Sunday, September 19, 2010

Review: Mad Men "The Suitcase"

Non Spoiler Review:
The pace of the season continues to build, delivering another wow episode. This time the focus is on Peggy and Don, as the several plot threads from this season culminate in a fantastic and riveting hour of Mad Men. With the Mohammad Ali fight as the backdrop, this episode takes place mostly throughout the night at SCDP as Peggy and Don are forced to work late on the Samsonite campaign, all under the shadow of some ominous news that is awaiting Don.

This was totally a Don and Peggy hour, with very little to see of other characters aside from window dressing. It was hilarious and heart-wrenching, and easily the best of the season. I'm excited to see what comes next!

Spoilers Now!
Where to begin? Peggy's story lines come to fruition. First it's her 26th birthday, and she must deal with a variety of perspectives from her friends and co-workers. Secretary Megan is complimentary and envious, while Trudy must make a back-handed comment that it's still not too late for her to have children. Mark (remember him?), meanwhile, has planned a surprise party with Peggy's family, but Don's Samsonite account takes priority and she is forced to choose to stay a little late, delay her party, and ultimately cancel in favor of her work.

This comes at no small cost to Peggy. Don doesn't remember her birthday, which is a slight to her. She is continually being ganged up on by the new unholy trinity of Stan, Danny and Joey (Joey seems to have slipped into the boys club now that it's no longer just him and Peggy. All the charm his character had at the beginning has evaporated). Don holds Peggy to a higher standard and wants her to stay and help, causing a harsh argument on the phone with Mark, who ultimately offers to break up with her (as he sits next to her mother!). Peggy's family is equally disgusted with her, and none can relate at all to her life choices.

Isolated, Peggy goes back to work with Don, who has been continually drinking this whole time. The two have several altercations, with Don berating and mocking her for not telling him it was her birthday, just so he can feel sorry for her. Peggy's off to cry in the ladies room again, but eventually marches back to Don's office only to have him playing a tape of Roger's memoirs. Together they share a laugh over the stories he reveals and they head off for a drink and dinner.

What comes next is an intimate series of conversations where they open up to one another about their life choices, and some personal secrets. Peggy's mother thinks Don is the father of her baby. Peggy also was home with her father when he died when she was young. Don confides he never knew his mother and his father was killed by a horse.

Don has been drinking heavily for a good reason this episode, as he's received a message from California and knows that Anne has died. But he puts off returning the call, and after he and Peggy return to the office following the end of the Ali fight, he's intoxicated enough to get sick. Peggy brings him to the ladies room and watches over his rather messy retching.

That's when an equally inebriated Duck arrives, heading to Roger's office to defecate on his chair (but picking Roger's by mistake). Peggy stops him, only to have Don stumble in to the lunch room (white shirt stained with his vomit) and confront Duck, who totally outs Peggy's affair with him. Only when Duck calls Peggy a whore does Don stand up and a wrestling match ensues. Unfortunately, Duck seems to have the upper hand, and Don relinquishes, heading back to his office while Peggy gets rid of Duck. And we're left without the satisfaction of seeing Duck dropped by Don.

Peggy returns, and Don allows her to save face by requiring no explanation. The two sit on the couch and Don falls asleep in her lap. And come morning, Don awakens to an apparition of Anne carrying a suitcase, smiling in approval at his new confidante, and fading away. He gets up and makes his phone call, which is what we expect. Anne is dead.

He looks over to see Peggy watching him, and confesses the only person who really knew him is dead. He then has a messy breakdown and she comforts him. Eventually Peggy heads back to her office for a nap before the start of the day, only to be wakened by the unholy trinity. Later that morning, Don is cleaned up and looking perfect, and as they begin to work it looks as though Don might have written off the night's events as he normally does. But, on the contrary, he briefly takes Peggy's hand to know he hasn't forgotten what they shared.

What I liked:
This episode had it all for me—Peggy and Don's relationship finally achieved a new level. It's been leading to this for several seasons. Their conversations over the course of the episode ranged from the mean-spirited to the truly genuine and heartfelt. Peggy has replaced Anne as his confidante. She's seen Don at his worst. Even his hand touch recalled the first episode of the series where Peggy attempted to come on to him.

They even discussed the fact he never made a pass with her. Don respects her too much. She's burned a lot of bridges for him and must put up with contrite remarks from the likes of Trudy, her family's harsh judgements and peers that think she slept her way to her job. Don has finally acknowledged her sacrifices. 

The conversation at the bar where Don and Peggy slowly revealed certain secrets was compelling, and both stopped before revealing their ultimate secrets (Dick Whitman and the paternity of Peggy's child).

Finally, Mark is history! Now to thin out the Stan, Joey and Danny triumvirate.

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