'Mad Men' recap: Lies, lies, lies (and an 'I love you')
Grab a cigar and pour yourself an Old Fashioned. Each week, Times TV mavens Michelle Stark -- a young go-getter in the Peggy Olson mold -- and Sean Daly -- the Roger Sterling-esque, smiling-through-the-chaos smartaleck -- will vigorously debate Sunday night's episode of Mad Men.
DON AND SALLY
Sean: Let's be honest about this ep dealing in dishonesty, Michelle: It wasn't the most riveting hour, especially after last week's woe-is-us premiere. This one was a table-setter, which, considering this season is the Grand Finale, is a little frustrating. Let's get this train wreck a-rollin'!
That said, the Don and Sally, father and daughter, relationship -- always one of the most complex on Mad Men -- was a heartbreaker, especially that closing line: "Happy Valentine's Day. I love you." Always more drawn to her old man than vacuous mom Betty, Sally was so casual and earnest in her feelings (not exactly a Don specialty), it caught our anti-hero totally off-guard. I was waiting for the waterworks! (Have we ever seen Don cry, by the way?) I won't bring my messy lil' life into this, but as the Dad of two preteen girls, there is a bare-bones honesty you have with your daughters. Because why lie, why front -- this is home. Sally, she of the exceptional eyebrows and budding smoking habit, is wary of her Dad, doesn't understand him, but she loves him all the same. The restaurant scene was packed with subtext: Don doesn't want Sally going to funerals, primarily his own. Plus what was up with the dine-and-dash joke? Was he testing her? Or was he just showing -- with that slow pull of cash from his still robust wallet -- that Papa's not a hobo quite yet?
Michelle: Sean, as someone who used to be a preteen girl, I couldn't agree more about the profound Don-Sally relationship. Or about her killer eyebrows. The love between them is certainly the most meaningful relationship Don has ever had. (And yes, we have seen Don cry a few times, I believe. He cried back when Anna Draper died, and he broke down last season after Sally caught him with Sylvia.) I especially loved the restaurant scene, for the way Sally is totally uninterested in Don until he starts dealing in honesty. (The dine-and-dash gag? Likely a way to show Sally her dad still has some dollar bills in that wallet, but it also showed something in Don we see less than the crying: a sense of humor.) And man, how fantastic is Jon Hamm in this scene? That little laugh before he says he doesn't know how to fix his life, that furrowed brow conveying 1,000 emotions, that sly look he gives Sally when he reaches for his wallet. Great acting.
Also, how about Don asking Sally in the car why she let him lie to her? Yikes. They have one messed up relationship, but there's never been more honesty between the two than there is right now. She could be Don's way out of this mess.
And yes, last night's episode, "A Day's Work" (irony!), was definitely slower than the premiere, but it's worth noting that every season of Mad Men typically takes three or four episodes to build up to something big - will that be the case this year? And will that momentum be hurt by the 7-7 episode split of this final season?
PEGGY (or: You don't bring me flowers...)
Sean: On the surface, Peggy mistaking the roses as a make-nice from milquetoast Ted was comical. We've all gone through the head-case game of breakups: misreading signs, or maybe wanting to read into things too hard. Is she still in love with him? Or maybe lonely Peggy just longs to be loved by anyone? (We're told that Ted mopes around, so maybe he's still hankering, too. Reconciliation?) But if you're talking about chess pieces for the rest of the season, the wrong roses could ultimately get Peggy closer to Don, especially if promoted Dawn, DD's "inside woman," spends more time with Peggy. And maybe, as has slyly been teased, Don and Peggy will branch off and start a shiny new firm. I dunno, total guesswork. But Lou Avery is obvz not a Peggy fan, Roger is butting heads, etc. You never know...
Michelle: For an episode that took place during Valentine's Day, there's certainly no love to be found between anyone in the office: Roger and Jim are bickering, Lou doesn’t want to work with Dawn, Peggy and Shirley are caught up in all sorts of awkwardness. Yes, the roses mix-up threatened to become a little too comical, but was redeemed by Peggy's continued frustration and that sad face-scrunch in her office. Peggy definitely still has feelings for Ted, is still bitter he left her and, as even she admits, isn't able to get any work done because of it. As much as I hate to see Peggy in such a bad place, I love how this plot emphasizes just how young she is, how she's remained inexperienced in love and life even though she's advanced rapidly within the company.
Michelle: Pete Campbell's hairline is not actor Vincent Kartheiser's hairline. So what the show does with it is usually a good indicator of Pete's state of mind. Last season, it severely receded as he became increasingly pathetic. Last week, it was positively floppy, echoing his new hippie vibrations. This week, while not as harsh as season 6, his part is more firmly in place as he takes a few steps back from that Hippie Preppy Chic look toward regular ol' arrogant Pete. He's back to wallowing in self-righteous indignation, too, going so far as to tell Ted, the only other person working in his California office, that they won't be speaking anymore. You know, like a 5-year-old.
Sean: Hamm's Draper is such a good-looking, put-together fella (even if it's just for opening the door for Dawn -- keeping up appearances), it's always perversely funny seeing him in disarray. You know, like watching the Little Rascals, munching Ritz crackers and watching symbolic roaches cruise by.
Sean: I happened to really, really enjoy Bonnie Whiteside's randy Realtor mini-dress. Yikes! Bonnie knows how to play the world, and she definitely has Pete wrapped. She's gonna chew Mr. Excitable up eventually, a smart, savvy go-getter with her head on straight. Dare I call her a female Bob Benson? Oh, and her quote: "An act of God, Pete. That's when you know things are really against you." Remember that line for sure, especially when all hell hopefully breaks loose.
Michelle: I adore Bonnie Whiteside, and the way she set Pete straight with her working girl speech. Any comparisons to Bob Benson are encouraged.
MVP OF THE NIGHT
Michelle: Dawn, for her gracious appearance at Don's apartment and for telling off that racist, sexist dirtbag Lou Avery. Also, major props to Dawn's pal Shirley (congrats on the engagement!) for telling Peggy the truth about the roses and also for putting every other character to shame with her amazing wardrobe. Also love the way Dawn and Shirley call each other by the other's name as a way of joking about how they’re mistaken all the time in the office, being the only two black people to work there.
Also, shout-out to Joan for her brand new office. Power play by Jim Cutler or a real recognition of her talent? Eh, either way, we'll take it!
Sean: "Just tell the truth." -- Sally to Don
Then, later: "I told the truth about myself, but it wasn't the right time." -- Don to Sally
Michelle: “Hard to believe your cat has the money.” -- Stan to Peggy, re: roses