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Mad Men “A Day’s Work” Review (7×02)

21 Apr

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“Just write the truth.”

In our modern world–but especially in our business world–power plays an essential role in how we structure our offices, how we deal with clients and move up in the ladder and make our money. That is at the forefront of the proceedings at SC&P: although we may win our small victories, as Bonnie Whiteside says, “our fortunes are in other people’s hands”.

Joan moves on up to the second floor and Dawn takes her job, but not before we’re witness to loss, to a constant shuffling of positions and power dynamics at play. Everyone in this episode seems to feel alienated, trying to crawl back up through the wreckage resulting from the office politics. Whether it’s racism, sexism, or flat out competition, SC&P is at a crossroads, limping along with a boss who’s lazy and bland: Avery’s a douche, but he’s an intriguing presence because of the way he contrasts with the rest of the company.

“A Day’s Work” effectively navigates the clashing of the East Coast and West Coast groups, the clashing on a personal level between, for example, Roger and Cutler, and the clashing of Peggy’s own ideals with those of the company. In fact, Peggy’s coming off as the exact opposite of the Peggy we know and love: she’s agonizing over a bouquet of flowers–symbolism is very on the nose here–complaining and going off about curses and acting like a petulant child. The storyline is most definitely my least favorite of the episode: it seems so out of character for her, even considering her situation. I can certainly see how she’d be frustrated and how she’d feel like she needs the show of affection that flowers seem to bring a sliver of, but the storyline drags on until it seems beneath the show. The writers are trying to make a point about her situation here, perhaps doing so intentionally in an episode in which Don redeems himself a bit, but the attempt isn’t the best.

Ultimately, though, the episode comes down to power dynamics, and these are certainly present in Don and Sally’s storyline, which is easily one of the best the show has ever produced. I love how this little journey is structured, from both of them lying in their own ways at the beginning to the various power dynamics–which ties in nicely with those at the office–throughout, to the poignant moment at the end of the episode. There are some really great illustrations of the way truth can have different effects at different times, as well as the way truth is valued by different people; for example, when Don goes to eat with the execs in the beginning, their views on the truth are entirely different than those of Sally when she and him eat later on.

We also see contrasts between Don’s instincts at the beginning–to lie–and the way he seems to instinctively apologize in the car, doing so out of emotion rather than thinking for a second and realizing “Hey, this is what I need to do to get Sally back.” This is Don Draper at his most genuine, stripped bare, staying and trying to face his problems. His comment about “Nothing [Sally] doesn’t know” hearkens back to the final scene of season six, in which the look they shared was one of appreciation and a modicum of respect.

At the end of the episode, we see Don apologizing for and acknowledging his wrongdoings, and his demeanor when he makes the joke about not paying is something we haven’t seen in a long time. Shipka and Hamm are brilliant here, and that final scene is beautiful: the “I love you” is delivered with just the right amount of tension, but also just the right amount of appreciation. That hits Don hard.

For, as much as Mad Men is about how these characters never change, it’s also about the little victories that we need to savor. Things may not get better. Don may try, but he may fail, and “try, try again” sometimes just doesn’t work out. Yet, that doesn’t change the fact that after a day with his daughter, after a meal and an apology and a confession, he hears these words:

“Happy Valentine’s Day. I love you.”

GRADE: A-

OTHER THOUGHTS:

-February 14: Masturbate gloomily. The true meaning of Valentine’s Day, ladies and gents.

Kiernan Shipka is stellar tonight. Her delivery of the last line is sublime, as is Jon Hamm’s acting afterward. His facial expression there can be his Emmy real.

-Lots of stuff out of place in this episode: Sally at the office, the flowers, etc.

-“Hello, Shirley.” “Hello, Dawn.”

“I’m all for the national advancement of colored people, but I don’t believe people should advance all the way to the front!” 

The cockroach foreshadows Don’s final arc, in which he tries to deal with a cockroach infestation while bonding with Sally. 

Don: I’m sorry for all the decisions I’ve made, all the pain I’ve caused you. I’ve been a terrible–CRUSH THAT SON OF A BITCH, SALLY. IT’S MOVING TOWARD THE KITCHEN.

-Lou, you suck.

-I’ve had these “Don is going to get better” moments way too many times beforehand, so I won’t get ahead of myself, but it’s character beats like these that keep me watching the show. What a fantastic, moving piece of television right there.

-Sorry for the lateness of the review. I was hoping to get it up two hours after like last week, but alas.

Photo credit: AMC, Mad Men

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