[This is a review of Mad Men season 7, episode 2. There will be SPOILERS.]
Late in ‘A Day’s Work,’ after she unwittingly stumbled into yet another uncomfortable situation created by her father, and endured another one of Don’s lies about why it happened, Sally begins to soften, to understand where her father is coming from once he finally opens up begins telling the truth. It happens while they’ve stopped somewhere between Manhattan and Sally’s private school. Don attempts to get his daughter to forgive him simply on the basis of his being her father, but even he knows that’s an act in futility at this point. Eventually, the conversation takes a turn, as Sally recounts all that she’s been through that day by coming to the very Mad Men like conclusion of:“I’m so many people.”
That single line may be the most reflective utterance by anyone on the show. A quick and easy read of her remark would naturally have to do with the idea of fluctuating identity that has long been a hallmark of the series, especially with regard to the increasingly immaterial Don Draper/Dick Whitman paradox, as well as more recent contradictions like brunette Betty, and, of course the conflict between Roger Sterling and Jim Cutler. Perhaps the importance of a young woman saying, “I’m so many people,” after having spent her life amongst those prone to such great contradiction, is how it reflects the tremendous multiplicity at the heart of the narrative. It is the multiplicity that keeps Mad Men from being about one thing, having one unifying meaning, or ever coming to rest in a place of stability. With one remark intended to note the apparent disunity of her present existence, Sally managed a clever deconstruction of the narrative she’s a part of.
In typical Mad Men fashion, the concept of disunity then becomes the underlying theme for the entire episode. ‘A Day’s Work’ is all about imbalance and discordance, mostly as a result of Don’s failures as an individual, an adman, and a father. His relationship with Sally is unstable, to say the least, while his days are now spent sleeping past noon, watching television, munching Ritz crackers, and looking placidly at a cockroach scampering across his floor. Sure, he’s meeting with other admen, building the kind of ticky-tacky bridges that he once would have burned without much of a second thought, but he’s no closer to a solution that will free him from the lowly impermanence of his current sate.
The lack of unity is disseminated through the offices of SC&P, as well. Jim Cutler warns Roger (his analogue – or is it the other way around?) “I’d hate to think of you as an adversary,” after pulling rank on, and rug out from underneath, Pete with regard to the SoCal automobile dealers association account. The mere mention of Bob Benson is enough to earn Pete’s ire, but it also calls to mind the sense of imbalance and inharmony that Bob, like Don, evokes. Jim takes it a step further by displacing Joan (seemingly for the better), moving her upstairs into a new office to better manage her accounts. This comes at the end of a tiresome day for Joan, playing musical secretaries with Dawn, Shirley, and Meredith because Lou Avery is a contentious jerk, Peggy can’t stop thinking about Ted, and Bert Cooper’s sense of progressiveness does not extend to the lobby of the agency.
As per usual, Pete’s one of the few who’s unafraid to keep his emotions bottled up, or his desires and disappointments hidden for the sake of decorum or pride or whatever. “I don’t seem to exist. No one feels my existence,” he tells Ted, marking his frustrations with the New York office, and revealing that even a move to California failed to bring him the stability he’d hoped for. “Just cash the checks. You’re gonna die someday,” Ted responds, as if the assurance of death’s inevitability was what Pete was searching for.
Instead, the continued dissatisfaction of Pete and everyone else calls to mind the oft-referenced idea of utopia, as much as it does Rachel Menken’s season 1 explanation that the word, like everything else has two pronunciations and two meanings. In this case, utopia is: “the good place” and, more importantly, “the place that cannot be.”
Mad Men continues next Sunday with ‘Field Trip’ @10pm on AMC. Check out a preview below:
Photos: Jordin Althaus/AMC
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