TV Club

Mad Men Season 5 recap: What Megan’s dad and Peggy’s mom want for their children.

Megan and Don: a formidable sales team.

Michael Yarish/AMC

In an interview shortly before this season got underway, Kiernan Shipka revealed that her parents don’t let her watch Mad Men, which they deem too adult for their young daughter. Now more than ever, that seems like sound parenting. But poor Sally Draper has to live in Mad Men, and who knows what harm it will do her.

This episode was all about parents and children, about one generation’s fears and hopes for the next. Patrick, I too was struck by how quickly the glory of the Heinz success faded for Megan. At first, I wondered if it was just that it had all come too easily for her: She broke through the glass ceiling the first time she grazed it—no wonder it didn’t feel like a hat trick. But Emile’s little pep talk at the American Cancer Society dinner suggested there’s more to it than that. When Megan has described her acting dreams in the past, she’s dismissed them as a youthful fancy. But perhaps that was itself something of an act. I don’t think Megan subscribes to her father’s Marxist critique of her lifestyle, but she was stung by his suggestion that she’s compromised her dreams to be with Don—“skipped the struggle,” as he puts it.

A similar dynamic played out for Peggy: She was prepared for her mother to object to her shacking-up news on the Old World grounds that she’d be living in sin—and with a Jew, no less. But she was clearly fazed by her mother’s suggestion that Abe was only using her for practice and would leave her in the end. Again, a parent’s bluster concealed some insight, identifying a concern the child had tried to ignore. And yet, I’m not as worried about Megan and Peggy as their disapproving parents are. Both M. Calvet and Mrs. Olson seemed to long for a time before their daughters had spread their wings. It can be difficult both for the parent and for the child to realize that moment has passed—you could see that on Don’s face when he looked at his daughter in boots and make-up, and on Sally’s when she ever-so-symbolically told the waiter she was done with her Shirley Temple. But just because the ballroom doesn’t turn out to have a grand staircase doesn’t mean the girl won’t find happiness. Maybe Abe isn’t the guy for Peggy—as Joan seems to say without actually saying it, it’s better to find that out before you’re bound to him with a piece of paper. Maybe Megan won’t be an ad exec—but it can’t hurt to show herself and her co-workers how talented she is in the meantime.

The theme of parents trying to pass along their ideals to their children was connected to Megan’s Heinz idea, which envisioned beans as a great human tradition handed down from parent to child since the dawn of time. Like you, Patrick, I found Megan and Don’s tandem sales pitch thrilling. I loved that Megan had the savoir faire to initiate the sell then and there, and I admired the ease with which she and Don played off one another. Megan smartly, and selflessly, recognized that it would play better in the moment if it seemed like it had been Don’s idea, but good for Don for sweetly giving Megan credit for the coup de grace—the image of the young boy taking off his space helmet to enjoy a warm bowl of beans. Somewhere, Newt Gingrich brushed a tear from his cheek.

Of course, the vision Don and Megan conjure is an idealized one, and given his previous demands for student protestors—or Mick Jagger—doing the “bite and smile” it was a bit surprising that this was the idea the Heinz rep finally went for. Save for the kicker, with its “futuristic clothing” and “interesting bowls,” the ad is as nostalgic as Don’s pitch for the Kodak Carousel. That the man from Pittsburgh went for it anyway vindicates Peggy’s insight—this guy really didn’t know what he wanted, or maybe all he really wanted was to be wowed by Don, not his understudy. But the ad’s concept was a clever turn in the context of this episode. After all, Megan’s traditional idea could hardly have been inspired by a less traditional series of events: The spark comes when Megan is preparing a meal for her step-children, who have arrived on the scene after incapacitating their step-grandmother (by tripping her with a phone cord, which had been allowing Sally to compare notes with fellow child-of-divorce Glen Bishop). It’s an old-fashioned vision of family born of a thoroughly modern one.

We didn’t see much of Pete this episode, but he nearly stole the show with his little demonstration of the art of account management: “That, Emile, is what I do.” I loved that Pete has no pretensions about what the work entails—and that Emile’s own pretensions made him the easiest of marks for Pete’s professional-grade flattery.

Julia, what did you make of Leland Palmer’s revelation that all the big shots in the industry think Don stabbed Lucky in the back? He was not the Italian bride Roger predicted he’d be. Do you think this spells trouble for the firm, or are there enough bean giants out there to make up for the GMs and Dows who don’t trust the man from SCDP? And what do you make of that brand of hall lacrosse Glen was playing at Hotchkiss? It looked positively morose to me. Might as well do your trig homework.

Go get ‘em, Tiger,