Mad Men recap: Flowers and a Funeral

Don and Sally bond while Peggy struggles through Valentine's Day in 'A Day's Work'
Ep. 02 | Aired Apr 20, 2014

Stranded in New York, Sally goes to her father's apartment to find him. But he isn't there because he's having lunch with a pal from a rival agency, Dave Wooster. Don's testing the waters, "looking for love" to see if there's any interest in him -- and to do damage control over the stories circulating around town about his present absence at SCP. Did he break down and cry during a pitch meeting? Did he punch a client? Is he managing his wife's career in Hollywood? In some ways, perhaps, the swirling rumors only add to his mystique, because Jim Hobart (who courted Don in season 1) swings by their table to express his own interest.

Two interesting takeaways from Don's lunch with Dave. One, Don is definitely still drinking. Duh, I know: I misread the last scene in the season premiere, thinking that Don had resisted the temptation of opening the bottle. Clearly, that isn't the case, based on the earlier scene at home where he marks the bottle at the waterline to measure his consumption. At lunch, he quickly orders another as they talk shop. Secondly, I thought the throwaway line about the Knicks was a clever footnote to the racial landscape of the times that Dawn and Shirley are being forced to navigate. When the subject of NBA basketball comes up, the two white men in dark suits immediately rave about Bill Bradley, the white Princeton All-American who became an essential part of the Knicks rotation. Nevermind that Bradley was the team's seventh leading scorer that year, behind such African-American stars like Willis Reed and Walt Frazier. Basically, Bradley would've been preferred over his teammates at the metaphorical reception desk, where people can see him from the elevator.

Peggy and Shirley's floral misadventures continue, with Peggy dumping the flowers on Shirley when she becomes more disgusted by the notion that Ted sent them to her. Which he didn't. But this is the perfect O'Henry solution: Shirley gets her flowers back without having to confront Peggy with the truth. But Peggy isn't finished. Not even close. On second thought, those flowers are cursed, she says, and the mere sight of them is driving her crazy. She insists on throwing them in the trash, forcing Shirley to explain finally that the roses were meant for her. Oh, Peggy. Oh, oh Peggy. Please tell me you didn't yell at Shirley for embarrassing you. Please don't tell me you didn't tell her to "grow up." And please, please tell me you didn't then go to Joan to get Shirley reassigned. But, sadly, Peggy did all of these things. Unforgivable.

I've saved Sally and Don's reunion for last, because I think it was one of the most thoughtful and honest sequences in the show's prolific history. After not finding him at SCP, she surprises her father at his apartment, where he proceeds to lie to her face about being her work. Kiernan Shipka's initial reaction is as if each syllable of her father's falsehoods is an arrow to her cheeks and brow. Don offers to drive her back to campus and write her school a written excuse. What should it say, he asks. "Just tell the truth," she answers.

In the car, they end up arguing once the truth is revealed. "Why would you just let me lie to you like that?" barks Don. "Because it's more embarrassing to catch you in a lie than it is for you to be lying," she yells back. "Do you know how hard it was for me to go to your apartment? I could've run into that woman [in the elevator]."

That woman would be Sylvia, the neighbor that Sally caught having sex with her father. Just stop talking, she pleads, and for a few moments, the car is quiet except for the radio. What does a father say after that? He stops for gas, is what he does. And a bite to eat, and some coffee. Anything to break that horrible silence.

At the diner, Don finally comes clean about work, and Sally doesn't flinch. She may be his daughter, but because of what happened with Sylvia, she can also be his confessor. The horrible secret and betrayal bonds them closer together, and encourages Don to be vulnerable and share even more about his meltdown, his marriage -- no Valentine's Day phone call for you, Megan -- and his reticence to be in California. But this dinner is also about reestablishing a more traditional bond, and Don clearly suspects that the funeral and the lost purse were all part of Sally's plan to see him. When the check comes, and he tricks her for a moment into thinking they're going to ditch the bill, her smile clearly makes him feel like a good father for the first time in awhile.

When Don finally drops Sally off at school, with the Zombies singing "This Will Be The Year," she says the words that he must have feared he would never from her again: "Happy Valentine's Day. I love you."

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