Mad Men recap: A Day's Work
I don’t think my Valentine’s Days will ever be the same after “A Day’s Work.” Whatever romantic sentiment was wrapped up in the holiday was gutted by Ginsberg’s remark to Peggy in the elevator, then set afire by all the Old White Men in the office. Yet it’s hard to recall an episode of Mad Men that was as funny as this.
Don is still in professional limbo, SCP’s “collective ex-wife who still receives alimony” for staying away from the office. But on Feb. 13, he has an important meeting. Fortunately, it’s not until 8 p.m., so he preps for it by sleeping past noon, watching The Little Rascals while stiffing Ritz crackers in his mouth, ignoring trespassing cockroaches, and moderating his drinking so he’s all slick and Draper’d up when the doorbell rings. It isn’t Lee Cabot at the door, or Betty Francis dropping off the kids. It’s Dawn (or is it Shirley)? She’s unofficially keeping him in the loop on SCP business, especially Lou Avery’s meetings with Mohawk Airlines, while also arranging Valentine’s flowers for Megan in California. Dawn is quickly in and out, and as soon as she’s gone, Don’s tie is pulled loose and the TV is back on. Dawn and Freddie Rumsen aren’t cutting it. Don needs to get back in the action.
The last time we saw Peggy, she was sobbing on her living room floor because her ex-lover was in California with his family — and her most notable recent encounter with the opposite sex was with the upstairs neighbor’s boy who complains about the clogged toilet. Rather than dwell on that fact, Peggy’s diving deeper into her work. Of course. On the elevator up on Friday, Feb. 14 — a date that will live in infamy — she commends Ginsberg and Stan on their recent work, and pleads with Stan to hand in some artwork before the end of the day. (Because Peggy is definitely working all weekend, right?) Stan hints that he has plans after work. When Peggy obliviously fishes for an invite to his social gathering, the guys have to remind her of the day’s holiday significance. And that’s when Ginsberg drops the hammer, with an embarrassing ripost that lets Peggy know that her depressing social life isn’t as bad as she thinks it is. In fact, it’s much, much worse, and everyone at the office is aware. Needless to say, Ginsberg’s crude assessment that Peggy had an evening of “masturb[ating] gloomily” lined up definitely was a new low for Peggy. However, it wouldn’t prove to be the lowest point of her day.
NEXT: “Just cash the checks. You’re going to die one day”
Out in Los Angeles, Pete has a line on some new business with Chevy’s SoCal dealer’s association. With the help of his own Betty Francis doppelganger, real-estate hawk Bonnie Whiteside, he charmed the right guy. And he wants the new Chevy-related account, Bob Benson be darned. Not everyone at SCP agrees, during a comical partners-meeting conference call that demonstrates the limitations of “modern” communication technology — though Roger steals the show with repeated sexual innuendo that he alternates with sincere apologies to the secretary taking notes. He thinks Pete earned the right to “mount” the catch, but he’s outnumbered by those, led by Cutler, who think Bob should be SPC’s sole intermediary with Chevrolet. Roger doesn’t put up too much of a fight, which Pete and a morose Ted can hear on the line even though New York thinks the call has been dropped.
Pete is outraged by the lack of respect and recognition, and can’t stop talking about it, to Ted or to the beautiful Bonnie. “I don’t know if it’s heaven or hell or limbo, but I don’t seem to exist,” he wails to Ted. “No one feels my existence.” Nearly as miserable as Peggy, Ted seems literally to be counting the hours until his own death. His advice to the agitated Pete, who threatens to open up his own shop: “Just cash the checks. You’re going to die one day.”
Bonnie, on the other hand, is a different breed of female than the ladies in New York. She’s not asking to be invited into the boys’ club; she’s making her own path right through them, albeit in real estate. Why she’s with Pete at this point, and why’s she’s whispering “You’re such a big deal,” into his ear while he mounts her on his desk, is anyone’s guess. When he tries to muscle in on her open-house and sweep her off her feet, she quickly puts him in his place. He seems to like her drive, telling her, “I want to chew you up and spit you out.” On the contrary, Pete; I suspect those roles will be reversed at the appropriate time. But enjoy the fun while you can.
In contrast to Bonnie Whiteside, Dawn and Shirley are having a rough go of it in the SCP offices. The only two African-Americans in the office, they’re often confused for each other by their white co-workers — at least according to their own private inside joke. Shirley works Peggy’s desk, but she’s at the Xerox machine Friday morning when Peggy sees the beautiful roses waiting outside her office, presumably sent from a secret admirer. After her nightmare elevator ride up, this is a welcome development. But they’re not from a secret admirer; they’re from Shirley’s fiancé… for Shirley. Peggy proudly brings the flowers into her office, and when Shirley begins to explain the misunderstanding, Peggy interprets her assistant’s awkwardness as confirmation that the bouquet is from Ted — that presumptuous bastard. She quickly fires off a cryptic message to Ted in L.A. that “the business is gone.” No, this is not Peggy’s lowest point yet.
Dawn is juggling the demands of working for Don and Lou — including arranging Valentine’s Day gifts to their wives — and those worlds collide at her feet when Sally Draper comes to the office to find her father after losing her purse in the city. Her roommate’s mother had died, and she and two classmates used the funeral as an excuse to do some shopping — or so she says. But when she walks in, she finds Lou Avery in her dad’s office, and Lou Avery’s name on the door. She leaves without seeing anyone she knows, but when Dawn returns, Lou rips into her for his uncomfortable encounter with Sally. He subsequently demands that Joan reassign Dawn; Lou wants his own assistant.
Joan shifts Dawn to reception, but Bert Cooper points out that — gasp — “people can see her from the elevator” and suggests “a rearrangement of [Joan’s] rearrangement.” Bert Cooper, you broke my heart.
NEXT: “Happy Valentine’s Day. I love you”
Stranded in New York, Sally goes to her father’s apartment to find him. But he isn’t there because he’s having lunch with a pal from a rival agency, Dave Wooster. Don’s testing the waters, “looking for love” to see if there’s any interest in him — and to do damage control over the stories circulating around town about his present absence at SCP. Did he break down and cry during a pitch meeting? Did he punch a client? Is he managing his wife’s career in Hollywood? In some ways, perhaps, the swirling rumors only add to his mystique, because Jim Hobart (who courted Don in season 1) swings by their table to express his own interest.
Two interesting takeaways from Don’s lunch with Dave. One, Don is definitely still drinking. Duh, I know: I misread the last scene in the season premiere, thinking that Don had resisted the temptation of opening the bottle. Clearly, that isn’t the case, based on the earlier scene at home where he marks the bottle at the waterline to measure his consumption. At lunch, he quickly orders another as they talk shop. Secondly, I thought the throwaway line about the Knicks was a clever footnote to the racial landscape of the times that Dawn and Shirley are being forced to navigate. When the subject of NBA basketball comes up, the two white men in dark suits immediately rave about Bill Bradley, the white Princeton All-American who became an essential part of the Knicks rotation. Nevermind that Bradley was the team’s seventh leading scorer that year, behind such African-American stars like Willis Reed and Walt Frazier. Basically, Bradley would’ve been preferred over his teammates at the metaphorical reception desk, where people can see him from the elevator.
Peggy and Shirley’s floral misadventures continue, with Peggy dumping the flowers on Shirley when she becomes more disgusted by the notion that Ted sent them to her. Which he didn’t. But this is the perfect O’Henry solution: Shirley gets her flowers back without having to confront Peggy with the truth. But Peggy isn’t finished. Not even close. On second thought, those flowers are cursed, she says, and the mere sight of them is driving her crazy. She insists on throwing them in the trash, forcing Shirley to explain finally that the roses were meant for her. Oh, Peggy. Oh, oh Peggy. Please tell me you didn’t yell at Shirley for embarrassing you. Please don’t tell me you didn’t tell her to “grow up.” And please, please tell me you didn’t then go to Joan to get Shirley reassigned. But, sadly, Peggy did all of these things. Unforgivable.
I’ve saved Sally and Don’s reunion for last, because I think it was one of the most thoughtful and honest sequences in the show’s prolific history. After not finding him at SCP, she surprises her father at his apartment, where he proceeds to lie to her face about being her work. Kiernan Shipka’s initial reaction is as if each syllable of her father’s falsehoods is an arrow to her cheeks and brow. Don offers to drive her back to campus and write her school a written excuse. What should it say, he asks. “Just tell the truth,” she answers.
In the car, they end up arguing once the truth is revealed. “Why would you just let me lie to you like that?” barks Don. “Because it’s more embarrassing to catch you in a lie than it is for you to be lying,” she yells back. “Do you know how hard it was for me to go to your apartment? I could’ve run into that woman [in the elevator].”
That woman would be Sylvia, the neighbor that Sally caught having sex with her father. Just stop talking, she pleads, and for a few moments, the car is quiet except for the radio. What does a father say after that? He stops for gas, is what he does. And a bite to eat, and some coffee. Anything to break that horrible silence.
At the diner, Don finally comes clean about work, and Sally doesn’t flinch. She may be his daughter, but because of what happened with Sylvia, she can also be his confessor. The horrible secret and betrayal bonds them closer together, and encourages Don to be vulnerable and share even more about his meltdown, his marriage — no Valentine’s Day phone call for you, Megan — and his reticence to be in California. But this dinner is also about reestablishing a more traditional bond, and Don clearly suspects that the funeral and the lost purse were all part of Sally’s plan to see him. When the check comes, and he tricks her for a moment into thinking they’re going to ditch the bill, her smile clearly makes him feel like a good father for the first time in awhile.
When Don finally drops Sally off at school, with the Zombies singing “This Will Be The Year,” she says the words that he must have feared he would never from her again: “Happy Valentine’s Day. I love you.”
Jon Hamm stars as Don Draper in the Emmy-winning ’60s-set drama