There. That was nice, wasn’t it? In an episode full of slamming doors it was good to close one with hope. Actually, pretty much everybody in this episode ended things well.
You know, except for Peggy (1)
But let’s forget about the gloomy masturbator (2) for a few hundred words and focus on happier themes.
Pretty much everyone is saying that “A Day’s Work” is the best episode since Season Five (3). While I’m inclined to disagree with regard to the “since” (4), I’ll agree it’s a great episode.
Part of what makes everyone say it’s great is that it has so many feel-good vibrations, especially after “Time Zones” ended so bleakly. Great things happen: we see Dawn helping Don. Pete and Bonnie seem to be happy. Shirley, Dawn, and Joan all get promotions in status if not in pay. Sally and Don reconcile. But sunshine and rainbows don’t themselves make for great television, they make for “feel-good” television and “A Day’s Work” is by far the happiest episode of Mad Men (5).
An episode of only bubblegum and lollipops wouldn’t be worth watching. What makes “A Day’s Work” great is how it balances all that good with often subtle bad and some obvious trouble and slamming doors (6) that turn into opportunities.
Speaking of trouble. . .
We start with Don in disrepair but lucky for him, Dawn comes at night to fix him up. We can be a bit worried that he’s paying Dawn (she certainly is) but I think it’s lazy to equate every transaction that involves Don, women, and cash with prostitution. This is a nice continuation of Don freezing on the porch just three weeks prior (7).
Then Sally & Co are discussing her roommate’s dead mother—another kind of closed door. Sally makes a funny joke about wanting Betty dead (8) and we wonder what’s happened to their relationship in the five months between the smoking car ride of October 1968 and February 1969 (9).
Meanwhile in California, Bonnie and Pete are getting their freak on atop some paperwork when Ted slips by to say good night. I’m not sure if this scene was hilarious or weird or both. Either way, Ted doesn’t give a shit about anything.
You tell ‘em, Teddy!
Back in New York, Peggy forgets it’s Valentine’s Day and then steals Shirley’s roses. Roger tries to joke with Lou Avery but you can’t joke with an idiot (10).
Sally & Co are on a train, dishing about shopping instead of funerating and Sally realizes she’s lost her purse with her address book in it. If she doesn’t have that, she can’t call Glen to beat the crap out of kids who try to make fast moves on her. Can’t have that at all (11).
Then we are treated to the Dawn & Shirley show (12) with the darkly comic misapplication of names, hinting at their co-workers’ collective inability to tell them apart.
Hint to workers at SC&P: Shirley dresses better (13).
I’d like to note here that Dawn is right. If Shirley didn’t immediately say that the flowers were hers then she should have never said anything. If your boss claims something and you don’t take it back right away, you’re kind of SOL.
After this is a great scene sandwich. Don and Dave Wooster are having a bit of lunch (14) and Sally goes to find daddy at the office. Oops. Remember how I wondered back in the first “Sad Men” if Don had told anyone about his work situation? Guess he hadn’t. I mean who was going to find out, right? It’s not like his daughter who got suspended from boarding school for buying booze was going to sneak away for a jaunt in NYC, right?
So Sally, unable to find her purse or a good way home, discovers Lord Lou the Ignorant in her dad’s office and tries her hand at some epic Betty Hofstadt Draper Francis bitchface:
I said "Don. Draper. Bitch."
Only to be shot down when she realizes Don isn’t there. Then Joan’s not there either and Lou starts the aforementioned slamming of doors (15).
Back to lunch with an unsuspecting Don who is surprised by Jim Hobart who, always wanting to add to his collection, wants to know if Don is taking lunches (16). He’s not but Hobart pays anyway.
We’re briefly treated to an escalation in the misadventures of Petty Peggy before retiring to the bicoastal partner’s meeting. Pete, like always, gets shut down even when he’s right. This time it’s because Bob Benson is Jim Cutler’s man and Jim Cutler is scheming for complete control of SC&P (17). Roger blows up, Joan storms off, and Bert looks like he’s on death’s door (18). The simmer has begun.
Don finds Sally in his apartment where she catches him in a lie but doesn’t call him out on it because that would be even more embarrassing. Instead she instructs him to “just tell the truth” on her excused absence note. Luckily, Dawn saves the day (again) with a heads-up phone call.
Unfortunately, this phone call and Dawn’s loyalty to Don in general, brings down the wrath of Lord Lou who, not missing a racist beat (19) casts Dawn into the darkness and takes time to get snippy with a partner (20).
Not wanting to give us respite from upset, we go back to California where Pete tells off Roger (21) who has already hung up and then waxes philosophical (22) to an entirely indifferent Ted who delivers the best terrifying line of the show so far: “just cash the checks; you’re gonna die one day.”
In a lovely bit of vengeance, Joan assigns “Mind of a child” Meredith to Lou and puts Dawn up front as the face of SC&P.
Don and Sally are driving up to her school and have perhaps the best verbal exchange of Mad Men. It’s set off by the Turtle’s song “Elenore (23),” specifically the lines from the chorus: “can I take the time / to ask you to speak your mind.” Speak her mind Sally does:
“Do you know how hard it was for me to go to your apartment? I could have run into that woman. I could be in the elevator; she could get in and I’d have to stand there wanting to vomit while I smelled her hairspray.”
This is in response to the most unfair thing Don has ever said to anyone, let alone Sally: “just like your mother.” He is broken by this reply. All he can do is apologize. Sally tells him to stop talking and Kiki Shipka pulls this scene off with perfect anger and disgust. I’d watch it more times just for her acting if it weren’t so hard to watch. In fact, I’d be tempted to make the argument that this scene, along with the rest of “A Day’s Work” (24) is the climax of Mad Men. Not the most exciting part (that’s not a climax anyway) but the most important part. Everything afterwards is likely to be denouement (25). This confrontation between father and daughter is what breaks Don so that he can be healed.
Not to be outdone in brokenness, Peggy lets her confrontation with Shirley get the better of her (see the second picture), Cooper notices that there’s (gasp) a negro working at reception (the horror!), and Pete, facing redundancy, tries unsuccessfully to distract Bonnie from her work (26). Ever full of light, Bonnie gets another great line in an episode of great lines: “our fortunes are in other people’s hands and we have to take them” (27).
Then we’re taken back in structure to our previous scene sandwich of food, SC&P, and back to food. Sally and Don are at a diner (28) and Don is desperately trying to fix what may be irreparable damage. He does this by telling the truth and as a result he and Sally have one of the show’s most open and frank conversations (29).
Then we go to the heart of SC&P: Joan’s office. Bert knocks, Peggy bursts in, and Jim knocks. They all want something different but only Jim’s request makes Joan pause.
Back at the diner, after Sally ditches her friend for her dad, Don makes a great joke about doing a dine and ditch (30) which makes Sally smile for once.
The final three scenes are all scenes of triumph but only two are scenes of hope.
The first is the glorious reshuffling of ¾ of the great ladies of SC&P (sorry Moira and like, um, the other ones): Shirley becomes a more important secretary, Joan gets her own office in accounting and Dawn becomes head of personnel (31). What on earth is Bert Cooper going to think of that?
Note: Dawn does not care what he thinks.
To keep a lid on all that joy and hope dawning (32) in SC&P, we get to see the elevator ride between Roger and Satan—I mean Jim Cutler. I’d like to take a moment to glory in the costuming here:
Roger has a grey coat and suit; Jim has a blue coat and suit. Roger wears no glasses; Jim does. Roger has a patterned tie and vest; Jim has a solid-colored tie with a clip. Roger has a point collar; Jim has a wide collar. Roger has a scarf; Jim doesn’t. Roger has regular cuffs; Jim has French cuffs. Roger has a black hat he is wearing; Jim has a grey hat he is holding. Roger has a pointy nose and white hair; Jim has a blunt nose and brown hair.The coats are different styles. Even the hats are different styles. Jim has a fedora and Roger has a Homburg which is the fanciest had one could get away with wearing in public at the time. These two men couldn’t be presented as being any more dissimilar. But we know that. What makes the scene is Jim turning to Roger and saying “I’d hate to think of you as an adversary. I’d really hate that.” That is some cold dinner, man. Cutler reminds me of the guy in the Godfather trilogy who killed a wiseguy with his glasses. I wouldn’t want him to consider me an adversary either. In that scene Roger is both surprised and a bit scared. But what can he do (33)?
Finally we are back to the car with Sally and Don. They pull up to Miss Minchin’s Boarding School for Naughty Rich Girls and Don wants to make sure everything is okay. It’s a fairly standard exchange and you can see in Don’s face that he’s worried he’s blown everything. Until Sally turns around and says the best line in all of Mad Men: “Happy Valentine’s Day. I love you.”
Don’s face in response is perfect:
That’s a man who just found out he hasn’t lost everything. A man of hope.
The only question that really remains is will Mad Men end with landing on the moon or the massacre at Kent State? Hope or despair? What measure of each?
Old and new predictions:
1: Sally showed up. She was fabulous.
2: No Megan. Ah well.
3: Bert showed his death-mask of a face.
4: Nothing going down here. Peggy’s gotta reach out to someone, though.
5: Lou’s still around, the bum.
1: It’s time for some Francis family drama. I foresee yelling.
2: Don will get some offers of real employment: SC&P or elsewhere.
3: Some LA stuff will happen and we’ll probably see Megan.
4: Harry will screw the pooch in a big way.
5: Margaret Sterling Hargrove and Roger’s house of orgies will reappear.
1: First of all: SAD BOW! Second: this is a throwback to the penultimate scene from last week’s “Time Zones.” But instead of crying, Petty—I mean Peggy—is head-bashingly mad at herself for overreacting to Shirley’s faux pas (and really, Shirley—tell the boss they’re your flowers when she takes them or don’t tell her at all). Can “Not That Girl” catch a break in 1969? Also: did you notice That Girl playing at Don’s apartment? Boo yeah!
2: What the actual fuck, Michael Ginsberg? Rude!
3: Which had the best episode of the series (and perhaps all of television) so far: “Far Away Places.”
4: “The Quality of Mercy” is very good and everyone who hates on Season 6 in general and Sylvia Rosen in specific has no idea what they’re complaining about.
5: Unless, of course, your name is Peggy Olson.
6: I don’t have time to look right now but how many doors had been slammed on Mad Men prior to “A Day’s Work”? It seemed to be a pretty clear motif, what with the modular walls shaking and everything.
7: The roach was a bit much. We get it.
8: Where is January Jones as Betty? There’s only so much love we can get on her Instagram.
9: For one: we know that Don not only showed his kids the brothel where he grew up but told at least Sally the truth about who he was (revealed at the end of “A Day’s Work” when he tells Sally he didn’t say anything to the Hershey people she didn’t already know—good for you, Don!).
10: Seriously, the internet tells me they killed this guy. Can’t we drop Lou out of a window or something? Isn’t Manolo Colon available?
11: Too bad Sally didn’t have a smartphone or something.
12: Yes, I will also watch this inevitable spin-off along with Peggy’s Apartment or whatever.
13: Is it me or were Coffee-Mate and Sweet’n Low everywhere Dawn was this episode? I don’t even know what to begin to make of that. Both products were over a decade old by 1969. I suppose it could go along with her advice to Shirley: “keep pretending; that’s your job” but I wouldn’t say for sure.
14: Of course they can’t hire Don, can they? Not unless SC&P is dumb enough to fire him—note: Jim Cutler: not that dumb. It’s worth paying Don’s salary to keep other firms from using him.
15: How hard is this, Lou? “Your dad’s not here right now. He’s working on several projects outside of the building and I’m using his office for the moment. Let me get him on the phone for you. Do you want a sandwich?” Jeez.
16: Do your research Jim. If Don’s not an actual millionaire, he’s pretty close by now.
17: Even though his initials are JC, I’m pretty sure Cutler is the Devil.
18: Speaking of initials, did you ever notice that his are “B.C.”?
19: Though the relevant Civil Rights Act had been around for five years at this point, it wasn’t really until the CRA of 1968 (and, ironically to us younguns, the Nixon administration) that such laws really took hold of the public consciousness.
20: I mean it’s just Joan, right? What can she do?
21: Note: Pete is right.
22: The bit about being dead is an old saw for Mad Men.
23: The story of the creation of “Elenore” is pretty fantastic.
24: Specifically the ascendency of the working women in the show.
25: That doesn’t mean it’s going to be boring, you know.
26: Does Bonnie like this little distraction? We know she likes Pete.
27: She says, with two handfuls of Campbell ass.
28: Though I noticed it when Don and Sally were at the apartment, it’s easier to point out now: they match perfectly:
Father and Daughter:
Their grays match. Their blacks match. Even the gold in Don’s tie matches Sally’s jewelry and hair. As always, Janie Bryant is incredible.
29: Can you make a mountain out of the molehill of Don looking down and to his left when he says “of course I do” in response to Sally asking if he still loves Megan? Of course you can!
30: To the internet dummies who thought the $5 Don pulled out of his wallet wouldn’t cover the tab, remember that $5 then is about $35 today. That’s not only paying the bill—it’s leaving a good tip.
31: If there are any labor historians out there who can answer this question, I’d like to know how radical Dawn’s status would be: a black head of personnel at a large New York white-owned company.
32: I will not apologize for that pun.
33: During the conference call scene Bert and Joan give similar looks when Jim refers to Don as their “collective ex-wife.” One assumes that the old guard fully intended to bring Don back and Jim’s attitude is the first they’re considering he isn’t coming back.