This week’s Mad Men seemed both the antithesis and the perfect complement to last week’s. Whereas last week’s had more of a pace, and you felt a lot of energy, this week’s episode slowed down the pace, taking place in more or less the course of a day (give or take), and quieter (barely any memorable moments of score), allowing you to feel all the inner tension we started seeing last week in everyone. The veneer is shedding away more and more with the absence of Don Draper, especially given the amount of missed and miscommunication, which is basically the theme of the events of this episode.
We start with the recognition that Don’s life has really not been glamorous. It’s almost like last week, we saw him set up the conceit for us, and this week, we unfold the truth. I was right to feel suspicious of him telling Megan he has “work” to be done – he’s just really avoiding the issue of his own idleness and loneliness. In his lazy days of pure unemployment, he snoozes for 5 hours, watches TV all day snacking on Ritz Crackers, and throws on a suit to hide the truth from visitors. Pathetic, eh? He at least has another “spy” outside of Freddy Rumsen – Dawn still works under Don. The moment they share in his apartment is sweet – there’s a clear trust and loyalty established between the two, with Dawn willing to provide him with as much inside information as she can and still coordinating his life (she ordered Valentine’s Day flowers to be sent to Megan in LA!) However, in the course of a day, things will get turned upside down, but in a very understated way.
Valentine’s Day is the day of all reckoning for everyone at SC&P, a day where we see more things start to fall apart at the seams. I knew it’d be too good to be true for LA life to be all hunky-dory for Pete Campbell – during a conference call partners’ meeting, which itself lent to some comical but well-placed miscommunications (the early days of tech issues), Pete reveals he is pretty much about to sign a new account from Chevy’s dealership in LA. Cutler wants Bob Benson to help close the deal, undermining Pete’s ability as an account man. Sterling does try to stick up for him – all accidentally overheard on conference call by Pete when they thought the speakerphone was busted – but Sterling ultimately stands down from defending the man he originally brought up, hanging up on Pete on a private call. (Again, another missed communication as Pete tried to defend himself again) Pete’s tantrum to an indifferent Ted reveals Pete’s insecurity and sense of fruitlessness for this grand plan of moving to LA to establish himself as a viable and valuable partner in the firm. He may have won the girl and the lifestyle (that real estate agent Bonnie) but he’s still largely unfulfilled – and frustrated. Although, with or without Don Draper, Pete Campbell always seemed to be in a position to lose. I will say, though, that his new squeeze has a whole ton of wisdom and perseverance to share the story of how she lost a major client’s commission because the house she sold burned down in a freak accident fire. Perhaps Pete’s finally met his match in her – but we will see how long this affair lasts.
Continuing on the Valentine’s Day mishaps, Peggy is still clearly an emotional wreck about Ted. I’m surprised at the newfound lack of respect from Ginsberg and even Stan, who make snide remarks about her single status in the elevator. Peggy finds flowers at her desk with no card, believing them to be from Ted. They were really sent by her secretary’s fiance, but of course her secretary (Shirley) is too afraid to say so initially and embarrass her. Peggy spends the entire day hot and bothered by the thought of Ted sending flowers as a peace offering, prompting her to send ridiculous messages for Ted’s secretary to relay to him in LA. At the end of the day, her misinterpretation is revealed by Shirley when Peggy attempts to throw away the flowers. Shirley is then chided missed communication – but it was a lose-lose situation either way, since Peggy would ultimately be embarrassed by the revelation that no one gave her flowers. In an emotional fit, Peggy demands that Shirley is removed as her secretary, but moved to a different part of the office.
We see the return of Sally, a more mature teenager, adjusting well to boarding school life. Smoking in her room, she and her roommates conspire to use their 4th roommate’s mother’s funeral as a ruse to sneak into the city for a shopping spree. Sally is kind of the crux for really opening up the well of miscommunication and missed communication for SC&P – when she and her roommates board the train and Sally discovers her purse is missing, she immediately seeks refuge at the SC&P offices. Of course, since Don didn’t tell Betty or the kids about his indeterminate leave of absence, Sally surprises Lou when she pokes into his office looking for him. Lou reveals his true colors here, furious at Sally’s presence (a reminder of the man before him), and furious with the absence of everyone else in the office since Sally swung by during a lunch break. Sally tries to find Joan to help, but no one is around. She slinks out of the office to find Don in his apartment. But of course, the ramifications of Don’s miscommunication? Huge. Lou becomes immediately unsympathetic to Dawn – also recognizing that she is working for both Lou and Don – for being absent when Sally came by. He brings in Joan and Dawn and tries to fire Dawn. At least here Dawn does not allow a moment of missed communication to pass her by, as she stands up for herself to point out that the only reason she was not at her desk was to get Lou a Valentine’s Day gift for his wife (I really feel her pain and frustration here). Joan – recognizing Dawn’s value – tries to find a new place for Dawn in the office.
Meanwhile, Sally finds Don at home, and tries to put the puzzle pieces of miscommunication together. I’m so glad for Sally-Don scenes, because they truly are some of the best. Especially given the events of last season, there’s this revelation that Don can’t really hide himself anymore from his own blood. If there’s anyone he can attempt to be truthful with, it’s Sally, who is definitely a female mirror to him. She tells him – in a sort of double statement – to just tell the truth, when she explains she’ll need a note to explain her late return to the boarding school. On the drive up and during an awkward meal, Sally confronts her father, and Don finally reveals the truth that he is currently “unemployed.” This moment kind of allows Sally to accept and appreciate Don – on the phone to tell her friends she’s OK, she seems uninterested in their ridiculous follies (perhaps it was the discomfort of the story implying a scandalous flirtation moment, maybe revealing she’s still not comfortable with what sexuality is) Since Sally and Don do choose to communicate sparsely – both to each other and in their separate lives – Sally doesn’t shy away from communicating, perhaps for the first time really, “I love you” to Don as he drops her off. This stings Don a little – in a good and bad way – as the final shot of him leaves him ruminating this in his car outside the boarding school. If Don is unsure of who he is and what he means to other people, he at least knows where he stands with his daughter. I guess that will help in his continuing quest for … whatever. Meaning. Life.
Perhaps the only person to benefit from all the random miscommunication is Joan. Again, as a stable force in the office managing the personalities, she takes a stance and tries not to undermine Dawn. After Peggy bursts in and demands Shirley be removed from underneath her, we also get Cooper chiming in about Dawn being moved up to the front desk. The surprising thing, here, is the underlying racial tension, which Joan definitely picks up on. Cooper dances around admitting the fear of having a black secretary at the front desk where “people will see her” immediately, and there definitely seems to be some condescension in Lou not just about Dawn’s loyalty to Don but her race. Cutler – someone I’m still trying to gauge in this universe – actually recognizes Joan’s hard work, and hints that she should move herself up in the office since she’s now handling accounts. Joan moves Dawn into her office to manage personnel (Dawn’s smile as she sets her coat on the door is incredible) and she settles into an office with the boys upstairs. Though these moves seem to be good things right now (they certainly deserve it), you can start to see how they can backfire on these two women. We all know there’s still a lack of respect for Joan beyond her managing skills, and the idea of a black woman handling personnel in a predominantly white office in the height of the 60s is definitely going to take getting used to for SC&P (I mean, if they’re uncomfortable with Dawn being up front at the office… well…)
Overall, this episode features a lot of set-up for dramatic events to occur. We know that with Bob Benson becoming involved in Pete’s account a clash is coming. Peggy is definitely on the verge of cracking – after all her hard work – all because she actually fell in love with a man, for once. Joan will definitely need to continue fighting for the respect of others, especially given her looks. We’re now seeing Lou’s anger and frustration with his current position (he didn’t fail to mention that Hershey signed their account elsewhere, digging into Don’s reputation – Sterling ignored this). And of course, Don is going to have to confront his own losses one of these days. I think the episode was almost too slow in establishing this future drama. It’s also hard to really focus on everything else when Don is no longer the center of the SC&P universe. I only really cared about Joan and Dawn in the office. Everyone else just seemed to get uglier and uglier. Is this simply the descent into chaos of the 60s? Is this dragging on because the final season is getting split into two? Whatever it is, I hope the next episode ramps it up a bit. Don needs to just find his damn way, and get himself back in the ad universe. If anything, aside from the comical and dramatic repercussions of miscommunication, this episode truly showed that Don is nothing if he is not an ad man.
A couple odds and ends:
-Really disappointed that Ginsberg was so mean to Peggy.
-Also disappointed that Peggy acted so petty. It was the lowest I think we’ve seen Peggy in a while.
-I loved the inside joke Dawn and Shirley had with each other, calling each other by their own name. They have a great rapport, and they really built up Dawn to be such a strong character. I hope she survives this cutthroat world of SC&P.
-Don watching the Little Rascals was incredibly amusing. Is it a hearkening back to the simpler days, wishing for a happier youth? A happier anything? Probably.
Till next week…