Spoiler Alert: If you haven’t seen episode 702 of Mad Men, be warned that this article contains spoilers.
Episode 702, titled “A Day’s Work”, shoehorned several dovetailing storylines into its fifty-minute time slot. Watching the episode felt like watching a grandmaster deploy his chess pieces for a swift and unexpected endgame maneuver. Almost all of the action took place on a single working day, but it was hard to keep up.
In the midst of the chaos, there was a beautiful, slow-paced storyline with Don and Sally, but we’ll get back to them in a bit….
I’d hate to think of you as an adversary
There’s trouble brewing at Sterling Cooper & Partners, as usual, but this time, look for Jim Cutler (Harry Hamlin) to be at the center of it all as he continues to cultivate a loyal team of go-getters. When Cutler clashes with Roger over to handle Pete’s acquisition of the Southern California Chevy Dealer’s Association, it’s easy to see him as the bad guy, but once Bert pipes-up and takes sides with Cutler, the sentimentality washes away. Jim Cutler is a bottom-line capitalist. He wants to win. End of story.
Seeing Cutler in this light, one begins to worry for certain employees at SC&P. Pete has been warning everyone since the merger that the sky was falling on the old Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce gang, and it looks like he’s kind of right. Pete, banished to California, has been reduced to a neutered has-been, answering to his nemesis Bob Benson. On a partners call, Pete and Ted join the meeting via a barely-working intercom. As Pete recounts the landing of the So-Cal Chevy Dealers, the boys in New York roll their eyes and make jokes at his expense. The only one to take his side is Roger, who will see the future by the end of the episode. The question is, has he seen it too late to do anything about it.
Roger, born with a silver spoon in his mouth, probably never had much of a fire in his belly, but what little was there long ago burned out. He and Cutler are peers with a redundancy that came with the merger. This fact has not been missed by Cutler, and when Roger takes Pete’s side at the partner’s meeting, Roger ends up in Cutler’s crosshairs. And even though Roger goes along with Cutler and tells Pete how things will be, Cutler isn’t fully satisfied.
At the end of the episode, as Roger and Cutler share an elevator at the end of a day’s work, Roger informs Cutler that he’s taken care of Pete. Cutler gives his approval. After a pause, Cutler tells Roger, “I’d hate to think of you as an adversary. I’d really hate that.” Roger’s look says it all. Too bad for Pete, who would’ve loved to have seen that look, but would have ruined the moment with a shrill “I told you so!”
It’s not my problem
Lou Avery seems to be the embodiment of what Jim Cutler wants SC&P to be like. If the old Sterling Cooper was Apple Computer, with Don and Roger’s freewheeling style, then the new SC&P is Microsoft, or IBM to be contextual to the 60’s. Boring, sexless and coldly efficient. Cutler might be where advertising made the turn from seat-of-the-pants creative wizardry to research and data driven advertising
This idea is illustrated in a throwaway moment when Roger sees Lou as he’s unlocking the door to his office one morning. Roger tells Lou about being called a kike by a lady on the street, one of life’s absurdities that never fails to amuse the waspy Roger Sterling. Lou, whose face is buried in the morning paper, shrugs off the joke, but points but asks Roger if he saw where Hershey signed with Ogilvy. Lou is strictly business. Roger is in it for the fun.
Later, when Sally shows up at SC&P, looking for Don, she walks into Lou’s office and is surprised to see him in her Dad’s spot. This sets off a spate of door slamming and yelling that ends up with Lou repeating his favorite platitude – “It’s not my problem!” And then brushes his and Don’s secretary Dawn off with a racist remark and has her reassigned.
It just occurred to me that you have two jobs
Last week saw Joan seizing the initiative on Butler Footwear and adding a second account to her guerilla client list, and like everything else at the agency, it was noticed by Jim Cutler.
When Cutler barges in on the tail-end of a Joan/Peggy dustup, Cutler apologizes, then observes that Joan has two jobs, something he just now noticed (uh huh). Flattered, Joan is receptive to where he’s going with his line of thinking, which ends up in a vacant office on the second floor, where the account men sit. In short, Joan is given a kind of promotion, even though she’s a partner. It’s addition by subtraction. She went from two jobs to one job, but she’s now in Cutler’s good graces.
Joan accepts the offer, of course, and in the process, promotes Dawn to head of HR. What a day’s work for these women, who had no idea that morning what Valentine’s Day 1969 would bring.
Enjoy your flowers, boss
Peggy and Ted moved to the edges of the drama in this week’s episode, but Peggy was good for some squirm-inducing moments with Shirley when Peggy mistook a dozen red roses that were from Shirley’s boyfriend for a gift from Ted. When Shirley tried to set the record straight, Peggy steamrolled her with more and more misunderstanding.
Peggy compounds the mistaken identity by sending a nasty message to Ted who, according to Pete, merely answers the phone and mopes around the California office. Later, when Shirley finally sets the record straight, Peggy compounds the mistake even more by having her trusted secretary reassigned, where she ends up working for Lou.
The women of Mad Men did a lot of heavy lifting in this episode, and what’s interesting is how the show illustrates the progress of women during this key decade. While many victories are indeed won on the job front, the victories are costly. None of the women in the episode – Peggy, Joan, Dawn, Shirley, and Pete’s girlfriend Bonnie – are married, not that that necessarily means anything. We know of Peggy and Joan’s difficulty with juggling men and careers, but the men of SC&P seem to have no problems working jobs and managing their end of the family obligation. Also, the women at SC&P, as much as they assert themselves, are still living in world that is dominated by men, as illustrated by how Dawn and Shirley are shuffled around like deckchairs on a luxury liner. Matthew Weiner does a fine job of reminding us that no victories achieved by women were ever cheaply got, and he does it without getting preachy.
Our fortunes are in other peoples’ hands, and we have to take them
Bonnie Whiteside, Pete Campbell’s girlfriend, is another strong female character who runs laps around her male counterpart. Like Joan is learning to do, Bonnie hunts for opportunities, then goes after them with relentless determination.
The question is, what does Bonnie see in Pete?
While Pete drinks and whines to Ted about having his So-Cal Chevy Dealers account ripped away from him, Bonnie is out showing houses, trusting in the math of being a salesman, that every “no” gets her closer to a “yes”.
Perhaps she’s attracted by Pete’s pedigree and east coast bonafides. Perhaps, like Don, she comes from a forgettable past and would love nothing more than to trade on Pete’s. We’ll soon find out. Pete was put on notice by the speech she gave him when he showed up at an open house of hers, looking for sympathy.
Wanting her to end her day early so they could drown their sorrows in sex and booze, Bonnie sets Pete straight with a speech that could have come from “Glengarry Glen Ross,” which ended with her telling Pete that “our fortunes are in other peoples’ hands, and we have to take them.”
I’m just looking for love
Oh yeah. All THAT stuff happened, and then there was this wonderful storyline about Don and working and Don and Sally.
The episode opens with Don’s alarm going off on Thursday, February 13, 1969. Don hits the button to silence the alarm, but doesn’t immediately get up. When he does finally get out of bed, it’s 12:34 in the afternoon.
Luckily, Don got up in time to catch an episode of “The Little Rascals” while enjoying some Ritz crackers for…breakfast? After that, Don got out his typewriter, but never got any work done. As Don is marking his liquor bottles, he spies a roach crawling along the edge of a wall on the floor. After a little research, it turns out that seeing roaches, especially in dreams, means there’s a part of the individual’s life that needs confrontation and change. It can represent a need for renewal or cleansing. Duh.
Later that evening, Don is seen getting dressed. The apartment is clean and he looks as if he’s about the make the Kodak presentation all over again. The doorbell rings. It’s Dawn, whom Don has contracted to bring him regular updates on the activities of SC&P. She briefs him on this-&-that, but was unable to get photocopies of the Butler Footwear work like Don requested. Don tries to pay her, a gesture that’s seemingly been played out more than a few times, but she refuses. Before leaving, she gives him a paper bag with Coffee Mate and Sweet and Low, having noticed on the previous visit that he was out. It turns out Dawn is a lot like Joan – she pays attention and takes care of business without making a fuss.
When Dawn leaves, Don has little to do but take off his clothes and get back to the TV. But the meeting, combined with the day’s activities seems to have caused a turning point in Don.
The next day, Don is at lunch with a guy named Dave Wooster, who works at Wells Rich Greene, a real-life Apple Computer-esque ad agency from the 60’s that created iconic work – a perfect place for a prima donna like Don Draper.
As Don and Dave finish a drink, Dave brings up the rumors of Don’s demise and asks if he’s looking for a job. He doesn’t really care if the rumors are true, but even if he did, Don brushed them aside as jealousy-induced hearsay. Don brings up his problem of having a contract with a non-compete provision, along with being a partner at SC&P. This will no-doubt boomerang back into a future plotline involving Don’s desire to go out on his own, probably to build a little one or two man agency from the ground up. But it’ll have to be over Jim Cutler’s dead lawyer’s body. Having set Don up like an ex-wife, as he explains to Roger, with alimony, Cutler won’t take kindly to Don reneging on his contract, and more than that, he won’t want Don in the marketplace competing against SC&P with insider knowledge of key accounts. This will be a big deal, maybe in episode 707.
At any rate, Don seems to be grappling towards some new direction for his life, but this is a guy who promised Roger Sterling many years ago that when he left agency, he’d leave the business as well. For good. That promise was made when Don was still hiding from Dick Whitman. Perhaps Don will embrace his true self and his true talents, but with some new sense of purpose. Maybe, but this being Matthew Weiner, who has said that Don is a stand in for American culture, don’t bet on it.
While Don gets a healthy dose of love from his buddy Dave, as well as his old suitor Jim Hobart, from McCann Erickson, Sally is playing hooky from a classmate’s mother’s funeral and loses her purse. This sends her to Don’s office where she runs into Lou. Sensing something bad has happened to her Dad, she goes to his apartment building, where she hasn’t been since catching him in the act of “comforting” Sylvia Rosen.
Sally catches Don in a lie while telling one of her own. While they talk the phone rings. It’s Dawn, calling to warn Don about Sally and Lou. Thusly armed, Don offers to drive Sally back to school. What else has he got to do, watch “The Beverly Hillbillies”?
This Don/Sally section of the story, intercut with other storylines, is beautifully written and acted. It’s a deft chess game in its own right between the master manipulator and his genetic protégé – two combatants who love each other very much, but are hampered by guilt, shame and confusion.
The phases of their game are as follows: each opens with passive aggressive feints; Don, equipped with at lest one of Sally’s secret weapons, stalls for time by suggesting a long car ride; Sally refuses Don’s salvos with silent inactivity; Don prods, looking for other lies, until Sally calls takes the upper hand, bringing Don’s shame into the game; Don tries to trump her with age and authority, but Sally takes control with the moral upper hand, which Don neutralizes Don’s attempt at communication…momentarily.
Don pulls off the highway for gas and to regroup, and it is here where the episode hits its high mark. After getting gas, he and Sally head into a restaurant where she refuses to eat. Kiernan Shipka, who plays Sally, is a fine actress, and she nails the put-upon teenager attitude thing to perfection. Don takes her attitude in stride, looking for an opportunity to get some real communication going.
Finally, Don comes clean with his latest lie, explaining to Sally that he has been maintaining this façade of going to work out of shame. He goes on to explain that he was let go for saying the “wrong thing to the wrong person at the wrong time.” When Sally presses for more specificity, Don says it was because he told the truth about who he is. When Sally, in a perfectly accurate response, asks what that might be, Don tells her he said exactly what she knows – the truth.
Seeing Don vulnerable and without the Superman pose softens Sally’s resolve to punish her Dad, and she quickly makes her call and returns to find he has ordered her some food, which she digs into. The dynamic changes, and instead of two adversaries, we see two people who love one another and care about each other discussing a problem. Don speaks to Sally, not as a baby, but as a peer, almost. And she soaks up the respect and love like a sponge. As they discuss Don’s dilemma at work and why he hasn’t told Megan, Sally asks innocently why Don doesn’t just tell Megan he doesn’t want to move to California. You can almost see the gears spinning in Don’s head as he hears those words.
It’s often said – and I believe it’s true – that the key relationship in Mad Men is the one between Don and Peggy. Don and Sally are a close second. Their relationship may be most valuable to viewers because sweet moments like have kept Don from seeming like a completely unredeemable monster. In the relationship between Don and Sally, we get glimpses of the Don Draper we are all dying to root for.
Finally, the two make their way back to Sally’s school, and as she gets out of the car, she sticks her head in to tell her Daddy that she loves him and wishes him a happy Valentine’s Day. The episode ends with Don caught up in one of his Don moments, thinking deep thoughts that will play out in an episode coming soon.