Valentine’s Day is perilous at work.
Who’s loved, who’s lonely, who has plans, who has no idea what day it is — you don’t need an episode of The Office to know the office is dangerous on Feb. 14.
The second episode of the seventh season of Mad Men was all about the intrusion of public and private into each other. Never more so than when a batch of long-stem roses gets an identity crisis and dives in and out Peggy’s office, or a last-minute perfume run creates a gap in the who-should-be-where train.
When, precisely, does your business become other people’s business?
It’s interesting how in the above question “business” means “personal affairs,” i.e. the very opposite of business. On Mad Men, of course, the phrase often means “ongoing money and professional relationship” as well, as in “we want to get GM’s business,” but in any industry, it’s important to remember that the players are people. Your business associates have their own business.
We join Don on an afternoon of whiskey, crackers, and cockroaches. Gross. Happy Valentine’s Day on Easter, everyone! He cleans up, however, to look busy and professional when Dawn arrives with food and gossip (when the professional intrudes on the personal). Though he’s getting more than they intended, no doubt, it turns out this move is sanctioned by SC&P, as part of Don’s “alimony” while he’s on leave.
Once Don is officially fired, he can seek new employment, but Joan, Roger and Bert are smart enough not to let go of a hot commodity until they’re sure they want to. Better Don Draper get paid working for no one than for someone else.
And right they are, because the headhunters have heard the beating of the drums. Don is “taking lunches,” as they say. Sorry, Freddy Rumsen, but this award-winning, conference room-dominating sales machine might never be damaged goods the way you are damaged goods.
The subtext is that both Don and his former coworkers would rather have him back in that corner office, so poor Dawn is the lifeline. How Don’s return might be affected by his no doubt contract-violating work with Freddy is a question for another time.
Much noise has been made about Don (Juan)’s mistresses, but let’s pause to consider the fates of his many secretaries: promoted (Peggy), fired, married Roger, slept with and thus quit, died, and now Dawn, who, through twists of fate and office shuffling, might just be bringing the cycle back to promotion as “the new Joan.” She’s smart, friendly, beautiful, and she has a feel for how the place runs, so that harpsichord-shaped desk could suit her just fine, even if the path to it was less than smooth.
I hope Matthew Weiner isn’t taking a turn toward easy villains (the way Ted developed would seem to indicate hell no), but we do all hate Avery, right? Cutler could well prove a dangerous man, but Lou Avery is just a heel. He doesn’t out-and-out tell Sally Draper that her daddy was fired when she wanders in, but he does blame everyone but himself for conflict, even while spewing negativity.
Mad Men has caught a lot of heat for how fleetingly it deals with some aspects of 1960s society, in particular the huge changes of civil rights and the African-American experience, but I think that criticism is unfair. Thirtieth-floor Madison Avenue is a pretty insulated place (Remember Wall Street’s reaction to the Occupy movement? It was to take a different commute route.), and Roger Sterling doesn’t care what’s happening in Alabama or Arkansas so long as people still buy things.
The show’s black characters suffered this week for the caprices and shortcomings of its white ones, especially Peggy (who knew she was wrong) and Avery (who knew no such thing). Public displays of affection cost.
The other time we purposefully bring our feelings out in public? Funerals.
Don, who once literally buried his own name, hates Sally going to memorials (she wasn’t allowed at her grandfather’s), but a roommate’s mother’s service had a healthy, normal effect on her: it made her want to reach out to family. Her family, however, has always been a houseboat: often fun to live with, but be careful where you leave it.
Confronting Daddy Draper about his lies has a wonderful effect: this time he tells the truth. I’m going to try not to imagine the final, great scenes of this episode to be more than they are, but the best-case scenario of what we’re seeing has Don trying to be a good father (!), cleverly drawing his daughter in by treating her like an adult.
He tells her he’s ashamed, which is true and automatically eliciting of pity, and that he didn’t want anyone to know he’s on leave, so that it’s a secret she must keep and they are co-conspirators. The dinner scene is a contrast to the classic season three ep “The Gypsy and the Hobo” wherein Betty Draper finally learns her husband’s dirty secret. Betty was trolling for ammo, though; Sally just wants the truth.
Sally knows the dirty, dirty underside of being Don Draper, she knows it right down to the smell of his mistress’ hairspray, so when she asks what “truth” he told (what personal detail) that got him in trouble at work (professional sphere), he can respond, nothing she didn’t already know.
Here’s something I didn’t already know: Sally loves her dad.
Some final thoughts:
— Yellow roses, like the kind Roger gave Joan, are the cleanest, friendliest, least heavy-with-symbolism color to send. Is he playing it safe, dipping a toe in, or really just sending them for their son? Shirley’s red ones mean romantic love and nothing else.
— Our ghost of the week, for me anyways, is Gleason. Remember the Cutler-Chaough partner who barely lived past the merger? I think of his daughter whenever Cutler slides into frame.
— What a change in California! Next week I’m going to focus in part on Pete Campbell, a character who has only gotten more interesting as the show’s progressed. But for now let’s say: California is a place people go to find themselves.