Like an allegory to It’s a Wonderful Life, we see this week how it is not just Don affected by his absence at SCP, and how the infamous creative genius might just make the world a better place.
Don still sets his alarm for 7:30AM, though in reality, he snoozes until noon, eats Ritz crackers in front of the tube, and flips through magazines in the name of “work.” A bug crawls across the floor of his once pristine apartment, adding to the trouble of the broken balcony door highlighted in last week’s episode. Things are still bad in light of Freddy’s urging Don to get back to work. In the next scene, however, Don – and the apartment – are in tip-top shape. Dawn comes over to brief her old boss on the happenings at SCP. She’s been keeping up appearances for his family’s sake, even sending flowers to Mrs. Draper for Valentine’s Day. Later, Don takes a lunch with another ad agency; it turns out Draper is still a hot commodity. Don still wants to be wanted, and I think this scene is more to signify him testing the waters than actually moving on from SCP. I don’t see him leaving the House That Draper Built completely, but at least we know that he’s still got it.
Sally and her friends are given a pass from school to attend the funeral of Sally’s roommate’s mother in the city; the girls decide to play hooky from the actual service in order to go shopping…but Sally loses her purse and misses the train back to school. Attempting to get help from her father, Sally goes to the SCP offices during lunch and runs into Lou Avery where her father’s office used to be. Confused by the situation, Sally goes to her father’s apartment and asks for a ride back to school. Dawn calls to inform him that Sally has been to the office and the jig is up; what unfolds on the ride back to school is a delicate dance of father and daughter liars waiting to see when the other will fold. Sally is cold and not forthcoming: traits that Don points out also belong to Betty…oooh! Watch that knife twist! Finally, Don comes clean, revealing that he was embarrassed about having to take time off and didn’t want his family to know. The ground thaws between the two; Sally even offers an, “I love you, Dad,” as Don drops her off. All she has ever wanted was to know the truth about her father, and for a man who has been living so many lies for so long, one who is so closed-off out of necessity, to take off the mask for her, Sally realizes how much he loves her. This kind of character story is so rarely found on television today, and it is what sets Mad Men apart from its contemporaries.
The LA satellite office is having a tough time communicating with New York on a conference call. We see that Pete is not as confident as he would have Don believe last week. He has just booked a local Chevy contract, but Jim points out that SCP should put Bob Benson on the account, as he is dealing with Chevy and, hopefully, ultimately GM. Pete, annoyed, shoots Ted the remark, “What’s the point in bringing in new business at all?” Roger goes to bat for “his guy” warring with Jim over who should take the account. Pete buries himself into his real estate-selling piece of tail, Bonnie, who challenges him in ways that Peggy used to – which is his main attraction to her. At the closing moments of the episode, was it just me or was Jim hitting on Roger in the elevator? He wants the two to be more copacetic, but the look on John Slattery’s face is worth the price of admission alone.
Joan is dealing with her own troubles, balancing her job as Head of Personnel with her accounts at Avon and the like. Getting caught up in a game of secretary-shuffling, attempting to make everyone happy, has the sultry red-head about to explode. Lou, annoyed by the fact that he had to “get involved” when Sally showed up at the office, blames Dawn for not being there to take care of “the problem.” Not willing to share his secretary with Don, he wants her moved to another desk. But, for the first time, Dawn stands up for herself, pointing out that she worked through her lunch hour to get Lou’s wife a bottle of perfume. Joan tries moving Dawn to the front, but Bert – all for the “National Advancement of Colored People, but people can see her from the elevator” – wants Dawn moved. Peggy needs Shirley moved because she needs someone to blame (more on that in a moment). Joan is so at the end of her rope, she snaps at Jim when he comes in to check on the Avon account. Jim – noting the fact that Joan has to juggle two careers—suggests she takes an office upstairs as solely an Accounts [wo]man. Dawn is moved to Head of Personnel – take that Lou! You’re still going down, man. I see a Lane Pryce door hang in your future.
Finally, for the storyline that bothers me the most, though more for my love of the character and not for the execution: poor, poor Peggy. On arriving to the office ahead of Valentine’s Day, Peggy sees a dozen roses on her secretary Shirley’s desk. Mistakenly believing the flowers are for her from Chaough – in actuality, Shirley’s fiancé sent them to the secretarial beauty – Peggy phones Ted’s desk sending the message that he has lost the account and no further contact would help. A little comedy comes from this, as Ted believes he actually has lost a real account. When Peggy discovers the flowers were never meant for her, she snaps at Shirley and tells Joan to send her away. This is where we see the impact of Don’s absence the most. Peggy, though always in competition with Don, would be better off if her mentor was still practicing at SCP. Constantly challenged creatively by Draper, and therefore able to compartmentalize the parts of her life she is not happy with, work was always an outlet for Peggy, the most important aspect of her life. Having to work under Avery leaves Peggy unfulfilled, and she concentrates on the fact that she might end up an Old Maid. I deplore the idea of Peggy so lost and distraught. So bitter that she explodes onto Shirley, but it is an interesting turn, another true-to-life scenario brought to life by the writers.
Apparently, the season seven premiere of Mad Men got the lowest ratings in years. So used to plot twists and over-the-top explosive dramas, the quiet, intense, character drama is being overlooked. I have said before that I thought this split-season might be the best yet for the show, and I am continually in awe of what I am seeing. I implore you to spend more time with Weiner’s characters and come back to Don Draper’s story. If these first two episodes are any indication, we are in for a brilliant final stretch.