Mad Men Recap : “A Day’s Work”

don and sally draper

Is this thing on? Hi!! Lucy Tiven checking in with weekly thoughts and summations on all things Mad Men Season 7. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m a poet, essayist, and self-appointed authority on pop culture. Not too long ago, I graduated from a prestigious university, but now I mostly camp out on my room mates floor yelling things at the TV. I will begin talking about Mad Men now.

Particularly as it moves towards a close, Mad Men is a show about obsolescence, issuing various echoes of “out with the old, in with the new” in its themes, character arcs and even visual material. Much of the show dwells in the realm of “daddy issues”: what makes someone a good father? How does a society provide successful (or unsuccessful) models of authority?

Mad Men portrays various crises in a moment when much of the country defines itself by pushing back against conventional ideas of paternity and paternal figures. Throughout the series, fathers and father-surrogates (Draper, Sterling, Kennedy, Nixon, MLK, etc) are figuratively or actually lost, or at the very least, left greatly transformed.

“A Day’s Work” spends a good deal of time in the office: something I’ve missed in more recent seasons of the show which seem more focused on Don and Peggy’s relationships and less saturated with “office shenanigans”. Social change is slowly permeating SCP; while there is definitely still the sense of things being run by Old White Dudes, it’s nice to see Joan not only “climbing the ladder” herself, but trying to “pay it forward.” (For some reason, I find myself suddenly only able to speak in clichés…)

The shot of Dawn in her own office was definitely one of those “YOU GO GIRL!!” moments. Like, that makes you maybe spill a little of your beer in front of the TV doing some enthusiastic gesture. Of course, racially, Dawn is a pioneer in her field, not unlike Peggy was as a woman. But they are also quite different. I am reminded of when Peggy tried to encourage Dawn to follow her path last season and Dawn said she was uninterested in being a copywriter. Which seems to say not everyone wants the same things and many of the characters have come to want or be things we didn’t expect them to: Joan and Roger’s trajectories obviously come to mind.

At this point, Peggy’s success story is underscored by her increasing malaise while ‘California Pete’ (my Personal Style Icon at the moment) is weirdly thriving. Am I the only one who found Peggy’s plot on this episode completely shallow, boring, and divisive? It sucks to see characters that used to be complex turned into caricatures of themselves and used as plot devices (Peggy, mother fucking ROGER). But out with the old, right?

So far, the pacing of Mad Men’s final season is reminiscent of the last season of The Sopranos: which is to say it is slow. I have mixed feelings about this. Mad Men has never been an especially action or plot-driven show and I think holding back in a period drama can be dangerous: when so much of how it operates is already about creating an environment slowly and watching it change over time. Often, the Mad Men episodes I find the most compelling are those that draw somewhat obvious parallels between local and global events: the JFK/Nixon episode, the JFK and MLK assassinations, etc. I’m interested to see where that leaves us now. I imagine we will get to see the moon landing (Todd VanDerWerff at the AV Club suggested this as the mid-season finale, which would be COOL) and wonder what events/plots the show will use to parallel it.

 Like The Sopranos, Mad Men’s closing scenes are often the most satisfying. “A Day’s Work” ends just after Don and Sally share an intimate and honest moment once Don “comes clean” fully. On an obvious level, Don’s status as a father figure has eroded. He is unemployed. His tall-tales are transparent even to his young daughter. His apartment is cold and sad. He isn’t ‘getting any’ from his wife or any other ladies (in the pilot, he can’t even manage to philander with the forward woman he meets on an airplane, which seems like a real freebie being thrown his way).

Still, this instant, when Sally tells her father she loves him, and he reveals himself as he really is to her (even if only because he can’t do anything else at this point) was one I read as hopeful. We get the idea that Don can still be a father and a man, or that he finally is being one, for the first time, but had to have all the flimsy lies and material shit stripped away to do it. That a real man isn’t someone who “has it together”: instead, the kind of opposite idea: that human beings have to endure profound suffering and debasement in order to act ethically or be redeemed. Like in Oedipus or Lear. Or any tragedy in the classical sense. That first, pathos makes us pathetic. Gloucester, facedown on the beach. Or Keats, in asking us “Do you not see how necessary a World of Pains and troubles is to school an Intelligence and make it a soul?” (And his world was indeed a troubled one. As is Don’s. As is ours.)

 

Miscellany:

–       Where is Betty??

–       I hope Meagan doesn’t get “Sharon Tated” as some people have predicted.

–       I didn’t cry when Sally told Don she loved him, though I kind of wanted to.

–       I liked what this episode did with race in the office and the kind of camaraderie it inspired. But also, the care the show takes not to draw perfect parallel lines between gender and race issues and differentiate characters on an individual basis. It seems like Peggy thinks she is this… marauding feminist but really only looks out for herself, while Joan and Dawn are actually helping other women and women of color out respectively. I wonder if this kind of juxtaposition is fair, though. Things have changed a lot since Peggy was a receptionist in Season 1; maybe, then a girl had to be more cutthroat and Machiavellian about things. Joan certainly wasn’t a huge help to Peggy.

–       People keep asking me if I think the falling man from the credits will come… to life… this season. It seems a little too easy, on one hand. On the other, I don’t really care or think it would ruin the show for me.

–       Teen Sally Draper is a little weird, but I think like most fans, I’ve been waiting for it since pretty early on and anticipated her as even deeper in youth culture/sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll at this point. Though I guess she is only 13. Still, by the time Mark Wahlberg was 13 he was addicted to coke. Anthony Kiedis did ludes when he was like 8. Just some thoughts…

About Lucy Tiven

Lucy Tiven has been published in Plain Wrap Press, Thought Catalog, Everyday Genius, and The Scrambler. She can also be found on Twitter and Tumblr.

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