Last night’s Mad Men took place over Valentine’s Day, a holiday the SC&P crew never seems to miss. And when it came to warm fuzzies, the show surprisingly delivered.
We were treated to some poignant Don-Sally scenes, which prompted scores of viewers to examine their own daddy issues, no doubt. Dawn, Shirley and Joan all ended up with promotions, thanks in part to Lou Avery forgetting his wife’s birthday. It was weirdly uplifting, for being only the second outing of the season — and it was the second episode in a row where the women fought to be taken seriously. But this time, they mostly emerged victorious. Except for Peggy. Poor Peggy.
Let’s start with the good news.
DAWN’S EXISTENTIAL DISSATISFACTION INDEX: ONLY LIKE 2!
Dawn’s big promotion doesn’t come easy. First, we learn she’s still handling Don’s communications in addition to manning Lou’s desk. And Don is a kitten of a boss compared to his replacement.
In a bit of foreshadowing, Dawn and Shirley commiserate over their childish, self-absorbed bosses. Shirley’s bummed because Peggy, displaying a lack of self-awareness unrivaled even on Mad Men, assumes Shirley’s flowers were delivered to her, from Ted, despite the absence of card. In reality, Shirley’s fiancé sent them to her.
To one-up her friend, Dawn laments, “I have two bosses, and one didn’t even tell his wife he’s on leave.” This is news to us. Knowing Don, though, it shouldn’t be. He loves to keep people in the dark — especially the people who are supposed to be closest to him.
As Dawn and Shirley exit the kitchen, they jokingly call each other by the wrong names, no doubt playing on their white coworkers’ tendency to mix them up. This is the first time the only two black employees at SC&P have expressed not only annoyance at the way they’re treated, but also a sign that they’re fed up. It’s reminiscent of Joan and Peggy commiserating in Joan’s office after Megan gets a pat on the back for becoming engaged to Don, while the other women’s efforts to save the company go unrecognized.
Later on, Sally comes tearing into the office looking for Don. Lou has to try and explain that her father isn’t in, without explaining why her father isn’t in. Later, Lou lashes out at Dawn for having been out of the office when Sally came in.
Then, Dawn flips — and rightfully so.
“I skipped my lunch to buy your wife perfume,” she says. “If you had been thoughtful enough to get her a gift when I told you about it 10 days ago, I would have been here.”
Lou then tries to have Dawn fired, but Joan won’t let it happen. She decides to move Dawn to the front desk while hapless Meredith will take over for Lou. But then, Bert Cooper shocks all of us by complaining that a person of color is working SC&P’s front desk.
“I’m all for the national advancement of colored people, but I do not believe she should be advanced so far that people can see her from the elevator,” Cooper, who probably should have croaked by now, says.
This was surprising — Bert is supposed to be the peaceful, open-minded, Dumbledore-esque elder who walks around barefoot and never causes any problems. Turns out he’s a racist.
Then, Peggy (we’ll get to her later) throws a hissy fit and demands Shirley be taken off of her desk. Right when you think Joan can’t take one more thing, Jim Cutler opens her door and tells her there’s an office upstairs for an account man — she can have it if she wants. It’s perfect timing, maybe even a little too perfect. Joan promotes Dawn to her head of personnel post, moves Shirley to Lou’s desk, and rearranges Meredith back up to the front.
So what made Joan decide Dawn was ready for the position? It could have been, as Cutler said, Dawn’s skills of “organization, fortitude and a lack of concern for being unliked.” But this being the world of Mad Men, the staffing changes likely had more to do with Joan solving a problem and looking out for herself than an urge to promote a worthy underling. After all, Joan’s been gunning to leave her HR post for quite a while. Dawn is a good worker, but she was also in the right place at the right time in this case.
Toward the end of the episode, we get to see Dawn settling into her new office — her own office — while she smiles to herself, looking just like Peggy when she got her first big break at Sterling Cooper. It’s not only a triumph for Dawn, but also a reminder of just how far Peggy’s fallen. Her privileged position at SC&P, combined with her lack of a life outside work, has turned her into a stressed-out miser who only cares about herself.
PEGGY’S EXISTENTIAL DISSATISFACTION INDEX: 9.99999999 REPEATING
I don’t think anyone in the history of Mad Men has ever been as miserable as Peggy is right now. Even Sad Bachelor Don had booze in which to drown his sorrows. Peggy has nothing.
If Don’s problem is his alcoholism, Peggy’s is her inability to connect with other humans. Ever since Ted spurned her in favor of his wife, she’s been a mess. Where she used to be up-front with her desires and opinions, she’s now just rude.
Peggy steals Shirley’s flowers because she’s so self-absorbed, it doesn’t even occur to her that her secretary could receive flowers on Valentine’s Day instead of her. She assumes they’re from Ted, which is so crazy it defies explanation. So she leaves a cryptic message with Ted’s secretary, and to accomplish what?
Peggy then lies on the couch in her office, chain-smoking. She’s so comfortable in her position at SC&P, she can just stew all day, worrying about Ted, while her secretary actually works — and worries about her job.
When Shirley comes clean about the fact that the flowers are from her fiancé, Peggy insults her.
“You have a ring on,” she says. “We all know you’re engaged. You did not have to embarrass me. Grow up.”
Then, she marches into Joan’s office and demands Shirley be moved to a different desk, despite the fact that Shirley has always been a good secretary, and even a friend to Peggy. At least Shirley (who, by the way, is the best-dressed woman in the episode, hands down) gets a promotion out of it when she ends up at the creative director’s desk, impossible as he may be.
This can’t be the last we’ve seen of Peggy’s downward spiral. So what does rock bottom look like for a 20-something woman with a killer job in the ’60s? Maybe she’ll bail on everything and head to Woodstock a few months from now…
DON’S EXISTENTIAL DISSATISFACTION INDEX: 9, THEN ABOUT 7
Don wakes up when his alarm blares at 7:30 a.m., although he has nowhere to be. He shuffles around the house while sitcom families loudly live out their happy suburban lives on the screen. He stares at a bottle of whiskey and notices a cockroach scuttling by, mere feet away. He seems okay with it.
The camera focuses on one TV scene in particular: Marlo Thomas’s character on That Girl, being berated by a father who doesn’t support her aspirations of acting. It’s a funhouse mirror version of of Don and Megan. Sure, they’re still married, but Don’s living his sad bachelor life of season four. He and Megan have placed a continent between them — and, as we’ll find out later, she has no idea that he’s no longer working at SC&P. He hides it from her, the same way he keeps it from his daughter. Megan may see herself as fully formed woman with opinions and a life of her own, but Sad Bachelor Don needs to see her as a child he can protect.
Don meets with a competing agency to beg for employment, while the joint-smoking, secret-shopping-trip-imbibing Sally heads to her roommate’s mother’s funeral in the city. On the train afterward, Sally realizes she’s left her purse “at a coffee shop or a head shop,” as one does, and bolts to go find it.
She makes her way to the SC&P offices. After an awkward run-in with Lou, she can’t find anyone else she knows. She heads to Don’s apartment and waits for him. When he gets home, they have an awkward exchange. He offers to drive her back to school, although she tries to refuse.
In the car, Don asks Sally questions about everything besides what’s bothering her — a conversational tactic at which dads excel. She shoots back the sarcastic answers he probably deserves. It’s Sally, of course, who finally broaches the subject: “Did you lose your job?”
It’s also Sally who finally hits on the Sylvia situation.
“Do you know how awful it was for me to go to your apartment?” she asks, through tears that guarantee an Emmy for Kiernan Shipka. “I could have gotten into the elevator and run into that woman and stood there wanting to vomit while she’s smiling and I can smell her hairspray.”
Farther into their journey, at a diner, Don attempts to ply Sally with a greasy sandwich and a Coke. He even opens up a little — but only after his adolescent daughter has forced it out of him.
“I didn’t behave well,” he says, attempting to explain his current employment situation. “I said the wrong things to the wrong people at the wrong time … I told the truth about myself. But it wasn’t the right time, and so they made me take some time off. I was ashamed.”
Sally asks him what he said. He insists that it was nothing Sally doesn’t know. We can take this to mean that he explained his origins to his kids in full detail at the end of last season; or that he’s still lying. I’d probably bet on the latter.
Sally asks Don if he still loves Megan. He looks to the left, avoiding eye contact, and sheepishly says, “Of course I do.” Yikes. Not very convincing.
The episode comes to a head when Sally’s getting out of the car at Miss Porter’s. We see Don and Sally sitting next to each other in the car — right after a shot of Cutler and Roger sitting next to each other, with Cutler saying, “I’d hate to think of you as an adversary.” It’s easy to imagine Don thinking the same thing about his daughter — but never, ever saying it, because that’s not his style.
As Sally gets out of the car, she says to her dad, “Happy Valentine’s Day. I love you.” Don is shocked, raising his eyebrows all the way up to his hairline. He hates himself so much right now, he’s surprised his own daughter could love him.
It’s telling that Don can’t even return with an “I love you, too.” In a father-daughter relationship where the father is as distant as Don, it’s often the child’s job to bring emotional issues out into the open. Emotionally, Sally holds the cards. Though Don is the grown-up, he’s bewildered in this situation. He depends on his teenaged daughter to advance their understanding of each other.
Stan: He has the funniest (if meanest) line in the episode. Upon seeing what he believes to be flowers sent to Peggy, he says, “It’s hard to believe your cat has the money.”
Ginsberg: He also has a great one-liner: “Peggy has plans, look at her calendar: February 14, masturbate gloomily.” Ouch. After seeing Peg’s behavior in this episode, it’s clear she hasn’t been a joy to work with lately. That doesn’t excuse the cutting jokes. But hey, when it comes to Stan and Ginsberg screentime, we’ll take what we can get.
Roger: The Pete-and-Ted vs. Roger-and-Cutler power struggle was nothing to write home about. But it was really sweet when Joan revealed that Roger had bought her Valentine’s Day flowers and signed the card from their baby, Kevin. There’s hope for Rog yet.
Lou Avery: I just realized he has the same initials as Los Angeles. Do you think this was on purpose, to symbolize how both he and Hollywood are usurping the professional life Don built for himself? Or have I been reading too many Mad Men conspiracy theory tweets?
Bonnie Whiteside: What a boss she is! She steals every scene she’s in — but still, I miss Trudy. And the saddest part is that Bonnie is exactly what the tough, smart Trudy would have been if she hadn’t married Pete in the first place.