Mad Men "A Day's Work" Review: The Truth Will Set You Free... Eventually

By MaryAnn Sleasman

Apr 21, 2014

Mad Men S07E02: "A Day's Work"

It was just another day at the office on Mad Men this week. Don slept until noon on a Thursday. Cutler casually promoted Joan to an upstairs "account man" office. Peggy continued to steadily spiral toward a nervous breakdown—and while, to some extent, it's been a long time coming for her, I'm having a hard time enjoying much of anything that Peggy gets up to this season. The Valentine's Day flower mix-up was slap-sticky, and Peggy's over-the-top response was petty. But since Peggy hasn't been in her right mind yet this season, in a roundabout way, Batshit Crazy Peggy works. 

"A Day's Work" was a busy episode, featuring an extended secretary shuffle and a 100-percent more racist Bert Cooper. Dawn may no longer be the only black employee at SC&P, but Shirley's addition to the team is hardly a symbol of a more progressive working environment—at least not a willing one, anyway. It's easy to sometimes forget that the reason Dawn was hired in the first place was basically a publicity stunt gone wrong, and "A Day's Work" went a long way toward reminding us that Dawn and Shirley's presence at SC&P isn't always seen as a positive thing by their co-workers. On the surface, they appear to take things in stride: joking with one another about how the rest of the staff apparently gets the two of them confused, putting up with the whimsical relocations at Peggy and Lou's requests. However, their willingness to simply go with the flow for the sake of keeping their jobs is waning. They know how crummy their co-workers are, and while it's awesome that Joan apparently bestowed Dawn with her old Head of Personnel title—complete with an office and everything—I hope it was a sincere gesture and isn't later revealed to be a backhanded effort to shuffle Dawn out of sight of the elevators, per Bert's request. 

At the heart of SC&P's Valentine's Day of Misery, the question of honesty colored everything, from Peggy and Shirley's sitcom-esque confusion with the roses to Don and Sally's accidental father-daughter day. The rule of thumb in elementary school was always "Honesty is the best policy," but in the world of Mad Men, it's oftentimes really not—which, in a way, is a different kind of brutal honesty and the foundation for the life that Don Draper has built over the years. 

Subsequently, that life has started to crumble, and as we've seen with the sleeping-'til-noon, pitching ads via Freddy Rumsen, the roach-infested bachelor pad, and listless bicoastal existence, Don doesn't know what to do with himself. When the old way of doing business failed him, he tried the honesty thing, and that blew up in his face, too... except with Sally. Don described his mistake to Sally, claiming that he said the "wrong thing to the wrong people at the wrong time" (which is also a pretty succinct summary of "A Day's Work" itself). Don was talking about telling people the truth, but in Sally's case, the times when Don has said the wrong things to her have always been in instances in which he's lied. Sally craves honesty, particularly from her parents, and she doesn't seem willing to let Don even lie on her behalf, as evidenced when he asked her what to write in his note to her school and she said, "Just tell the truth." Currently, Sally is the one character on Mad Men who isn't repulsed by or afraid of the truth. 

Despite her current "sour teenager" shtick, Sally represents hope in the future. She always has, and of all the Draper children, not only has she always been the one Don seems closest to, but she's also the one who most understands Don in return. She doesn't always want to, and even though gets Don more than most people do, she certainly isn't willing to blanket-forgive all of the crappy things he's done lately, including the affair with Sylvia. However, she is able to interact with her father, despite everything she knows about him. This flies in the face of everything Don believes about the world, and at the end of the day, when he dropped Sally off at school and she actually said that she loved him, you could readily see how startled Don was, as if he'd never considered that someone could know all of his bad traits and not run the other way. But who can blame him, really?

In California, Pete's delight at bringing in a new account was short-lived, as the New York office decided it should be run through by Bob Benson first. Ted was hardly a shoulder to cry on, and his, "Just cash the checks. You're gonna die one day," smacked of a more cynical version of Don's "THAT'S WHAT THE MONEY IS FOR" to Peggy a few years earlier. Ted has lost the ability to put on a happy face and lie his way through the day, though it's debatable how much longer he can grump his way through work. More and more, Ted mirrors Don in his experiences, his desires, and his demeanor. Is he going to eventually experience Don's mental health crisis as well? Maybe. I could see it. Don has tentatively begun the process of rebuilding his life (again) and seems to have someone resembling an ally in Sally. Ted, so far as we know, has no one.

"A Day's Work" was another wandering episode, expanding on the journey that last week's season premiere embarked on without taking many steps to drastically change the scenery. We're still in the process of "getting there," wherever "there" may be.


– Kiernan Shipka is so awesome.

– Lou Avery is such a dick.

– Was anybody feeling the Peggy story this week? It just seemed so cartoonish to me.

– LOL @ "masturbate gloomily," though.

– Don is marking the levels in his booze bottles. That seems healthy.

What did you think of "A Day's Work"?

  • Comments (62)
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  • CoreyChapman1 Apr 22, 2014

    Wanted to say thanks for all the Mad Men fans on the forum that have listened to The Mad Cast podcast. We appreciate you coming back each week for our hour long show. If you havent heard it yet, you can find it over at, on, or over at iTunes.
    We are giving away prizes from our AMC Treasure Trove. Swing on by!

  • rtchidc Apr 22, 2014

    One aspect of this review that I strongly disagree with is the characterization of the roses mix-up as “slap-sticky” and “sitcom-esque”. I think that, with the exception of the stuff concerning Peggy’s erroneous assumption that Ted Chaough sent her the flowers, the material between Peggy and Shirley had some realistic things to say about assumptions among co-workers in that environment concerning job positions and race, the latter of which brings additional assumptions about class. The episode also showed an accurate depiction of who often bears the brunt of the consequences when people in power positions within office relationships f*ck up or get their egos bruised. Someone with less sense than Joan may well have fired Shirley without a second thought if Peggy had requested it (or Dawn, if Lou had requested it), with no explanation other than “I can’t work with her anymore”, in the Peggy/Shirley case, basically because it never occurred to Peggy that those roses on Shirley’s desk were sent to Shirley.

  • Hoss1121 Apr 22, 2014

    Though the overall review was good, I just want to put some perspective regarding the young reviewer’s take on the office dynamics. Because it’s easy to sometimes forget that Mad Men is set in the late 1960s.

    Dawn & Shirley – The advertising industry had been the whitest, male-ist business in America until about the mid-90s. It was the antithesis of a “more progressive working environment.” The only reason “A Day’s Work” showed these two women of color are not always seen a positive by co-workers is because these two women usually get less then a few minutes of airtime in other episodes. And the show didn’t need to go a long way to remind us that African-Americans had to put up with a lot of shit in all-white offices. So Dawn and Shirley aren’t “willing” to go with the flow, it was simply a fact of life in order to keep a career (which the majority of people of color did not even dream of back in the ‘60s) in a field that didn’t ask you to join.

    Burt Cooper – He wasn’t “100-precent more racist.” He embodied the attitudes of executives in advertising (and most other businesses) held. And still do. I have sat in many an interview for receptionist where when a candidate entered the room she was immediately judged on “too fat,” “too short,” “too old,” “unattractive,” etc. Considering a minority or even a male candidate wasn’t even part of equation. I was told early in my career that it matters who the first person of the agency the client sees when he walks through the doors. I had liberal, Democratic, open-minded bosses tell me to my face (btw, I’m black) there was no need to cast black actors in commercials because “black people will buy what white people do. Besides, the client won’t sign off on it.” I almost got torn apart for asking a big soda client (starts with a letter that rhymes with “G”) why, with over 20 young people in the commercial, there were no one of color. And this was in the late 1980s.

    The only thing that surprised me was how Joan was briefly taken aback by the request. A woman that smart would already know how the white men would react (though thumbs up for trying).

    Pete & Ted + Lou – There’s a reason advertising was known as “Cutthroat City,” and its unofficial motto was: “You’re only as secure as your client’s last retainer check,” because it’s all true! Pete’s anger over the decision to obtain Detroit’s blessing to sign the new account is totally understandable, but it is also a bit unbelievable. Pete is smart enough to at least seriously consider that option being done minutes after the new account agreed to sign. The fact Bob doesn’t like him makes sense. His power over the account can be stripped away in seconds. Pete, in my opinion, followed the form his character has done since the first episode: (in Rodney Dangerfield’s voice) “I can’t get no respect!” That is why Pete is ALWAYS angry.

    Ted is just the embodiment of what advertising does to nearly everyone in it long enough: burnout (it’s why I got out). He just has the pragmatic approach of “do your job,” “take the big money,” and “hope it doesn’t all collapses before you can jump ship and stay afloat.”

    Lou is an asshole. Gee, what a surprise! How many people who read this site everyday can honestly say they never worked under, with, or around an asshole? Thought not.

  • mazie2 Apr 22, 2014

    This episode made me want to spend time with my dad and tell him that I love him :(

  • mrjimmyjames Apr 22, 2014

    It's funny how Ted has gone from schtick to deadly serious. And it's working. He's a parallel counterpart to Don Draper that struggles to cheat and cross that line. He's the boy scout of the show.

  • mrjimmyjames Apr 22, 2014

    Pete just can't ever be happy for long. He's just one of those people that always finds something to be unhappy about. He's the "unhappy guy in the office" among a bunch of spoiled, pent up, alcoholics. Now THAT's saying something.

  • mrjimmyjames Apr 22, 2014

    Loved seeing the LA office (not even sure if it was technically an "office"). Was hoping they'd have something more permanent looking. Hopefully they continue pursuing it; I think it's a good direction to go in and makes it interesting so far.

  • mrjimmyjames Apr 22, 2014

    If you were told to draw an old fart, you'd draw Lou. There's just no way of liking that guy. And that was obviously the intention of producers. So.........good casting on their part. Great job, team!

  • mrjimmyjames Apr 22, 2014

    Surprised to see Jim referring to Don as the firm's ex-wife. Could have sworn Don would be back in some capacity. Originally I assumed he was going to be helping Ted and Pete in LA (based on all the airline themed advertisements). When exactly will Don get back to the office?

  • mrjimmyjames Apr 22, 2014

    I kind of feel like the kinks have finally been worked out from last season; the merger finally feels like it's been settled into place with Jim against Roger. So far, I'm impressed and I'm beginning to feel excited about the show like I used to. The question is will they keep it up?

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