“Mad Men”: “At The Codfish Ball”, at the end of history

I haven’t been writing “Mad Men” reviews this year for a variety of reasons. One is that there are already approximately 500 of them posting a week. Another is that writing about shows on a Sunday for those of us with real 9-5 jobs in addition to our writing responsibilities is really damn hard. But I did want to throw out a thought or two about “At the Codfish Ball” before they slipped my mind, and before my mind slipped off into sleep…

It’s true that the office itself has been almost an afterthought for the season thus far, with Matthew Weiner primarily focused on the lifes of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce employees outside the office. But tonight’s episode revealed just how much the core bit of Season Five business–the woo’ing of Heinz–has been instrumental in reflecting just how much business overlaps with the ever-changing cultural climate depicting in the show. The client has been looking for a way to tie the past with the present in the hopes of maintaining a tether to reality itself. Megan’s idea takes that notion and takes it to its logical conclusion: the future. The job-saving pitch sells the idea of a continuation between the past, present, and future that suggests everything is always the same, only with different costumes. You can keep the same mother and son, since those central elements will always be in place. Simply stick on a new outfit and you still ensure the same outcome.

Well, just look at the three generations on display in the final shot of the titular ball: Absolutely no one is on the same page, and there’s almost no chance of anything akin to common ground between them. Even if the Heinz pitch might have been semi-true even a decade earlier, too much has changed in the 1960’s to make that commercial anything but a pipe dream. By the time it airs, it will already represent an antiquated ideal. While Don might love Megan for her ability to crack the problem of the pitch, it’s still the answer to a question that is no longer relevant. People are growing up faster than ever (see Sally, whose experience watching “The Man From U.N.C.L.E” now has a real life, “dirty” counterpart) or growing up differently (Peggy, who is moving in with Abe in a way that feels progressive until her mother points out the true nature of the arrangement). There’s no continuation to the cycle. Things aren’t passed on from one generation to the next. Now, we’re seeing either the cessation or rejection of those traditions, and we’re left with little besides a muddles mess and a sea of confused faces.

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