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Mad Men – A Day’s Work Review: Compelling & Delightful

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As the sixth season of Mad Men closed with a surprising and poignant moment between Don Draper and his children, many of us though that it would be a marker of significant change for the character. Finally he offered an inkling of his true self to his children (even complete strangers at the Hershey’s pitch) and it seemed that perhaps he was coming to terms with his identity and less than favorable upbringing. Despite the fact that his honesty in the pitch meeting wreaked havoc on his career, his professional downfall seemed to compel him to reconnect with Sally, Bobby and Gene, or at least attempt to. However, this semi-hopeful note was utterly shattered with the season seven premiere, which saw Don completely broken by his current status. As last week’s episode implies, ridding Don of his career/work is stripping him of his persona and identity; he is left being only Dick Whitman, and he clearly cannot live like this. Though he might be getting comfortable sharing aspects of his “past life” with those close to him, he certainly is not ready to let go of the security blanket that is Don Draper.

Last week the show explored this aspect of Don’s life through a considerably depressing angle, his lies to Megan and the reality of his situation weigh down on him hard and the episode shows him in a deeply dejected state. “A Day’s Work” takes a different approach to similar themes and ultimately sheds some light on Don’s gloomy and troubled circumstances. Don is able to open up to Sally and they actually have an honest, adult (much needed) conversation in a truly wonderful and beautifully acted set of scenes. The closing moment is compelling and emotionally resonant and mimics that hopeful end scene of the season six finale. Perhaps his willingness to communicate (i.e. tell the truth) is actually growing, at least when it comes to Sally. And boy is it satisfying to see them bond over something and have a genuine moment with each other, regardless of Don’s many transgressions and overall deplorable behavior.It is amazing how the writers still make us feel for the man and hope for him to turn his sad life around. And if you really are over Don and cannot sympathize or care for him whatsoever, then you at least want poor Sally to have some sort of positive relationship in her life. We have been following her story since she was a wee little thing growing up in this painfully dysfunctional family; it is time she has something good happen. The show’s ability to engage in such emotional and compelling ways is impressive and a great reason for why we love to watch it. And it wouldn’t be able to do it so successfully without the six amazing years of character building and development. Mad Men is a series that strives on this kind of layered and history-heavy narrative.

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Sally and Don’s farewell is a truly delightful ending to an amusing, fun, and entertaining hour in which characters’ disappointments and frustrations are highlighted while still retaining a lighter tone and mood than last week’s premiere. Don is not the only character who suffers because of his lack of communication skills. His omission of important events and happenings in his life led to the deeply profound and beneficial encounter with Sally and many of the characters’ stories revolve around some kind of misunderstanding or omission. The entire episode is riddled with people unable to communicate accurately and dealing with the consequences, whether it be a faulty speaker in a conference call or a misunderstanding about some Valentine’s Day flowers, these seemingly inconsequential factors affect the characters deeply. The use of this device imparts a sense of thematic unity and cohesion to the episode while at the same time allowing for the characters’ individual struggles to shine: Pete and Joan’s frustrations at work, Peggy’s unresolved issues with Ted, Don’s inability to admit the truth, etc.

The writers masterfully handled these conflicts, incorporating magnificent moments of levity and comedy throughout the hour building a greatly entertaining installment. So many laugh out loud and gasp-worthy moments. From Peggy’s misguided assumptions about the flowers (girl you know those aren’t for you!) and Stan’s hilariously cutting quip “Hard to believe your cat has the money,” to Bert Cooper’s cringe-y foray into old-fashioned racism, to Dawn and Shirley’s totally awesome and sass-laden conversation, to both Joan and Dawn getting well-deserved promotions, to Lou Avery’s irritating dickish-ness, (I could go on) “A Day’s Work” boasts an impressive array of entertaining scenes. The combination of lightheartedness and dramatic gravitas make it a thoroughly enjoyable hour.

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Quotes & Observations

  • Dawn + Shirley forever! How much fun was it watching those two in the break room? Totally reminiscent of those early year scenes between Joan and Peggy. “Keep pretending. That’s your job.” That sooo sounds like something Joan would say to Peggy back in the day. I love the echoes the writers build into the fabric of the show. Also, while there are deliberate parallels to the early days of the series, I like how the show doesn’t just repeat moments. It brings up familiar situations that recall the past but the new characters behave in pointedly different, more evolved ways. Neither Peggy nor Joan would ever talk to their boss the way Dawn did to Lou, even though he deserved every bit of it. And Peggy would totally have thrown those flowers out at her boss’ request, no hesitation. I don’t know whether these differences are due solely to the more modern times (late 60s) or due to their identities as African American women, which admittedly would be problematic. However, I enjoyed these moments greatly.
  • “Who the hell is sending her flowers?”
  • “Don who? Our collective ex-wife who still receives alimony?”
  • Lou is the worst! Ugh, he is incredibly irritating and I (along with everybody else, I’m sure) want him out of there. Really? It was that big a deal that Sally showed up for a hot minute and bothered you? He doesn’t deserve Dawn. It seems that the writers are painting him too much like a hateful antagonist; they may be pushing it a bit too hard. When Duck weaseled his way into the agency and became an adversary for Don the writers at least gave him some shading and nuance and sympathetic qualities of his own. None for Lou, I guess. I get that they are probably setting up for Don’s eventual return and in order to do so the people that ousted him have realize how bad a replacement Lou is, but still.
  • “Happy Valentine’s Day, I love you.” Was that the first time we’ve seen Sally say that to her father, it sure seemed like it (at least in the last couple of years) judging from his expression. Beautiful endnote.
Rating
8.6
Pros
  • So Much Funny
  • Wonderful Character Stories
  • Great Use of Ensemble
Cons
  • Lou - Too One-Dimensional?

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