About halfway through Mad Men episode 7.02: A Day’s Work, I wondered if we weren’t looking at an episode primarily concerned with communication and miscommunication. By the end, I understood this was an episode about wanting to be loved. Not about being loved, but about the desire for it, and all the permutations thereof. Valentine’s Day is a rich field to mine for that theme, always a wretched day for those who want love but don’t have it. We’ll circle back to communication, and other motifs as well, but love must come first.
Obviously, the first point to discuss is Peggy’s roses. “Peggy’s.” Basketcases in the open thread have already called out the mix-up as a sitcom device. The problem is, on Mad Men, it becomes gravely serious. I feel it’s worth reminding ourselves that, while it’s been a year since we’ve seen Ted and Peggy, for her, Ted promised to leave his wife for her, and then discarded her and moved cross-country, a mere three months ago. Peggy behaved horribly to Shirley, but her feelings are still terribly raw. Her social skills being what they are (which is to say, lacking), she naturally sees the roses and thinks only of herself, and suddenly it’s all so bitter.
It’s not just that Peggy is angry at Ted, and obviously longing for him, it’s that she longs for anyone to love her. There they are, at the office, mocking Peggy for being unloved, gossiping about it in the kitchen, Stan and
Abe Ginsberg joking about it to her face, and Shirley’s engagement ring, in Peggy’s irrational tirade, is just one more insult, one more means by which Peggy is being told she cannot have the love she wants.
Pete, too, wants to be loved, although Pete’s version of “love” is very different. He wants someone, somehow, to acknowledge his existence. He and Bonnie, we learn, purport to be in love, but he wants something that makes him feel alive, and that’s a something he doesn’t have.
Sometimes I think maybe I died and I’m in some kind of—I don’t know if it’s heaven or hell or limbo, but I don’t seem to exist. No one feels my existence.
There’s an honesty to Pete’s mean-spirited, spoiled brat aspirations. People want to be loved, so very often, because they want an Other to acknowledge their existence. Pete’s kind of cutting out the middle man; he wants the acknowledgement and cares less about the love. He wants to achieve, to aim higher, to fight against something, but Ted will readily give up his larger office—so what’s the point? He doesn’t just love Bonnie, or want to screw her, he wants her to throw away work for him so that the sex is a sacrifice that acknowledges Pete the King. She’s not having it.
The most poignant, the most staggering, expression of the desire for love is Don’s reaction to Sally’s simple “I love you.” He crumples. (No one crumples like Jon Hamm crumples.) His desire for his daughter’s love is so intense he can barely stand to feel it.
Also touching, in a completely different way, is Jim to Roger: “I’d hate to think of you as an adversary.” From the beginning, from Man With a Plan, these two have been thick as Accounts thieves. They understand each other. They’ve lived much the same lives. This, too, is a kind of love.
The opposite side of the desire for love is the fear of rejection. In this episode, rejection was rife. Lou rejects Dawn. Peggy rejects Shirley. Pete is thoroughly rejected: Jim rejects Pete’s desire to sign the account immediately, Roger rejects Pete’s desire to go to Detroit, and Bonnie rejects Pete’s desire for a nooner.
The death motif, never far away in Mad Men world, appears, with Pete talking about being dead, and Ted answering that we all die, and Sally going to a funeral, while wishing Betty dead. Love is the opposite of death; it lets us know we’re alive, it gives us a feeling of immortality. Eros and Thanatos. Death is the ultimate rejection.
But it’s not so much love, remember, as the desire for love, which is why Jim describes the personnel job as hinging on not caring whether or not you’re liked. (Forgive me, I don’t have the exact quote—I’ll get it later.) Dawn doesn’t care if anyone at SC&P likes her, because she sees it as just a job; a job she can do well at or not. She smiles to have Joan’s old office. I’m sure we can expect more delightful racism now that she has authority over people.
The thing about the desire to be loved is, we want someone who thinks we’re awesome. Pete nakedly wants it, in his sniveling and transparent way, but everyone wants it. Why? Because we’re all full of shame, and running from it as fast as we can, no matter what the cost. Lou is embarrassed by Sally and reacts by getting rid of Dawn. Peggy is embarrassed by herself, to be honest, but she can’t face that, so she blames Shirley and gets rid of her. A black face at the front desk would embarrass Bert. Don and Sally have one of the most painful conversations about shame and embarrassment I’ve ever heard. Sally has to tiptoe between the shame of a father who lies to her and the shame of calling him out on his lies. And she’s afraid to go into his building because Sylvia lives there. Riding the elevator is potentially a huge, almost insurmountable, embarrassment for her. Good thing she doesn’t know he shtupped her teacher!
And then, at last, there’s the constant, relentless miscommunication. I wrote recently that Matt Weiner is very interested in the ways that people fail to communicate with one another. Consider, then, that a central scene in this episode (literally central; my sense is it falls about at the halfway point) is structured around a bad phone connection. Obviously, there’s also Peggy’s funny-if-it-wasn’t-awful misunderstanding about the roses, and her coded message to Ted, which he doesn’t understand at all. Jim and Roger can’t communicate levelly about Chevy. Sally and Don at first can’t communicate through the web of lies, and Sally lies to her girlfriends as well, making up a story about her purse so that she can see her father.
Some other stuff:
- Dawn and Shirley call each other by the other name; Dawn calls Shirley “Dawn,” and Shirley calls Dawn “Shirley”. I assume this running joke started when people at the office confused the names of the only two black women there. It’s a bitter little joke, but at least they have each other.
- Quote of the week is uncontested. I thought Sally’s remark about Betty would win, until I heard Ginsberg say, “She has plans. Look at her calendar: Febuary 14, masturbate gloomily.”
- Did you recognize Jim Hobart? They got the same actor (H. Richard Greene) who tried to woo Don to McCann in Season 1.
- Don has lunch with Dave Wooster of Wells Green Rich, and they talk about “Mary.” They mean Mary Wells, founder of that iconic agency. (Wooster, as far as I can tell, is a fictional character.)