Clavicula Noctis

 Posted by on May 3, 2012 at 11:30 am  Season 5
May 032012

We know before the episode airs that “the Codfish Ball” is a Shirley Temple dance number from 1936. But there are other, earlier references to fish dancing undersea:

“This evening we are going to have a court ball.” It is one of those splendid sights which we can never see on earth. The walls and the ceiling of the large ball-room were of thick, but transparent crystal. Many hundreds of colossal shells, some of a deep red, others of a grass green, stood on each side in rows, with blue fire in them, which lighted up the whole saloon, and shone through the walls, so that the sea was also illuminated. Innumerable fishes, great and small, swam past the crystal walls; on some of them the scales glowed with a purple brilliancy, and on others they shone like silver and gold. Through the halls flowed a broad stream, and in it danced the mermen and the mermaids to the music of their own sweet singing.

The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen (1836).


With the episode’s title referring to fish dancing in a ball-room, is it not hard to think of Sally as the little mermaid? In this case her love object is not a prince but her date,  Roger. She enters the living room with a proud “Good evening everyone” and all the adults are taken aback and compliment her on her beautiful attire.

In a parallel scene from The Little Mermaid:
At last she reached her fifteenth year. “Well, now, you are grown up,” said the old dowager, her grandmother; “so you must let me adorn you like your other sisters;” and she placed a wreath of white lilies in her hair, and every flower leaf was half a pearl. Then the old lady ordered eight great oysters to attach themselves to the tail of the princess to show her high rank.

The concept of an undersea world is as old as mythology itself. We all know about Atlantis and Donovan’s haunting song from 1968. There are other sources like the magical order Dragon Rouge who believe the undersea world represents the dark side or subconscious. They have a magic symbol, the Clavicula Noctis, or key to the night. Of it they say “it is composed by Atlantis symbol – a trident placed into a circle. The trident, symbol of Neptune, Shiva and also devil, symbolise unconsciousness, the circle represent consciousness. Clavicula Noctis is a symbol which means process of turning unconsciousness into a consciousness. It is a psychological meaning of Atlantis myths.”

If there are no coincidences it Matt Weiner’s universe, what is he trying to tell us with this undersea motif?

When Shirley Temple performed her dance number, she was tiptoeing between more than Buddy Ebsen’s dance shoes. She presented a delicate balance of childlike innocence and a Lolita-like image. In a post appearing on, Vanessa Berben writes of that scene and the eponymous MM episode, “At the Codfish Ball (is) not so much a nod to the actual movie but more an allusion to the drama behind the scenes. After the film’s release, critic and novelist Graham Greene wrote a scathing review of Temple, suggesting that her popularity stemmed from her pedophilic appeal.

“Drawing on Temple’s past roles (especially Charles Lamont’s 1932-33 satirical series Baby Berlesks where a 3-year-old Temple plays sexualized characters under the guise of “It’s cute to use toddlers to make fun of adult-stars”) he found Captain January ‘a little depraved,’ saying she had ‘an oddly precocious body as voluptuous in grey flannel trousers as Miss Dietrich’s.’ Temple was only eight when Greene made these statements, and in 1938 he found himself embroiled in a lawsuit with Fox and the Temple family.”

Another site makes the connection between mermaids and sexuality: “The mermaid/siren symbol was used by the Medieval Church as embodying the lure of fleshy pleasures to be shunned by the God-fearing. The mermaid became a victim of the repressive sexual attitudes of the Christian Church. Mermaid carvings figured prominently in church decorations in the Middle Ages to symbolically serve as a vivid reminder of the fatal temptations of the flesh.”

Sally is approaching the threshold of adulthood with her party clothes and makeup, but Don sees this and makes her remove both. (Notice how often boots and shoes carry heavy meaning in children’s stories: Cinderella, the Old Woman in the Shoe, Dorothy’s red slippers.) “Take off the makeup and the boots” Don admonishes, “or you can stay home.” Dad clips Sally’s legs to prevent her from flying away.

At the banquet the actual scene does not match her fairy-tale imagination. Roger points out that there is a handsome prince as Pete approaches, then quashes it with a “Nah.” Sally asks who the other guests are and Roger gives her the run-down. He adds, “Where’s your purse? You’re going to be my date.” and instructs her to store all the business cards he gives her in her purse and reinforce his hunting with a “Go get ‘em tiger.” In true Sterling fashion, Roger creates a conspiracy between the two of them. Sally is part of the team and again moves towards full, if bootless, adulthood.

Clavicula Noctis

The Little Mermaid:
“When you have reached your fifteenth year,” said the grand-mother, “you will have permission to rise up out of the sea, to sit on the rocks in the moonlight, while the great ships are sailing by; and then you will see both forests and towns.”

When the sisters rose, arm-in-arm, through the water in this way, their youngest sister would stand quite alone, looking after them, ready to cry, only that the mermaids have no tears, and therefore they suffer more. “Oh, were I but fifteen years old,” said she: “I know that I shall love the world up there, and all the people who live in it.”

The little mermaid swam close to the cabin windows; and now and then, as the waves lifted her up, she could look in through clear glass window-panes, and see a number of well-dressed people within.

Of course Sally is not fifteen yet but her desire to belong is clear, as in this snappy dialogue:

Roger: Oooh, Baked Alaska! Isn’t flaming, but they probably don’t want to wreck the speeches.
Sally: You’re wrecking the speeches.
Roger: You’re a mean drunk you know that? Shouldn’t I be at his side?
Sally: Go get ‘em, tiger.

But like the Little Mermaid and the Prince, Sally and Roger inhabit different worlds and as much as she wants to, Sally cannot cross over. When Roger disappears with Marie, they go somewhere Sally cannot follow. When she stumbles through those double doors, she realizes this.


  15 Responses to “Clavicula Noctis”

  1. Wow, Jim, you’re really stretching our minds with your observations. This is what happens when you grow up in the City during the 60’s and go to Berkeley in the 70’s. Trippy.

    Roger may inhabit a different world than Sally for now but he’s an ex-Navy man so he’ll always have a place in his heart for the Little Mermaid.

  2. What a beautiful post. Youse Bs are knocking it out of the ballpark with your writing. Sorry, bawl-park.

  3. “Take off the makeup and the boots” Don admonishes, “or you can stay home.” Dad clips Sally’s legs to prevent her from flying away.

    Congratulations! That’s a home run, balleroux.

    If anything, I should be jealous. But I look at those sentences and I feel like, I don’t know, I’m getting to experience my own ingenuity again. It’s a good day for me. This is as good as written expression gets. Savor it.

  4. Ravissante!!!Jim B- I love the echo- locations that keep coming from this site.When I have more time to process, I will post a thought or two- meanwhile have to just say- Thank you

  5. When the sisters rose, arm-in-arm, through the water in this way, their youngest sister would stand quite alone, looking after them, ready to cry, only that the mermaids have no tears, and therefore they suffer more.


    When did we last see Sally cry? After Gene died, right?

  6. And perhap relavent to Megan is the myth of Ondine:

    In German mythology, Sir Lawrence was a very good-looking knight. One day water nymph Ondine came across him as he was on a quest, and she fell in love with him. As she pledged her love to him they were married. But as soon as a water nymph pledges herself to a human and bares his child, she will loose eternal life. After Ondine bore Lawrence a son, she began to age. Her changing appearance made Lawrence loose interest in his wife, and he soon started to see other women. One day, Ondine caught her husband with another woman in the stables, and she cursed him in revenge. He was to breathe as long as he was wake, but if he ever fell asleep he would die because his breathing would stop.

    • Good for Ondine.

      • Ondine, thanks for amplifying on the watery, mythological ties here. Not a pleasant scenario but would satisfy all those who want to move on from Happy Don / Happy Megan.

        MarlyK your first comment (above) gratified me. Your second one scared me. Celosa? =)

        • Hah. No, I’m not a jealous person.

          This being a folk tale, a curse is the only way to transmit the general message that your actions have consequences, even if women are powerless, their feelings still count. It’s extreme, for sure. But that’s the nature of fairy and folk tales, right? What other recourse did Ondine have?

    • What a fascinating story! Thank you!

  7. In keeping with the mermaid motif it’s interesting how Sally’s outfit echoes that of a mermaid–all shimmery, spangly and sparkly. The fact that the majority of her legs are encased in white boots–that we don’t see her entire bare legs only enhances that image. As usual, every detail in MM speaks volumens….

  8. MarlyK and Anne B,

    Thank you!

    Wierd factoids:
    1. Like JimB, have lived in the SF Bay Area during the 60′s and went to Berkeley in the 70′s.
    2. I was stalked by a guy named Lawrence [the myth of Ondine — Version 2?].
    3. Husband had severe sleep apnea, and would stop breathing when he feel asleep.

  9. White T Jim B,

    Amazing post! One thing which really struck me was the way you likened the scales of the ball going fish to Sally’s dress. I rewatched “Codfish Ball” and you nailed it, the “aquatic” theme of dressing runs throughout the episode. Megan’s dress when her parents arrive is deep ocean blue and green. During the Heinz pitch, Megan’s dress resembles fish scales, Alice Geiger’s dress is a shimmery blue/green combo, and Cynthia’s dress is deep blue. The whole Heinz dinner had an “aquarium” feel to it, with the glass windows and being suspended above ground level. Peggy wears a deep blue/green dress while having Katherine over for dinner, Katherine wears a blue and coral dress. At the banquet, Megan wears a gown of “salmon” pink. Many of the women’s outfit’s are deep blue at the office. Also, many of the background people at the Heinz dinner, Peggy’s dinner w/Abe, and at the banquet are either wearing deep blue or shimmering blue/green.

    Thank for the link to the “Little Mermaid” symbolism page. I was really intrigued by the analysis of Disney’s “Little Mermaid” since there’s been a whole Disney/fairytale princess theme in MM since “Tomorrowland.” I was especially struck by the Disney “Little Mermaid” connection to “The Da Vinci Code.” I’ve only seen the movie piecemeal, but some days I feel that MM is a bit akin to DVC, looking for clues to the deeper meaning of the show and where it might go through the use of art, literary, and cultural allusions. Also, DVC’s interpretation of LM referring to Mary Magdalene could have something to do with the theme of matrilineal tradition in the final Heinz pitch (the serving of food) with the first matriarch named Marie. Also, regarding the Grail, there are more references than usual to drinking and glasses in the episode (glass of Sauterne, Don getting Cognac, champagne, Peggy wanting a drink before dinner, and so on).

    With mermaids, I always think of the legend of Melusina.

    (The latter website could mesh into Anne B.’s amazing post about Anima/Animus).

    The part which intrigues me with “Codfish Ball” is how Melusina forbade her husband Raymond to see her on the day she bathes. And when he did spy on her and saw her as half serpent she turned into a dragon and flew away.

    In most depictions of Melusina she is split tailed. Which could go back to Emile’s “One day your little daughter will spread her legs/wing and fly away,” legs to Melusina’s split spread tail, and fly away to her later dragon form and flight from her husband.

    Moreover, there is the theme of seeing something one shouldn’t and the subsequent ending a phase of life. Raymond sees Melusina bathing, is shocked to see her true form, and their relationship ends. Sally sees Roger and Marie, is shocked to see what they are doing, and part of her childhood ends.

    Also, the name of the Heinz exec is Raymond. And there is a French aspect to the episode (the Calvets)/Melusina being a French legend. Also, the term “Medieval” comes up twice during the episode (Don explaining the origins of the title Doctor, Megan while explaining the Heinz pitch to Don). Furthermore, the theme of bathing runs through the episode (Roger talking about being in the bathtub during his LSD trip and remembering when things were “ruined” at the 1919 World Series while speaking to the woman he betrayed, Megan coming up with the Heinz pitch in the shower, Sally saying the city was “dirty” which denote the need for a bath).

  10. thanks Celina. I hadn’t put all the costumes into that context but the more I look at Sally’s dress, it does seem . . . fishy?

    The Melusina story is new to me, I appreciate you sharing it.

    I appreciate your comment.

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