Don’s looking for love; Joan’s making career moves.
Set on Valentine’s Day, "A Day’s Work" is a not-so happy marriage of love and death. Not that it was dull or tedious – it was actually enjoyable. But the point is: When has there ever been a happy marriage on "Mad Men"?
If last season made us hate Don, this is the season that should make us fall in love with him again. This episode rekindles the affair.
Don’s candor with Sally made even the gloomiest ennui-filled moments (typical "Mad Men" fodder – get used to it, folks) disarming. Another bonus: Peggy’s cringe-worthy pettiness, which teetered between disappointing and hilarious.
After going to her roommate’s mother’s funeral in the city, Sally goes on a shopping spree and loses her purse. She swings by Don’s office to get money, only to find he’s not there. More on Don’s cover getting blown later, but first, let’s rip the morbid Band-Aid off and get the death part over with.
“I don’t like you going to funerals,” Don tells Sally. Interesting priorities. Don’s more concerned about cemeteries than Sally cutting class to go shoe shopping.
It was tense when she said there were a lot of people there. Both were probably wondering how many people would show up to Don’s funeral. All I could think was, whose turn would it be to throw up at his funeral, like he did at Roger’s mother’s.
This episode felt like a funeral procession for Don’s career. Flowers filled the SC&P office, even roses that “smelled like an Italian funeral.” As far as most of the staff is concerned, Don is dead to them.
What happened to the old, dynamic Don (aside from booze and self-loathing)? Sure, we saw his genius last episode, but with Freddy Rumsfeld as his puppet. Now he’s sleeping-in past noon, watching TV all day and getting dressed at 8 p.m. His only companion is a scurrying cockroach. Doesn’t get much sadder than that.
"All I want is an explanation. Everyone is laughing at you!" a sitcom blares in the background. We’re not laughing. We’re cringing.
It’s pitiful and vaguely reminiscent of Walter White’s desolate New Hampshire bunker, only swankier and with far less snow. And just like cabin-fever Walter White, Fon's practically pleading his only visitor, Dawn, to stay for coffee. But she’s there strictly for business.
“I’m just looking for love,” he says to an ad exec from a competing agency. This we know. For the past six seasons, Don’s been looking for love in all the wrong places. He’s sought happiness from two wives, countless mistresses, dozens of brilliant ad campaigns and liquor by the bulk, only to sink further into misery.
His wives left him, either by serving him with divorce papers or putting 3,000 miles between them. Sylvia and the rest of the Don Draper Mistresses Support Group (which, God willing, exists somewhere in "Mad Men" world) moved on to more stable beaus. Then Sterling, Cooper & Partners gave him the heave-ho, the final crack in his handsome yet precarious façade, leaving him in shambles.
The stars never align for Don. “I said the wrong things to the wrong people at the wrong time,” he confesses to Sally about his suspension. Sally is the only person with whom Don has been fully honest. Well, mostly honest.
The truth comes out when he’s painted himself into a corner, like when she walked in on him and Sylvia last season, and just now when she made a surprise visit to his office to find Lou Avery at his desk. Let’s not forget that one time when she saw his real name, Dick, painted on an actual corner at Anna’s house in California a few seasons back. Still, it’s more details than Megan gets.
“I was ashamed,” he admits. Here, you can see Sally grow respect for her dad. He’s vulnerable and not afraid to admit it to the person he trusts the most. That was the right person, the right time, the right place. When he drops her off at school, she shows her appreciation.
"Happy Valentine’s Day. I love you,” she says dryly. Don’s just as stunned as we are. It’s not said out of habit or with pointed sarcasm, as you would expect from the Queen of Eyerolls. But it’s certainly not brimming with Hallmark cheer either. It’s understated and hopeful – just what Don needs.
That good-bye scene in the below-freezing winter night proves what we’ve been suspecting all along: Sally will be the light that guides Don out of his abysmal rock bottom.
But it’s still too soon to chuck out the notched bottles of scotch (or was that whiskey? I’m terrible with liquor labels) and declare a recovery from his self-defeating demons. Most telling: he avoids Sally’s valid question, “Why don’t you just tell [Megan] you don’t want to move to California?”
Even less reassuring is that he’s determined to win back a company that’s practically moved on from him. “Don who?” Jim jeers. “Our collective ex-wife who still collects our alimony?” No SC&P love for Don this Valentine’s Day.