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'Mad Men' recap: 'A Day's Work'

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.

How appropriate and clever that Roger, the only partner who might still be on Team Don, finds out that Ogilvy signed Hershey on Valentine’s Day. Bittersweet, indeed.

This episode was a stalemate for the revival of Don’s missing mojo. But it was a major victory for the secretaries -- not that it was easy. The working ladies (that’s secretaries, not prostitutes to Sally’s snooty friend) had a few hard-fought battles.

Dawn stirs up a riff after revealing her true allegiance: her homophonic boss, Don. Can’t blame the girl. He does brush off the Ritz cracker crumbs, slick his hair and suit up for her daily correspondence deliveries, after all. That, and it’s not hard competing with Mr. Rogers' evil twin.

Lou Avery is as brutish as he is untalented. Outraged that Dawn calls Don before putting out the Sally flames, he blames the whole fiasco on her. Except it’s not her fault she wasn’t there to stop Sally from going into Lou’s office; he sent Dawn to get a last-minute Valentine’s Day gift for his wife that he was too inconsiderate to remember to do himself.

“None of this has anything to do with me,” he deflects. It’s never been easier missing Don at SC&P.

Dawn gets shuffled around from Don/Lou’s desk to front reception. It’s a little too out-in-the-open for some. Cooper pulls an unexpectedly racist move and insists – ahem, “suggests” – that Dawn go to the back. No, it’s not Rosa Parks-esque at all. Just a “rearrangement of your rearrangement,” he assures Joan.

Before Dawn has enough time to settle in, Peggy throws a temper tantrum – she learned well from Don – and insists that her secretary, Shirley, be moved.

Valentine’s Day doesn’t suit Miss Olsen. After Stan and Ginsy tease her for being a dateless cat lady, she’s beyond thrilled to see a dozen roses at her secretary’s desk. “See?!” her eyes exclaim, “Guys like me! They really, really like me.”

Except they don’t. Well, not the ones she’s thinking of, anyway. Those long-stem roses weren’t from Ted; they were from Shirley’s fiancé for Shirley (duh, Pegs). Peggy, starving for attention, swoops in and has Shirley take them to her office.

Then, angry with Ted for the assumed romantic gesture, she tosses them back to Shirley, their rightful owner. Shirley tells her the truth.

"You did not have to embarrass me. Grow up,” she snaps before storming into her office and grimacing behind the closed door. Yup, she knows what a jerk she’s been. Only, she doesn’t apologize, she demands a new secretary.

Joan recommends big-haired, small-brained Meredith. “She has the mind of a child!” Peggy snarls. This, coming from a woman-child who blames Shirley for embarrassing her. Not taking responsibility and blaming her underlings? Looks like Lou has rubbed off on her.

Cutler stops playing adversary to everyone (read: Don, Roger and Pete) for a second and looks out for Joan’s career. He tells her to lean in, or in ‘60s lingo, start complaining. Now, instead of juggling two jobs, she drops the secretary act and moves up to accounts. Attagirl, Joanie.

Joan packs up her files and flowers and moves into a spacious, low-traffic office on the second floor. Taking over her old spot and previous secretarial positions is Dawn.

The women are taking over the office. At this rate, I sense a Harris-Chambers firm on the horizon. Peggy can join if she plays nice.

MORE HIGHLIGHTS FROM "A DAY’S WORK":

BEST ROGER ONE-LINER: “The snow’s melted, but not the heart of New Yorkers.”

BEST ONE-LINER THAT ISN’T FROM ROGER: “She has plans. Look at her calendar! February 14… masturbate gloomily.” – Ginsy about Forever-Alone Peggy

CALIFORNIA BLUES: It doesn’t matter how blond his mistress is, how killer his tan is or how sweet and juicy the SoCal oranges are. Pete can’t find happiness when he keeps getting pushed down the totem pole. The farther West you go, the less power you have, it seems. Even Ted’s been rendered useless at teleconference meetings. Not that he’d care, with a broken heart and ruined marriage.

PARTNERS IN PRIME (REAL ESTATE): Anyone else get a Bonnie-and-Clyde vibe from Bonnie and Pete? But instead of holding up banks, they swindle unsuspecting clients.

MORE REASONS TO HATE PETE: “Sorry, it’s not the same,” he scoffs at Bonnie’s Realtor woes. After putting him in his place, she tells him to put back the “For Sale” sign. Bonnie: 1, Pete: 0

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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