"Just tell the truth." Sally Draper
When I decided to start writing these reviews, the hope was that I'd be able to write thoughtful, engaging, and possibly even humorous interpretations of the show's characters and themes on a weekly basis. What is Don going through now that he's on forced leave? Are he and Megan going to make it? What about his already strained relationship with his daughter? These are all important questions…uh…you see…but…ummmm…SCREW IT. THEY PLAYED MY FAVORITE ZOMBIES SONG AT THE END OF THE EPISODE AND THAT'S ALL I CARE ABOUT RIGHT NOW! IT'S THE ZOMBIES! AND THEY PLAYED THEM! AND THEY PLAYED 'THIS IS OUR YEAR,' EASILY MY FAVORITE SONG BY THEM EVER. IT'S EVEN BETTER THAN 'TIME OF THE SEASON!' I DON'T EVEN CARE ABOUT DON RIGHT NOW BECAUSE AAAAAHGHGHGUGHGHGHG I LOVE THE ZOMBIES SO MUCH I AM GOING TO BLAST 'ODYSSEY AND ORACLE' AS LOUD AS I CAN! BEST CREDITS SONG EVERRRRRRRRRR!
Phew. Okay. Glad I got that out. tThere was no way I was going to be able to wait till the end of the review to express how happy that made me. After an episode I thought was already hugely solid, they closed it perfectly (for me, anyway, because I guess subjectivity is still a thing. Ugh, when will people learn I'm always right?) And this was a great episode. One I enjoyed very much. Last week I mentioned how the first episode of the season for Mad Men (or most shows for that matter) has a bit of catch they always have to play, a sense of duty to show us what the characters have been up to (except Betty. Never Betty), so it was nice to see this episode slow down the pace. While plenty of things still happened story wise, the episode was able to move through them more slowly, giving appropriate emotional beats where they were needed (one of my favorite of which was the great scene of Sally walking through SC&P's empty hallways to find another man working in her father's office).
"A Day's Work" takes place on Valentine's Day, 1969. For some characters it's a big deal (Shirley, Peggy's engaged secretary and true flower-receiver), for some it's only in the background (Don, who already had Dawn send Megan something), and for some it's something they wish they could forget entirely (holy shit Peggy was a hot mess this episode). Some of them had a great day, and some of them terrible. Some of them started out great and ended sour, and some vice versa. Valentine's Day is quite possibly the most divisive holiday of the year, and I liked that they used it as a loose framework for the day in question.
The person who is most affected by it (though really it's her own doing) is Peggy. Not much happens in her storyline, except of course for her completely ridiculous , nearly unbelievable behavior. When she first gets to work, she doesn't even remember that it is Valentine's Day. And why should she? She stabbed her last boyfriend (usually a deal-breaker) and the last man she loved squarely took a dump on her chest (Ted's freaky). She seems to be doing about as emotionally well as Don at this point. They act out in very different ways, but if she had just been sucking back more Canadian Club, I swear they would have been twins. Peggy's storyline is largely told for comedic value (something we found out around season 3 that Elizabeth Moss was very good at), and while it is kind of depressingly funny (like a clown getting trampled by an elephant, or a herd of elephants, or even just a clown getting hurt at all for that matter), it's kind of rough to watch. I squirmed when she tried to find the perfect wording for her snarky response to Ted for sending her flowers he actually didn't. I'd be embarrassed as hell too if I were her and found out they flowers were for someone else, but she handles it with about as much grace as Don did at Sterling's mother's funeral (just with slightly less barf). She loses all sight of professionalism, even telling Joan she couldn't get any work done today because of the flower mix-up. She is literally the hottest of messes. She ends up having to get a new secretary because she's too embarrassed to deal with Shirley again. Huh. Acting out irrationally to the point where you need a new secretary because you're too ashamed? SOUND LIKE SOMEONE ELSE WE KNOW? (It does. The answer is Don. It sounds like Don.)
Joan has quite a different kind of day. It starts out as same as ever, with her having to deal with her duties as a partner and also as "Head of the Secretaries," a role she was somehow never able to free herself from, even after her promotion. That's why it's so satisfying when Jim Cutler finally notices her double duties. Joan's story is on the same trajectory it was last week, with more and more responsibility rightfully coming to her door. She kind of oppositely mirrors Pete this week, who starts the day off feeling great but gets his new account partially taken away from him as the workday goes on. This week's Pete is definitely the kind of Pete we are more used to. Petulant, angry, hilariously storming in and out of rooms. I love when he tells Ted they aren't talking anymore. Good God, I love Pete Campbell. Ya know why? It's not because he's a good character (Lord no, he's mostly repugnant), it's because he's an interesting character. He's impatient and more than a little selfish, but he's also still damn good at his job. And his job is essentially getting people to like him so that they will like his company. He can't be only smarmy if he continues to land important accounts. And therein lies what I think makes Pete Campbell so interesting. He obviously has the ability to curb his emotions in front of others, but can't seem to hone it.
Pete being Pete, Joan getting more responsibility, Jim almost butting heads with Roger, secretary shifts, it's apparent that life at the office is going on almost exactly the same without Don there. It's disconcerting to see things go smoothly without him. I'm sure most people (myself not excluded) secretly hoped SC&P would start to fall apart without their masterful creative director there to make somber, gravely-toned soliloquies about life, death, and the nature of happiness to their clients. But that's just not the case. Business must go on. Copy still needs to be written, accounts to be landed. It's a scary notion for him to arrive at, but Don needs them more than they need him. It's been almost three months now, and still no call. Rumors have begun to circulate about Don's absence, and while no one knows exactly what happened, people know that SC&P is Draper-less and still functioning without him.
Jim Cutler refers to him as their "collective ex-wife who's still receiving alimony." Ouch. I remember when they told him to go on leave last season that it seemed unlikely he'd be returning. I read somewhere that usually being told to go on leave like that was actually just a polite way of firing someone they couldn't technically fire. But then Don seemed so confident about his imminent return last week that I myself found myself feeling hopeful, especially since he was still writing such dynamite copy. But things at the office definitely suggest otherwise.
How much does Don truly believe he's going to get to come back to work? He's putting on a decent front, at both his "social" lunch with a fellow ad-man (whose name I am far too lazy to go back and find out, because whatever, dude was wearing a pink shirt with an orange tie anyway, LAME), and when Dawn came over to give him the low-down, but how much of it is bullshit? It was extremely depressing to see Don clean up his place and get all dolled up, straightened tie and all, to just have a two-minute discussion with his former secretary about the current state of affairs at the office. The need for secrecy does not seem to bode well for Don's future either. And then to see him just immediately turn the TV back on and loosen his tie…ugh. It's sad. We're used to seeing him in turmoil, but he usually gets to be wallowing in it in his office. It's much sadder when it's in his apartment. Alone. In his robe. Watching Little Rascals. Munching on crackers (but he is eating again! Don ate two episodes in a row! That has to be a Mad Men record.)
Don's business affairs are paramount, but the center of the episode is Sally. I'm glad they didn't try to cram even more into last week's episode, but she was the one thing it was missing for me. Sally's revelations about her father last season were some of the most painful in the shows history. The older Sally got the more inevitable it became her father's sordid affairs would start to spill out onto her. But it ended up even worse than I could ever have imagined--her walking in on her dad plowing Lindsey Weir. That's not an easy sight to bounce back from. It seemed unlikely the two would ever be able to get past such a traumatizing event. Don, however, in one of the most rare examples of honesty, shed some light onto his past when he showed Sally and Bobby the run-down whorehouse he called home. That moment at the end of Season 6, with the two of them exchanging glances in front of the old brothel was one of my all-time favorite moments in Mad Men. No words were needed between the two, and Sally, young as she is, finally started to understand, at least a little, something about her father's past that perhaps made him the way he is today. It was subtle, beautifully acted, and highly effective.
Personally I am much more invested in this part of Don's redemption than I am his relationship with Megan or the firm. The firm is doing fine without him, Megan is living in LA all on her own and doing well in her career, all without Don living there. If anyone still needs Don as a positive influence in their life, it's his children. Already coming from a broken home with a painfully narcissistic mother, it seems unlikely Sally can escape adolescence healthy and unscathed. It's Don's responsibility to do everything he can to make sure she doesn't end up who he is. I know it's not an easy task for him, but the episodes that put this dynamic in the forefront are usually my favorite, most emotionally responsive episodes.
It doesn't start out well for them either, when he first returns home to find her waiting there for him. As she's grown, Sally has definitely inherited a lot of Betty. Fortunately, Sally is still at the age when acting like a fifteen year old girl is appropriate. She's snarky and angry at her father, and is now old enough to see through his lies, which she's piecing together there are a lot of. The more he lies to her the further away she gets, and it comes to a head in the car when he won't answer her questions about his job. "It's more embarrassing for me to catch you in a lie than for you to be lying." This, too, is the first time Sally clearly brings up his affair with Sylvia. It's heartbreaking hearing Sally express genuine fear of going to her father's apartment. Don has no moral recourse. They sit and eat (well, she doesn't at first, and he only eats a french fry…but there's still food in front of Don! I shouldn't get so excited about this every time, but dammit I do) in almost silence until Don realizes the only thing he can do to get through to his daughter is just be honest with her. Because of him she's had to grow up a lot faster than she should have, and he owes her honesty more than anyone.
And he finally gives her some. He tells her the truth about his job. He tells her the truth about being ashamed. And she responds. And she eats. And he even makes a cute little joke about dining and dashing (a wonderful bit of acting from John Hamm. He even had me going for a second). The episode ends with a beautifully earned moment between father and daughter, one that I think the episode rightfully took its time building to. The look on Don's face after she tells him she loves him is devastating and sweet. It pleases me greatly to see Sally and Don at the emotional center of this episode, because I think it might be the only relationship Don has left he might be able to salvage. AND THEN THEY PLAY 'THIS IS OUR YEAR' BY THE ZOMBIES AND EVERYONE GOES CRAZY! HAVE YOU HEARD THAT SONG? I MEAN, HAVE YOU REALLY HEARD IT? IT'S SO GODDAMNED GREAT! MAD MEN YOU BEAUTIFUL BASTARD.
- "Just cash the checks, you're gonna die someday." Ted Chaough is a real barrel of monkeys in California. It's quite humorous. I love when he wonders which of Peggy's accounts they lost, completely unaware of how bat-shit crazy Peggy's acting in New York.
- The bit where Dawn and Shirley jokingly call each other their own names (Get it, cuz they're black and they are easily mixed up?!) was quite funny. Also, who isn't happy for Dawn at the end when she gets Joan's old job? She's quite possibly the best secretary Don's ever had, except for Miss Blankenship, who's only fault was not being able to properly stay alive.
- "She knows what day it is. It's right there on her calendar. February 14th, gloomily masturbate." Dear God, Ginsberg, don't ever change. DON'T. EVER. CHANGE.
- Don sets an alarm for 7:30am, turns it off, and then sleeps past noon. Yep, that sounds like unemployment to me. People definitely sleep a lot when they're unemployed. Or sometimes they wake up early to watch an episode of a TV show twice so they can write a review about it and make sure it's up by the time people are awake in the states to read it. I don't know. I mean, I've heard that some unemployed people do that.
- "Jesus, Draper, is this your first funeral?" Sally gives a great look after that question that clearly conveys, "Shit. It is." I want to quickly mention how lucky the show was when they cast Kiernan Shipka. She was like all of six when the show started, and almost eight years later, she has blossomed into quite a solid little actress. I think her work in the last two seasons has been increasingly good.
- Roger Sterling said kike about three times in twenty seconds. DON'T YOU CHANGE EITHER, STERLING. YOU STAY GOLD. Oh man, should there be Ginsberg/Sterling spin-off, a la The Odd Couple? I think I've answered my own question.
- I would be remiss if I didn't point out Burt Cooper's impeccably polite racism. Goddamn, dude. I mean, of course it makes sense. It's still 1969, and Cooper is about a hundred and fifty years old, but you still can't help but drop your jaw at his request to get a "colored" girl out of sight from the elevators. But at least he was cordial about it! If you're gonna be racist, at least do it politely! That's what my mother always taught me, anyway.
- Two episodes without Harry Crane? I can get used to this.
- There's only five episodes left of this little half season. I'm thinking by the end of these seven episodes we will have a definitive answer as to what is happening with Don and SC&P.
- Oh, and did I mention THE ZOMBIES WERE PLAYED AT THE END THE EPISODE? DID I? DID I?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!