It may be an episode taking place mostly on or around Valentine’s Day, but forget about love, people of and related to Sterling Cooper & Partners: nobody’s in very good shape here. Don is waking up at noon, hungover and messy in a dark apartment, with only the TV for company. He’s besuited by eight p.m. when he gets his one visitor of the day: his (former, current) secretary, Dawn! She is reporting on the happenings in the office. He tries to give her money, awkwardly.
Over in Miss Porter’s School for rebellious teens who will grow up to be the establishment, we see our first glimpse of Sally. Her eyebrows are magnificent, her hair is blonder and she’s a tiny teenager with that low voice, discussing heading to the city with her friends for the funeral of their roommate’s mother.
Pete is in California having sex with Betty (oh, whoops, “Bonnie”) in his office. All we see is the slight light reflecting off her crown of blonde hair. All we know is that her blonde hair represents success and status for ol’ Pete, right?
Now it’s the day after, Valentine’s Day. In the elevator up to Sterling Cooper & Partners, the underlings visibly flinch as Stan holds the elevator for Peggy. And Peggy, true to her workaholic, can’t read people socially that well nature, starts to talk about work. It’s Valentine’s Day, it’s a Friday, and Stan and Ginsberg aren’t having it. Ginsberg even says the completely inappropriate line, “She has plans, look at her calendar. February 14th: masturbate gloomily.” How Ginsberg’s cheek remains slap-less, I don’t know. The elevator! Mad Men‘s liminal space of magic and complete jerkiness, where people can just say what they want.
As we enter the office, we get why people aren’t feeling Peggy. She is the man, she’s the establishment. She’s not on their level, she’s above them, and she’s kind of a wild card with that power. (Office gossip probably pegs her as a frigid bitch, I’d guess.) When she gets to her office, she sees flowers on her (newish) secretary Shirley’s desk. Peggy assumes those flowers are for her, with no card, and she takes them inside. Stan says, “look at you, every inch a girl” as Peggy blushes, and it’s a moment where somebody (usually Stan) is seeing Peggy as a person, not just a copywriting chief who’s got some problem with the work.
Peggy thinks the flowers are a message from Ted, so she tells Shirley to send Ted a message back about work, in code. The flowers are obviously not from Ted, so what’s the truth? When Shirley confabs in the kitchen with the office’s other black secretary, Dawn, we learn the truth: the flowers are from Shirley’s boyfriend, and Peggy’s kinda loopy. The girls stop their talking when a white secretary gets something from the kitchen, only to take up again the minute that she leaves. We get a peek at how careful you have to be as one of the only black secretaries in an office in the late 60s.
Don is having a flirtatious lunch with another advertising firm, and he’s such a hot ticket, the girl every guy wants to dance with, that a completely different advertising firm picks up the bill.
Rebellious teen Sally ends up at the Sterling Cooper & Partners office looking for her dad, and finding his office, and his nameplate, replaced by Lou Avery, Peggy’s nemesis from last week and generally a blathering bore of an older man. He doesn’t even know why this “sweetheart” would be there, Sally asks for Joan, and “everyone’s at lunch.” Sally’s alone, her heels clacking down the office hallway.
A partners meeting loops in Pete, calling all the way from California with Ted. It’s not going the way Pete wants, he feels like he’s losing power, so he huffs and puffs hilariously. But things are askew at SC & P. Don is referred to as “our collective ex-wife who still receives alimony.” Roger, on the other hand, mentions an NYC altercation in the morning where a stranger calls him a Jewish slur, so our King WASP is maybe not so to the (crazy) outside world these days, it seems.
Just like a woman, though, partner Joan is dealing with other people’s problems with left and right. Lou, who inherited Dawn from Don, wants a different secretary, since Dawn wasn’t around when Sally Draper was in the office. It is a dumb situation. Lou is a dumb man, pulling rank. “It’s not my problem,” he says. “None of this has anything to do with me.”
Pete is still funny when he’s exasperated. “Sometimes I think I died, and I’m in some heaven or hell, or limbo?” He’s questioning his existence, and he wants to break free from SC&P’s office politics, which can still be felt across the country.
When Don got back to his apartment, he finds Sally, petulant and frustrated with her father, as per usual. He decides to take her back to Miss Porter’s. They’re listening to “Elenore” by The Turtles on the radio while Don asks many, many questions about what brought Sally to New York. She’s obviously full of it regarding this funeral, or the fact that her purse was lost. She’s more Betty by the moment.
Peggy is prone on her office couch, smoking and drinking. If she was Don she’d have a brilliant campaign or she’d do it with a secretary immediately after, but she is a woman, so she is marinating over these flowers. A buzzed Peggy decides that the flowers are “cursed,” and she goes over to Shirley’s desk to throw them out. Shirley says, well, no, they’re not yours in the first place, and Peggy is humiliated.
Dawn has to switch places with the dumbbell at the front desk, who inspired Joan’s priceless rant: “Surprise! There’s an airplane here to see you!” Cooper, alas, is not so happy with the idea of a black secretary at the front desk, greeting every visitor that sees the place, and tells Joan that she needs to fix the situation, quickly.
Pete and fake Betty are stuck in a weird pink heaven that’s a shitty California apartment, and Bonnie explains to Pete that she is also working, and sometimes things happen at work and you can’t fix them. Acts of God, etc.
Don and Sally eat at a gas station. Or, rather, Don eats. Sally in her teenhood is petulant and sulky. Sally makes a collect call to her roommates, who tell her that they were worried, and “you’ll never guess what happened on the train, there was this creepy salesman on from Milford… ” Now, I’ve just seen Nymphomaniac, so teen girls talking about commuter trains is all wrong in my head, thanks Lars von Trier. But perhaps Sally made the right choice in running to her dad, yes?
Sally and Don start talking, eventually, and Don explains why there was a mix-up. He tells her that he’s on a leave of absence at his job. “I said the wrong things to the wrong people at the wrong time… I was ashamed.” It’s honest. He tells Sally that he needs to stay where he is to fix the situation. Sally realizes, “You don’t want to move to California,” which is symbolically big. No running away for Don this time. He’s stuck with who he is as a person, figuring it out.
At SC&P, Joan’s got another problem to solve: Peggy wants Shirley off her desk. She won’t listen to reason and she’s belligerent. In a farcical comedy move, Jim Cutler comes into Joan’s office and tells her she has two positions, accounts and HR, and there’s a spare accounts office upstairs… so the problem gets solved. Dawn is the new head of HR. Shirley is stuck with that dud Lou Avery, and the guy’s spouting platitudes like “Rome wasn’t built in a day” as they walk together. Joan, meanwhile, benefits from Jim’s attention, and moves to her new office with her flowers from “her son” (it’s Roger, we know it) in tow. In the elevator, leaving for the day, Jim tells Roger that he wouldn’t want “to think of you as an adversary.” Perhaps they’re clashing over power. But perhaps they’re also, ever-so-subtly, clashing over Joan?
And then, the best ending of a Mad Men episode ever. Don drops Sally off at the school. It’s intimated that she maybe didn’t really lose her purse, and she wasn’t interested in shopping. Maybe she just wanted to see her dad. She says “Happy Valentine’s Day. I love you.” Don looks like he has eighteen different feelings at once, and for once. The Zombies’ magnificent “This Will Be Our Year” kicks in and the show ends with a little crack of light: could there be change?