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'Mad Men' Episode 7 Review and Recap: 'At the Codfish Ball,' Where the Shirley Temples Are Hard to Swallow

Photo of Beth Hanna By Beth Hanna | Thompson on Hollywood April 30, 2012 at 5:11AM

"So, how was the city?" "Dirty."
"Mad Men"
AMC "Mad Men"

"So, how was the city?"

Spoilers ahead!

What happened:

Sally smuggles the house phone into her bedroom to talk to Glen. Grandma Pauline trips on the cord stretched tight across the hallway, causing the melodramatic old dame to break her ankle. As a result, Sally and Bobby get to stay with Don and Megan, who are hosting Megan's Quebecois parents in their apartment. Megan's father, Emile, is a casually disparaging professor and her mother, Marie, is a flirtatious attention-seeker. They spit passive-aggressive French at each other.

The next day at the office, Megan informally pitches a Heinz ad idea to Don. He loves it, much to the grumbling of Stan and Ginsburg, who assume Don devised the concept and then credited it to Megan. Later during a business dinner, Mrs. Heinz excuses herself to go to the restroom, which is the implicit cue for all the women to take a nose-powdering break. Megan learns in confidence that Mr. Heinz is planning on firing Sterling Cooper Draper Price off the account, which she whispers to Don upon returning to the table. Don is ready to light into Heinz, but Megan slyly alters the conversation so that Don ends up pitching her idea -- as his idea.

The true complexity of Don and Megan's professional relationship is brilliantly highlighted in this episode. Don genuinely loves Megan's pitch, but when the moment comes to execute it, he doesn't blink as Megan willingly passes him the baton. He later acknowledges her mental manoeuvering, though neither acknowledge that it's a shame for Megan not to have claimed the pitch idea in front of Heinz. She gets credit in front of her SCDP co-workers, but undercuts herself: "Just beginner's luck." Sex is part of the equation, too. It's endearing that Don is turned on by a smart woman, but at the same time, Don's consistent tendency to greet Megan's career triumphs with carnal congratulations is troubling. He's putting her in a box.

Mad Men, Peggy and Mother
Abe wants to discuss something with Peggy over dinner, which she assumes will be a break-up talk. Peggy confides her worries to Joan, but Joan has a different interpretation: Abe wants to propose. It turns out that neither guess is correct, and Abe suggests he and Peggy move in together. Joan is wonderfully supportive when she hears the news -- she knows that marriage isn't all it's cracked up to be. Peggy's Catholic mother, on the other hand, is not so supportive: "I'm not givin' yuz cake so that you can live in sin."

Don is honored at a soiree by the American Cancer Society for his letter divorcing cigarette company Lucky Strike. Roger joins the festivities, but he's anxious to win back the Lucky Strike account. Sally is allowed to tag along, though she first is ordered to change out of her white Go-Go boots and into something more age-appropriate. At the party, Megan is upbraided by Emile for not fully pursuing her dreams and instead settling for a life of easy luxuries with Don. Don chats with Ken's father-in-law (Leland Palmer from "Twin Peaks" -- shudder) but gets mixed messages when he's told that writing the Lucky Strike letter was a misstep. Meanwhile, Marie is on the prowl and seduces Roger into a back room for fellatio. Sally accidentally witnesses it.

"Soon she'll spread her legs and fly away":

Last week's episode dealt with the women of "Mad Men" being treated like young girls, and this week's episode extended that theme to include a young girl (Sally) and her relation to older men and women. Many adult men comment on 12-year-old Sally's mature appearance before and at the American Cancer Society ball: Don, Pete, Roger and, most awkwardly, Emile, whose English fails him when he notes that Sally will "soon spread her legs and fly away." (Megan corrects him: "Spread her wings.")

Marie casts withering glances at Sally as she chats precociously with Roger. This recalls Megan's earlier comment to Don about her mother's jealousy: Megan has always been her father's favorite, which drives Marie to fawn over other men. "She touched you six times in an hour," Megan observes to Don. The fact that Megan's been tallying indicates a deep-seated issue.

Sally has experienced her share of growing pains over the past couple of seasons: She was caught masturbating, she watched as Don and Betty's relationship dissolved, and her own relationship with food is concerning. Witnessing her chummy tablemate (Roger) and her shopping partner (Marie) fooling around is just another nail in the coffin of her innocence. When Glen asks Sally over the phone what she thought of the city, her reply is succinct: "Dirty."

"At the Codfish Ball":

This week's episode title is loaded. "At the Codfish Ball" is a musical number in the 1936 Shirley Temple vehicle "Captain January," echoed when Roger orders Sally a Shirley Temple drink (which, along with the fish, she finds stomach-turning after seeing Roger get a blowjob). The allusion to the young starlet is apt, too: Onscreen Shirley Temple was a glamorized child constantly receiving adoring attention from men. The fact that Sally expresses her distaste for fish twice in this episode suggests that her road to maturity is an uneasy one. Being at the codfish ball, where women five times her age view her as competition and avuncular men disappear for quickies, isn't as fun as Sally had hoped.

Other interpretations or ideas? Thoughts about the episode?

This article is related to: Television, TV Reviews, Reviews, AMC

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.