Finally, after a season premiere that saw most of its characters treading water trying to stay afloat, Sunday’s Mad Men was full of the kinds of boiling points, breakdowns and breakthroughs fans have been awaiting. And for once — maybe the episode’s Valentine’s Day theme had the writers in a good mood — almost all the characters walked away happy.
When he’s not stuffing his face with Ritz crackers, Don Draper is still trying to pretend he’s not an unemployed alcoholic, but word of his Hershey meltdown has spread, and the lunch meetings he’s set up to get out of the house aren’t fooling anybody. Sally already saw Don in one compromising position (on top of Sylvia, cheating on the world’s coolest stepmom) and here Sally finds him in another when she shows up at SC&P only to find Lou Avery in her dad’s old office (no nude Freaks and Geeks alumna in sight, though). Just as Sally catches him in a lie about what he’s been up to, Don catches her in a lie about just how much she knows, and the two spend several minutes trying to out-Draper one another until Matthew Weiner and company bust out some character development. 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.
Don’s awkward attempts at making conversation with Sally indicate he won’t be polishing a Father of the Year trophy anytime soon — after all, his idea of a bonding experience is to dine and ditch — but he knows that repairing their relationship beats wasting daylight with his new roommate the cockroach. The sincere effort pays off surprisingly quickly, with Sally tossing Don an “I love you” that even he’s shocked to hear by the end of the episode.
Back at the office, Joan is roped into her coworkers’ petty drama, rearranging secretary assignments to quell the completely displaced rage of Peggy and Lou Avery. Joan’s got better things to do—her Avon account, literally anything else—but her temper flares in front of Jim Cutler, who 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.)
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.
The two characters who didn’t really get what they wanted this episode were Peggy and Pete. They have a few things in common: Their names both start with P, they once made a baby together, and they both deserve to have viral Tumblrs made in their honor: Pete Campbell’s Bitchface (which already exists) and Peggy Crying Behind Closed Doors (which is bound to happen at the rate this season is going.)
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.
Ted isn’t having the time of his life following their affair, either, but at least he keeps it together enough to remain the show’s sole voice of reason while Pete feels — surprise! — under-appreciated in Los Angeles. Pete’s existential hissy fit is only interesting for two reasons: First, it’s set off by the imminent return of the mysterious Bob Benson, who’s been in Detroit; second, it sends him running to his real-estate-agent girlfriend Bonnie (the delightful Jessy Schram, who, it turns out, also did a stint on Veronica Mars). Instead of some afternoon delight, though, she gives Pete a reality check and savvy business advice: If you want something, you have to fight to take it.
No, the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” didn’t start playing — that’s 10 months away in the Mad Men universe – but the title of Sunday’s episode, “A Day’s Work,” almost makes the same point. If you speak up and put a little work in, you just might find you get what you need.