'Mad Men' 7.2: Rose-colored roses

All us cool kids know that Valentine’s Day is a bunk, empty-calorie holiday—ginned up by greeting card companies and blah, blah, blah—but that doesn’t mean it can’t be the vehicle for revealing expressions of love and heartache, or the occasional victory.

On Sunday’s Mad Men, we got all of the above, capped by a tentative father-daughter reconciliation that felt both earned and ephemeral.

The episode opens with a glimpse into Don Draper’s (Jon Hamm) daily routine since getting jettisoned from the firm he helped build: Up around noon, Ritz crackers for breakfast (or lunch) while zoning out to The Little Rascals, and marking his progress on a bottle of booze. Was today a good one or bad one? Only the ink will tell.

The crisp-suited, slick-haired Draper finally emerges at 8 p.m. to welcome former secretary Dawn (Teyonah Parris), making a house call with the latest office gossip. As soon as she leaves—declining both coffee and rolls of cash pressed into her palm—Draper loosens the tie he knotted for her benefit and turns the television back on. To make it sound like anyone else is home.

This is what depression looks like when you’re a mostly unemployed tastemaker whose tastes no longer matter.

That’s not to say there aren’t those who miss Don. When former boss and enabler Roger Sterling (John Slattery) prances off the elevator, tickled to tell someone that an old lady just called him a “kike,” he has to settle for Don’s humorless replacement, Lou Avery, who barely registers an expression before going back to his paper. Don would have at least smirked.

And both Roger and Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) sure could have used Don to carry their water during a comically bi-coastal partners’ meeting, in which Pete’s big automotive association account is shelved pending approval by people who don’t like him. Pete’s new Los Angeles girlfriend, a blond realtor with her own ambitions, offers only tough love: “Our fortunes are in other people’s hands. And we have to take them,” she says.

Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss), meanwhile, has her own issues. Teased by her ad team in the elevator for forgetting Valentine’s Day—“She has plans,” deadpans copywriter Michael Ginsberg (Ben Feldman). “Look at her calendar. ‘February 14: Masturbate gloomily.'”—Peggy is so blinded by mixed feelings for married former boss Ted Chaough (Kevin Rahm) that she assumes the bouquet of roses on her secretary’s desk are for her, not, you know, her secretary.

Speaking of, poor Shirley. She’s just learning that, in the swinging-'60s era of Mad Men, it’s the administrative staff that suffers the most. The scenes between her and Dawn, the only black employees at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce & Partners, have a Rosencrantz & Guildenstern vibe, but sadder. They cheekily call each other by the other’s name, no doubt mimicking the insensitive mix-ups that occur at the office.

Besides the casual racism—founding partner Bert Cooper (Robert Morse) quashes an attempt to put Dawn up front by complaining, “People can see her from the elevator.”—there’s the grief they get for standing up for themselves. Both are moved off their desks—Shirley for summoning the courage to tell Peggy the flowers are hers, and Dawn for calling boss Lou out on his insensitivity.

And so it went for much of the hour. It seemed like Sunday’s funny, frustrating, phenomenal ep was shaping up to deliver a double-dose of cynicism that can be defined thusly:

  1. Mad Men's characters acquire only enough power to make each other miserable, not enough to make themselves happy.

  2. And speaking truth to power just gets you punished, whether you’re a black secretary in 1969 New York or a white teenage girl with a secretive rake for a father.

Regarding the latter, what a joy it was to see wise-beyond-her-years Sally Draper (Kiernan Shipka) return to the fold. At the end of last season, Sally caught her dad in a compromising position with a woman who wasn’t his (second) wife. How fitting that she returned to expose yet another of Don’s secrets.

Forced to seek him out after losing her purse at a classmate’s mother’s funeral, Sally discovers Don’s murky employment situation during an awkward confrontation with that prick Lou. But it isn’t until a tense car ride with her father that the revelation spills out.

“Why would you just let me lie to you like that?” a bristling Don wonders.

“Because it’s more embarrassing for me to catch you in a lie than it is for you to be lying,” Sally replies. She knows from experience.

In a last-ditch effort at patching their relationship, Don stops at a restaurant Sally doesn’t want to be at and, eventually, owns up to his latest transgression. “I didn’t behave well,” he explains when asked about his dismissal. “I told the truth about myself. But it wasn’t the right time. And so they made me take some time off. And I was ashamed.”

Those are hard words for Don to parse out, which makes it all the meaningful that he does. And Sally, up until then an insurmountable wall of judgment, softens with each morsel of truth.

The scenes between Don and Sally have always ranked among my favorite on Mad Men. So much gets said in the halting silences, in the way Don studies his daughter with worried curiosity and the way Sally scrutinizes her father for clues—for reasons to forgive.

It seems she found enough this evening.

Before exiting her father’s car, Sally pauses. “Happy Valentine’s Day. I love you,” she blurts, then seals the door and scampers up the steps.

The line pulls Don up short. It’s a fleeting moment of grace that Don may not think he deserves, but one that he—and the viewers—damn well needed.

Grade: A

Final thoughts
-That scene where Pete, ahem, enters his realtor girlfriend on his desk, and she coos, “You’re such a big deal.” Am I right?

-Dawn seemed to catch a well-deserved break at the end, when Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks) accepts an accounting promotion and gives her old personnel manager gig to the knocked-around secretary. I can’t wait to see the looks on Bert and Lou’s faces.

Previous episode recap
Mad Men 7.1

Our content is free, but not free to produce

If you value our local news, arts and entertainment coverage, become an SN&R supporter with a one-time or recurring donation. Help us keep our reporters at work, bringing you the stories that need to be told.


Stay Updated

For the latest local news, arts and entertainment, sign up for our newsletter.
We'll tell you the story behind the story.