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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.
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.
Quotes & Observations