Where do we begin with this episode? It was chock full of secret alliances bearing fruit, people revealing themselves to be assholes, surprising changes in status quo, and an out of left field honest conversation.
To begin, let’s talk about the secretively manipulative shark in the room; Jim Cutler. In the partners meeting in Ted’s office, it was he that basically cock-blocked Pete and Ted on their get of the SoCal Chevy project, and managed to manipulate Roger to agree with it. It was he who managed to get Joan to move upstairs to a new office in a new office next to Roger, knowing of their past liaisons and hoping it will rattle both of them. It’s very clear that he’s not-so-subtly rattling the cage for our team and I worry where this is leading to. If anything, this feels like a callback to Season 3, when the old Sterling Cooper was sold to PPL and infiltrated by outsiders. It even had a sad callback to the end of that season by having Pete say that they should start their own firm, which is shot down by Ted (“Just cash the checks. You’re gonna die some day.”)
Speaking of being secretively manipulative, I’m wondering if any of the partners are missing Don, in particular Joan, in light of the crashing bore that is Lou Avery. After he rants to Joan that he wants Dawn moved since she wasn’t there to deal with Sally Draper’s surprise arrival (because Dawn was getting perfume for Lou’s wife), she moves Dawn to the receptionist’s desk out front, which caused a shocked reaction from Bert Cooper. This, combined with Peggy’s idiocy this week (more on that in a moment) and the offer of a new office from Jim Cutler, allowed Joan to give Dawn her old office and duties as office manager; an impressive upgrade for anyone, let alone an African-American woman at the time (and a nifty callback to the Season 1 finale “The Wheel” in which Don promotes Peggy to copywriter in a fit of pique). But then again, Joan Harris knows her way around office politics like a U.N. delegate and probably has an inkling that Dawn is spying for Don, and putting her in Joan’s old office (which, you recall is on the other side of the conference room and can easily be listened to) is making Dawn’s covert spying easier for her.
One person who doesn’t have things easy for her is the fabulous Shirley, thanks to the boorish attitudes of Peggy Olson. This Valentine’s Day was not a good one for her. Peggy made the boorish mistake of assuming the roses on her desk were for her from Ted, instead of for Shirley from her fiancé. And when Peggy tried to get rid of the flowers, she snapped by taking it out on Shirley, then on Joan when she asked for a reason why she should be moved. With Shirley wondering aloud who would send Peggy flowers (and getting moved , to Ginsberg openly mocking her, and Stan slowly getting annoyed with her antics, everyone is getting to intimately aware of Peggy’s personal misfortunes.
Speaking of knowledge of personal affairs, that is the one thing that Don has consistently tried to hide from people. Alas, many people know a lot about his current state, including now Sally Draper, who took the opportunity of playing hooky from school (and a missing purse as a result of it) to pay a visit to her father for a little Draper family bonding, which consists of petty fighting and some truth telling on both sides. It’s amazing to see how Sally has become the one person in Don’s life who now has the agency to call Don out on his bullshit, especially in light of the fact that his one moment of honesty last season has marked him as the ex-wife collecting alimony from SC&P. But with Sally saying that she still loves him it shows that his honesty might be the thing that saves him. As long as he doesn’t mess this relationship up.
A few random notes:
* It’s weird that the secretary at SC&P west looks like a mashup between Ted and Pete’s former secretaries (Moira and Clara respectively).
* Speaking of callbacks, Dawn and Shirley’s chat in the break room reminded me of another scene in Season 1 where Peggy and Joan were reading each other for filth. In this case they’re shooting the shit about all the goddamn white folks around them. In a way they’re negative images of that scene as Shirley is the sexy Peggy while Dawn is the more straight-laced Joan. More of this please and thank you!
* I said it last year, and I’ll say it again: Harry Hamlin is doing some killer work as the ambiguously manipulative Jim Cutler. He’s got an agenda, that one.
* In a weird echo of how the secretaries are interchangeable, it was cute and sad that Dawn and Shirley have the in-joke of calling each other by the opposite name (echoing the way everyone mixes them up).
* Does Matthew Weiner start his morning prayers by giving thanks to the casting gods that he found Kiernan Shipka at such a young age? He should, as she has been one of the best actors in a cast that’s stacked with good acting. Watch that scene in the diner when she calls Don out about the nerves of possibly running into “that woman” (referring to the endlessly fascinating Sylvia Rosen).
* Every time Jim Cutler waxes rhapsodic on Bob Benson, I wonder if he hasn’t slept with that slutty little homosexual. I wouldn’t put it past Mr. Benson at all.
* As much as I am Team Trudy, I kind of like that Bonnie Whiteside. She doesn’t put up with Pete’s b.s., which already qualifies her for sainthood.
* Finally, if you aren’t reading “Mad Style,” Tom and Lorenzo’s breathtaking analysis of the show through the styles and designs used, you are missing out on some of the best criticism of the show. For example, in last week’s episode we all caught Megan’s homage to Rhoda Morgenstern, but I completely missed the subtler references to another character from that iconic show.
Photo Credits: Jordin Althaus & Michael Yarish / AMC