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Recapping the Mad Men Recaps: All In a Day's Work

mm-tmagArticle.jpgEach week PAPER helps you sort through your feelings about Mad Men by rounding up the best and brightest of the MM recaps. Join us below, as we slam the door shut before Don can say "I love you" back. 

Don can kiss being an authority figure to Sally goodbye. Their relationship seems to have taken a permanent turn, in which daughter sees through father and has the upper hand.

Sally is an ethical person, despite lapses that seem fairly typical of boundary-testing teenagers, and she projects immense confidence here. Sally's catching Don with his mistress Sylvia a few months earlier scarred her and might account for her poise in "A Day's Work." While Sally's lies are misdemeanors, Don's are crimes. They seem not just to have damaged their relationship but transformed it, in ways that allow the daughter to see through her father. [Vulture]

Sally seems perfectly content to lord parental disappointment over his head, as she does with Betty, but when Don confronts her about his current situation, she admits that seeing her father for who he really is legitimately traumatized her (to say nothing of the fact that he was totally doin' it with the neighbor). "It's more embarrassing for me to catch you in a lie than for you to be lying," she tells him. [Time]

Their final moment in the car cements the fact that something pure that once existed between them has gone. "I love you," she says, then shuts the door and goes inside, not giving Don a chance to respond.

The show's lone black characters, SDCP secretaries Dawn and Shirley, finally get substantial storylines. They are, with maybe the exception of Sally, the sole voices of reason on this episode. They speak up when both of their bosses treat them terribly, and for now, appear better off for having done so.

Joan's old office ends up going to Dawn, and it's hard not to see the quasi-promotion as a reward for her speaking up. After Sally shows up in Lou's doorway while Dawn was out, Lou demands Joan reassign Dawn, but not before Dawn pipes up to say it was his own damn fault -- she was out picking up a Valentine's Day gift for his wife when Sally materialized. The outburst is, of course, what everyone who watches Mad Men has been thinking for years: How many times is some old white dude going to take his screw-ups out on somebody else before getting called out? More importantly, though, it puts Dawn -- who's been supplying Don with updates on the company's accounts -- in a better position to assist the Draper comeback that seems more likely than ever now. [Time]

In a delightful break-room exchange that goes at least a little ways toward addressing the complaint that Mad Men has been slow to address race in the era of the Civil Rights movement, Dawn and Shirley play out what's obviously a long-running gag by addressing one another with the other's first name: "Hello, Dawn," says Dawn to Shirley, and vice-versa. In fact, it's worse than Dawn and Shirley's little game lets on: It's not just that the white employees have trouble telling their two black co-workers apart; it's that, as far as at least some of their superiors are concerned, they are interchangeable, just cogs that can be swapped in and out on a whim. [RollingStone]

[Dawn] couldn't have controlled how or why she was promoted, but it happened. In the last moment, her grin could sell all the Chevys in Southern California. [NYT]

Pete is adrift and slowly realizing that his fate at SDCP will always be determined by a bunch of people who could care less about him and the work he does. His girlfriend Bonnie seems to be the first, and maybe only, woman whose opinion Pete Campbell truly respects.

Despite landing the Chevy dealerships association account, Pete finds in a conference call that nothing has changed. Those disembodied New York voices are still controlling his fate. Pete, the craven, soulless embodiment of empty corporate yearning, has lost his purpose. An accounts man in a profession built on creating need, he doesn't even know what to covet anymore. "Sometimes I think maybe I died," he says. "I don't know if I'm in heaven or hell or limbo: No one feels my existence." [NYT

[Bonnie] gives Pete a reality check and savvy business advice: If you want something, you have to fight to take it. [Time]

Bonnie, his blond real estate broker, understands what turns him on. "You are such a big deal," she says. That exact phrase is likely all he's ever wanted to hear because it's all he's ever wanted to be. It only gets better, when Bonnie explains how she rails against the order of things, and won't be deterred, even by an "act of god" (or a house fire). Why? "We're both in sales," she explains, adding, "That's the thrill. Our fortunes are in other people's hands, and we have to take them." The anti-zen line turns on Pete so thoroughly that he delivers his creepiest come-on yet (which is also a bit mythological): "I want to chew you up and spit you out." [NYT]

Things pretty much suck for everyone on Mad Men right now.

So many characters in this episode seem to be driven by disappointment with their current circumstances and an unarticulated desire to return to the way things were before, whatever that means to them. Peggy's meltdown is all about lingering feelings for Ted. Roger seems flummoxed by the realization that he can't just tell everyone else how things will be and expect them to go along with him. Pete wishes people still listened to what he had to say, or otherwise acknowledged his existence. Don's outside of pretty much everything now, and though I think it would be a mistake to assign just one meaning to the look on his face in that final scene in the car, it seems safe to say that nostalgia (the ache from an old wound) probably plays into it. We like to say that kids grow up so fast, but we don't like to think about why that is.

Except for Joan! Joan got a promotion and no longer has to be the office manager in addition to a partner. (Though her move up will probably be a double-edged sword.)

Joan also got her job without any real say in the matter, without asking for it or even knowing it was possible. Obviously, she deserved it, but why now? Most likely, she was promoted by Jim as part of a Machiavellian maneuver to thwart or perturb Roger. On Valentine's Day, Roger gives her flowers from their son. Jim tops him by giving her an office. Joan is leaving two jobs for one that might be twice as complicated. [NYT]

... Jim Cutler ... realizes she's overworked and upgrades her office. Up until this point, Jim was the least interesting of all the partners, but Sunday's episode suggests he's not only one of the more attentive bosses (seriously, someone only just noticed that Joan hustles harder than anybody?), he's also capable of a power play -- his elevator remarks to Roger after butting heads throughout the episode sound like both an olive branch and threat. (Jim Cutler may seem like a nice guy now, but Harry Hamlin will always inhabit the character that did [redacted horrible thing] to [redacted character] on Veronica Mars, and I'll never stop being suspicious. [Time]
Peggy can't catch a break and is being the absolute worst.

This is the second episode in a row that's not at all flattering to Peggy. Mortifying as it is, I like watching her be petty ("lifting her leg" on Don/Freddy's pitch last week, then freaking out over the flower mistake with Shirley and pushing for her reassignment). It means the writers aren't pandering to Peggy fans by trying to turn the character into a saint. We can project our aspirations or issues onto her all we want, but in the end she's not a symbol, she's Peggy. [Vulture]

Sympathies for Peggy's sad-sack routine are dwindling, and her fixation on the Valentine's Day flowers she mistakes as a present from Ted felt like something out of a Tuesday night on FOX. It's one thing for Mindy Lahiri or Jess Day to misinterpret signals and treat break-ups like battles to be won, but when Peggy gestures to the roses and shouts, "Are these some symbol of how much we're loved?" it's neither adorkable, insightful, nor funny, really -- it just reveals what a mess she is. The creative team's quips about how she's not getting laid seemed cruel at first, but after observing the self-centered temper tantrum Peggy throws in this episode, it's no wonder she's the butt of their jokes. Just look at what they have to deal with on a regular basis. [Time]

No matter how much some fans project their empowerment fantasies onto her, the writers have very carefully hemmed her into her era. She seems full of despair, envying even her younger, subservient secretary. "You have a ring on," she barks at Shirley. "We all know that you're engaged. You didn't have to embarrass me. Grow up." It's obvious she craves that ring and that she is just waiting for Ted. She's stuck, waiting on her man. [NYT]

With Valentine's Day looming, her loneliness has blossomed into manic desperation, leaving her only a few frizzled hair strands away from a Cathy cartoon. [RollingStone]

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