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MAD MEN 7x02:
War of the roses

April 21, 2014 - Ray Eckenrode

Episode title: “A Day’s Work”

Significance: The episode takes place entirely on two consecutive days, one showing Don's "work day" without the agency and the other showing an agency work day without Don. We witness Don’s growing desperation, Peggy’s growing anger, Joan’s growing career (and, in turn, Dawn’s, as well), Pete’s shrinking role, Ted’s shrinking attention span, Roger’s shrinking power and a whole lot of simmering racial tensions.

Time passages: The days in question are Thursday and Friday, February 13 and 14, 1969, as illustrated by the radio deejay’s reference to “Valentine’s Day eve.”

Episode essay:
At first glance, it might seem like not a lot happens in “A Day’s Work.” But it doesn’t take too much between-the-line reading and end-game-speculating to think it might end up being one of the most significant plot movers we’ve seen in “Mad Men” in awhile.
First and foremost, Don is looking for work, even though he’s not sure he could work for another agency and even though he’s not sure he wants to. But based on Jim Cutler’s crack about “our collective ex-wife collecting alimony” it’s probably a pretty good bet that the non-compete clause in Don’s contract is negotiable.
Speaking of Cutler, he seems to have outmaneuvered Roger and become THE power player at the new agency, doing his alpha dog best to intimidate his foe out of a confrontation in that brief but beautiful elevator scene.
But if there is a confrontation, he’ll need allies and it appears he’s targeted Joan as a potential friend, promoting her “upstairs" (without Roger’s input, of course), even if it is to an “account man’s” office.
Joan’s move into accounts means that Dawn is taking over as head of “personnel,” which, of course, in 1969 meant the secretarial pool. Still, it’s a significant step for a black woman at a time when racial tensions are still raw. (Dawn and Shirley’s running joke about the office’s white characters being unable to tell them apart hits a little too close to home by episode’s end.)
The tension surrounding the mistaken identity of the Valentine’s Day rose sender and intended recipient is the thread that holds much of the episode together, even as Peggy is coming apart. For most of the show’s run, Peggy has gleaned her identity from her professional, no personal, life, but her experience with Ted has changed that, changed her, and she’s probably more angry about that than the actual mixup with the flowers.
For his part, Ted doesn’t seem to have an identity at all anymore, moping through his California days and still sporting nothing close to a tan. Pete, however, is more than moping. He’s talking about jumping ship after his efforts to bring on the Southern California Chevy Dealers Association as a client are submarined by Cutler.
That’s a lot of pieces set up in the chess game that is Sterling, Cooper and Partners. And is doesn’t take much imagination to see how they might realign. We’ve got Roger being marginalized by Cutler and Pete being marginalized by Bob Benson. We’ve got Ted missing New York (and Cutler missing Ted being in New York) and Peggy unhappy being there. And then there’s the piece that could tie it all together, that’s Don, talking to other agencies and wondering if he and Megan should give it another try.
Of course, all this could come together in one place. California has always been about the allure of fresh slates and second chances. And as “Mad Men” marches toward the end, you have to wonder who will be drawn there by its sirens’ call.

Episode essay II:
With so few episodes left, it's starting to look like the most important relationship on "Mad Men" might be the one between Don Draper and his eldest child.
It's mostly in his relationship with Sally that we've seen any hint that Don can be honest and change for the better, even if that change is minor and even if that honesty has to be dragged out of him.
The final scene of Season 6 at Don's childhood home produced a spark of understanding between father and daughter and we saw that understanding grow in a series of beautifully acted scenes in "A Day's Work."
In many ways, the gradual awakening of Sally to all of her father's faults mirrors what happened in America in the decade of the 60's. Sally has a knack for learning her father's secrets and it's a painful gift. "Stop. Stop talking," she implores as he wobbles through yet another transparent lie.
But that knife cuts both ways and her father is equally pained to admit his dire straits to someone who once idolized him. In that vein, her sweet "I love you" at episode's end seems like a life preserver tossed to a drowning man at exactly the right moment.

About last week: After last week's episode, the web was awash again in “Megan’s going to be murdered by the Manson family" stories, apparently because a coyote howled and the word “canyon” was mentioned. Later in the week, a “Don Draper is going to turn out to be D.B. Cooper” story that first percolated last summer resurfaced with a new angle (see link at right). Both illustrate an interesting tendency we have collectively to try and turn every show into a mystery. “True Detective” creator Nic Pizzolatto noted the trend during his show’s recent run and speculated it’s because we (the audience) have been abused by surprise and trick endings for the past 20 years (which would take us back to 1994 when “Seven” and “The Usual Suspects,” two oft-imitated thrillers were released in back-to-back months). In that regard, we can’t imagine “Mad Men” ending in any way other than introspectively looking at how the decade of the 60’s changed our country and our characters. But if Megan IS murdered by the Mansons it would come in either this mini-season’s finale or next season’s premiere as the Tate-LaBianca murders took place early in August of 1969.

Quick hits:
+ Last week, we learned that Don is still making pitches at work through Freddy Rumsen and this week we see he’s still fully updated on office machinations by Dawn.
+ No sign of Neve Campbell anywhere. A good sign for Don.
+ Please understand. It's not Lou Avery's problem.

Historical notes:
+ Don was watching an episode of “That Girl,” starring Marlo Thomas, which ran on ABC from 1966 to 1971, groundbreaking as it featured a working woman at its center. Show runner Matthew Weiner’s attention to detail is such that it was the exact episode that ran on February 13, 1969.
+ Don also dropped in a great “Hooterville telephone operator” reference during his fishing lunch with the rival ad exec. Hooterville was the fictitious farm town on “Green Acres” – not to be confused with its rival town, Pixlie – which ran on CBS from 1965 to 1971.

Brand names:
+ The episode’s opening scene featured a barrage of brand imagery during Don’s “Little Rascals”-fueled day at home, including Viceroy, Bacardi, Seagram’s, Ritz, Look and Canadian Club.

Sweet tweets:
+ From @Swerdick (on the conference call from hell): “The first-ever Google hangout.”
+ From @tomandlorenzo: "The is the long awaited "Everyone yells at black people" episode of #MadMen."

Lines of the night:
+ “I’d stay here until 1975 if I could get Betty in the ground.” –Sally Draper
+ “She has plans, look at her calendar: February 14, masturbate gloomily.” –Michael Ginsberg
+ “Just tell the truth.” –Sally Draper
+ “It’s not my problem.” –“Sweet” Lou Avery

 
 
 

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A case of mistaken identity involving 12 long-stemmed roses brings out the worst in Peggy in "A Day's Work."

 
 
 
 

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