Megan Draper Comes Into Her Own on 'Mad Men'

Come along and follow me
To the bottom of the sea
We’ll join in the Jamboree
At the Codfish Ball
–Shirley Temple, “At the Codfish Ball” from “Captain January”

Who would have guessed that the soon-to-be-Megan Draper, would turn out to be so interesting when Don proposed to her back at the end of last season? Like Don, we scarcely had a sense of her. She could have been anyone — just another pretty secretary, a potential Jane Sterling, of whom the newly LSD-wise Roger observes this week may have simply been “an excuse to blow-up my life.” But Megan’s no ornament to be kept in Don’s swank Manhattan apartment, and she’s not necessarily the salvation or the fresh start he was searching for either. “At the Codfish Ball” offered an intriguing look at Megan by way of her visiting family and her maneuvering to save the Heinz account, and in doing so presented a portrait of a young woman with talent and ambition who could totally break Don’s heart someday.

We know that Megan has an outside life, friends who go to Fire Island, a past career as an aspiring actress, but here we finally got to see her family, and they’re academic and brittle — Emile (Ronald Guttman) is a professor, Marie (Julia Ormond) his dissatisfied wife, and the two spar in French and English as they visit with their daughter and observe her new existence.

Don’s not the type to be intimidated, but he dealt with the self-proclaimed Marxist Emile with the discomfort of someone knowing his home, his career and his “studied” manners are all being judged and found wanting. Megan teased him about reading Bernard Malamud’s “The Fixer” in bed instead of James Bond, presumably for her father’s benefit, but while Don surely doesn’t want to be found intellectually wanting, it’s her that they’re really competing for.

Her last conversation with her father, sitting at the table the American Cancer Society dinner, illuminated the fact that she wants more than to be Don’s helpmate, or even his partner at work — “Don’t let your love for this man stop you from doing what you wanted to do,” Emile tells her, as she begs him to let it go because it’s nothing she wants to hear.

Everyone’s given a taste of disillusionment in this episode (except Roger, whose new sense of awareness leads him to the best exchange of the night — “A lot of times you think people are looking at you, but they’re not. Their mind’s elsewhere.””A lot of people who haven’t taken LSD already know that, Roger.”). Don, feeling secure and for once on the side of the righteous, learned the full extent of what that means when he’s told by Ken’s father-in-law Ed Baxter (Ray Wise) that while he might get showered with awards for the letter he wrote about the cigarette industry last season, the same people will never trust him with their business.

Peggy got a double-barrel of disappointment — she expected a proposal from her boyfriend Abe (Charlie Hofheimer) when he insisted on a fancy dinner, and instead he asked to move in. After being reassured by Joan, she looked for an affirmation that what she’s agreed to do is okay from her mother, who instead stingingly said that Abe will practice on Peggy before marrying someone else: “You’re lonely? Get a cat. They live 13 years. Then you get another one, then another one after that. Then you’re done.” (Mothers are no source of comfort in “Mad Men,” but even by the show’s scale that’s a crushing assessment of life.)

And Sally, having been given the treat of a new dress and the promise of a grown-up night out, got more of one than anyone could have expected when she gets an eyeful of her new grandmother going down on Sally’s “date,” Roger, in a back room of the party. After getting dressed up like a princess, made to wash off her makeup by her protective father and doted on by his rakish coworker, that’s a lot of ugly adulthood to have to absorb at once — she earned that last line, on the phone to her old confidant Glen (Marten Holden Weiner), in which she declared the city “dirty.”

Which brings us back to Megan. She got the best of all possible advertising worlds in this episode, first coming up with a barnstormer of an idea to present a throughline of parents serving beans to their children from ancient times to the future, and then proving her gifts aren’t just confined to the creative by passing the message of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce’s imminent firing to her husband and coaching him through their pitch. She wasn’t even stingy about offering the credit to others, despite her being the indisputable MVP of the night.

But it came up a little empty for her, it seems to her surprise and disappointment as well — told by Peggy that she should be happier, because “this is as good as this job gets,” she couldn’t summon that same enthusiasm and sense of having found her calling that the other girl once did. Peggy is Don’s protege, with all the good and bad (as seen last week) that comes with that. Megan isn’t going to remake herself in his image, and it doesn’t look like she’s going to be content in living only for him. Just because you’ve finally made it to the party doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to have a good time there.

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