While the overwhelming theme of season 5 of Mad Men has been the way that time changes the things around you, transforming what used to be normalcy into a quite literal horror show (I’m still, to be honest, monumentally impressed by the way the she embraced an Edward Albee – who, by the way, was name checked last night – type suburban terror), the past two episodes – “Far Away Places” and “At The Codfish Ball” – have been about the way that you change without even noticing.
Both episodes carry an almost body snatchers feeling, with characters acting in ways they don’t recognize and don’t really have an answer for. Consider Peggy’s tryst with the weirdo flunkie in the movie theater, or more notably Don leaving Megan in the parking lot of Howard Johnson’s (“How could you do that to me?” “I don’t know… it was a fight”). Last week’s realizations came from looking inward. This was most plainly realized in Roger Sterling’s segment, as he uses LSD, a drug renowned for its (real or perceived) ability to incite deeply weird levels of introspection.
We see some more benefits (or fallout, depending on your perspective) of Roger’s trip in “Codfish.” He’s uncharacteristically chipper, unburdened by the occupational paranoia which has been haunting him. But at the same time, you wonder whether the whole thing is about to go off the rails. Sure, people can change their attitudes, but when personality shifts are so rapid (especially when aided by drugs) they are more often than not masking an increasingly cavernous disconnect from reality. Not to say that Roger is the only person experience this.
Consider Megan, who’s shaping up to be a really fantastic character, and who’s French-Canadian parents are in town for a visit (parental interaction being the other strong narrative thrust of “Codfish”). In a quietly terrifying conversation with her father at a American Cancer Society Ball honoring Don, she is prodded into realizing that she, in a way, has no idea what she’s doing, working with these people and taking care of these children and so on. Her whole life becomes instantaneously unfamiliar.
There were a lot of blindsides in “Codfish”, usually forced upon one character by another, whether it be Peggy and Abe’s will-he, wont-he, okay-he-kind-of-did situation (Peggy and Joan’s two scenes were some of the best of the episode, as Joan gently helps Peggy feel comfortable owning her feelings. Those two’s friendship may be the purest of the series), or the very grim way that Sally, all dolled up and high off her hysterical rapport with Roger, realizes she’s not ready (or willing) t0 enter the adult world – whatever that means.
If I were to have some quibbles with “Codfish”, the weaker of the two episodes, it would be the several moments where writer Jonathan Igla got too cute by a half with himself. I’m thinking specifically of Peggy’s “I do” at dinner, in reference to wanting to order (but she really meant about marriage you guys, did you get that???) and the closing line as well (“How’s the city?” “It’s dirty”) smacked of the smugness that can be Mad Men‘s very worst trait. Nonetheless, both episodes displayed a cast and crew that were firing on all cylinders, from Don & Megan’s impressive romancing of the Heinz people, to Ginsberg’s chilling origin story (first time I’ve enjoyed that character), and on and on. After a slow start, season 5 is shaping up to be a doozy.- Whole Milk