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Mad Men, Ep. 7.02: “A Day’s Work” is a series highlight

Mad Men, Ep. 7.02: “A Day’s Work” is a series highlight

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Mad Men, Season 7: Episode 2 – “A Day’s Work”
Written by Jonathan Igla & Matthew Weiner
Directed by Michael Uppendahl
Airs Sunday nights at 10 on AMC

“And I won’t forget the way you held me up when I was down.
And I won’t forget the way you said ‘Darling, I love you.’
You gave me faith to go on.”
– The Zombies, “This Will Be Our Year”

In a recent podcast, the TV editor here at Sound On Sight, Kate Kulzick, made a great point about how many people are prone to having limited conceptions of what love is. It’s a big topic to begin with–one that could certainly warrant an entire season’s worth of podcasts to discuss–but it’s important to think about when taking in and considering works of fiction and how they address love. Love, after all, does not have to refer only to the romantic kind that most people would associate it with at first. “A Day’s Work,” a Valentine’s Day episode of Mad Men, shows several of the different kinds of love that can be shared between people. Most notable in this case, though, is the love Sally Draper has for her father, Don. And it’s no wonder that Don is taken aback with surprise when he hears Sally utter that word at the episode’s end. Even if Don weren’t stuck in a rut, waiting for SC&P to call him back, the minor shock of love here comes from how easily we can take it for granted. Don can play the role of father, and he does. He asks Sally if she wants to “go” before they “go,” still thinking of her as a little girl. He wants to protect her from the realities of mortality, wishing that she didn’t have to see her friend’s mother’s corpse at a funeral. But these are almost involuntary reactions. They don’t show the love of the father operating on the conscious level; or if they do, then they do nothing to suggest that Don is saying and doing these things out of anything other than what he perceives as necessity. Don wanting to spend time with Sally is absolutely another instance of Don being bored and wanting to connect with someone, even though I would cede to the fact that that want comes from a better place than wanting to meet up with other ad men for drinks. This is not to say that Don doesn’t love Sally or that he is, in fact, a bad father. It’s merely meant to reiterate that certain loving relationships have a way of feeling so familiar that they can sometimes become difficult to distinguish as the important connections they are. That they can, again, be taken for granted more often than they can be appreciated, which seems like it should be contradictory.

And if the readers will indulge me for a moment (and because I spent a good portion of this morning reading essays about TV criticism and don’t want these Mad Men reviews to be wheel-spinning exercises in recapping), I wanted to make a confession about how this episode made me feel guilty for taking one of my most loving relationships for granted. The relationship I had with my former best friend (who passed away just over two years ago) was one that couldn’t be simply defined by that traditional, romantic concept of love. As a male-female friendship, the opportunity for that kind of relationship was there, but that was never on the cards for either of us; and it was still categorically a relationship of love. Like Don, after a few years into that friendship, I sometimes needed a reminder of her importance. The song that closes “A Day’s Work” (and which I quote above) has the narrator remembering how someone held him up when he was down. I would say Sally has done the same thing for Don at various points throughout Mad Men and that my friend did the same for me. Yet, unlike the narrator who won’t forget, we tend to become so overwhelmed with the superficiality of life that forgetting winds up being a part of the process.

To get into “A Day’s Work” more specifically, I think Peggy is someone who lets that superficiality get to her. So, I want to air my early grievances with her character this season, partially because I see some uninspired writing for her in these first two episodes and partially because I want to embrace my bitterness of people finding her more interesting than Don Draper. Peggy is almost entirely defined by her position as Ted’s scorned lover this season, and it’s so ridiculously far removed from the strong character she often is that her scenes veer back and forth from being pathetic-funny to ha-ha-funny. To be sure, it’s comedic (and an example of great writing and acting) to see her several different reactions to the flowers Shirley receives from her fiance. But it’s also weak and frustrating to see Peggy focus so heavily on passive aggressively getting back at Ted while other characters around her are involved in more useful and interesting situations. “Petty” might be a better name for her at this point, and yet I wouldn’t have it any other way as far as this episode is concerned. The reason I would call “A Day’s Work” a series highlight for Mad Men (which is a dangerous task to begin with, given the fluidity of these seasons and more obvious picks like “The Suitcase” or even last season’s “The Crash”) is because it uses its semi-concept of being a Valentine’s Day episode to portray the wide array of loves in Mad Men and the even wider array of ways characters deal with those loves. Peggy’s major character flaws don’t stand out quite so much as flaws in the episode, then. They function more as pieces of what “A Day’s Work” is on the bigger level, showing how–on the opposite end of the spectrum–some people would give anything to be able to completely forget the way someone told them “Darling, I love you.”

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I could probably elaborately spin words and concepts to apply the concept of love elsewhere in “A Day’s Work”–the love some characters have for their jobs, the state of love between Don and Megan (which Sally specifically brings up), the platonic love in certain friendships–but rather than beating that horse to death, just know that it’s all over the episode.

Instead, it might be useful to move on to some of the other things “A Day’s Work” is doing and how it remains an episode of Mad Men in some of the most classic ways of this series. Gender and race politics are at the forefront, and even though Dawn (or Shirley) doesn’t get scenes away from the office like she has in the past, she takes on a central role for the episode. There is how the script addresses the casual racism at SC&P by having Dawn and Shirley call each other by the wrong names, intimating that several employees mix them up regularly (I would also point out that the reason they go quiet when a Caucasian woman walks in during their conversation is because of the nature of the conversation and not because it’s someone they can’t relate to; so, the casual racism appears to be only going one way). Then there is Bert Cooper requesting that Joan relocate Dawn again, so that people taking the elevator don’t see a black worker at the front of the offices. And then there’s Lou–everyone’s favorite co-worker over at SC&P–telling Joan that “when [Dawn] comes back from the ladies’, have her hand over the keys,” which isn’t sexist or generally insulting in the slightest. I’ve always kind of just scratched my head when Mad Men has received criticism for being either racist or sexist in its writing in the past, since Matthew Weiner is clearly aware of what he’s doing and how these issues apply to both the period and the series itself. In any case, “A Day’s Work” handles that material intelligently, and gives Dawn a just reward for putting up with so much by being given Joan’s Head of Personnel position.

Where that leaves Joan is in a new accounts person’s office, which is her just reward for everything she’s done for the company, including her excellent work with the Avon account. Joan tends to get good episodes only occasionally in Mad Men, and after the season premiere focused so heavily on her, I had expected this episode to leave her by the wayside. However, “A Day’s Work” gives her plenty to do, and though some of the stands she takes aren’t as defiant as Dawn’s speech to Lou about getting his wife’s present, she has just as much steam to release. Fortunately, that explosion happens in front of the right person, and I wonder if there is something else at work behind Jim’s decision to have Joan literally moved on up. One of the final scenes of the hour has Jim speaking to Roger: “I’d hate to think of you as an adversary. I’d really hate that.” Not only does that come off adversarial in spite of Jim’s intent, Roger also makes note of Jim being the one to move Joan closer to the other partners (and, to go back on my word ever so slightly, there is a troubled version of love, since I would argue that Roger and Joan love each other, just in different ways). The best ad-related stuff in “A Day’s Work” is the headbutting going on between Roger and Jim regarding the Chevrolet situation, as they bicker about who deserves priority and courtesy in the handling of the account.

Pete gets the short end of all that, which is hilarious because it’s Pete and those are the kinds of things that happen to him, but the scenes in California aren’t overpowered and made any less interesting because of that. In fact, Pete’s relationship with Connie, which seems so surface-level to begin with, allows for one of the more interesting conversations in the episode, where Connie tells Pete a story about a botched sale from her past. She muses that the fortunes of people are in the hands of others and that we have to take them. Pete spends much of the episode being stressed out while trying to do his job to the best of his ability. He is a valued asset for SC&P and, more importantly, a team player. But if Connie’s words get through to him, he’ll maybe see that being a team player–being selfless–isn’t the best course of action when the world around you doesn’t act accordingly. Sometimes, you need to be selfish and just hope that you’ve picked the right time to do it.

Which brings things back to Don, who admits to Sally that he picked the wrong time to be himself and would have been better off keeping the agency’s needs and preferences in mind. It’s unfortunate timing. Just as Sally arriving at the offices when Dawn is on break and running into Lou is unfortunate timing. The world operates of its own accord. It doesn’t wait for anyone’s convenience, and it certainly doesn’t care when bad things happen to people. It might allow for an unfortunate situation to happen, like Sally walking in on Don and Sylvia, and to let that situation color people’s perceptions of one another. And it may just as easily take the life of a best friend before people can even realize what those perceptions are to begin with. I don’t think “A Day’s Work” gives any kind of blueprint to deal with the world’s indifference, since Connie’s view is only one of many. And I don’t think it emphasizes a particular way of loving someone as the right way (or even shows us a good example of how to love). What I think the episode does is simply encourage us to be aware of those things–to notice when we are immersing ourselves in self-pity and to remember that we are not suffering alone, since there are many people who love us in their own ways and who we rely on whether we know it or not.

– Sean Colletti

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Other Thoughts:

– Well, that was somewhat heavy and doesn’t acknowledge the fact that “A Day’s Work” is, without a doubt, one of the funniest episode of Mad Men ever. So, here are my ten favorite laugh-out-loud moments from the episode…

– 10: “You have a ring on. We all know that you’re engaged. You did not have to embarrass me. Grow up.” Yeah, grow up, Shirley. Jeez.

– 9: “How are your studies?” “Spectacular.” “Do you want a french fry?” *Don has a french fry* “These are cold.”

– 8: Everything about the conference call from hell, but especially “I think they can’t hear us.” “We can hear you!”

– 7: Roger hanging up on Pete and Pete talking for ten more seconds before being told he’s been disconnected.

– 6: “Where are these from?” “Hard to believe your cat has the money.” Stan is winning.

– 5: “Look, when I brought in Chevy, I got their very own Mikey O’Brien laid. Sorry, sweetheart. And it wasn’t easy. Sorry again. Pete caught him, let Pete mount him.” *Roger waves his hands around, not knowing how to apologize to the minutes keeper for that one*

– 4: “Hold that, please.” *Ginsberg does not hold the elevator* Ginsberg is winning.

– 3: “You know what!? We’re not talking anymore!” I could watch Pete talking (or not talking) at Ted all day.

– 2: “She has plans. Look at her calendar. February 14th: masturbate gloomily.” Ginsberg is winning again.

– 1: “They never said which of Peggy’s accounts we lost.” Ted has no idea what kind of mess Peggy has brought upon herself by thinking everything is about her.

– I didn’t mention last week that Don does a bit of grooming before seeing Megan at the airport. Here, after wasting a day watching TV and eating crackers, Don gets his suit on and does even more grooming just for Dawn’s delivery. What a life.

– “There’s something about the money that makes it feel wrong.” People have a hard time accepting Don’s money without reservations. With a face like that, I don’t get it.

– It’s no surprise to learn that someone else got the Hershey’s account, which Lou tells to Roger. Don feels the burn later when he meets with Abe (not the Abe that Peggy stabbed), who recounts some of the rumors going around the advertising world regarding Don’s meltdown.

– “Just tell the truth.” Obvious Double Entendre of the Episode. But I still enjoyed it.

– Seeing the clientele at the diner that Don and Sally stop off at is such a great visual comparison to the bars we usually see Don drinking in. The average age here is about, oh, thirty years higher?

– And for anyone who says Don never undergoes changes, here is the specific line that’s mentioned in the review: “I told the truth about myself…but it wasn’t the right time…and they made me take some time off…and I was ashamed.” To me, there is a Don from seasons one to three. Then each subsequent season has a completely different version of the character. Season seven Don is the most pathetic of them all, but his vulnerability and self-awareness also make him the most sympathetic (as far as Don is capable of being sympathetic, that is–so, not much).