Much of this season of Mad Men has been about the big-picture effects of the rapid societal changes of the late '60s, from the race riots to women in the workplace to the youth quake and the Rolling Stones, but this episode, "At the Codfish Ball," was all about shrinking the story down to micro-levels. It was the story of three daughters — Megan, Sally and Peggy — and and an attempt to answer the question that deep down plagues everybody: Do some things never change?
"It's the future," says Heinz executive Raymond Geiger when the team at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce are finally able to deliver an ad campaign that he finds satisfactory. "It's all I ever wanted." But the "future," in fact, is a bit of a misnomer. The idea they sell him on is really an idea of the past, an idea of consistency, an idea of tradition. "Heinz: Some Things Never Change" goes the tagline which was crafted not by Don or Peggy, but by Megan, who has surprisingly demonstrated herself to be quite the talented copywriter. What Raymond really wants is a future that precisely mirrors the past — a future in which stay-at-home moms still serve their kids plates of baked beans in pristine kitchens.
The episode starts at the haunted Francis residence where Sally has, once again, been left to the charge of Mrs. Francis the elder while Betty and Henry are away in Michigan. To escape her boredom, Sally has been secretly calling her friend Glen at boarding school to complain about her babysitter (who, apparently, smells like a toilet) and talk about the newest Lovin' Spoonful album. It's during one of these chats when Mrs. Francis trips over the phone cord (that Sally has covertly stretched across the hallway into her bedroom) and breaks her ankle, sending Sally and Bobby XIV to stay with Don and Megan in the city — but not before Sally can act as nurse by phoning for help, propping up Mrs. Francis' ankle and keeping her comfortable.
The Drapers, it turns out, are already working with a full house. Megan's French-Canadian parents have come to town to see Don accept an award from the American Cancer Society, and have brought plenty of their own baggage, both literal and metaphoric. They fight rapidly in French, leaving Don out of the conversation much like he was a child himself. Megan's father, a Marxist professor, has immediate disdain for Don's profession and disappointment in his daughter for abandoning what he believes are her own ideals by marrying him. Her mother (played by the stunning Julie Ormond), on the other hand, has obvious resentment for her husband and flirts with Don to inspire jealousy in both her husband and daughter alike.
The three generations (the Calvets, Megan and Don, and Sally and Bobby) gather for a strained dinner. Prompted by a proud Don, Sally tells the story of her rescue of Mrs Francis. Don sees her handling of the situation as a sign of her maturity, but the real herald that Sally is growing up is what he doesn't know. Rather than tell the truth (that Mrs. Francis tripped over a phone cord), Sally (like a true Draper), lies and says that Mrs. Francis tripped over one of Gene's stray toys. Things are changing; Sally is officially at the age when a girl is sneaking phone calls to boys.
As both a reward for her heroism and a sign that, nevertheless, Sally is not a woman yet, Megan lets her opt out of the grown-up fish course and instead cooks her spaghetti, the same spaghetti that her mother made her when she was a girl. This is where Megan gets her big Heinz idea — mothers passing down culinary traditions to their daughters for ages to come. It soon becomes, clear, however that it's not simply baked beans and spaghetti recipes that are being passed down through the ages, but dishes of disfunction, as well. Everybody gets a hefty serving.
Sally's eagerness to grow-up is again demonstrated when she is allowed to attend Don's American Cancer Society event rather than stay home with a babysitter. For the occasion, Megan buys her a silver minidress that's quintessentially '60's teenager, especially when paired with white go-go boots and Factory-esque makeup. Don starts upon seeing her — his little girl is becoming a woman or, as Dr. Calvet so crudely puts it, will soon "spread her legs and fly away." While Don is a terrible parent in several ways, hiding his love and pride for his daughter is not one of them. He tells her to lose the boots and the makeup, and later toasts her, saying, "You know what makes me happy? A beautiful young lady who will someday be wearing makeup, but not today."
Don's pride in Sally is contrasted by Dr. Calvet's disappointment in Megan. After facing professional disappointment with a New York publisher, Dr. Calvet is caught by his wife while phoning his grad student and suspected mistress for comfort. He then turns his anger on Megan, dismissing her accomplishment with the Heinz account and accusing her of giving up on her goals to settle with a life as Mrs. Draper. It's clear by Megan's reaction that he has struck a nerve.
Mrs. Calvet, meanwhile, is seeking comfort in the lap of Roger Sterling, who, still feeling the effects from his LSD trip, seemed surprisingly ready to turn over a new leaf and prove that progress really is possible. The episode even begins with him sharing an amicable drink with his ex-wife Mona and apologizing for "blowing up" his life by leaving her for Jane. In another endearing move, he spends the whole American Cancer Society event acting as Sally's date and working to help her feel important and included. The idea that you can teach an old dog new tricks, however, is challenged (and ultimately fails) when Mrs. Calvet successfully propositions him, astutely noting, "Inside you are a little boy."
Sally's evening of playing grown-up ends abruptly when, after walking in on Mrs. Calvet giving Roger a blow job, she is confronted with the stark ugliness of adulthood. Later, she secretly telephones Glen from Don's apartment and apologizes for calling so late. "It's okay," he says. "I get a lot of attention every time you call. People think you're my girlfriend." "I'm not," Sally responds resolutely. She's pressing the brakes on growing up after seeing how dirty it can all be. Unfortunately (for her and for Heinz), those brakes don't work.
And now on to Mad Men's other daughter Peggy. Peggy is struck by fear after receiving a formal dinner request from her boyfriend Abe, thinking he is going to break up with her. Joan disagrees, saying, "Men don't take the time to end things. They ignore you until you insist on a declaration of hate." Rather, Joan suggests, Abe is probably planning on proposing and Peggy should get a new outfit for the occasion.
Peggy, though ambivalent on the idea of marrying Abe, is excited at the prospect. She shows up to the restaurant looking like an awkwardly wrapped present. As per her own doubts, Peggy doesn't wear the role of potential fiance as well as Joan or Megan does, but it turns out it doesn't matter. What Abe really wants to ask is if she'd consider shacking up with him. Peggy is disappointed, but also seemingly resolved — she has long been questioning whether or not she can fill the role of both modern trailblazer and traditional womanhood and this — living with Abe despite not being married — determines that she can't, but maybe she doesn't have to. She can choose modernity over traditionalism and, ideally, be fulfilled.
Peggy then has to break the news to her two mothers. First, there is her work mother Joan who initially, all the way back in season one, told her that the only point of getting in the business is to find a husband. Joan has since faced the realities of life as a wife and determined that getting married has nothing to do with finding happiness. She is thrilled for Peggy and gives her her blessing. Peggy's actually mother is far less receptive to the news , saying that she will not support her daughter living in sin. When Peggy asks if she'd rather her daughter were lonely, Mrs. Olson snaps, "You're lonely? Get a cat."
"I invited you here," Peggy says. "As an adult because I didn't want to lie." It's here where Peggy is wrong. Being an adult means lying all of the time, whether it be Sally lying about the phone cord, Megan lying about being satisfied, Don lying to himself that business will get better (turns out, after the Lucky Strike letter that brought him so many accolades, no companies trust him enough to work with him), or the Heinz Corporations lie of a wholesome tradition that will quell the fear of change.