." We were first given Roger asking his first ex-wife Mona to work with him in order to gather as much information as possible about the people who would be attending the American Cancer Society ball (the "Codfish Ball" of the title). Roger has an ease with most people, but it was still fascinating to see the friendly back-and-forth that he and Mona shared in their scene together. Throughout the episode, Roger is constantly looking for some kind of partner to work with him. First, it's Mona, then it's Don, then at the ball itself it's Sally and then eventually he finds himself in an intimate situation with Meghan's mother, Mrs. Calvet. The post-LSD Roger still seems to be a man without a country, but as he tells Mona, and later Ms. Calvet, instead of laying back as he was doing before his trip, he is now going to try to find his country; late in his life he is going to try and find a purpose in either his work or his life as a whole that will justify the fortune he inherited.
This week, Peggy and Abe were shown to be a team more than at any other time since "A Little Kiss." Abe eats Chinese food with Peggy, Ginsberg and Stan while they are working late and it is inferred that this meal sharing is standard practice. Their lives have become so intertwined that Abe asks Peggy to move in with him, which Peggy says yes to. Before Abe makes his "proposal," Peggy is led to believe, based on a conversation with Joan, that Abe is going to make the proposal. When Abe asks Peggy to move in, you can see the disappointment in her eyes. Peggy has always been old-fashioned even though many of her actions and instincts are to be progressive; that juxtaposition has always made her character that much more interesting. And Peggy is faced with the conflict between her two sides when her mother predictably frowns on the idea of Peggy and Abe moving in together. Peggy doesn't really want Abe; she just doesn't want to be alone. And as her mother tells her, "if you're lonely, get a cat." That is obviously harsh advice, but there is a kernel of truth to it.
The scenes that Joan and Peggy share around Abe's move-in proposal show how the two of them function as a team. We were first given a clear glimpse at the camaraderie in their evolving dynamic in "Tomorrowland" and we see that it has continued to evolve. Joan gives Peggy her experience woman advice and Peggy still looks up to and admires Joan in many ways. Their discussion of "paper" and what makes a marriage or anything else legitimate was a timely point to touch on in an era where the institution of marriage no longer carries the weight or authoritative status that it once did in society. Just because you have a slip of paper that tells you are married to someone, doesn't make your relationship any more real or true. We presume that it does because behind that paper should lie a history, should lie intimate moments, but that piece of paper itself doesn't make somebody or something (the relationship) change. Both Peggy and Joan have each other in some vague way, but in the end, they both don't have a teammate.
Don and Meghan have each other, though, for all that is good and bad. Last week we saw the bad, but this week we saw the good. Meghan's parents come to stay with the Drapers and throughout the visit, Don is patient, cordial and respectful to both Meghan and the wishes of her parents. Then, when Meghan exhibits her intelligence and creativity in coming up with the Heinz campaign, Don is supportive and excited by her ability. And of course there is the masterful dinner scene where Meghan tips Don off to the fact that Heinz is about to fire SCDP and then the two of them proceed to work over Raymond from Heinz with their pitch and finally land the account.
The excitement of the Heinz account is supposed to carry over to the American Cancer Society ball, but in the end, it doesn't. Meghan first doubts her desire to do her job when Peggy-in a moment of reaching out to Meghan as a teammate -tells her that the feeling of landing Heinz is "the best this job gets." Later at the ball, Meghan is given a lecture by her intellectual, socialist father where he tells her that he is not disappointed in her decision to marry Don, but rather in her decision to give up on her passion, to give up on her youth and to skip ahead "to the end", which was a moment that directly connected Meghan to Roger and his inheritance. Meanwhile, Don is given his own dose of truth by one of the members of the American Cancer Society who tells him that no one wants to work with him anymore because of the letter he wrote once Lucky Strike left SCDP. At the end of the ball, Don and Meghan are given heavy doses of truth that completely undermine the very basis of the euphoria that came from their teamwork. "At the Codfish Ball" showed the good in their relationship, but it again left us asking how much longer it can last.
But just as the episode seemed to speak directly and tightly to the theme of teamwork, the entire episode was turned on its head by the experience of Sally Draper at the ball. First, Sally dresses like a young woman to attend the party, which nearly brings a tear to Don's eye as well as the collective eye of the audience watching at home. Sally is growing up, but she still sees the ball as it appeared in Cinderella , complete with a spiral staircase. And even though Sally can learn to appreciate eating a fancy fish entrée (which was perhaps the most beautiful, intimate and true moment in the entire run of the show) nothing can prepare her for seeing a "newly enlightened" Roger Sterling-her supposed "date"-being pleasured by Mrs. Calvet in the back room at the ball. An episode that originally presented itself as a study of "teamwork" in the Mad Men universe suddenly became a coming-of-age short story. Sally Draper has always been a fantastic character that allows us to see the world of Don Draper from a removed, naïve viewpoint and here everything her character did as was used for, was done to perfection.
In the end, Sally is left with her "teammate" Glen, whispering on the phone in the dark of Don's apartment. They whisper and joke and Glen asks her how the city is. "It's dirty," Sally says as the episode ends. And no matter what anyone does to make things better, in the end its Sally that is right.