After last week’s premiere, which set an ominous tone for the final season of Mad Men, the writers reached out to pick us up and dust us off in episode two. Peggy and Pete are flailing about on opposite coasts, each experiencing ennui and scrabbling for purchase in their daily lives. Sally Draper is navigating her own transitional phase and handling it as gracefully as you’d expect from a 15-year-old. Dawn, Shirley, and Joan are shuffled about by the various men of SC&P while Cooper’s old-fashioned sensibilities hold up progress. Roger and Jim are at odds beneath a cordial surface. Out of everyone, though, Don Draper is most adrift.
The opening scene of Sunday’s episode calls back to the premiere with a time motif. Don awakens to his alarm clock on a Thursday at 7:30, stretching groggily. Moments later, he awakens again, this time at 12:34. Don’s discombobulated, out of time and place. In his apartment, he blankly stares at Little Rascals on TV, his face unshaven and his robe hanging open. He idly pages through Look Magazine, which features a headline about abortions (the contentious topic would’ve been ramping up toward 1973’s landmark Roe vs. Wade case). He passes a full-page ad that inquires, “How do you handle a hungry man?” while absent-mindedly eating Ritz directly from the box. He marks the level on a bottle of Courvoisier, tsking to himself – he’s drinking too much. A cockroach wanders by and Don just sighs. The time passes, and into the evening Don shaves and dresses, buttoning up his shirt and fixing his tie just as the doorbell rings.
Dawn steps into the apartment, but she can’t stay. She’s brought him Sweet ‘n Low and Coffee Mate since she noticed he was out. Likewise, she arranged for a Valentine’s bouquet to arrive at Megan’s house in California. Dawn’s another set of eyes into SC&P, and it’s making her uncomfortable. “I don’t mind keeping you aware of things, but there’s something about the money that makes it feel wrong,” she says. On her way out, she reminds him that the cleaning woman is coming tomorrow morning. She takes the money.
Our very own Don Draper, the hero/antihero of the series (this is debatable – there are those who think it’s been Peggy’s story all along), has gotten interminably sad. Without his work, without purpose, Don Draper is nothing. He can’t even handle the basics of his marriage and his home without help. It’s tough to watch.
Sally Draper has transformed into a full-blown teenager. Her friends smoke cigarettes in her dorm room, gossiping about another friend’s dead mother. Everybody’s stoked to go off campus for the funeral because they an sneak away to shop for Pocahontas boots. (I’m actually shaking my head in consternation as I write this.) That lucky bitch whose mom died, she gets to stay out of school until Easter! “I’d stay here til 1975 if I could get Betty in the ground,” Sally says, dragging on a cigarette. (Snort. It’s awful, but can you blame her?)
In Los Angeles, Pete shows Bonnie into his office and is generally a condescending jerk, as Pete Campbell tends to be. The vibe seems to work well for them, so more power to them, I guess. He fucks her on the desk while she moans, “You are such a big deal.” UGH. Ted walks in the door, greets Pete, asks how it went today, then saunters straight into his office, calling “Goodnight, Bonnie” over his shoulder. Sharing an office with Pete Campbell would be trying (to say the least), but Ted’s taking it in stride.
Back in New York, Peggy gets a jump on her day, assigning projects in the morning elevator with Stan and Michael. Stan has plans for Valentine’s Day and won’t be able to work in the evening. When he asks obliquely whether Peggy has a Valentine’s date, Ginsberg deadpans, “She has plans. February 14th, masturbate gloomily.” It’s one of the series’ funniest lines. Poor Peggy. She arrives in the office with that jab still stinging a bit, and discovers a bouquet of roses on Shirley’s desk. “Hard to believe your cat has money,” Stan jokes. Peggy carries the flowers into her office – and Shirley’s face tells us they aren’t Peggy’s flowers. Peggy, assuming Ted wishes to repair the broken bond between them, calls Moira to “pass Ted a message” about how “the account wants nothing more to do with him.” Moira obviously has no idea what’s going on, and this is only the beginning of Peggy’s Valentine’s humiliation.
In the kitchenette, Shirley takes her time getting Peggy a coffee. She explains to Dawn that Peggy stole the flowers, which were a gift from Shirley’s fiance. Dawn, ever so kind (despite that awkward and slightly horrific interaction with Peggy a few seasons ago), consoles Shirley that “it was an honest mistake.” When Moira walks in, the two black women shut their mouths, and when she leaves, they pick up their conversation. There’s an automatic separation; Shirley and Dawn innately recognize that they are Other and they’d best stay under the radar. Dawn sums it up neatly when she advises Shirley to “Keep pretending. That’s your job.” On the way back to their desks, they call each other by the wrong names, a cynical jab at the “all look alike” trope they no doubt encounter every single day.
In an informal lunch meeting with a competing agency rep, it’s clear Don’s reputation has preceded him. Word on the street is that he “pulled a major boner in a meeting. Cried or punched somebody or something.” Rather than deny it, Don complains that he’s “spoiling the mood.” I mean, he did kind of pull a major boner. He’s joking, but Don admits, “I’m just looking for love.” How very true, and appropriate for Valentine’s Day.
Sally Draper realizes on the train returning from the city that she’s misplaced her purse, perhaps at the head shop. She disembarks and goes to her dad’s office to ask for train fare. She finds an office entirely unlike what she’s used to. Lou Avery, sitting comfortably in what used to be Don’s office, reports only that “Don’s not here.” He doesn’t lift a finger to assist, but points her in the general direction of Joan, who’s also out to lunch. Sally’s looking slightly worse for wear; she’s disheveled, her face smudged and one sock falling down. SC&P is no longer the world she knew – and it’s no longer the world we knew, either.
In the afternoon, Peggy lounges on her couch, daydreaming, puffing on a cigarette and drinking a glass of bourbon. She accepts a call from Dee in Los Angeles, but before Dee can speak, Peggy slurs, “Tell him I’m busy. I have no intention of talking to him today.” She opens her office door and strides out with a drunkenly purposeful expression on her face. She’s gonna get something done, dammit. She insists that Shirley throw the flowers away, then goes on an embarrassing tirade about what bullshit flowers are. In her call to arms, she asks rhetorically, “Are these some symbol of how we are loved?” and then tells Shirley magnanimously that Peggy should’ve bought Shirley flowers! Shirley, cornered, finally tells her they were never Peggy’s flowers in the first place. A thoroughly pissed off Peggy admonishes, “You did not have to embarrass me. Grow up.” Projection, much? She slams her office door, knowing prying eyes are watching. The look on her face is priceless: she knows she fucked up.
It’s never been exactly clear, but I think Peggy, despite her innate kindness, has some issues with race. She allowed Dawn to come to her house, but she wouldn’t leave her purse on the table unattended. She assumed the flowers were for her, because why would anyone give Shirley flowers? She’s not deliberately cruel, but she’s got some latent racist tendencies the way many people did (do, you could argue). She wants to be a good person, but she isn’t sure how to do it.
After this massive embarrassment, she figures she has no choice but to ask Joan to move Shirley. Nobody seems to care that HR management isn’t actually Joan’s job. After a curt conversation, Joan agrees to “shuffle the girls,” but it doesn’t help Peggy much. “All I know is that today is a work day and I didn’t get anything done,” Peggy laments. Is that, perhaps, because you were lying in your office drinking? Nah. Couldn’t be. Jim visits Joan to ask about Avon and suggests obliquely that she might want to move upstairs. Perhaps the days of Joan constantly climbing the stairs and never arriving on the upper floor are over. The question is, what is Jim up to?
This episode is about communication, lack thereof, and difficulties therein. The long distance service between New York and L.A. is terrible. In California, Pete’s puffed up, telling a lengthy story of how he got them a new account. Nobody’s having it. Cooper wonders aloud, “Is this a partner’s meeting, or the most tedious wireless program I’ve ever heard?” Roger snorts. Jim says they’ll fly Bob Benson into Detroit to finalize details, but Pete won’t have that – Pete and Bob are not the best of buds, so to speak. Roger tells an unnecessary story of his own account shenanigans: “Look, when I brought in Chevy I got their very own Mikey O’Brien laid, and it wasn’t easy.” He punctuates his brief tale with “sorry, sweetheart” to the secretary. When Roger storms out of the meeting, Joan automatically moves to follow him – but Bert Cooper tells her she shouldn’t. Jim Cutler takes notice.
In L.A., Ted holds up a handwritten note telling Pete to stay out of it. After speaking briefly with Roger, Pete complains, “I don’t know where I am, heaven or hell or limbo, but I don’t seem to exist. No one feels my existence.” Pete’s hippie, existentialist ennui suits him somehow. “Just cash the checks, you’re gonna die one day,” says Ted, always a pragmatist. Chaough was never known for deep thinking.
When Don arrives home from his “business luncheon,” he discovers Sally waiting for him. “I was at the office,” he says, but she knows better. At SC&P, Lou reports to Dawn that Sally came by. He’s angry he had to briefly deal with Don’s daughter, and even more furious that Dawn picks up the phone to warn Don. Don offers to drive Sally back to school and write her a letter of excuse. When he asks what the note should say, she answers, “Just tell the truth.” Asking Don Draper to tell the truth is, as always, an iffy prospect – and it means a lot more in this interaction given that Sally knows exactly who he is and what he’s up to.
Lou decides he doesn’t want to share Dawn with Don, “our collective ex wife who still receives alimony.” “I know you can’t fire her,” he tells Joan, though Dawn’s standing right there. “But just move her to another part of the building.” Joan starts to shoo Dawn out the door, but Dawn’s not having it. “Obviously I can say anything I want,” Dawn says, her temperature rising. She was out at lunch, she says angrily, to buy his wife perfume, and if he’d paid attention ten days ago when she told him about it, she would’ve been available to catch Sally. “It’s not my problem,” Lou answers. Of course it isn’t your problem, you deplorable asshole. Demanding that your secretary do you favors on her own time would never be your problem. “When she comes back from the ladies’, have her hand over the keys,” he tells Joan. His assumption that Dawn will be crying in the bathroom just cements him as that dude. Dawn is, however, not that kind of lady. Indeed, she accepts her fate graciously and moves to Reception, where she’ll continue to answer Don’s calls. She may not like keeping his secrets, but she feels an affinity toward him – maybe even affection.
Cooper sees Dawn at the front desk and immediately reports to Joan’s office. “I noticed there’s been a change.” Joan admits she had to move some secretaries. Cooper remarks, “I’m all for the national advancement of colored people, but I don’t think they should advance all the way to the front of the office. People can see her from the elevator.” At this point I laughed so hard my boyfriend came upstairs to check on me. It’s grotesque, and I believe every word of it. Hide the black people, y’all. Think about how we look. You have to laugh or you’ll cry.
In the car on the way back to school, Don and Sally are extremely uncomfortable. Sally’s curt and obviously angry with him; once again, he’s been keeping secrets from her. “It’s more embarrassing for me to catch you in a lie than it is for you to lie,” she says. Kiernan Shipka is turning into a truly gorgeous young woman, and this casting could not be more perfect; in moments like these, she oozes Betty Draper. Sally hates that he wasn’t there when she needed him; she hates even more that she had to go to his apartment. “I could’ve run into that woman in the elevator,” she says, reminding us that she walked in on Don and Sylvia last season. “Wanting to vomit while I smell her hairspray.” Don accepts her criticism, mostly because it’s totally valid. You don’t get to act the indignant parent when you’ve been screwing up as royally as Don has.
Full disclosure: I have a hard time liking Bonnie. On Veronica Mars, Jessy Schram played Hannah Griffith, a competing love interest for my boyfriend Logan Echolls, and this has tainted her for me (Veronica + Logan 4EVA). When Pete meets Bonnie at one of her sale properties, he tells her there’s just no way she could understand the travails of Pete Campbell’s complex existence. This time Bonnie doesn’t jump to tell him he’s such a big deal, though. Instead she regales him with a story about a failed deal. She had to drive some obnoxious Okie couple around for months, finally sold a house for $108k, then while it was in escrow the house burned down. She reminds him that “I’m not some housewife complaining about getting oatmeal out of a carpet.” Fate will have its way with you, Pete Campbell, she seems to be saying. It’s an act of God that lets you know things are really against you. Pete, ever a creep, tells her he’d like to chew her up and spit her out. Uhh. Whatever works for you guys, I guess. How very, very different Bonnie is from Trudy. While Trudy’s prudishness, her suburban consistency, kept Pete struggling to keep up with the Joneses, Bonnie’s ruthlessness bolsters him. She’s having an immense effect on Pete, on the way he thinks and speaks.
Don and Sally stop at a diner. She gives him the cold shoulder until he finally admits she’s got to collude with him: “I don’t want anyone to know I’m not working.” He explains that he was put on leave from SC&P because he told the truth about himself, “but it wasn’t the right time.” “What was the truth?” Sally asks, her eyes lingering on him for the first time all day. Don answers that it’s nothing she doesn’t know. Nobody saw it coming, but at this point Sally understands Don perhaps better than any other character on the show. After he gives her a few coins, Sally calls her friends to let them know she’s okay. Carol reports that Sally’s illicit sandals are safe in the back of the closet. Sally hangs up, and when she returns to the table she tells Don, “I’m so many people.” Like father, like daughter.
AT SC&P, everybody’s displaced. Peggy’s been carrying “her” flowers back and forth all day, and Joan lugs her own bouquet up the stairs to her new office. She tells Roger they’re from her son – which means they’re from Roger. Shirley moves from Peggy’s desk to Lou’s, taking her roses with her. Dawn carries her box to Reception, where she’s *gasp* visible from the elevator. Then she moves to her very own office (a big deal).
As Don drops Sally off in front of school, she climbs out of the car and says without expression, “Happy Valentine’s Day, I love you” and slams the door in his face. This is the most functional, the most honest relationship Don has right now. When she says she loves him, he’s blatantly astonished; Sally is the only person in his life who loves him in spite of (or because of) who he is. Her words indicate to him that maybe, just maybe, he can salvage the remains of his life.
These people are all trying to repair what they’ve broken, grab for power, and figure out their respective places in the world (“no one feels my existence”). Mad Men is fascinating for many reasons, but particularly because it presents us with a small-scale version of the big picture: in 1969, the country was in turmoil. Power was shifting. Abortion rights and civil rights, the battlegrounds on which our politicians still fight in 2014, were at the forefront of even the fluff news. But none of that directly affects our characters; they’re a microcosm at the center of a ever-changing universe. They’re just riding the waves, some of them more efficiently than others.
I adored this episode – it made me laugh out loud, cringe, and feel a whole spectrum of emotions. What did you think? Share in the comments!