Saturday, 23 October 2010

'MAD MEN' 4.7 - "The Suitcase"

Saturday, 23 October 2010

The Stateside buzz from this episode has been deafening, and "The Suitcase" thankfully justified the hoopla. For the majority of its run-time this was a two-hander between Don (Jon Hamm) and Peggy (Elisabeth Moss), together at work after-hours, and as two of the most compelling characters, it made for a gripping and informative hour for both.

On the eve of a boxing match between Cassius Clay and Sonny Liston, Don's stewing over a commercial for Samsonite suitcases, being unimpressed by Peggy, Stan (Jay R. Ferguson), Joey (Matt Long), and Danny's (Danny Siegel) pitch for a football-themed advert with an endorsement from NFL quarterback Joe Namath. Still, the idea of promoting the Samsonite's toughness and durability at least felt like the right direction, and prompted Don to start brainstorming campaigns using that angle. The Samsonite account became something of a welcome distraction, too, after Miss Blankenship (Randee Heller) informed him of an urgent phone call from Stephanie (Caity Lotz) in California, the niece of Anna Draper (Melinda Page Hamilton), who's no doubt calling with bad news about Anna's terminal cancer.

With the workforce leaving to watch the big fight, Don instead retired to his office to create the troublesome Samsonite commercial by himself, refusing to join Roger (John Slattery) for an evening in the company of teetotal Freddy Rumsen and Pond's Cal Rutledge. Peggy is also leaving for a 26th birthday dinner with drippy boyfriend Mark (Blake Bashoff), but made the mistake of checking on Don before she leaves, finding herself on the receiving end of his sharp tongue over the Samsonite failure. Unwilling to reveal her dinner date, Peggy reluctantly agreed to stay behind and help Don think up a better commercial, and so began a long evening of arguments, revelations, and even a brawl...

Don and Peggy are two of my favourite characters, and considering how the world of Mad Men was first introduced through naive Peggy's eyes, I've always considered her the audience proxy, to an extent. An episode that pairs them together was always going to be fun, but "The Suitcase" found real heart, darkness and humour that took things to a higher level.

It was a joy to see Duck (Mark Moses) make a proper comeback, as I thought his appearance last week at the Clio awards was just a fun cameo, but here we saw him drunkenly trying to rebuild his life and career by lurking Peggy away from SCDP with the promise of making her his Creative Director in a fictitious startup agency targeting women. It was an offer that flattered her, although she sensed how Duck's scheme is pie in the sky.

Peggy's argument with Don over his poaching of her Glo-Coat idea, which earned him a Clio award in which he didn't mention her input during his acceptance speech, was also a wonderful flashpoint. Don fighting his corner, claiming she's being immature for wanting approval all the time, and saying the money she earns is thanks enough. This episode often felt like a psychological boxing match -- Clay versus Litton becoming Draper versus Olson -- as they battled for supremacy while trying to hammer out the Samsonite advert. There were even seconds-out with the pair returning to their "corners": Peggy in a rest room, crying in anguish; Don slumped in his sofa. The boxing allegory even became physical when Duck arrived in the office, steaming drunk and planning to leave an equally steaming turd on an office chair. Duck and Don then drunkenly fought over Peggy's honour, with Duck surprisingly getting the upper-hand over the tipsy Don -- perhaps because he's seen real wartime combat and knows how to handle himself better.

There were plenty of opportunities for Peggy to leave Don and the situation behind, especially when he realized she was giving up a birthday treat with her boyfriend and gave her permission to go, but she always found an excuse to stay. And after hearing Mark's arranged a surprise party with her family attending, it was obvious Peggy took his gesture as evidence Mark doesn't really understand her desires. That's not to suggest she thinks Don would be better boyfriend material, but she's certainly developing maternal feelings for him -- bizarrely, given she's younger than he is. And for Don their bond is becoming tighter, too.

When Don finally made the call to California in the morning, having seen an apparition of Anna in his office during the night (clutching a suitcase, off on her final journey...), the confirmation of her death caused him to break down in front of Peggy. A magnificent shot; asleep Peggy sudden revealed as sitting upright on his sofa, having overheard his most private conversation. Don reveals that "the only person in the world who really knew me" has died, and Peggy's response "that's not true" appears to signal that Anna's torch has been accepted by her. Indeed, Peggy's seen more of Don/Dick than most other people. Don's even told Peggy things about his past he'd usually be very tight-lipped about the night before, including how his father died after getting kicked in the head by a horse.

Overall, "The Suitcase" definitely ranks as one of Mad Men's best hours; packed full of funny, perceptive and emotional moments. It also marks a clear turning point in the Don/Peggy relationship, symbolized in the final scene when Don tells Peggy she can leave his office door open. He's no longer a closed book to her.

  • In an episode heaving with brilliant moments, one of my favourite was Don listening to Roger's audio-tapes with Peggy, revealing that Bert Cooper has had an unnecessary orchiectomy (castration) and once slept with "queen of perversions" Miss Blankenship! The mystery of Roger's earlier comment about a Dr Lyle Evans was also revealed: he was actually the surgeon who removed Cooper's testicles!
WRITER: Matthew Weiner
DIRECTOR: Jennifer Getzinger
GUEST CAST: Matt Long, Blake Bashoff, Alison Brie, Cara Buono, Jessica Pare, Jay R. Ferguson, Danny Strong, Melinda Page Hamilton, Caity Lotz, Randee Heller, Audrey Wasilewski, Jerry O'Donnell, Myra Turley & Mark Moses
TRANSMISSION: 20 October 2010 -- BBC4/HD, 10PM