Mad Men – Episode 1 Review – “And Don’t Call Her Shirley”

I really, really enjoyed last night’s episode of Mad Men. The episode had two very strong storylines that frequently overlapped – one involving Don, and another involving the ins and outs of everyday life at SCDP.

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Dawn on ‘Mad Men’, played by Teyonah Parris.

Don Draper has never been this vulnerable. He’s bored, he’s lost, he’s got roaches. He cleaned up and put on a suit just to see his former secretary, a move I found fascinating – the Don/Dawn relationship has become one that is as interesting to viewers as Don’s relationships with Joan and Peggy. Don may be a womanizer, but his most valuable working relationships are often with women. The way he dressed up for Dawn – a woman he doesn’t need to hide for, she’s aware of his situation – suggested a certain amount of respect. Their back-and-forth over what she is doing (keeping him updated on office goings-on, preventing Megan from finding out the truth) and what payment she’ll accept (enough for the car ride) was charming.

Don’s plan to hide his situation from his family blew up when Sally unexpectedly showed up at the office, and somehow Dawn ended up paying the price – more on that later. The result was a fantastic episode where Don drives Sally back to school, and they have their most honest interactions yet. Sally finally let out some of her anger over catching Don in an affair, and Don admitted his shortcomings to his daughter. He behaved badly, and now he’s in one hell of a mess. I really liked what they did there.

Sally on 'Mad Men', played by Kiernan Shipka

Sally on ‘Mad Men’, played by Kiernan Shipka

I was equally happy with the office story, which showed more of Dawn’s perspective than we’ve ever seen. We got the occasional glimpse into Dawn’s world last season (see this old recap), but not much. Now we see that SCDP has two African American secretaries, Dawn and Shirley. Their inside joke – calling one another by the wrong name – suggests that they feel interchangeable in the office.

Dawn was unfairly chewed out by Don’s replacement, Lou, over Sally coming into the office. It was nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to get a new, white secretary – and when Dawn spoke her mind, Joan saw a bit of herself in Dawn.

Shirley was unfairly chewed out by Peggy, after Peggy embarrassingly mistook Shirley’s Valentine’s Day flowers from her finance as ones that had been sent to Peggy by Ted. It was one humiliating mistake after another for Peggy, and the way she took it out on a completely innocent party, and an underdog in the office, was reprehensible. I like that Mad Men isn’t afraid to have all their characters behave poorly some of the time. Peggy is not doing well at work, she’s not over Ted, and frankly she’s not always that nice of a person. It’s unfortunate that Peggy could not place herself in Shirley’s shoes, and remember how it felt to be mistreated by Don when she was the lowliest person in the office – but it’s not necessarily out of character.

Lou didn’t want his black secretary. Peggy didn’t want her black secretary. Bert didn’t want a black secretary at the front desk. For Joan, this was more of a personnel headache than a human rights issue, but she at least behaved with more grace than some of her other coworkers. Joan was saved by good news from Jim – noticing that she’s now juggling two jobs, Jim suggested that Joan take an upstairs office meant for an “accounts man”.

So Joan gets to move on up to accounts, and she promoted Dawn to take on the office manager role – perfect for Dawn’s no-nonsense personality. This episode was an interesting look at how Peggy and Joan’s roles in the company have evolved since they began, the barriers they still face as women in the office, and the much much larger barriers that are now being faced by the black women in the office.

I could write more, but I’m eager to hear thoughts from others on this episode. Share them in the comments!


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