After a subdued premiere, “A Day’s Work” was possibly one of the most positive and gratifying Mad Men episodes in a long while. One of the major, ongoing frustrations with the show for many viewers is a lack of redemption, particularly regarding Don. “A Day’s Work” starts out with things looking grim — Don looks at a bottle, after spending an afternoon eating Ritz crackers and watching TV, as a roach scurries across the floor. He’s dressed up with nowhere to go, as Dawn drops off some files and some tidbits from the office. But things are not as they seem. Hit the jump for why I don’t want you going to funerals.
A depressed Don is somewhere the show has been before, but no matter how rock-bottom, things always ended up the same. For once though (and his is damned rock-bottom) they aren’t. “A Day’s Work” showed Don resisting the temptation the drink and even to lie. The excellent sequence that led up to his truthful revelation to Sally about why he wasn’t at the office was the moment both Sally and viewers craved. He was sincere, not because he had to be, but because he wanted to be.
The sins of the past are not buried very deep, though. Sally brings up the trauma of potentially seeing Sylvia again, and her mistrust of Don is of course because everything up until that point has essentially been a lie (or at least, based on a series of lies). Her roommate telling her about a sleazy ad man from Milford on the train who wanted to take the young girls out somewhere made her think of Don (though really, it sounds more like Pete). He hasn’t redeemed himself totally, but it’s a start. The scene at the diner, where he went from scrutiny to openness, to joking about dinning and dashing, was dazzling to behold. There was the charming and insistent Don that we met so many years ago, not the broken man spilling crumbs on himself and watching The Little Rascals and wondering when his life got so terrible. But now he’s also building things back up.
Valentine’s Day was the setting of “A Day’s Work,” but the episode was about being on the outs (no better holiday to send that point home). Pete feels stranded in L.A., angry that the partners are kowtowing to Bob Benson instead of letting Pete run his account as he thinks he should. Ted is adrift emotionally. Secretaries Dawn and Shirley are shuffled to and fro thanks to difficult bosses. Sally is left out in the cold when it comes to Don (initially). Roger feels pushed out by Jim. And Peggy is lonely, embarrassed, and not in a good position without Don. Don himself is, of course, as far on the outs with everyone as he possibly could be.
Despite all of the alienation (always a major theme on the show), there were triumphs. Joan moved up to the more prestigious second floor with her accounts, and Dawn filled Joan’s position for personnel. Sally and Don got somewhere emotionally. All of these things made “A Day’s Work” one that ultimately had a feeling of positivity. Though there were many great small moments, quips and visually significant bits in between (it was a very rich episode), the hour had the unusual distinction of one that felt hopeful. It’s a feeling I hesitated to believe in last week, because the series has burned us so many times before on the subject. But there is something different this time around. Maybe it’s just that it’s Valentine’s Day in the 60s. Good vibes and free love? Or is everybody growing up?
Episode Rating: A
Musings and Miscellanea:
— I’m happy that Dawn is getting to play a bigger role for Don and also at the office. Her conversation with Shirley where they were talking shit was also hilarious.
— “I’m in sales too. An act of god, Pete. That’s when you know things are really against you” – Bonnie. I don’t know why she puts up with Pete, but he (once again) was reminiscent of a Don-lite in the episode; drawn to a powerful woman, he tries to distract himself from his problems with sex, and she’s not having it (or rather, she’s having it only on her terms, which frustrates him).
— “Pete caught him, so let Pete mount him” – Roger.
— “The strangest things happen to you” – Jim.
— It was nice to see so many female characters do well this hour. Makes me nervous for them.
— “Abortion” being on the cover of Look magazine, which Don picks up to the read … not the escapism one might be looking for.
— Don: “What’s the note supposed to say?” Sally: “Just …tell the truth.”
— Sally’s “hang in there, baby” poster in her room. Too good.
— “Is this a partners meeting, or the most tedious wireless program ever created?” – Burt Cooper, who is not comfortable with the advancement of colored people as far as reception.
— In the car (red red red!) Sally really was acting like Betty. She’s more like her than she knows! In the end though she’s always more willing to forgive (if not forget). I was slayed by her earlier line, “I’d stay out til 1975 if I could get Betty in the ground.”
— Lou is the worst.
— “Cash the checks, you’re going to die one day” – Ted.
— “She has plans, just look at her calendar. February 14th: masturbate gloomily” – Ginsberg.
— “I can’t believe your cat has the money” – Stan re: “Peggy’s” flowers.
— “Grow up” – Peggy.