The episode opens up with Don in bed ... alone! Hey, dude is being somewhat faithful. Even if he hasn't told his wife that he lost his job, at least he isn't shacking up with other women. He looks at the clock and notices it's 7:30. Then we see that same clock is now reading 12:34, and he's watching "Little Rascals," thumbing through magazines, noticing cockroaches in his apartment and marking his booze bottles as if to monitor his daily intake. (Financially motivated conservation or health-related?)
Later, his former receptionist Dawn arrives to drop off some materials and Don grills her on the ins-and-outs of the day-to-day at SC&P. He offers Dawn money for giving Don intel and answering his phone while he's on leave. She refuses at first, but he eventually gets her to accept. After she leaves he adjusts his tie and we're made to believe that he got dressed up just for this one encounter. It's really been a while since we've actually felt badly for Don.
Then we see Sally Draper! We had an idea we might see her because of the "previously on 'Mad Men'" that opened the episode. Kiernan Shipka is looking quite grown up. She's smoking with her private school classmates, and they're talking about the funeral of a classmate's mom that they're going to be attending and scheming about how to make the most of their field trip and hit Greenwich Village.
Then lights up on Pete, well, not lights up. He's in the dark, making out with Bonnie Whiteside. (See? I told you we'd see more from her). They're getting busy in the office, and Ted says goodnight to them without even realizing what's going on.
The Peggy-can't-buy-a-break rom-com plotline that emerges in this episode is kinda funny ... at least at first! On the elevator, her team is trying to hide from her the fact that it's Valentine's Day. Michael tells Stan that he saw Peggy's calendar entry for Feb. 14 and it says, "masturbate gloomily." When they see flowers on Shirley's desk that may or may not be meant for Peggy, Stan says, "Hard to believe your cat has the money." BURN! But Peggy is secretly a little flattered.
But it turns out the flowers are for Shirley, Peggy's receptionist. But Peggy thinks that maybe Ted got them for her. Shirley doesn't have the heart to correct her, and Peggy gives Ted a coded message that what Peggy perceives as a peace offering won't work.
Then Roger Sterling busts into the office, kind of excited that he had been called an antisemitic insult. This is just the first instance along the theme of discrimination that runs through this episode. More on that later!
Sally and her friends have executed phase one of their plan and they are on the train, but she has misplaced her bag. Ruh-roh. She runs off the train to get it, but knowing she'll miss the train, she stops into SC&P, where she thinks she'll run into her dad. Double ruh-roh!
But Don is taking a meeting with another agency (Wells, Rich, Greene?). It turns out that there is rampant gossip about Don's crackup.
"I don't know what the truth is, and I don't really care," says the dude Don is meeting with. "You've probably heard the one where you pulled a major boner in a meeting."
When Sally busts into Don's former office, Lou is all, "Can I help you, sweetheart?" Is this Lou Avery in his first humane moment? Nope. He pawns her off on Joan.
And then, hey, Bert Cooper is back! Good to see Robert Morse in front of the camera again. The 82-year-old actor was only on eight episodes last season. But actually, that's not even his season with the least appearances! In Season 2, he was only in seven episodes. His record is appearances in 11 episodes, in Season 3.
Cooper is participating in a conference call with Pete and Ted from L.A. and Cooper gives Pete a hard time for taking too long to get to the point. Pete is just proud to have landed an account while in L.A. but the heads of the company believe that Bob should provide some oversight. Pete is pissed.
After being turned away from SC&P, Sally confronts Don at his apartment. He lies convincingly enough about his whereabouts and says he wasn't feeling well. She challenges him with "I know you're not feeling well," and "It looks like you have a lot of work to do," but she really zings him when he asks her what the note he's writing to get her out of trouble for missing the train should say, and she says, "just tell the truth."
Then Lou calls Joan and Dawn into his office. He is pissed about Dawn spending so much time on Don.
"I want my own girl," he demands.
Dawn counters with, "I skipped my lunch to buy your wife perfume."
Basically, Lou is a total asshole.
Roger calls Pete and tells him that he's not going to be the sole contact for the account in question. Pete starts to argue with him and Roger hangs up on him. He complains to Ted that there's nothing to work for.
"Why are you here?" an irate Pete challenges Ted. "All you do is answer the phone and mope around."
Then he announces that he doesn't even want to talk to Ted anymore. Man, what a bitter episode, eh?
As Don and Sally drive back to school, he makes conversation with her, but they interrogate each other.
"It's more embarrassing to catch you in a lie than it is to watch you lie," says Sally at one point. She tells Don that she was nervous, coming into her dad's apartment, for fear that she might run into Sylvia. It's pretty amazing that the only people on this show who have the same names are Don and Dawn. Anyway, Sally is super effective in her "dad, you owe me one" plea when she describes possibly sharing an elevator with Sylvia, "smiling, wanting to vomit, while I smell her hairspray."
Don delivers what seems like a heartfelt apology to his daughter. They stop for gas and a meal and he explains why he lost his job.
"I said the wrong things to the wrong people at the wrong time," he says. "I told the truth about myself, but it wasn't the right time."
She asks him point-blank if he still loves Megan.
When he answers affirmatively, he asks why he doesn't just tell her that he doesn't want to move to California. This "honesty is the best policy" theme is strong throughout the "A Day's Work" episode.
Then the poor 'ol Peggy plotline takes a dark turn. She is flat on her back, smoking when Ted's secretary calls for her. "Tell her to tell Ted I have no intention of talking to him today," she says.
Then she marches out to Shirley's desk and gives her the flowers. Shirley is just happy to have them back. When Peggy later reconsiders and wants to throw the flowers away because they're "cursed," Shirley fesses up that her fiance gave them to her.
"You have a ring on," snaps Peggy, holding back tears. "We all know you're engaged. You did NOT have to embarrass me."
Well, Peggy, looks like you actually embarrassed yourself.
Bert walks into Joan's office and Joan is flustered by having to switch Dawn away from Lou. And Bert has more racially-motivated changes up his sleeve. Damn, not the most flattering reintroduction to Robert Morse's character, especially when he tells Joan, "I'm all for the national advancement of colored people, but I don't believe people should advance all the way to the front." Yowch!
Back in L.A., a disgruntled Pete tries to persuade Bonnie to enjoy a little afternoon delight, but she refuses to until she's done with work for the day. "I'm in sales too, not some housewife complaining about getting oatmeal out of the carpet."
Then Jim walks into Joan's office and sees she's clearly struggling with the aforementioned racially-motivated personnel issues, he offers Joan a promotion. From this action, it's beginning to become clear that Jim runs the show.
That point is driven home when Joan sees Roger as she moves to her new upstairs office. He seems surprised that she's taking an upstairs office, but when he learns that Jim promoted her he has a look that says, "Dayum, my name may be the first name in this company's moniker, but I'm getting schooled by Jim."
On a ride down the elevator at the end of the day (all in "A Day's Work," right?) Jim tells Roger, "I'd hate to think of you as an adversary." It's kind of sweet, and Roger seems to realize that it behooves him to let Jim lead the way.
At the very end of the episode, Don drops his daughter off at school. Sally tells Don, "Happy Valentine's Day. I love you," and the beautiful piano chords of "This Will Be Our Year" by the Zombies kicks in. Day-um, this was the song my wife and I did a high-five line out of our wedding reception to. Now SC&P has to have it?
No, not quite. This wasn't that memorable of an episode. My wife and I still totally own that tune! (along with any other brilliant person who used that as a wedding song). But here's why "Mad Men" doesn't get to steal "This Will Be Our Year" from us: All we take away from the whole episode is that Peggy and Lou are horrible, Bert is racist, racism is starting to rear its head, Don is finally being honest(ish) and Roger and Pete are frustrated with the company. Perhaps "Field Trip," the title of episode 3 of this season, will be more exciting. If not, then "This Will Be Our Year" might have been the most ironic song choice for the whole season of "Mad Men."