TV Review: Mad Men – Season 7 Episode 2 “A Day’s Work” (USA, 2014)

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The Mad Men writing crew, whether this is planned or not, seem to always include one or two choice lines per episode that seem to sum up the theme (which certainly makes it fun to write about). Season 7’s second episode A Day’s Work had this line coming from Ted Chaough to Pete; “Just cash the cheques; you’re gonna die someday” We’re only two episodes in and this seems like the starkest season of Mad Men to date, which is saying something- we’re all just heading towards our eventual deaths, so why not get a result out what we can when we can.

This is advice Don could certainly learn from, as we see him truly embracing the ‘no one lives with me and I’m unemployed’ lifestyle… eating crackers and watching TV. Could this Don, meandering about his house and trying (and failing) to keep his alcoholism in check be a further cry from the Don we’ve come to know? As the show’s gone on, the Draper persona is becoming less and less the norm for Dick Whitman. The man who sat on his balcony in the winter cold? Whitman. The man spilling cracker crumbs on his dressing gown at 1 in the afternoon? Definitely Whitman. Even his family is getting a glimpse, when Sally and Don share a moment in the diner.

Don and Sally have always had one of the most fascinating relationships in the show, and this particular episode had them both delivering brilliance. Their initial interactions between one another here, were driven by lies. They were both hiding something, unaware the other knew. Compared to the Draper point of view we were given for most of the season’s premiere, here we are given a more objective vantage point; Don can’t keep hiding everything from his family and doing so is becoming increasingly difficult and cringe worthy. It is only in coming clean, not even entirely- just about his recent activities, that a point of healing can be reached. The conversation about his time off and his shame would be powerful were it even between a normal father and daughter, yet for Don to admit his weaknesses to the child who caught him mid-affair, is a big move for him. These are the small pieces that will make or break Draper by the season’s end. The final “Happy Valentine’s Day, I love you” from Sally will surely go down as one of the most heart wrenching lines of the entire series.

Outside of the Draper family- the ‘cash the cheques’ line, from Ted, is at the time directly targeted to Pete in an attempt to calm him down about his perceived lack of influence in the business. Pete has landed a great account, and for once even has Roger on his side, yet the rest of the partners seem to forget his presence in favour of a long standing account that may take issue with it. After the lethargy of the season’s premiere, there’s something exciting to see the business side of the show get moving.

The episodes of Mad Men we tend to remember are the major ones; the unification of the agencies, deaths, the lawnmower one etc. Yet the episodes that make the fabric of the show are, really, the ones like this. The episodes where we see the business working and taking its toll on people, and seeing the general change from the early 60s to the late 60s. Change is often bandied about as being a key concept for all of Mad Men, along with identity, and it is hard to deny how noteworthy certain changes are in this episodes. The conclusion sees Dawn taking over the role that Joan had when the season begun, and sees new secretary Shirley taking a stand regardless of her skin. This is not 1962, and the show knows it. The changes, whether massive in scale like the civil rights movement, or small such as Don and Sally’s reconciliation, are felt with more weight than ever knowing  These changes are coming to a head in 1969, despite Nixon’s presidency, and where it takes Sterling Cooper & Partners is exciting and depressing for countless reasons.

Loose End Observations:

  • Kiernan Shipka has moved from strength to strength as Sally, and this season looks to continue that. Her cautiousness in the diner with her father was aching real, and her final line to him was perfectly innocent from her point of her, making it all the more powerful with the way Hamm received it as her father.
  • Peggy took an interesting turn this episode… how it will pay off is yet to be seen, though having her so affected by Ted belies her powerful a woman she really is. In a way it’s humanising, yet it’s also more cringe on the pile.
  • Are the Sterling Cooper originals being sidelined in the new agency? Roger and Bert seem like they’re being ignored/outrunned by ever vigilant Ted and Jim “I get my way” Cutler… Sterling, Cooper “and partners” indeed.
  • Oh Bert, you racist Ayn Rand loving fool.

Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Mad Men airs Mondays, 4:35pm (repeated 8:35pm) on showcase