Mad Men – 4×07: Suit-case of the Blues

Is it totally melancholic of me to say that weeping to Mad Men felt like the perfect way to spend my Labor Day morning? Sigh. And speaking of, if last week’s CLio’s/Emmys match-up wasn’t enough of a coincidence, this week we had an episode full of Peggy laboring when she shouldn’t be, just in time for Labor Day weekend.

You know you're cute as hell (AMC)

I don’t use a rating system for episodes because, frankly, I find that attributing numbers, stars, and tomatoes as symbols for one’s level of approval to be obsessive, absurd, and ultimately arbitrary; but if I did, Sunday’s masterpiece would have been a five star kind of deal. It was one of the absolute best episodes of the series to date. So much so that I almost don’t even want to discuss its parts and just let it be. That might also be a result of the episode being strictly confined one thing: the delicate yet intense ebb and flow of Peggy and Don, (i.e. Peggy & Don). Their dynamic was so omnipotent over everything else in the episode that appearances from other character (despite some of my personal favorites like Trudy and Duck and Joan) had minimal-to-no impact on the story, or tone, or those characters themselves… at least on first viewing.

Peggy and Don. Don and Peggy. Like two peas in a 60’s pod bubble chair. I’m going to go through this episode, not in the usual character segments, but chronologically (as the night went on) so as not to break up the episode so much and just re-live the fantastic unraveling of conflict and emotion which made “The Suitcase” such a pleasure to watch.

The First Blows: No Touchdown and Duck Soup

Fittingly, the blows start with Cassius Clay. Then, the Joe Nameth Samsonite pitch. And FAIL.

Don doesn’t like it. It’s too obvious and lacking that special creative spark which they are so well known for, I can understand, but I thought: he’s so critical of her… STILL! Don is head of “Creative” but treats Peggy as though she is, solely blaming her for the failed Samsonite pitch. He’s her boss and she’s their boss, but in the end what’s the difference between the Don and Peggy? They both come up with the ideas and they both have to approve all those below them, the only difference being that Don has his name on the door, veto power, and 10 years experience. Well, it is what it is and she’s going to have to learn to accept it and even appreciate it in the long-run. This scene is a great place to start the episode, as the differences and similarities between these two are what it turns to be all about.

Duck tries to lure Birthday Girl Peggy into quitting SCDP and starting a new firm with him (“I need you, baby“), but much to her disappointment the gesture turns out to be nothing more than Duck’s newly unemployed attempt to stay afloat in a glass of Don Draper’s whiskey. But I asked this last week and I’ll ask again: if Don doesn’t get his act together, is this who he’ll become? Are the writers trying to scare us into the possibility of this? Duck as the Ghost of Christmas Future? I believe it.

Meanwhile, Stephanie in California leaves an urgent message for Don. He knows what it is. We know what it is. He can’t go through with it so he starts drinking. Drinking to forget about calling her. Later, drinking to have the strength to call her. There never seems to be an excuse not to drink. (Roger’s meeting with the President of Alcoholics Anonymous in this episode was no coincidence, of that I assure you.)

Roger: “That man Eldridge killed a man with a motorboat! You know what gets you over something like that? Drinking!”

The Second Blows: Bathroom Birthday and Step Into My Office

Shortly after Megan congratulates Peggy on having accomplished so much at the tender age of 26, in waltzes a very pregnant and glowing Trudy to (ahem) “assure” Peggy that “26 is still very young“, and of course she’s referring to child-bearing. (Oh Trudy. The irony! If only, she knew.) Well, you win some, you lose some… but who’s playing? Here again we have the timeless and endless female predicament: Why can’t we have it all? However, not every woman suffers in trying to find a way out from that catch 22 — not today and not in 1965 — but Peggy certainly does. Exhibit A:

As she tries to make her way out of the office, Peggy is called in by Don. It would appear that the rest of the creative team is aware of her stupidity in going to him. At first I thought they laughed more so because they were glad it wasn’t them that got called, but thinking about it in retrospect I believe it was equally as much about the fact that Don would never let Peggy out of there, specifically. Peggy is forced (but is she?) to stay and delay her birthday Dinner with Mark (and unbeknownst to her, family + roommate).

It’s the details that make Matt Weiner’s writing so magical and worthy of the praise and awards it gets him. For example, when Peggy storms back into her office to retrieve the Samsonite portfolio for Don she’s dressed to go: coat on, hat on, purse in hand. Annoyed, she takes off her hat and begins to remove her coat — but stops herself, putting the hat back on and walking into Don’s office fully dressed as a sign to Don that she is still ready to walk out the door. (SIDENOTE: It’s late May in New York City, why is she wearing a coat?) I don’t know what’s worse, though: Don not noticing, or the fact that Peggy did so just as much to remind herself that she had to walk out the door. Peggy has to force herself to do things she does not desire to do but which will get her the personal life she desires:

I mean I know what I’m suppose to want but… it just never feels right. Or as important as anything that’s in that office.

And of course:

I hate dating. I’m terrible at it…

Both these revelations come later on in the hour, but are relevant as the explicit counterparts to the implied actions of the first half.

The Third Blow: Self-Inflicted

An hour later, and after discovering that everyone she knows is waiting to surprise her at dinner, Peggy finally informs Don that its her birthday and that she’s leaving. Yes, Don is drunk and an asshole for forcing her to stay so long past her hours and so late into the night, but he’s right in that she should have told him it was her birthday. I ask myself, why didn’t she? The truth is, yet again, that she wanted to be there. Make no mistake about it, there is no conflict in what Peggy wants, only what she does. She really did want to be in that office with Don coming up with new ideas for Samsonite.

Here’s the thing: Peggy made the ultimate personal sacrifice for her career: giving up her child. It seems to me that anytime that the option to give up something personal for the sake of her job comes up again, she is too afraid to do it, as if it would invalidate that original sacrifice. If it turns out that at some point she screws up her professional life for the sake of her personal life she would have to once and for all accept the guilt of her actions as they would appear to have been in vain and for nothing after all, which is a possibility she simply cannot face right now. And so, time and time again she will choose Don over a real life because he represents what she gave up (after all, he was there) and its significance as “the right thing to do”. The day she finally decides otherwise (the day she marries, the day she has a child, etc.) will not be as happy a day for Peggy as one may think, instead it will be the day when the truth about her life unravels in front of her and a life lived in secret will cripple her, just like they did to Don.

And so she decides not to go to her birthday party at all. It may not have been a great birthday, and Mark may not be the right man for her, and the people present may have driven her up the wall, but it would have been the right thing to do.

Peggy: “Yeah? Well maybe you should have dated [my mother]! She’s never even had a job.

Did she really just say that?

Mark: “Maybe I should have invited Don. You never stand HIM up.

We could go back and forth about Don and Peggy’s argument regarding Glo Coat and the CLio’s and thanking her and where the idea came from all day but I am personally of the opinion that Don came out on top there. Or as Peggy likes to put it, “you win… again.” He’s right, it’s her job to provide ideas and she’s young and she’s all upset about getting a thank you but after all “that’s what the money is for.” Peggy begins to cry and its not about Mark, its this line that makes it so:

You’re young. You will get your recognition. And honestly, it is absolutely ridiculous to be two years into your career and counting your ideas. Everything to you is an opportunity. And you should be thanking me every morning when you wake up, along with Jesus, for giving you another day.

My apologies but he’s right. She’s so young. She will get her recognition. She has to let the man use her and kick her while she’s down a bit, and not because she’s a woman but because she’s just not high enough on the totem pole yet and that’s the way it works. It’s the cycle of the professional life: your boss was probably someone’s slave, and now it’s your turn. Last week we saw all the begging Don had to do get into Sterling Cooper in the first place, so we know this. That’s life. Unfortunately that obsession with validating her professional life is too strong for Peggy and makes her emotional about it.

That aside, Don just compared himself to Jesus, but he has the nerve to scoff at Cassius Clay for calling himself Muhammad Ali. Hypocrisy, well noted.

Men, To Your Corners

The brief time out that follows I’ve watched three times already. Roger’s diary:

Ida was a hellcat? Cooper lost his balls? Roger is writing a book?

A good time to turn to Don for a moment as he reveals so much about himself. Throughout the episode, culminating at the Greek diner and then the bar, he has told Peggy:

  • “I grew up on a farm.”
  • “I saw my father die too, got kicked by a horse.”
  • “I never knew [my mother].”
  • “…I was in Korea… I saw some people get killed.”

I can't tell the difference anymore between something that's good and something that's awful (AMC)

This followed by Duck calling Peggy “just another whore” and Don swinging for him, well knowing he was not going to win. I think that spoke volumes to Peggy about Don and what he stood for. She may not know that his mother was a whore, but it was enough. She does not see Duck home, but instead walks him out and stays with Don who tells her about the dreaded phone call he must make and apologizes for embarrassing her.

T.K.O

This was the point in which I started to turn into a puddle of mush and tears. The Ghost of Christmas Past this time, in the form of Anna’s ghost. It’s funny how whenever someone cracks a joke at a really sad moment I crack and cry:

She left her body to science. She said she wanted to get into UCLA Medical School, tuition free.

And this is the moment when the whole episode comes together. Don breaks down for the first time since I can really remember, though I think it may have happened on a smaller scale once before. He tells Peggy what has happened instead of shunning her off and swallowing his tears as he would do had this happened in front of anyone else. The only person that every really knew him has died. But “that’s not true.” Waaaaaah!

Just as I’d composed myself and the rest of Frat Row had begun to blow whistles in Peggy face, up walks Peggy and into Don’s office. Yet again. Willingly. Here’s his idea, and she’s as hard on him. Just as hard as he is on her. One in the same. But this is why they are good together and here’s a relationship where personally and professionally they can both say they got it right. He goes for her hand, and not the other way around which made such an impact on me that it would be Don to recognize the need to acknowledge their love for one another. It was as if Anna was in the room with him, and had taught him something quite valuable though she may not be around anymore.

Open or Close“, Peggy asks.

Open“, he responds.

Between these two, yes. But will they ever open themselves up to the rest?

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2 Comments

  1. Time
    Posted September 7, 2010 at 7:57 pm | Permalink | Reply

    I was so amazed by this episode I can’t even tell. I loved the *fight scene* when Don made the point that “this is your job!”. I love how they care for each other. This episode made me feel an inspiring feeling of “this is really good” in a way I forgotten that exists. This was when I thought of your blog description, where you compare movies to television. I go to the cinema about once a week or so but I haven’t experiences this for a very long time. Afterwards (it was beyond midnight) I had to walk for an hour or more while listening to some Radiohead.

    Two additions:
    I liked the restaurant and bar conversations as well. When he ask if she knew the father, she replied “of course” and when they had that encounter later, together with Don’s fight, I immediately tried to imagine the thoughts going through Dons head about who must be the father.
    Also a thing I read somewhere else, which functioned as a reminder for me: In one of the first episodes of Mad Men Peggy also touches Dons hand like he does in the end of this one. But the purpose was totally different. How far they have come :)

    • Posted September 11, 2010 at 10:44 am | Permalink | Reply

      Just the fact that Don doesn’t ask who the father is is a reminder of how alike they are in their private affairs. I couldn’t imagine a scene where Peggy tells him it’s Pete or of him reacting to it. I doubt anyone would ever find and it’s funny because on any other show we’d all just be waiting for the lever to break, as in it was of course expected that something which could cause so much drama actually WOULD. But Mad Men has shown time and time again that it’s not going the soap opera route. This also probably why only 2 million ppl watch it “/

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