The latest episode of Mad Men is very much about these themes. If there was a feeling of stagnancy to the characters in the previous episode, the sense of a change coming for everyone at Sterling Cooper & Partners dominates this hour. More after the jump.
"I'm so many people." —Sally DraperThis entire episode occurs on Friday, February 14th, 1969 (a.k.a. Valentine's Day), and almost every character is struggling to find some form of comfort and stability in their lives, either personally or professionally. The quote from Sally Draper (Kiernan Shipka) above applies to a lot of the characters in this show, especially her father Don (Jon Hamm). And in a lot of ways, that conflicted feeling of identity is nothing new, but this time it feels like the entire office, as an organization, is shifting in a different way too. A lot has been made in the past about some of the subtexts in this show being patriarchy, white privilege and the beginnings of corporate culture. And in this episode, you can definitely see the future coming.
In almost every storyline of this episode, the female characters asserted new authority, while the male characters were searching for firmer ground in a shifting landscape.
- An existence without meaning: Don Draper's life is in the crapper, but he still tries to keep up the facade and routine of the way things used to be from within his apartment, which just makes things even more pathetic. Somewhere, down deep inside, we all want to believe we're irreplaceable, and that the world won't be the same without us. But Sterling Cooper is still humming along without Don. So Don is testing the waters of finding work somewhere else, but as time passes the rumors about Don have grown. He has Dawn (Teyonah Parris), who's still loyal to her old boss, feeding him info about what's going on at work, with Don working her for useless minutiae about who was sitting where at a conference table. But he's powerless to do anything from his apartment, except hope that someone will call and let him come back. So all he's relegated to is watching TV and consumption of cheap shit. And one interesting thing about that consumption is that he's consuming all the products he used to create ads for in the office. (e.g. Ritz crackers, Canadian Club, etc.) A big difference between the Don of the present and the Don of the past is that this Don is staying put and wants a way to resolve things. At the very least, he hasn't run away.
- Flowers and Peggy's authority: I've seen some websites compare this to a story idea out of Three's Company, and in truth it's a classic "misunderstanding" that blows up in a character's face. But no matter how clumsy it might seem, I was more interested in what it says about Peggy. She's still a character with pride who wants respect, and gets touchy when she feels embarrassed. Peggy is, in her own way, just as "alone" as Don, with the previous episode ending with Peggy weeping alone in an empty apartment. The flowers at first represent what she thinks is a gesture of apology from Ted (Kevin Rahm). However, when she finds out that not only were the flowers not from Ted, but they're Shirley's flowers from her fiance, she takes out her embarrassment on a secretary whose only "crime" was trying to protect her boss's feelings. And now poor Shirley has to deal with Lou.
- All black people look alike: There's a moment in the episode where Shirley and Dawn meet and say "Hello, Dawn" and "Hello, Shirley." It's not only a comment on the people at the office mixing up their names because they're the two black employees, but a reflection that they feel like parts in a machine that can be moved and thrown away on a whim. Both Lou (Allan Havey) and Peggy demand that Dawn and Shirley be reassigned for trite reasons. Dawn gets moved to reception, but then gets a promotion to head of personnel when Bert Cooper (Robert Morse) comes to believe in "the advancement of colored people" when it means they're not the first thing people see coming off the elevator.
"Our fortunes are in other people's hands." —Bonnie
- Pete's marginalization: Pete and Ted feel like they're in limbo out in Los Angeles. So much of life is wasted on power plays. So much wasted time trying to figure who controls what, and how big of a share do I get, where if you worked together so much more could have been accomplished. That's the story of Pete and Ted's working relationship. But it's now compounded by the fact that he doesn't have as much authority as Pete thought he had. And since he's in purgatory at work, Pete tries to find some control in his personal life with his real estate agent girlfriend, Bonnie (Jessy Schram). So he rolls over to one of her apartment showings looking for sex, only to be shot down. He enters the scene carrying one of Bonnie's yard signs, and the scene ends with her telling Pete to "put the sign back."
- Roger is not in control: Pete's marginalization is a result of Roger (John Slattery) not being the "alpha dog" at the agency anymore. This episode makes clear that Jim Cutler (Harry Hamlin) is calling the shots now. The office politics of Sterling Cooper has always been a plot point, but I think both the Pete and Roger storylines may be harbingers of how the business is shifting more towards the corporate culture that defined the '70s and '80s that was somewhat different than the one of the '50s and '60s. With Cutler asking Roger if he's going to be an "adversary," a civil war might be afoot.
- Joan moves upstairs: Joan (Christina Hendricks) is a partner. So why does she have to suffer these fools that want secretaries moved around like a game of musical chairs? By episode's end, Joan doesn't have to worry about it anymore. Now she has to worry about accounts. But her new office might be part of Cutler's consolidation of power. If the season moves to a power struggle between Cutler and Roger, will Joan be loyal to Roger, her sometimes lover and the father of her son, or Cutler, who just got her out of "personnel hell" and giving her a chance at something different?
“Why would you let me lie to you like that?” —Don Draper
“Because it’s more embarrassing for me to catch you in a lie than it is for you to be lying.” —Sally Draper
- Lies my parents told me: Sally catching Don in his affair with Sylvia shifted that relationship, perhaps irrevocably. Last season ended with Don trying to rebuild some trust with Sally, but this episode brings things back to that dynamic, the impetus being Sally catching Don in a lie. Sally goes to Sterling Cooper and finds Lou Avery in Don's office and finds out that he hasn't worked there in months. When she later asks Don where he's been during the day, Don lies to Sally and says that he was "at the office." Sally doesn't seem surprised by the deception. But she also does what she's done in the past, which is take on the role of an adult who wants to hear truth from her own father. Sally, like her father, feels boxed in and yearns for something different, but unlike her father there's an ethics to her that yearns for reality over self-delusion. And she is in a lot of ways Don's best confidant. So when Don sits down and tries to explain himself in a "fatherly" way at the diner, it might just be a beginning to digging himself out of the mess.
"Happy Valentine's Day. I love you." —Sally Draper
- The little things: As I've gotten older, I've appreciated more the little things people that I care about have done for me over the years, especially when I was low. You remember the times that people said "I love you," when they didn't have to, and made a bad day brighter. Sally telling her father "I love you" in a casual way as she exists the car is not sweet, or a statement that she trusts and respects her father again. But it's a smidgen of hope for Don, and he needs all the hope he can get.