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The Best of This Week’s Mad Men Recaps: ‘A Day’s Work’

Elisabeth Moss as Peggy Olson - Mad Men _ Season 7, Episode 2 - Photo Credit: Michael Yarish/AMC

While last week's season seven premiere was relatively downbeat, Mad Men picked up the energy this week, giving us one of the show's more traditionally comedic episodes to date. As Esquire's Tom Junod wrote, “Weiner has always been good at following up a bummer of an episode with an antic, effervescent one,” while Vulture recapper Matt Zoller Seitz called it a “great episode ... full of acute character insights and bits of thematic connective tissue that didn't immediately announce themselves as such.” This "Valentine's Day," we spent some quality time with Dawn, fell in love with Sally Draper all over again, and learned to always leave a card when sending flowers. Your recap of the recaps:

But what really made this episode for us was another highly satisfying exploration of the greatest, most important relationship Don Draper’s life; the one he has with his daughter Sally. All of the most poignant, infuriating, and heartbreaking episodes have centered around this relationship. And to Don’s amazement (and that was a look of raw amazement on his face at the end), it turns out that the only thing he needed to repair what looked like an irreparably damaged relationship was some actual, no-bullshit honesty for once. That moment of Hershey-whorehouse conference room honesty of last season cost him everything; making manifest that which he always feared the most: If people found out the truth about him, his life would be destroyed. But here’s Sally, the only person in his life willing to angrily point out his bullshit and get him to actually listen to her. We think the central question of these season was the one posed in its opening seconds by Freddie Rumsen: “Do you have time to change your life?” With one short moment of honesty, Don managed to do that. “Happy Valentine’s Day. I love you” is the most loving, beautiful thing anyone has ever said to him, loaded as it was with forgiveness of his many flaws and transgressions. —Tom and Lorenzo

What I’m most intrigued by is the way that this episode is willing to almost casually make Peggy Olson — usually the character who seems to win the most fan sympathy (give or take a Joan) — into a horrible person. It’s tempting to read this all as Peggy feeling alone on Valentine’s Day and thereby giving in to some pretty terrible stories about women who try to have it all and end up with nothing. But all we have to do is look down the hall to see the self-evidently awful Lou (who is, no joke, one of my favorite characters in Mad Men history at this point) to see why she’s so beaten up inside at the turns her life has taken. —The A.V. Club

Just as Sally catches him in a lie about what he’s been up to, Don catches her in a lie about just how much she knows, and the two spend several minutes trying to out-Draper one another until Matthew Weiner and company bust out some character development. Sally seems perfectly content to lord parental disappointment over his head, as she does with Betty, but when Don confronts her about his current situation, she admits that seeing her father for who he really is legitimately traumatized her (to say nothing of the fact that he was totally doin’ it with the neighbor). “It’s more embarrassing for me to catch you in a lie than for you to be lying,” she tells him. —Time

Don is certainly adrift, eating Ritz crackers out of the box while watching random TV shows. But soon we see evidence that Don is trying to pull himself together and face reality: He marks his bottle of liquor so he won’t drink anymore (at home, anyway). He meets with Dawn to hear about the goings-on at the office, and he’s extremely considerate of her feelings, which he certainly hasn’t been in the past. —Salon

But we expect random dudes in offices in 1969 to be heels. Seeing Peggy act just as badly as Lou, if not worse, was a disappointment. She was disappointed in herself, too, or so says that grimace she made in the privacy of her own office. The opening misunderstanding, when she takes Shirley’s roses and then thinks she “understands” that they are from Ted, was excruciating and funny, a classic case of Peggy outsmarting herself. —Slate 

Eight paragraphs into a Mad Men review and we've barely mentioned Don Draper, who, metaphorically speaking, spent most of the episode sleeping in and eating crackers on the couch. As a functionally unemployed character in an hour built around workplace dynamics, he's still out in the cold; Don has lunch with a colleague, but not that kind of a lunch. If last week's episode was about Don acting out his many selves, this one's about who he is when he's offstage, and if he exists at all. It's less a mid-life crisis than a much-delayed adolescence: Last week, the moving-walkway sequence likened him to The Graduate's Benjamin Braddock. This week, he talks to Sally less like a father to his daughter and more as one peer to another. It's as if his infamous Hershey-pitch meltdown not only revealed his childhood but brought him back to it, and he's been working his way forward ever since. —Rolling Stone

So, let me just start with this: Thank god for Sally Draper. In her first appearance this season, she manages to morph the discourse from sad white men getting away with things to smart women figuring it out and getting answers. —Washington Post

The sun sets and Don has spruced up in a sharp suit, hurrying to tidy up the apartment before a guest arrives. He appears nervous, like a man embarking on a first date. But when the doorbell rings, it isn’t a romantic interest that greets him — rather, it is his SC&P secretary Dawn, who evidently has agreed to keep her boss up to date on the happenings at the ad firm while he’s on leave. After giving Don news and paperwork from SC&P (and never moving past the entryway of the apartment), Dawn heads back out for the night. Don tugs his tie loose and appears dejected — we realize his ensemble and clean apartment were all show for his secretary, and he is back to his lonely life. —Mashable

Despite landing the Chevy dealerships association account, Pete finds in a conference call that nothing has changed. Those disembodied New York voices are still controlling his fate. Pete, the craven, soulless embodiment of empty corporate yearning, has lost his purpose. An accounts man in a profession built on creating need, he doesn’t even know what to covet anymore. “Sometimes I think maybe I died,” he says. —New York Times

For the partners, secretaries and everyone in between at SC&P, Valentine's Day 1969 isn't a day where anything of value is accomplished, save for shuttling assignments from one desk to another (or from one office to another). Some characters wind up in a better position by the end of the day than where they began it — Joan moving upstairs to be with the other account men, Dawn in turn becoming the new head of personnel — but both those who fall and those who rise do so largely at the whims of more powerful, inscrutable people. HitFix

Don is now referred to as a woman, specifically derided with comparison to a pestering, hysterical ex-wife. He cried at a meeting about chocolate, and the company decided to go another way. There’s no crying in baseball, and it’s all baseball. Don spends his workless days bored and lounging around the house like Betty used to do. He is trying to hold off on booze, so he’s been overdoing it with TV and junk food. He combats loneliness by leaving the TV on all the time, keeping himself surrounded with parasocial friends. (Remember when Don used to read books?) Maybe a 2014 Don would watch prestige television dramas, but he’d probably also watch a lot of dreck, just like the rest of us. —Grantland

This wasn’t about malaise. This was Mad Men in full comic mode ...Weiner has always been good at following up a bummer of an episode with an antic, effervescent one. Indeed, tonight we might have seen the Mad Men equivalent of "The Bizarro Jerry," full of doppelgängers and mistaken identities, were it not for Don, and Dawn. Sure, Dawn and Shirley call each other Shirley and Dawn. But it’s one thing recognizing that as far as their co-workers are concerned, they might as well be interchangeable; it’s quite another being treated interchangeably. Is Cooper a racist? Yes; and so is Lou Avery. But that’s the way it went tonight — it’s all fun and games, until someone gets hurt, or someone else does the hurting. —Esquire 

One could easily assume this week's "Mad Men" was less about Don than the supporting characters. But this is Don's world and everyone else is just living in it. Peggy's woes are in part because of her own inability to accept who she is (Don's well-groomed successor). The kicker to Sally's storyline was telling her father she loves him. The only character whose progress isn't solely related to Don Draper is Dawn — though her ascension in the ranks should please him considering how eager he is for the detailed inside scoop — a notable twist considering the association they've shared since we first heard the feminine version of Don's name: Don/Dawn. —IndieWire

This episode was all about how the tiniest, seemingly innocuous disturbances can throw off the orbit of a person’s life, sending him or her careening off and colliding into other people’s paths: a misplaced purse, a malfunctioning conference-call box, a love note removed from a vase of flowers. (And that’s what Mad Men is so, so good at: the inevitable yet somehow still surprising consequences of actions we don’t think matter at the time.) It seems Sally came crashing into Don’s ever-more-depressing little universe at just the right moment, offering him what might be the most unconditional love he’s ever known. —The Atlantic

We saw a scruffy, robe-wearing, boozing Don put on his full Don Draper drag, from hair to tie to shoes, just to briefly greet Dawn at the door. She knows he's not working, so he's not literally trying to fool her, but it was fascinating to see Don trying so hard to maintain the illusion of his status to an audience consisting solely of his black secretary, whom he appears to trust a great deal, meaning it probably really was for her benefit, and not to avoid gossip. That gussying-up process demonstrated a strange, twisted respect for her — and concern over what she thinks — to which it would probably be hard for him to admit. —NPR

And there is a dark, miasmic cloud of racism drifting around SC&P, the first extended time we've dealt with the civil rights movement on this show aside from Paul Kinsey's dating life. Bert bans non-white secretaries from the lobby, and we suspect Lou's general assholery sources in part to Dawn's race. He treats her more like a housekeeper, sending her on frequent personal errands and excoriating her for not being around to greet visitors. —GQ

Bravado-filled lunches and afternoons in front of the TV aside, Don isn't quite sure how to fix his life or move forward. And it's a sign of progress that he doesn't try to spin Sally or make things sound better than they are. The show might move at a glacial pace in some ways — it's not unusual to see Don and other characters go around in circles over the course of multiple seasons — but it's a sign of progress that Don told Sally that his actions and deceptions made him feel "ashamed." The Don of Season 1 never would have admitted that to anyone, perhaps not even himself. —Huffington Post

Photo: Michael Yarish/AMC