Yes! This is what I love about Mad Men. The show where the best scenes are almost always simply 2 people having a conversation. The show where a secretary changing offices can be a moment of genuine excitement and a radical narrative leap. The show where one of our favourite characters can act like a cruel and selfish person and still be recognisably herself.
This is one of my favourite Mad Men episodes since early season 6 and it is the perfect demonstration of 2 things everyone already knows: Sally Draper makes everything better and seeing an underserved and mistreated character on the show become successful is one of the most rewarding things the show gives us. Let’s start with the latter element.
Like Peggy and Joan before her, Dawn is finally being recognised for her loyalty, talents and her spunky yet respectful ‘tude. This is probably the most screen time Dawn has had and it’s wonderful to see the office from her perspective. She’s a great secretary, but she’s not the perfect secretary, because she has her own sense of right and wrong that exists beyond the needs of her boss. She’s not afraid to decline Don’s money (although she takes a little because she knows she deserves it) or tell him where her limits are and she’s not above telling off her new boss Lou, when he becomes unreasonably upset with her.
Her repertoire with Shirley, whereby they call the other by their own name, is an hilarious moment that is very telling of the environment they have to suffer through. We don’t need to see the white SC&P staff get the 2 black secretaries mixed up, all we need is that small moment where the women own their otherness and make it into a running joke. Mad Men isn’t a heavy-handed ‘damn, it’s hard to be black in the 60s’ type show. It paints the circumstances realistically. No one has a problem with a black lady as their receptionist…..just don’t put them out the front, because that’s not a good look. The moment in which Cooper sees Dawn out front, does a double take, smiles sheepishly and then equally politely asks Joan to remove her from that post was masterfully performed by Robert Morse. (That moment along with his cutting comment that Pete’s teleconference story was the most boring radio show he’s listened to, makes this the best use of that woefully underused character in a quite some time).
Dawn has always toed the line between not making waves and, when need be, telling it how it is. Shirley has only mastered the later. She is clearly not a very good match for Peggy, who, God love her, is by far one of the most temperamental employees at SC&P, the result of her tough-love upbringing and perhaps not enough tough-love in the workplace. Sure, she’s worked hard and she’s a great asset to the creative team, but in insisting equality with the guys in her team, she mistreats the secretarial pool who she should have more respect for. At least Joan punished her for this in the season 2 premiere and Don keeps her from getting a big head, but they are otherwise occupied.
While Dawn and Peggy are bound to have their character arcs dictated by their career trajectory, Sally Draper has no such path, which makes her character’s growth much more organic. Kiernan Shipka continues to be a massive asset to the show. She’s not completely polished but that works for her as a character who is essentially trying to act beyond her years by channeling, not always intentionally, both her mother and father.
The fallout in the car ride, followed by the gradual reconciliation in the diner mark some of the truest character moments in the show. Don and Sally can let their guard down around each other, but there still exists the stubborn remove that exists in all parent-child relationships; my favourite example being the old ‘I’m not thirsty. Can I have a drink?’ turnaround or Don’s (probably correct) assumption that despite what his child says, she is in fact hungry, she just doesn’t want to admit she needs something from Don. Their storyline leaves on such a simple moment of surly teenage affection that manages to hit harder than a million screaming arguments or sobbing breakdowns. It’s the moment that lets Don knows that everything is okay as long as he has THAT in his life.
Where the first episode of the season was simply setting the table, ‘A Day’s Work’, despite it’s modest scope, actually felt like it was going somewhere, both on a narrative and character level. This is where Mad Men should be pitched. Like the fabulous run of episodes mid-season 5, Mad Men is most engaging when it is consistently pushing characters and character pairings almost to breaking point and then settling down either with a dose of a hard truth or a happy surprise. It’s not perfect and having Pete and Ted in L.A. makes the show feel less insular and cohesive, but ‘A Day’s Work’ is a great example of all the things I love about Mad Men.
– Yes Peggy was a pain in this episode but I do love ‘You can have the flowers. It smells like an Italian funeral in here’.
– Seriously, what does Bonnie see in Pete?
– Ted’s quiet resignation is incredibly amusing but I hope he’s not depressed for the rest of the show. He deserves better.
– ‘Just cash the cheques. You’re going to die one day’.
– The opening of the show where we see what Don’s life has become is economically and beautifully drawn; and it’s awfully depressing. The alarm as a force of habit and then sleeping in, lazing around watching TV, keeping stock of how much whiskey he’s had to drink that day, getting dressed for Dawn and wanting her to stay for company.
– God! Lou is a dick. I kinda love him.
Overall Rating: 9 duplicitous gas stops out of 10.