(SPOILERS BELOW)

Before the episode even starts, the previouslies promise me that I’ll get at least some development on the Don and Sally story line. Let’s do this!

Watching the partners’ conference call was hilarious and illuminating as the power hierarchy becomes ever more evident. I am somewhat amazed to find Cutler at the top of the power structure all alone unless I’m confused. It was fun watching everyone adjusting to their new normal of meeting via conference call. It’s clear that Pete is beginning to feel some of Ted’s despair despite being in sunny CA. The constraints of being tethered to the NY office where the power players are located have dulled the fun, shiny Pete we saw last episode. And Pete’s feeling more underappreciated than ever before. “There’s two offices. Yours is only slightly better than mine. What am I supposed to do? Work my way up to your office?” It’s too bad because I really enjoyed that Pete and was looking forward to watching him for a while. What Pete doesn’t understand is that it might not be any better if he was in NY. Roger might as well be in California for as much power as he is able to wield. With Don’s exit, the power shifted immediately, and, now, the only sure-footed partner is Cutler. Although Bert Cooper seems to approve of how everything is playing out.

Don

I was glad to see that Don’s bedside table contained smokes only. No liquor bottle or glass. Glad to see he’s continuing to track his drinking. It’s critical to his resurrection and his ability to understand the reality of his situation. It’s obvious to everyone else that he’s not being welcomed back to SC&P anytime soon, if at all. It’s good to see him finally begin to explore his options. I enjoyed watching Don get some adulation, even from the cheeser from McCann Erickson, since it was really sad to watch him pass the hours aimlessly (although the Little Rascals were the best!!) before dressing up for Dawn’s visit. The eagerness and hunger on his face as she gave him the meager scraps of client information that she had was enough to make me almost forget how awful it was when he was top dog and living a double life. I definitely appreciated all the signs in the episode pointing to a Don looking to leave the duality (well, except for the name) and deception behind. I think this is why he looked at Sally with such surprise when she said, “Why don’t you just tell Megan you don’t want to move to California.” He can’t imagine things can be that straightforward and simple. And yes, I recognize the irony in suggesting that Don wants to leave the deception behind, as Don is still lying to Megan.  And his honesty to Sally was forced upon him. So, small steps. I just felt that he wasn’t fighting the reveal like we’ve seen him do so many other times. It’s becoming much easier – (Dare I say natural? No, that’s going too far.) – for him to open up.

Sally

I’m surprised now by how much I didn’t think Sally would fit in at boarding school. I thought she would have a terrible time navigating the social land mines. But she’s been “raised” by the perfect two people to help her become exactly what she needs to be to deal with that chaos. And that line, “I’m so many people,” that she delivered when she and Don were in the restaurant was a perfect summation of that.

Watching Sally and Don repair their severely fractured relationship was the highlight of the episode for me. Both Hamm and Shipka are incredible in their scenes together. They always have been. You can watch Sally soften toward him as he tells her why he’s not working and why he lied about it. You can watch Don enjoy the opportunity to spend time with his daughter alone and appreciate how much she’s grown up and what a great job she’s doing of it all by herself. That final “I love you,” was believable and well-earned after the afternoon they had spent together. It was the perfect ending to the episode for me.

Dawn

I’m looking forward to seeing more of Dawn. I’ve enjoyed the glimpses we’ve been getting into her character. Watching her take up for herself when Lou blamed his inability to be human with a child on Dawn’s absence was cathartic. I hope I’ll get a chance to see Lou be annoyed or even angry by her promotion as long as it doesn’t affect her.

Joan

I was so gratified to see Joan move to accounts instead of having to shoulder that workload in addition to her former duties, just to have the opportunity to be an account “man”. It’s terrific to finally see some payoff where Joan is concerned.

Lou

Last and least is Lou. As I expected from last week, Lou is not a good guy. He’s mediocre at his job, and he’s a total pill on top of that. His whiny entitlement leads him to demand that Joan move Dawn somewhere else. Anywhere else. He wants his own “girl” because when he agreed to do this good deed of sharing Dawn with Don Draper (which he says with enough venom that it leads me to wonder if there is something more to explore there), he thought it would be correspondence and phone calls only. So, Lou is going to be fun to hate and will either be the catalyst that leads to Don’s return or to Peggy’s ascendance.

It seems that I’m living with one of the next great minds. My daughter comes up with something out of the ordinary every day, and her ideas are just strange enough to be brilliant, albeit unconventional, solutions to all sorts of situations or problems. For example:

When she texted me the bit about the chickens and the shoes and the cheese (French, of course) earlier in the day, I initially brushed it aside as yet another of her strange and amusing ramblings until I thought carefully about the genius of it all. Who among us has not found some moldy cheese in the fridge that we had to just throw away? And here is the solution. Shine your shoes with it! Voilà! It makes perfect sense that the waxiness of the cheese would impart some sweet shine to your shoes and impress all who behold them. Brava, my odd offspring! I will absolutely be paying very close attention to all future utterings from my daughter. Who knows what she’s going to solve next? If only I had been paying closer attention to past suggestions as I’m sure that I’ve missed something vital.

(SPOILERS BELOW)

FREDDY! Wait, Freddy? As I was listening to him deliver that  campaign, all I could think was, “Freddy has come a long way since the pissing-the-pants days. I had no idea he was capable of anything of that caliber, and I did have a little nagging piece of a thought kernel in the back of my mind that I should have realized was worthy of inspection. I’m sure I was the only person who thought to myself, “Oh, of course, you fool,” when Freddy showed up at Don’s. But I digress. I wasn’t surprised to see it was Peggy he was pitching it to. I wasn’t even surprised to see she wasn’t the new Don instead of that dolt, Lou, but I was certainly disappointed. A word about the new Don: Dullsville. As someone who has worked in the advertising world before, albeit in the media buying piece of it, I can say that the creative arm of advertising is where the excitement is. If Lou had been sucking the life out of the creative area of the ad firm where I worked, I certainly wouldn’t have been desperately praying nightly to the gods of career advancement for any opportunity to jump to that area.

Don: Ever since Don and Sally shared that look at the end of season six while standing in front of the whorehouse where Don grew up, I have been waiting for this season to start with unbearable anticipation. Would this be, FINALLY, the season where Don would start to show some character growth? I felt that look they shared, as well as the fact that he took them to his childhood home in the first place, was a giant first step. So, I watched this episode with a hyper focus on Don, and Jon Hamm’s facial expressions as he plays Don with a tightly-controlled intensity that leaves me mystified as to the dearth of Emmy wins.

I am a little surprised to see that Megan and Don are still together. I thought the bicoastal preview was telling. They are clearly living separate lives and that is currently working for them. “You’re not here long enough for a fight.” In their first scene, I was struck how Megan just sets the scene by getting out of the car and walking over to Don. She just looks like California to me. And he looks like New York, or more simply, not California. She’s in the driver’s seat literally and figuratively out there. I am interested in seeing if there’s more from her perspective to explain Don’s lines, “She knows I’m a terrible husband.” “She doesn’t know that much, but she knows.” But this line, “I keep wondering, have I broken the vessel,” is the key to why they are still together, I think.

All of those references. Sorry, but I have to get back to work. The second time, surprisingly, is Don’s reason why he declines his attractive sleep partner’s invitation to party. “Why would I expect anything else?” “Well, blame Madison Avenue for that.” Those couple of references earlier in the episode to getting back to work are why it wasn’t a big reveal when Freddy walks into Don’s apartment. It was terrific, don’t get me wrong, but they had done their work in the episode to set up the reveal which I always appreciate. And I thought, “OK, it’s better at least. Don’s lied so many times. But when he said he’s got to get back to work he was actually getting back to work.” And in his mind, he probably thinks he’s close to legit since he’s still getting paid from SC&P for whom he’s doing the work through Freddy. Well, he’s doing work for other agencies, too, but I suspect that might be at Freddy’s urging. Of course, Freddy’s got bigger plans. He’s got the muse at his disposal, and he’s making a name for himself.

I am curious to see where the season leads, but I saw some signs of progress, with a clear signal that you should never bet on him. Watching him try to close those sliding doors had my feet sweating. I focus on the man falling in the opening credits as I’m supposed to, and I cast Don as that man again, though I’ve cast a few others over the seasons. That last scene was very effective. I wonder if Don will remain that man as the season progresses, or if they will try to have us substitute one or two others again. (A quick aside: does the clue to who will be the man falling in the opening credits lie in who remains in a suit during the entirety of the series? I’m sure that’s a stupid question as the opening credits have probably been meant to lead us astray all along. And here I am. Astray.)

Joan: My primary focus was on Don this episode, but after Joan pulled that fantastic Avon maneuver last season, she was my secondary focus. I’m thrilled to see her come into her own here. She’s always been the backbone of the agency, but it’s so good to see her do something for herself. She’s always done what she’s had to do to keep the agency going. Now, she’s obviously got the agency’s best interests in mind, but she’s making moves to further her own agenda. It’s great to see because I have no doubt she’ll succeed. “Actually I can answer that. You’re going to need another pad.” I loved watching her checkmate the shoe guy who wanted to bring the advertising in house. He was in over his head, and it was fun to watch her take him down.

Roger: I didn’t expect Roger to be embracing that lifestyle quite so fully, but it makes some sense with his ally Don gone, the agency leaning more Cutler, Chaough, rather than Cooper, Sterling, and the environment at work more productive and, therefore, even less Roger-friendly. He’s feeling lost, aimless, and alone. Clearly, the lifestyle doesn’t fit him well, though. I expect something tragic’s coming Roger’s way.

Ken: Head of accounts sure doesn’t agree with poor Ken, and I am so sad to see that the eyepatch is a permanent fixture. Makes for good physical comedy, I guess. Poor Ken. I love the guy and to see that he has effectively swapped places with Pete makes me die a little inside.

Peggy: It breaks my heart to see Peggy so sad at the end. All she has is work, and she works for a douche without a soul. But worse than that for her, she works for a douche without a soul who lacks talent. He has no vision or creativity. That creative meeting was polite and lifeless: lacking any creative fire and invention. There was plenty of ass-kissing which I’m interested in seeing explored further as Lou seems to me like all bark and no bite. Clearly that’s not correct since they all seem much more intimidated by him than they ever were by Don. Thank goodness she still has Stan. “None of this seems related to coffee. Buck up, chief.” I thought there was a romantic spark there between those two, and I am still hoping for that. I think they are good for each other.