Last week, we rejoined “Mad Men” at the beginning of 1969, as some were embracing new paths while others were lost and adrift. Tonight, in “A Day’s Work,” on Valentine’s Day, another familiar (if more grown-up) face returns, and finds love.
Is there anything more pathetic than Don watching “The Little Rascals” while eating crackers as roaches crawl around his apartment? What a symbol of Don’s decrepit fall from grace. Or maybe it’s getting showered and dressed moments before Dawn shows up to keep him apprised of the office happenings. But he’s keeping up appearances. He meets with Dave Wooster from Wells Rich Greene — “looking for love” he says — and gets wooed by McCann while he’s there too. He’s making sure his face is still known around town. He’s just trying to figure out what to do next, because he honestly doesn’t know. For the first time, Don doesn’t know what to do.
(Just as an aside, the “Mary” that was mentioned twice during the ad men lunch is Mary Wells Lawrence, and she’s responsible for some of the best ad slogans of all time. Google her.)
But one of Don’s best moments ever happens later on, with Sally.
Someone has grown up. Her opening scene, taking a drag on her cigarette and stating blandly that she’d stay at school “until 1975 if I could get Betty in the ground,” was both sad and funny at the same time. There’s little joy in Sally the boarding school teenager. And leave it to Sally, little girl lost yet again, to discover Don’s big secret lie of being on leave after losing her purse during a jaunt to the city (while she’s supposed to be at a classmate’s mother’s funeral.) She heads to SC&P but instead finds Lou in Don’s office.
Don drives Sally back to school, and at first tries to lie about “being at the office.” After a call from Dawn, he realizes that Sally was just going to accept that lie because that’s what she knows to do with him. Only after lashing out at her over it does Sally finally break down and spill out all of her pain over Don’s affair with Sylvia, He, in turn, tells her the truth about why he’s not at work — the first person in his personal life to know. That distinction isn’t lost on Sally.
When Don lays out the details of his forced vacation while sitting in a diner booth with his daughter, his face melts into a certain softness rarely seen. Big props to Jon Hamm for this moment. It was the warmest Don has ever been with Sally.
Don, don’t compare Sally to Betty again. She’s more like you, the real you, than you’ll ever know. But she’s not afraid of the truth. And Sally’s friend Carol nails it when she says “the trip was worth it.” Yes, it was, if Sally and Don can continue to make a relationship work.
If Don Draper is ever going to find redemption and hurdle over the anti-hero label, he’ll have to find peace with his kids. This episode made headway with that. Leaving her dad with a simple “Happy Valentines Day. I love you” proves he needs that to survive. That was what Don needed most, at that moment.
Yes, Dawn gets a shout-out this week. She may be the best secretary Don has ever had. Including Peggy. Acting as his loyal SC&P mole will keep her around for a long time, hopefully, even if she does talk about him behind his back. The secretarial pool doesn’t change.
After Lou gets upset that Dawn wasn’t there to intersect Sally’s visit, he gets her moved to reception, if only for a few minutes. A bigger and better situation awaits. If this episode proved anything, Dawn is valuable to everyone at SC&P.
Someone got flowers on Valentines Day! Of course, they were Shirley’s, but Peggy is in so much pain, she’s not thinking clearly, and she’s dramatizing her life to make it relevant (or perhaps to prove to herself that Ted still notices her).
“Keep pretending,” Dawn tells Shirley (or is it the other way around?) Only after Peggy learns that the flowers are actually Shirley’s and lashes out that she was “embarrassed” by Shirley on purpose, does she realize just how unhinged she’s become. Yet, she still demands Shirley be moved off her desk. Peggy, you’re better than this. Pull yourself together, woman.
Does anything signify Pete’s new swinging lifestyle more than being caught with Bonnie in the middle of a … showing … by Ted? But the season-premiere Pete is gone; the old Pete has returned. After signing a new account of car dealers in Southern California, Jim and the New York office decide he’ll need to clear the work through Chevy so that nothing gets jeopardized in Detroit, and that means through good ol’ Bob Benson. Welcome back, disgruntled Pete.
And perhaps Pete’s anger at being mistreated yet again, when he states he’s in some kind of limbo, and that “I don’t seem to exist” is the point of the entire episode. Bonnie takes Pete down a peg or two in the end after calling him on his whining. Who knew a career woman was just what Pete needed?
Finally — finally! — Joan is recognized as more than just the office manager, and without any pomp and circumstance, gets an easy promotion to account “man” by Jim. And Dawn becomes the new Joan. And Shirley becomes the new Dawn. The office deck is reshuffled significantly!
If there was any fight in Roger, it’s definitely gone now. He’s checked out. He doesn’t even give Joan any proper acknowledgement when she moves into her new office. She deserved more than the flowers from “Kevin.” She deserved a congratulations from Roger.
Final thought: Lou Avery is perhaps the worst person ever.