Hardly Working during “A Day’s Work”: Mad Men Season Seven, Episode Two
Marking territories and engaging in office politics dominates the ironically titled “A Day’s Work”, an episode in which secretarial assignments are rearranged after fits of pique, Joan moves out of adjudicating staff disputes and into the account management hierarchy and Pete wins a Chevy dealership account in Southern California, only to find out that he’ll report to his bête noire, Bob Benson, as his reward.
This is also the episode that gives us an impromptu road trip featuring Don Draper and his alienated (with good reason) daughter Sally (Chicago’s Kiernan Shipka, who continues to amaze), who finds out that Don is no longer working at the firm, after dropping in on her father at the office while in the city for a friend’s mother’s funeral, only to find the insufferable Lou Avery in his place. Lou, demonstrating that he can be as imperious as he is charmless, blames Sally’s drop-in on erstwhile Draper secretary Dawn. Dawn’s reward for not being at her trusty post when Sally arrives is to be banished from Lou’s employ, which seems to me like a pretty good deal for her. Of course, Lou does have some justification for feeling frustrated with Dawn, given that she continues to do secretarial chores for Don, and, unbeknownst to Lou, a bit of covert Ops work by keeping Don apprised of what’s going on at the office (although I’m not sure what Don plans to do with the intel about where Lou sits while in client meetings).
Lou is far from the only petulant manager on duty at SCP on this Valentine’s Day, 1969. Peggy is feeling the sting of being alone, not to mention becoming the butt of Stan and Ginsburg’s jokes. After finding out that the roses she thought that Ted had given her were actually meant for her secretary, she of course does the perfectly rational thing and blames her secretary for embarrassing her- not to mention causing her to have an entirely unproductive day. Once again, another secretary is sent packing to somewhere, anywhere, across the office.
The episode gives us a shocking bit of racial insensitivity from a surprising source, Bert Cooper, who opines to Joan that having Dawn out on reception duty could be bad for business. One would have hoped that Cooper, who seems to be guided by his own lights and after having shown little or no concern about Don Draper’s past so long ago, would be more enlightened. Joan is outraged but compliant, leading to her accepting Jim Cutler’s suggestion that she might be more comfortable- and happier- in an office near the other “account men”. It’s a disappointing moment for those of us who have enjoyed Robert Morse as Bert slipping in and out of the camera frame since the show’s inception, and we’d have expected this from Lou Avery and not the avuncular older man. But it probably serves to demonstrate the widening gulf between the baby boomers and the old guard, and in that it’s a reminder that we’re still in the sixth decade of the 20th century.
What doesn’t happen during “A Day’s Work”, however, is very much work. This is an episode that is a lot more concerned about who’s getting along with whom, who’s working for whom and whose personal stock is up, down or sideways. And, for Don, we find that this particular day at work is more about eating Ritz crackers while watching the “Little Rascals” and hanging out at lunch with an old advertising contact. Don’s ennui, which he thinks can be remedied by putting on a suit and tie, demonstrates how easily bad habits comes to those who aren’t regularly putting in a “day’s work.”
On the West Coast, Ted continues to be perfectly miserable and seemingly not just job locked, but chained to his desk, while Pete and his smoldering real estate agent, Bonnie Whiteside, find an altogether more exciting use for Pete’s own desk, the aphrodisiac of Pete’s winning the local Chevy account making him seemingly too appealing for the cool blonde realtor to resist. Pete continues to enjoy the California sun, certainly a lot more than his officemate, but in the wake of finding that he is about to be drawn yet again into Bob Benson’s orbit after the partners vote to manage Chevy as one global account, reverts to form as “petulant Pete”. Self-pity as always is very unbecoming on Pete, and is a bit of a turn-off for Bonnie, who essentially tells him to get his act together and start making his own breaks.
In fact, the Chevy decision- to have Benson be the overall manager of the account, with the Chevy dealership business in LA reporting into him- is about the only work-related decision that we see in this episode, and it’s a telling one. For one thing, it’s entirely realistic- the strategy as outlined by the ascendant Jim Cutler is to consolidate the firm’s resources and rationalize its account management structure to win more Chevy and General Motors business. It’s the right strategy, and the partners other than Roger Sterling (who has his own animus against the oily- and unseen- Benson) see the wisdom in it. Unfortunately, it leaves Pete in thrall to his nemesis, questioning why he’s in LA and what he’s still doing at the firm if he can feel so disrespected.
The decision also represents a break between Jim and Roger, heretofore two silver foxes with very similar worldviews. Whether Cutler is sincere with Roger in their ice-cold encounter on the elevator about not making him an adversary or is just playing him to buy more time to consolidate his own power, remains to be seen. The subtlety of Harry Hamlin’s performance as the clever and acute Cutler makes the viewer believe it could go either way.
Given the office comings and goings during this eventful yet unproductive day, the Don-Sally scenes feel a bit airlifted in from another time zone, but affecting and effective nonetheless. We’ve been waiting for a full episode to see what kind of impact visiting her father’s squalid childhood home would have on Sally, and at first it doesn’t seem like much. She’s too busy engaging in age-appropriate teenage behavior with her equally stuck-up private school friends to seem to care much about her dad. But as the road trip takes shape- with a terrific scene in a local restaurant where the exasperated albeit guilt-ridden Don finds a way to unlock Sally’s repressed affection for him ever so slightly (and believably, symbolized by the troubled girl accepting a patty melt from her dad). What is brilliant about the scene is that we realize- as Don takes Sally through a brief yet accurate account of why he has been suspended- that this may be the one relationship in the entire series that is not based on lies, half-truths or evasions.
One of the most resonant lines of the series comes when Sally asks her dad what he could have possibly said about himself that would merit a suspension. In response, he looks almost right through her and says, “nothing that you don’t already know.” It’s a poignant moment, followed soon by yet another one, when Sally is dropped off at school and tells her dad in a purposely offhanded yet significant way, “I love you.” This is a beautiful and hopeful grace note to end what has been a perplexing addition to the Mad Men canon. As Blue Oyster Cult could always use more cowbell, “Mad Men” can always use more Sally. We look forward to the twists this relationship will take as the show winds its way toward its conclusion.
Submitted by Harlan R. Teller