‘Mad Men’ recap: Everything is uncomfortable


Photo Credit: Michael Yarish/AMC

For a show called “Mad Men,” they’re really giving the good stuff to the ladies this time around, aren’t they?

And you know who’s okay with that? Absolutely everyone, because we’ve been waiting over six seasons for the camera to finally pan over to the three most complex, engaging and likable characters on the show: Joan, Peggy and Sally.

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. When we first see her, she’s in an all-girls school dormitory of sorts and trying to figure out what to wear to a friend’s mother’s funeral. The other girls in the room seem far more aloof to the situation, thus highlighting Sally’s intense maturity, but things really heat up the next day when Sally’s on the train to the funeral with the girls and discovers that she left her purse at a coffee shop or, perhaps more interestingly, a head shop. This leads her to the offices of SC&P, where she runs into Lou, who is a piece of human trash who should be disposed of immediately. (We’ll get to the real meat of that later.)

She’s stumped because Don’s not around, and when she does ask Lou, who’s in Don’s old office, where her father is, he tells her that Don’s not there and maybe asking Joan would be a better idea. Confused, she decides to wander into Don’s dreary, dirty, dilapidated apartment, where Don’s living the life of a sad post grad, Ritz Crackers addiction and all.

Since we’re already in SC&P, we can talk about the Peggy predicament. Last week we left her in a puddle of sad, single-girl tears, and things aren’t much better this episode. A bouquet of roses — it’s Valentine’s Day — are sitting on Shirley’s desk, thus launching FLOWERGATE 1969 in the offices of SC&P, an epic bummer for Peggy and a crash course in the ugly politics of office bouquets.

Thinking they’re from Ted, who just returned to L.A., she immediately yanks the flowers from Shirley’s desk and phones Ted’s assistant with a message full of masked distaste. “Tell him that I relayed his message to the client and there’s nothing he can do. They don’t want to hear any more pitches. The business is gone,” she tells Moira. But the roses aren’t actually from Ted at all. They were sitting on Shirley’s desk because they were from her boyfriend. After a while, Peggy ends up putting the flowers back on Shirley’s desk because she’s so disgusted with the thought that Ted would do such a thing.

Across the office, Joan is having a much less exciting V-Day in a meeting with her fellow agents. They’re on a conference call with Ted and Pete in L.A., and Pete is having a very typical hissy fit about an account he wants to manage. Also, Jim has officially described Don’s relationship with SC&P as a “collective ex-wife who still receives alimony.” Thank you for clearing that one up for us, Harry Hamlin.


Photo Credit: Jordin Althaus/AMC

It’s worth noting here how New York-centric this episode is, with L.A. only being paged or shown one or two times. This week’s show was calmer and less scatterbrained than the disorienting premiere that seemed more visually obsessed than plot-obsessed. Now we can actually sink our teeth into what’s going on and why, as opposed to being concerned about where we are all the time.

The next time we see Sally, she’s in Don’s apartment and we see his “uh-oh” face as he walks in. She explains what happened and asks for Don to write her a note for school. “Just tell the truth,” she says. Ho, ho, ho, if only it was that easy. If Don had just “told the truth,” “Mad Men” would have been wrapped up in two episodes.

Back in SC&P, Lou is yelling at Dawn and Joan. Dawn was absent when Sally came wandering in and Lou, the world’s worst boss, is upset that he had to deal with it. Lou demands that Dawn be moved to the front and starts harassing Joan to do it immediately, during which Joan keeps glancing at the sharpest objects on Lou’s desk. Now, in my dream “Mad Men” sequence, Joan would have looked over at Dawn, winked, grabbed the closest thing resembling a shank, stabbed Lou in the chest and watched him bleed to death. That would have been personally preferable as opposed to the short but strong defense Dawn delivered. (She was out getting perfume for his wife). But I guess we can’t all be writers for “Mad Men.”

Outside of the office, Don drives his daughter back to school, and in a heated altercation with her father, Sally proves to know more about him than anyone else on the show. She asks him if he did indeed lose his job, and when he asks her why she lied, she responds with, “Because it’s more embarrassing for me to catch you in a lie than it is for you to be lying.” Always sipping on that truth tea, that Sally Draper.

The two end up at a diner where Don finally confesses to losing his job. “The reason I didn’t tell you I wasn’t working was because I didn’t want anyone to know,” he says. Really? That’s groundbreaking, Don. Sally didn’t already know that or anything. But this is just another installment of Sally always being in the loop, something that may come to an advantage for her later in the season. The two end up breaking the tension by agreeing to dine and dash, a hallmark event in any highly damaged young girl’s life.

As for FLOWERGATE 1969, it doesn’t end well. After Peggy asks that the flowers be thrown out because she hates looking at them so much, Shirley finally confesses that they were from her boyfriend. Peggy screams that Shirley didn’t tell her on purpose because she wanted to embarrass her. “Grow up,” she says while not being very grown up. This whole situation is disturbing on many levels, mainly because all this time we’ve been rooting for Peggy. Sure, she winces when she gets back into her office, obviously aware of the mess she just made, but what feelings really remain between Peggy and Ted? Ted seems so boring compared to her relatively sweet ex. Obviously there are enough emotions for Peggy to unleash on someone that meant no harm at all, but I’m afraid there can’t be much love on Ted’s end. He had to move across the country to get away from her, but I guess we’ll have to see what happens when they’re together again, whenever that may be.

The episode ends on a high note for Joan. She’s got her hands full with personnel issues and also experiences how racist Mr. Cooper is. He’s against having Dawn up front because “people can see her from the lobby,” but Joan shuts him down. After that, Jim sees Joan in her office and, noting how busy she’s been, offers her a new office on the top floor near Roger. This is a much-deserved promotion for Boss Queen Empress Joan Harris, and the episode ends with her moving in and looking prouder than ever, an appropriate end to an episode that had Joan jumping through so many hoops for other people.

One thing to keep in mind is Betty’s conspicuous absence from the first two episodes. This could either mean a lack of a Betty storyline entirely or a build up to a dramatic, show-stealing plot. Either way, let’s hope for some Betty next week.

As for the jams you heard in this episode: The Turtles’s “Elenore” played in that awkward car conversation between Sally and her father, and “This Will Be Our Year” by The Zombies played at the very end as Don watched his daughter walk back into her boarding house.

There are quite a few elements at work in the title sequence that introduces AMC's hit show, "Mad Men." PostTV breaks them down, play by play. Reporting by Jen Chaney, who spoke to Peter Frankfurt at Imaginary Forces, the production company responsible for the sequence. (Kate M. Tobey and Jhaan Elker/The Washington Post)

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Emily Yahr · April 20, 2014