After two weeks of uncharacteristic high octane action at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, Mad Men slowed down to cruising speed again with 'At The Codfish Ball'. This was a good thing though, as it gave the show a chance to explore some of the deeper themes at play underneath the explosive relationships that have dominated recent episodes.
Firstly we saw an important side to Megan, which had rather been neglected with the focus on the problems in her and Don's relationship. Here we saw that for all that she's a pretty face who's now married to the boss, she's also more than capable of holding her own when given the chance.
After dinner with her parents and Don's daughter Sally, she came up with an idea to have families eating Heinz throughout history, and just when the beans manufacturer seemed to be walking out on the agency, she saved the day by pitching her idea, giving most of the credit to Don.
It showed an interesting dynamic in their relationship; that when they work together they complement each other, but that it's difficult for them to do. In the office her colleagues resent her for sleeping with the boss, and are initially reluctant to accept her idea. To clients she's Don's arm candy and incapable of independent thought.
Secondly there was a reminder that in the world of advertising perhaps all is not as it seems: Don attended a dinner where he received an award for his letter admonishing the tobacco industry from the last series.
Yet even as Don was being praised for his integrity he was told a home truth that may of those who were there to sing his praises baulked at working with him in case he did the same to their business if they fell out.
We've also focused a lot on Peggy's relationship recently, and after last week's wristy cinema indiscretion, it appears that her and boyfriend Abe are muddling into something deeper by moving in together. His main motivation for this seems to be Peggy's lack of time for him after work, trying to save the relationship by taking it to the next level.
This puts into sharp focus the two conflicting sides to Peggy; she's an ambitious career woman but in 1960s America there are some ways in which she can only be successful by doing it while holding down a traditional relationship too.
Peggy is a pioneering woman but also human, and not above settling for less because it fits in with her aspirations as to what she, and others around her (her mother) think life 'should be like'.
Her conversation with Joan was one of the low key but poignant moments that makes Mad Men great. Both are in their own ways the epitome of strong independent women, great in very different ways at playing the games of sexual politics, yet they are essentially playing a game which is rigged against them, having to succeed in the totally different worlds of career and the home.
Joan, showing flashes of her old self before her disastrous marriage, told an initially distraught Peggy, to go and buy a dress because Abe was about to propose. He only wanted to move in together, but as ever Joan could read the situation even as she could see its difficulties. Her solution of retail therapy epitomises her philosophy of keeping up appearances at all times. By taking her advice, Peggy realises she can't desexualise herself as she does at work all the time.
In general there were fewer fireworks this week; no drugs, no fights and no break-ups. However that didn't stop the show having a lot to say about the gender politics of the age, that even the show's most compelling female characters find their desires in conflict due to the attitudes and opportunities around them.
The Entertainmentwise Guide To Mad Men