Mad Men: “A Day’s Work” (7.2) - TV Recap

By Jordan Ferguson


TV Recap: Mad Men: Season 7 Episode 2 - A Day’s Work

April 20, 2014, 10:00 p.m. (EST), AMC

There is some amount of pride in doing a day’s work (at least, an honest one, but we’ll get there). Getting through a workday can be a difficult thing, and making it to the finish line carries with it some satisfaction, or at least, that’s what we tell ourselves to ensure we get out of bed every weekday. “A Day’s Work” sees the workday as something else though, as a pile of small indignities, little chinks in armor that grows more brittle by the day. It sees a day’s work not as a point of pride, but as a thing to be endured, as a constant gauntlet to be run to preserve any sense of your self, your pride, or your values.

Early in any Mad Men season, even in a truncated one like this, there tends to be at least one episode that leans heavier on the plot. This is a series that is at its best when it capitalizes on its pacing to decompress large events (or to play with our expectations by throwing out big, bombastic moments when we least expect). The best episodes of Mad Men are the ones when little may be happening plot wise, but everything is happening just beneath the surface. “A Day’s Work” is as much a table-setting episode as this show ever does, but it still allows plenty of room for meditations on the little lies we tell ourselves to get through the day, and the way that some workdays just beat you down until you lose sight of what you were even doing in the first place.

The biggest lie, of course, is Don Draper’s constant insistence to everyone in his life that he is still working at SC&P. Don’s self-conception is so tied up in his work (and “Don Draper” was, in part, created in furtherance of this work) that he doesn’t know how to act, how to be without his job. So he is doing what he does best: projecting an illusion of professional success and competence to mask the emptiness at his core. Interestingly, he doesn’t lie to Sally, at least not ultimately. At first he tries to feed her the story he is telling everyone else, but when he finds out she knows, he slowly resigns himself to honesty, and the two share a moment of bonding neither seems totally prepared for. Sally has grown to resent her father, in part because she is a teenage girl, and in part because he has given her many reasons to, but deep down, this is still arguably the strongest bond on the entire series. Seeing her dad for who he really is has warped Sally in some way, but it hasn’t destroyed their relationship permanently. In fact, as honesty often does, it has likely opened the door to a better, more fruitful relationship in the future. If “A Day’s Work” is Valentine’s Day, Mad Men-style (with all of the repression and heartbreak that entails), then it is fitting that this episode is a love letter of sorts to the relationship between Don and Sally, a life raft that seemed to have sprung a leak, but one that may yet discover that it can stay afloat.

While Don pretends to be working and vaguely courts and is courted by other agencies, the man who has taken his chair deals with what it means to be even tangentially associated with Don Draper. At this point, Lou Avery is a bit too much of a mustache twirler for my liking. It isn’t that his anger at Don isn’t justified (anyone, ever, being angry at Don is probably somewhat justified), just that the only things we know about Lou so far point to him being an asshole just for the sake of hurting our characters and frustrating the plot. We don’t need Lou to be awful to root for Don to be back at work—television fans are well-accustomed to cheering for a return to the status quo—and if this character is to last beyond the next episode or so, I hope he gets a dimension beyond being awful to women of all ages and races. So far, Lou doesn’t care about Peggy, ousts Dawn from her hard-earned position (though Dawn falls up into Joan’s old job, thanks to Bert Cooper’s racism), and is totally insensitive to Sally for no apparent reason. Lou being an asshole means he is in good company within the offices of SC&P, but the assholes we know are far more compelling than this asshole we don’t.

Meanwhile, Peggy Olson is in a bad way, still smarting over Ted’s betrayal and misinterpreting flowers intended for her secretary Shirley as some coded message from the other coast. As we learned last week, Peggy is being hit from all sides lately, with her personal and professional life having experienced major setbacks. She needs a win, but more than that, she just needs to feel like she has someone on her side. For Peggy, a day’s work is another series of reminders that no one sees her, no one appreciates her, no one validates her pain or credits her successes. She is disappearing in a firm she tried to leave in the first place, outranked by an outsider who couldn’t care less that she is good at her job.

Pete Campbell can commiserate with her on that front. While we first see him actually getting some amorous attention (and how weird is it that Pete is the only one getting some love tonight? I love how much he has taken to California, and how off-putting the idea of a contented Pete Campbell is to me as a viewer) after he lands the Chevy Dealers Association as clients, he is quickly undercut by the New York office and the specter of Bob Benson. Though Peggy is more justified in her feelings, it is Pete, always the whiner, who gives a big speech about feeling unseen tonight (and claims he feels like he is in limbo, which as I discussed last week is likely to be a big metaphor for this set of episodes). And he’s not wrong. None of these characters really see each other, not completely. They are too caught up in maintaining the illusions of themselves as happy, successful, put together people. They are all so focused on keeping their masks in place, they barely have time to notice the full-blown masquerade ball going on around them.

Which brings us back to Don Draper, a man we know needs to be on a path of redemption to escape the purgatory he finds himself in currently. Don Draper was born out of a lie, and he has subsisted on deception and half-truths ever since. But after hitting rock bottom last season, he is starting to reorient towards telling the truth. His first stab at it cost him his job at SC&P, but his second was showing his children a glimpse of who he really is. He does that again tonight, shooting straight with Sally and winning back at least a bit of her loyalty in the process. Tonight, for the first time, maybe ever, Don Draper found his way into a woman’s heart by telling the truth. Sally Draper has always been this show’s conscience, and tonight, she tells Don “I love you.” Don Draper isn’t out of the woods he has found himself in yet, but “A Day’s Work” shows that in honesty, he may find a ray of hope that can guide him out of the in-between he finds himself in currently. The man who has sold existential authenticity as his philosophical belief system may slowly be coming to realize that what he’s been pitching may have more value than he ever imagined. At the beginning of “A Day’s Work,” the one Don is preparing to put in is based entirely on maintaining an illusion. By the end he has pierced that illusion, at least somewhat, and come to terms with the reality. He may even be finding a way to be happier there.

The Roundup

  • -“She has plans. Look at her calendar. February 14th, masturbate gloomily.”
  • -“The strangest things happen to you.”
  • -“Keep pretending. That’s your job.”
  • -“I don’t have to crap on McCann for you, do I?” “I almost worked there. Twice.” “But you didn’t.”
  • -“Is this a partners meeting or the most tedious wireless program I’ve ever heard?”
  • -“Don who? Our collective ex-wife who still collects alimony?”
  • -“Sally, what do I say?” “Just tell the truth.”
  • -“Sometimes I think I died. And I don’t know if I went to heaven or hell, or limbo. No one feels my existence.” “Just cash the checks. You’re going to die some day.”
  • -“Because its more embarrassing for me to catch you in a lie than for you to be lying.”
  • -“Are these some symbols of how much we’re loved? They’re a joke.”
  • -“You have a ring on. We all know you’re engaged. You did not have to embarrass me. Grow up!”
  • -“Our fortunes are in other people’s hands. And we have to take them.”
82/100~ GREAT. “A Day’s Work” is as much a table-setting episode as this show ever does, but it still allows plenty of room for meditations on the little lies we tell ourselves to get through the day, and the way that some workdays just beat you down until you lose sight of what you were even doing in the first place.
Jordan Ferguson is a lifelong pop culture fan, and would probably never leave his couch if he could get away with it. When he isn’t wasting time “studying the law” at the University of Michigan, he writes about film, television, and music. In addition to writing for Next Projection, he is the Editor-in-Chief of Review To Be Named, a homemade haven for pop-culture obsessives. Check out more of his work at , follow him on twitter @bobchanning, or just yell really loudly on the street. Don’t worry, he’ll hear.