Posted by on May 3, 2012 at 2:30 pm  Season 5
May 032012

Despite being within a series about deception and lies, At The Codfish Ball showed us an awful lot of truth-telling.  Honest, unabridged, cold, hard truth.  In fact, Codfish could just have easily been titled Sodium Pentathol. And the truth, as we know, can be … er, hard to swallow.

For all the truth – for all the “give it to me straight” we say we want – what happens when it arrives?  More disappointment.

The centerpiece of this was Peggy, who both dished and got served portions of truth this week. First, her sincere kudos to Megan got a mixed reaction (more on that later) – she was trying to share the truth of the job, but her warmth wasn’t exactly reciprocated.  “This is as good as this job gets” – a dubious compliment, but still …

Then, Katherine.

I defy anyone to present a more realistic MM character than Katherine Olson. She is brilliant and a bully and blunt and beautiful. She’s Livia Soprano with pastries.

Peggy was sincere and grown-up and considerate in telling her mom about Abe moving in – a move she knew would further tweak the old lady.

“If you’re lonely, get a cat. They live 13 years. Then you get another one, and another one.  After that, then you’re done. Thank you for dinner.”  That’s some cold shit.

But more telling was what preceded it:

Peggy: Would you rather I not tell you?

Katherine: Yeah.  You wanna stick it in my face?  Just lie. Y’think you’re the first ones ever to do this?

“Just lie to me.”  It’s written all over this episode, but only Katherine says it.

Roger and Mona – “I’ve been wondering lately if [Jane] was just an excuse to blow up my life,” – Mona’s impressed with his honesty; the only time it will be rewarded in the episode.

Emile and Marie Calvet – Their honesty has no boundaries. He bluntly reveals her drinking problem, and she instinctively flirts with men in his presence. She later learns the truth about his most recent affair. Truth has turned their marriage into a soap opera.

Pete and Emile – Pete brilliantly reveals the truth about account work to Emile. Many shows would have made that an episode. MM did it in three lines.

Ed Baxter and Don – Roger convinced Don that the award dinner will be like shooting fish in a barrel. But Ed reveals the harsh truth. “They don’t like you.” Between Ed Baxter and Jimmy Barrett (“You’re garbage”), Don should leave the tux in mothballs for a while.

Alice Geiger and Megan – Alice spills the beans (sorry, too easy) to Megan in the ladies room – more unpleasant truth.

Emile and Megan – Emile, concerned for his daughter, challenges her choices of career and marriage, obviously not for the first time. Megan deflects, perhaps because she recognizes he is being honest. Her “home run” is clearly tarnished.

Sally and Life – “There’s no staircase.”  No shit, Sweetheart.



  22 Responses to “Unvarnished”

  1. “Pete brilliantly reveals the truth about account work to Emile. Many shows would have made that an episode. MM did it in three lines.”

    Mad Men is so rich, so pregnant with possibilities, that they can discard myriad plot threads and focus on some really interesting ones.

    Or. of course, as you pointed out, do a very satisfying minute with a handful of lines.

    Everyone loves this, the actors, the directors, us. It must be very gratifying to all of them and the writers to see the final cut each week.

  2. OMG, I didn’t realize the head was still on it! I love fish, but no…

    • First thing I thought of was that scene in Chinatown where Noah Cross (John Huston) serves Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) grilled fish for lunch at his ranch.

      “Oh, I hope you don’t mind – I prefer them served with the head still on”.

      “That’s OK – just as long as you don’t serve the chicken that way”. (flashes the trademark Nicholson smile).

  3. Love the line about Don and tuxes. He wore the blacks in The Color Blue and I remember the last shot of that episode. A look DID kill that night. Oooohh, boy.
    Livia was a bottomless black hole. Irredeemable. Ma has genuine love for her Peaches, which is why Peggy can take her shit. Her sincerity is what makes Ma more Gangsta than Livia. She keeps it real.

    • As one, whose mom was “prickly”, all rough edges around a heart of gold, and who regularly vented her frustration as a single mom, I would add that Peggy is probably *used to* her Ma’s shit. She’s suffered Ma’s disapproval before (no doubt it was heavy when the baby was born).

  4. Great post! “Livia Soprano with pastries”–I love it. (And I agree.) I’m glad I’m not the only one who sometimes sees correlation between the Soprano characters and the Mad Men characters. I was even thinking recently that Ken Cosgrove is like the Bobby Bacala of Mad Men–the only man who is good and faithful to his wife. (I know Ken’s marriage is really, really new though, so it’s kind of early to say anything.)

  5. I feel a lot of sympathy for Peggy as a young woman striving to survive in the 1960’s. As most of you know, via Matt Weiner, one of the primary themes of this season is “every man for himself”. And finding herself in the midst of this mise en scene, Peggy is having a difficult time keeping her head above water on several fronts and coping and surviving. And the reason that is so is man (woman) is NOT born with instincts to survive (philosophy of Ayn Rand) and Peggy has not been taught by her parents, superiors, teachers, priests etc. how to cope with a changing environment and what the best approach or steps to take to cope and survive in a given situation.

    So you might ask what does every man for himself do with survival. The former is focused on selfish pursuits and being self-serving and the belief you have to fend for yourself and the latter is your means of coping with that you are alone or need to become self-sufficient.

    Peggy has not been taught the skills to survive in any of the three fronts that affect her life: her work life as a female copywriter is groundbreaking-she has no other female to turn to for guidance, her role as a live-in partner to a counter-culture proponent is compromised because she is not a political animal or obsessively driven to change the world-how does Peggy survive in that world without that political passion, and finally Peggy has not been taught the life skills necessary to function as a single career woman. And I am NOT blaming Katherine here but how can you teach something you either have no experience in or do not believe in?

    I know mentoring was not big in the 1960’s but that is what Peggy needs, a mentor, especially a female mentor, an older woman who has been around the block a few times and has experienced what Peggy is going through. In 2012 a young woman like Peggy would be most likely matched up with a female mentor to guide her; in 1966 Peggy is left to fend on her own; each day is a lesson in survival as she intuits it is every man for himself.

    • Peggy tried to find a mentor, Dr. Faye who basically blew her off. No lunch with me, thank you very much.

      • and that’s what makes Peggy so unusual among women – she’s genuinely happy to be supportive (the Megan scene). Most women of that period who were striving to get ahead were like Faye – women didn’t know the ‘rules’ of networking so there were no rules – ‘no lunch with me. thank you very much.’

        • Of course, Peggy didn’t know that Faye was in a relationship with Don at that time. It would have been awkward.

      • I liked Faye but that instance when Faye dissed Peggy’s overture for friendship was not Faye’s best moment.

        • I think the undertone throughout Season four with regards to Faye Miller was to show how much of a phony she really was in caring about people or who or what she represented herself to be (not trying to help Peggy, the wedding ring, the spelling of her name, ignoring Alison leaving the focus group, poor skills dealing with kids) in relation to Don’s effort to live a lie and prevent people from knowing he was Dick Whitman.

          Who was the bigger phony? Don said it best in The Chrysanthemum and the Sword: To Faye: “Going to a fake dinner to be with your fake husband.”

          Many theories have been offered up to why Don did not marry Faye including she would have insisted “that Don be like everyone else.”

          But imho Don did NOT marry Faye because she was a phony. It takes one to know one. And by marrying Faye he would have been marrying a facsimile of himself and not only doubling his pain but basically closing the door from ever being able to escape from the stresses and fear of exposure arising out of becoming Donald F Draper.

          • Wow! I thought Faye was the one person who wanted Don to truly be himself, whatever that was, and to help him integetrate his Dick Whitman/Don Draper personas. Faye told Don, you would be left being a person but you won’t be alone in all of it. It is true that Faye wore a wedding ring, but she explained that as a woman in that field in that point in time, certain things like wearing a wedding ring, were done to help her navigate difficult and unwelcoming environment. Dr. Faye certainly didn’t need the likes of Peter or Rogert coming on to her incessantly. I didn’t think Faye was a phony. I thought she was one of the most real people. I like Megan, but had Don chosen Faye, Don would have had a grown up partnership with a woman he would have had to treat as a grown up equal from the get-go. Which don didn’t want. It may end up that is what Don got in Megan anyway and that Don ends up having to be a full person with a wife who insists on being treated like an adult, and good for Megan if she can stand up to Don’s nonsense. But in marrying Megan Don was chosing phony, what he saw as the facade of Maria Von Trapp perfection, over reality and the hard work of being a person.

          • Techno, I don’t agree with many of your posts, but I also thought Faye was a big phony. She and Don would have been a double whammy of phoniness.

    • Where is Bobbie when you need her? She was an awesome mentor, and Peggy needs to see her again.

  6. Katherine Olson– “Old Lady”….. If Peggy is 26 or 27, Katherine could be as young as 46. Middle-aged women dressed more maturely in that era, so she looks old to us, but she’s probably not older than 55 or so.

    Would we call a 55-year-old “Old Lady” today?

  7. With all the entries being considered for the example of unvarnished truth in episode 7, I would have to give to Alice Geiger. She said so much in so few words: That she really liked Megan, that her husband was thinking about pulling the plug on SCDP, and that Don had married above his pay grade.

  8. Going off topic, but I’m excited about Don reaching out to Joanie episode. It won’t be The Suitcase, but Joanie is so wise, that Don would heed any advice she would give him. Gawd, I worship me some Joanie.

  9. Adding to the truth telling in this episode was an almost throw-away line by Ken at the Heinz dinner. He mentions the ‘Truth in Packaging Bill’. It’s said so fast I had to listen several times to work out what it was. Ken says that the bill has no teeth so isn’t going to be a problem and he’s saying that to a man who makes food.

    What President Johnson says when he signed the Fair Packaging and Labelling Act and the Child Protection Act, copied below, is so relevant to Mad Men, to discussions on truth and lies, to impending tragedy that has been a theme of the whole season (I have stopped noting all the references to death because there are so many) and to family traditions. He said (I have cut the less relevant bits but the whole thing is online) :

    ”We have come here this evening to fulfill two obligations that we have to the American family.
    –We are here to defend truth.
    –We are here to avoid tragedy.

    The two laws that I shall sign this evening will help the American housewife to save her pennies and dimes, and the American mother to save the lives of her children.

    The first law is the Fair packaging and Labeling Act. Its purpose is to uphold truth. Its target is labels that lie, packages that confuse, practices that too often deny the consumer a fair test and a dear choice in the shopping place.

    The great majority of American manufacturers, I believe–and I hope–will welcome this law, because it protects the honest manufacturer against the dishonest competitors. It encourages fair competition, competition that is based on quality and value and price. It reflects our very strong belief that American producers can meet and want to meet the test of truth in what they produce and what they sell.

    This Fair Packaging and Labeling Act will go a long way toward ending confusion and restoring truth in the marketplace.

    The second law that I will sign today, the Child Protection Act, will do no less in protecting the American family from needless tragedy.

    It will ban the sale or use of toys and other children’s articles that contain dangerous or deadly substances. It will ban the sale of other household articles so hazardous that even labels cannot make them safe.
    –Now there is a law that says the eyes of a doll will not be poisonous beans.
    –Now there is a law that says what looks like candy will not be deadly firecracker balls.
    –Now there is a law that says Johnny will not die because his toy truck was painted with a poison.

    Both break new ground for the Federal Government- But both, I think, are very much in our American tradition. Thomas Jefferson said that the first object of government was the care of human life and happiness, and that is the single object of both of these laws.

    They are based upon the principle of fair dealing which created the Pure Food and Drug Act, the Fiber Products Identification Act, and other humanitarian laws which have protected American mothers and fathers and children for generations”.

    • Actually what I like about Mad Men is the limitation of government interference in the marketing of products compared to now and the acknowledgment of the apparent compliance by SCDP to the changing laws. Notice Don always take a rational approach to the limits placed on tobacco advertising. He never rants or raves about it or tries to skirt the legislation.

      In 2012 a consistently theme in media is the need for increasing government encroachment on marketing products together (the nanny state) with the idea that companies or ad agencies are evil and are not complying with the law.

  10. Truth can be analyzed from different perspectives and I would like to analyze episode 7 from a socio-political perspective.

    Emile Calvet is a rigid ideologue. As such he rarely resorts to lying. He believes what he advocates is the unvarnished truth although the vast majority of Americans in the 1960’s would vigorously dispute that notion. Here we have an example of political truth.

    Marie Calvet’s truth lies in being a shrew or an unhappy wife due to her husband’s many affairs and her willingness to often confront him with that truth.

    Now we have Abe Drexler who asks Peggy to move in with him. As a counterculture proponent, Abe sees the truth in fighting for the rights of others and not in terms of his own individual aspirations. Living with Peggy is a means to an end and not the end itself. His version of truth is a collective truth.

    For Roger Sterling, the truth for him is what makes him feel good at given moment in time. For Roger, the truth is always relative and not absolute. How did Mona stay married to Roger for so long? His version of the truth is unpredictable, self-serving and completely self-generated.

    For Peggy Olson, the truth for her resides in her own personal inadequacies as she strives to cope and thrive in many different environments and settings. Her version of the truth is a destabilizing truth, anything that throws her off course. Rarely for Peggy is the truth a solid foundation she can rely on.

    For Pete Campbell, the truth resides in his personal ambition to reach the top of his profession and to step on anybody’s toes who get in his way. Pete’s truth is not grounded in the journey but the destination. Therefore Pete’s truth is always related relative to where he finds himself on the corporate ladder and where he stands on the totem pole in relation to others. For Pete the ends justify the means.

    For Ken Cosgrove, the truth lies in his lack of focused ambition and his apparent desire to play several games at the same time. In his own words, Cynthia is his life. The truth for Ken lies in not taking his work home with him.

    For Sally Draper, the truth lies in her age and the reality that a girl her age experiences. More than any other character her truth is an existential truth.

    For Joan Harris, here truth is a circumstantial truth where she constantly contends with her changing life decisions and what happens at work. Her truth is based on reaction rather than initiation.

    For Megan Draper, the truth is her status as Don’s wife and how she can leverage that fact to further her career. For Megan truth=opportunity and her recognition of it at a given time. Neither the past nor the future represent the truth to her. There is only one truth: the here and now.

    And for Don Draper the truth for him lies in his ability or inability move forward juxtaposed against his ability or inability to hide the truth of his real identity. Don’s truth is grounded in survival. Before season five and its theme of every man for himself, Don was already living that truth. Interestingly, by living a lie, Don will imho be better able to cope with the changing truth of the 1960’s.

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