(This post contains spoilers).
The depiction of the workplace in a television show has an obvious pitfall – the routine workday is typically a mundane experience. Where a series like Mad Men succeeds is in its depiction of office politics and how adversarial relations and rivalries have intended – and unintended – consequences.
The episode begins with Don at home, sleeping in until after noon, and dressing only because Dawn is coming off to drop off the “office intelligence” she has been leaking to him in his absence (officially, she is meant to be taking care of some of his business). The only company Don has is the television and his customary whiskey bottle. At one point, he sits in a chair eating Ritz crackers from a box and looking a lot like the sad sack he’s threatening to become.
In the office, Peggy continues her descent into becoming Don Mark II. Mistaking her secretary Shirley’s flowers for a bouquet sent to her by Ted, Peggy takes umbrage that Ted would do such a thing – having initially taken liberty to assume that the flowers were even for her. Ultimately, Shirley tells Peggy the flowers were really hers, at which point Peggy throws another strop, culminating in her asking Joan to find another place for Shirley. Joan has already had to reposition Dawn following another strop on the part of Lou and isn’t in the mood for Peggy’s demands. Sensing Joan’s frustration, Jim Cutler – trying to get one over Roger – tells Joan she should take the free account man’s office upstairs and vacate her own. Taking his advice, Joan assigns Dawn her old office. Having begun the episode a seeming victim to Lou’s pathetic behavior and then moved from reception because Bert doesn’t want an African-American to be the first SCP employee visitors see, Dawn succeeds in getting a promotion to the heart of the agency.
Dawn and Shirley’s exchange in the breakroom early in the episode, where they call each other by the other’s name cleverly highlights the racial politics of the SCP office, typified again by their silence when one of the white secretaries enters the room briefly. Teyonah Parris as Dawn is terrific in this episode, especially with the little smile she allows herself as she settles in to her new office. Matthew Weiner has shown that sometimes historical advancement is quite accidental. Dawn was hired initially because Roger Sterling thought it would be funny to place a paper ad mocking another agency’s involvement in a racially related incident and describing SCDP as an equal-opportunities employer, only for a series of prospective African-American employees to file into the agency’s offices, resumes in hand.
Peggy’s behaviour has caused misgivings among some commentators concerned that her failure to balance career with personal life is a slap down of the type of progress seen in respect of gender equality in the ‘60s and that Matthew Weiner should be more careful in how he depicts Peggy. Mad Men is a show in which the characters can be rather unlikable at times and Peggy as representative of an entire generation is a token, not a character. In any case, Peggy’s frustration is the result, to a considerable extent, of her being undermined at every turn by men, personally or professionally, and that is more a reflection of them than it is of her. I still hope it all comes good for Peggy, but would I be surprised if it doesn’t? No.
Pete’s relocation to California looks more like a dislocation in this episode. Last week, Ken Cosgrove insisted, referring to the firm, ‘this is a hierarchy,’ but out in the “Wild West,” there is no place for hierarchy among the pioneers, as Pete’s new girlfriend, realtor Bonnie Whiteside reminds him: ‘We’re salesmen, our fortunes are in other people’s hands. We have to take them.’ So Pete’s complaint to Ted – ‘no one feels my existence’ – is less relevant in California than it was back in New York, where logical step followed logical step, as far as Pete was concerned, resulting in him getting his just rewards. In California, Pete’s going to have to make it on his own.
The other major strand of the storyline concerns Don and Sally. Stranded in the city after attending a funeral, Sally visits Don’s office, only to find Lou sitting where Don should be. She makes her way to Don’s apartment and when he does arrive, she allows him to lie to her that he was in work. A phone call from a panicked Dawn tells Don that Sally knows the truth and on the drive back to her school, Miss Porter’s, Sally and Don get in a row in which she references her catching him in flagrante last season.
The scene is just another of those Mad Men scenes that blows the viewer away. Matthew Weiner must not be able to believe his luck that casting Kiernan Shipka has paid such dividends. There is a fissure of energy any time she is on screen and in this episode she is breathtaking in her depiction of a typical teenager, half-articulate, with emotions half-formed and just wanting to shut the conversation down rather than confront her father’s lies until she is left with no choice but to do so. Reconciled to an extent, Don and Sally end the episode with her telling him ‘Happy Valentine’s Day. I love you.’ So, someone has told Don they love him – no strings attached – they love him, with all of his flaws. Don may remain rather glacial but the look on his face suggests the ice is beginning to crack.
- ‘Keep pretending, that’s your job’ – Dawn to Shirley
- Clearly, sunny California does not equate to Sunny Ted. In response to Pete’s protests over his treatment at the hands of New York, Ted says ‘Just cash the checks. You’re going to die someday’
- Bonnie Whiteside’s career focus unsettles Pete. Can he keep up and learn to accept a woman as his equal?