Thoughts on Mad Men s7e2, “A Day’s Work”

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Cooper seeing Dawn in the SC&P lobby. image courtesy of Taringa.net

So! Sunday night’s episode puts us at Valentine’s Day 1969. Don is entering month 3 of his leave, and is a damn mess. The hell is he doing? Snoozing the alarm for 5 hours, eating sleeves of Ritz crackers while watching The Little Rascals and methodically marking lines on his booze to make sure he doesn’t overdo it? This is a man who is almost completely adrift without SC&P. He watches his television with a distinct human familiarity – as that form of company when you’re alone. He’s despondent and fervently ogling ads in a magazine, still trying to give himself purpose by working, and working even harder to not lose his goddamn mind.

As he pops on a suit and cleans himself up for a guest, we see that it’s Dawn at the door. He’s been employing her on the side to keep tabs on everything in the office, take calls for him, and we find out for certain that he’s hidden his forced leave from both Megan and Betty. Yeesh. Guess the guy’s really ashamed of the Hershey meeting, and hasn’t quite come around to being totally himself just yet. The moment Dawn leaves, he crumbles; his posture slumps down and he loosens his tie while turning on the television.

This episode had a lot of great moments with Don and Sally, which was much-needed. We see Sally at boarding school, putting on a mean mug teenage jerk personality for her catty girlfriends. Her roomate’s mother just died, so they’ve been granted off campus permission to attend the funeral. Naturally, they’re all being hyper-dismissive and chatting about going to the Village after the funeral so they can get some undoubtedly shitty hippie sandals. Real sensitive, teenagers.. though probably true to life. Sally reminded me a lot of early Betty in this scene actually, in mannerisms and aloofness alike. She loses her purse somewhere along the way and goes to SC&P, to see Don and get train fare back to school. The scene reminds me of that episode in season 4 where she runs away from home and shows up at the office, upset and not wanting to go home to Betty. This Sally, however, is completely sure of herself – she confidently strides right in and makes a beeline to Don’s former office, and is greeted by an unfamiliar, annoyed Lou. Sally is confused, and Lou handles it obnoxiously, which is par for the course; he’s overly pissed that Dawn wasn’t there to absorb the blow, but she was busy buying him perfume for his wife since he couldn’t be bothered to walk away from his damn pastrami sandwich and get his ass to Saks.

Lou Avery is not only a Bland Dad(TM), but kind of a dick. The way he faux-handled Sally coming to the office looking for Don and being completely rude to Dawn about it after the fact was out of line. On the one hand, I get it. He’s had it with Don’s ghost haunting SC&P, but on the other hand, he keeps bringing up ME ME ME ME and “it’s not my problem”, and demands that Joan shuffle the secretaries around to satisfy his needs, with no regard for anyone else. Now, don’t get it twisted – Don is egotistical as well; there were many times in prior seasons where he put his own needs ahead of the agency, and Lou is doing the same thing here, albeit to a much less damaging extent.

We sympathise with Don a little more in those instances since we know about his past, and a bit about why he is the way he is. Since Lou is a new character, I don’t view him with as much empathy as I probably should. Maybe he’s supposed to symbolise that upcoming shift in corporate culture. The days of hard-drinking career-defined, schmoozy suave men like Don and Roger appear to be ending and the rise of button-up professionalism is coming in. He doesn’t appear to believe in a friendly rapport, or rapport of any kind for that matter; he shuts Roger down with a condescending “wow, strange things do happen to you” type response to his (hilarious) story, and then twists the knife with the news that Ogilvy signed Hershey. Message received, a crestfallen Roger retreats to his office. Lou represents that apathetic middle manager who’s there to wait out the clock and get his paycheck. He’s not there to make friends with anyone, he just wants to get on with it. He cares about his job, of course – it’s just not a way of life for him like it is for Don and Roger, or even Peggy and Joan.

Speaking of complete assholes, man.. Cutler? I’m not too hot on that guy. He sufficiently creeped me out last season when he was peeping Stan boning Gleason’s daughter in the office while everyone was on speed, but I generally have always thought he’s a smug dick. Since the merger, it’s as if he’s cherry picking people he really likes from the former SCDP, strategically trying to get the people he wants on his side. He consistently undermines Roger, determined to make Roger feel as useless as possible. He promotes Joan in a moment of well-timed clarity, but also shuts down Pete immediately in regards to a new account, demanding that he report to Bob in Detroit. It was almost like he shut it down entirely because Roger thinks Pete is doing a good job. Roger eventually gives in to Cutler’s opposition when Cooper agrees, and says as much to Pete – but he’s over it when he sees that Joan’s been promoted and it had nothing to do with him. Roger and Cutler end their day in the elevator together. Cutler says that he doesn’t want Roger to be his adversary – it’s framed as an olive branch, but that shit sounds like a threat to me. Forming a prayer circle for Roger Sterling.

Joan’s promotion is definitely well-deserved, and I’m glad she’s getting the recognition she deserves for all that she does. After the end of last season, I thought that she might be grooming Dawn for her position, and it turns out that was spot on. Joan has pretty much had it with the myriad bullshit being slung her way. First Lou is yelling that she shuffle secretaries so he has his “own girl” and not sharing with Don, so to throw shade, Joan pops vacuous Meredith on Lou’s desk. Dawn is out front as the face of SC&P in reception, which horrifies oldschool “I’m not a racist, but….” Bert Cooper. I guess since Cooper was likely born in the 1800s his faux-cern could be understandable, and thankfully Joan doesn’t have time for that bullshit. Then Peggy comes in yelling, and then Cutler busts in asking about Avon, and she’s had enough. At least Cutler promotes Joan upstairs. So to fix all of this nonsense, she promotes Dawn! I can’t wait to see how she fares as the new Joan.

Let’s talk about what an embarrassing git Peggy was in this episode, in one of the most absurd storylines I’ve seen on this show. So. Shirley, her secretary, gets a dozen gorgeous Valentine’s roses. Peggy, only thinking about her own dissatisfaction with her life, jumps to the conclusion that Ted sent them to her (meaning Peggy) for some inane non-reason. She panics, flies into a bizarre rage about it and passes some 6th grade cryptic-ass rude message to Ted in LA via his assistant, and proceeds to be miserable all damn day about it. Shirley and Dawn have a great exchange about all this dramatic garbage in the kitchen. Later on, Peggy unleashes her wrath on Shirley when she admits that her fiancé sent them to her to begin with as Peggy tries to trash them, and it’s super awkward to watch; it’s not Shirley’s fault that she’s happily engaged! Cool it, Pegs.

Peggy was way out of line yelling at her, and managed to turn a basic misunderstanding into the end of the goddamn world and a commentary on her unhappiness with her life at this point. In her overall sadness about how the whole Ted thing went south, Peggy has successfully managed to isolate herself from nearly every ally she had in that office. Ginsberg won’t even hold the elevator door for her, and when she demands that Joan give her a new secretary and Joan wants to know why, she yells back at her like an entitled crazy person. Peggy’s going through some shit, and I feel sympathetic toward her most of the time, but this was just unbearable enough that I’m side-eying her.

Ted looks to be just as miserable, and it’s actually really sad to see. I love Ted. Last season, he brought a much-needed lightness to the other side of the Don Draper equation. That glimmer is gone from his eyes, and he looks completely dejected the few times we see him in this episode. Maybe he’s bitter because Pete is banging his real estate agent Bonnie in the office? Who knows. I wonder if LA isn’t working out for him as he’d hoped. You can move across the country, but your problems will always follow you.

Don and Sally have it out in the car en route to school. I’m glad she grilled him about why he wasn’t in the office. I’m even happier she finally brought up how upsetting it was to be in his apartment building with the distinct possibility of running into Sylvia, when the last time she saw them together they were mid-bonk. So gross. Sally doesn’t let Don bullshit her about what she saw, and though it’s not mentioned specifically, it’s inferred and Don apologises to her.

When they stop to eat dinner, he explains what happened with SC&P and the reasons why he didn’t tell anyone, and Sally softens. As soon as he’s honest with his daughter and lets her in just that little bit, she gives him understanding and tries to help. The final scene in this episode brought me back to that moment in season 6, when Don confesses this to Megan:

“I don’t think I ever wanted to be the man who loves children. But from the moment they’re born, that baby comes out and you act proud and excited, hand out cigars. But you don’t feel anything. Especially if you had a difficult childhood. You want to love them but you don’t. And the fact that you’re faking that feeling makes you wonder if your own father had the same problem. Then one day they get older, and you see them do something and you feel that feeling that you were pretending to have, and it feels like your heart is going to explode.”

s6e5 “The Flood”

I mean, goddamn. That last scene when Sally says “Happy Valentine’s Day, I love you” as she gets out of the car is powerful. It washes over Don like a profound wave, and I couldn’t stop thinking about the last sentence in that quote. Here is another woman besides Anna who hasn’t shunned him for being honest. Hey Don, maybe forming normal-ass healthy relationships is a good thing. Maybe he’s finally realising what love actually means, rather than it just being a word he says from time to time. Roll “This Will be Our Year” by the Zombies, fade to black.

What is Don’s identity now that he’s not at SC&P? Who the hell is Don Draper without SC&P, for that matter? Who is Roger Sterling now that he’s essentially impotent at SC&P? Who is Peggy without a team who likes her, or love in her life? Who is Megan in LA if she doesn’t succeed? Who in the hell is Ted without an idyllic happy marriage and great ideas at an innovative agency? Who is Pete now that he’s free of obligations like Trudy, a baby and a home in the hellscape suburbs? A sense of individualistic identity and what defines these characters as people will probably be one of the over-arcing themes of this season. It’s been sprinkled throughout the show, and I’m excited to see where it goes in these final episodes.

A final historical note.. Conrad Hilton Jr dies in March 1969 at the age of 42 from a massive heart attack brought on by too much boozing. Don’s around that age, and lives pretty hard himself. Since Hilton Sr had such a bizarre fatherly relationship with Don, I wonder if the death of his actual son will have him seeking Don out again? He never DID get that Hilton on the Moon he was so eerily obsessed with..

And hey, where in the fresh hell is Queen Betty??

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