Mad Men 7×02 ‘A Day’s Work’: “Just tell the truth”

Mad Men 7x02 Cover

Why is it that change is so hard to adapt to?  Is it that change involves losing a portion of one’s identity, filling that void with something foreign and potentially damaging?  Is it that change involves acknowledging that one is inching ever closer to death?  Or is it that change involves diving into the unknown, no idea what is to come?  We see in “A Day’s Work” again that preoccupation with time, the idea that so much change can occur in a day, that keeping up with it means navigating a minefield.  It’s so easy to be left behind by those around you, not only because you’re unwilling to adapt to forward motion, but also because people always want to be ahead.  They always want to be in power.

Mad Men 7x02-1

Source: AMC

One of the largest stories in the episode involves all of the change going on at SC&P on Valentine’s Day.  All of this change involves petty power games that aim to empower those who are insecure in exchange for the disempowerment of whoever is unlucky enough to become a scapegoat.  Lou, the man who took Don’s position, feels lesser because he has to share Dawn with Don, a man who doesn’t even technically work for the company.  Peggy makes a foolish mistake in thinking that Shirley’s flowers were meant for her as a gift from Ted.  Both are people hung up on their insecurities, and both are people capable of twisting around those underneath them in order to shield themselves from their failures.  Dawn is kicked off of Lou’s desk and Shirley is kicked off of Peggy’s.  Further accentuating this oppression as a result of power structure is the fact that Dawn and Shirley are both black women, people that have to struggle even harder in order to achieve any sort of progress, yet people who can easily be knocked down if the (white) empowered will it.

Mad Men 7x02-4

Source: AMC

We see how change, even among the secretarial staff, can be utilized in order to shift power structures to one’s advantage.  One of the predominant themes from last season was how change can occur without one’s knowledge and consent, and how sometimes people don’t notice the change until the world around them is unrecognizable.  Here, we see the Chaough-Gleason-Cutler faction within SC&P gaining power as a result of the conflict within the company.  Cutler is able to offer Joan a promotion after noticing that she’s doing more work than necessary, placing Dawn in her place after Joan accepts.  He’s subtly but effectively converting those from the Sterling-Cooper faction over to his side.  All of this is indirectly caused by the vacuum created by Don’s absence, as it detracted from the power that the Sterling-Cooper faction held, a power that is primarily held by Sterling at this point.  And we see how Sterling is growing weaker in his position, how he’s beaten down by his own failures.  An interesting thing to consider is how the episode frames both Sterling and Cutler, how they’re both often on opposing sides of the shot, the middle always empty.  “A Day’s Work” brilliantly utilizes deft visual cues in order to clue us into the notion that these two are at odds with one another, that they’re vying for some sort of leadership position over the rest of the company.

Mad Men 7x02-3

Source: AMC

The other half of the episode deals with Don and his struggle to find truth.  We see how unwilling Don is to accept reality, how he struggled immensely to deal with the truth of his situation in “Time Zones”.  Here, he’s in talks with other agencies about gaining employment there, where he has to subtly dance around admitting to mistakes he made while at SC&P.  Even now, he’s not entirely able to shed his past because he still assumes the role of Don Draper.  The truth he admitted during “In Care Of” at the end of last season was Dick Whitman’s truth, and even though Don is willing to own up to some of that truth, he’s not even close to able to own up to all of it.  He’s also lying to Megan about his work status and his intentions away from her, as he spends half of the day in New York sleeping and the other half of the day eating Ritz crackers and waiting for Dawn or Freddy to update him.  Don, for all of his progress, has really only made a baby step.

So how do these two stories connect?  The SC&P story brings context to Don’s struggles.  He wants to return to SC&P, but so much is changing so quickly that he doesn’t even know what he’s returning to anymore.  But what has changed in Don’s life that he has the capacity to keep up with?  His family.  Considering how Sally and Don had their moment at the end of last season, it’s certainly interesting to see how little yet how much that moment matters now.  Sally has grown up with a very distorted view of how to deal with emotions, and having Don as a negative influence for so long cannot be so simply dismissed.  When Don lies to her about being at the office, their relationship starts to deteriorate once more because she sees the same man she’s seen for the majority of her life.

Side Note: One of the most interesting parallels between the two major storylines is the notion that the “powerful” is caught being facetious and isn’t immediately corrected.  It’s fascinating to see the role reversal there, how the “powerless” has the power to comprehend reality while the “powerful” are left to sputter.  The reason that Don and Peggy are so angry about this is because neither wants to feel powerless.  Neither wants to admit that they aren’t always in control.

Mad Men 7x02-2

Source: AMC

But, eventually, Don admits to Sally the reality of his situation.  He admits that he’s without his job right now, how he’s living separate from Megan for half of the time.  It’s a jarring scene to be sure, not because it’s disturbing or anything, but because Don rarely ever treats anybody as if they are capable of handling his truth.  To spread your truth is to open yourself up to vulnerability, and that has been something that Don just isn’t willing to do.  But because he is, Sally is able to reveal that she’s experiencing insecurities as well.  She’s nervous about death after dealing with her roommate’s mother’s funeral, something that she tried to delude herself from through shopping.  In expressing her own capacity for delusion, in comparing it to his, they’re able to bond.  At the end of the day, she’s able to tell him that she loves him.

As of right now, Season 7 is off to a fantastic start.  “A Day’s Work” is a vast improvement over the season’s premiere, not only coming together with a strong thematic cohesion, but also offering a variety of angles on a variety of well-established themes.  It is the kind of Mad Men episode that shows off the full potential of what the show is capable of, and every scene, every line operates with a multifaceted complexity.

“A Day’s Work” shows us a Don who is occasionally able to keep up with the change that he sees.  The question is: Can he handle the rest of the pain that’ll be thrown at him as he continues to change?

So, what did you think of “A Day’s Work”?  Did you see it as an improvement over the premiere?  Let me know what you think!

Michael St. Charles

is just a Michigan State University grad who loves a good story. If he’s not off teaching the young ones how to solve quadratic functions or to write an expository essay, he’s watching old-school HBO shows, indie horror movies, or he’s playing Resident Evil 4.

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