Sunday, September 05, 2010

"Mad Men" Ep. 4.7: "The Suitcase"

This episode, aptly titled "The Suitcase," might just as easily have been called "The Fight." The famous Muhammad Ali-Sonny Liston match of 1965, which resulted in one of the most iconic boxing photos of all time, provided a neat framing device for several key "Mad Men" relationships, as long-simmering tensions gave way to open conflict: most obviously between Don and Peggy, as well as Don and Duck, but also between Peggy and hapless Mark, Peggy and her own family, and Joan and the Sterling Cooper junior frat club. (I'd even argue Trudy and Peggy traded a couple of jabs in the ladies' room, whether or not that was the conscious intent on either side.) Like the Ali-Liston bout, each of these faceoffs ended inconclusively or, at best, with an ambiguous victory.

No doubt fans who love Don and Peggy were delighted to see them finally have it out. Myself, I was alternately exasperated with both of them - Don for being so rude and peremptory with Peggy, Peggy for sticking around and putting up with his crap - and worried that the two of them would hook up. (Not that I've ever truly, rationally thought that Matt Weiner would go down that path, but after the Allison debacle I put nothing past Don.) Thankfully, their showdown culminated in greater emotional, not physical, intimacy - a surprisingly feel-good ending after an unpromising beginning. There were so many ways their blow-up could have messed them both up even further: Don was obviously abusing Peggy to hold his Anna-related guilt and fears at bay, while Peggy, in deciding to stay, was just as obviously working through a host of her own issues - daddy issues, mommy issues, career-girl issues (a/k/a "what I want vs. what's expected of me," to quote the good Dr. Faye). The sight of Don and Duck drunkenly fighting - ostensibly over Peggy's honor, but really over her loyalty - was like a grotesque parody of a courtly romance, and all I could think about was what a field day Freud would have had with all three of them.

Yet somehow, against all odds, Don and Peggy seemed to draw strength from each other after tearing each other down. The symmetry of having them both cry was a little too pat, but I'll take it if it means they've both moved forward. We've seen enough of Don wallowing in his guilt and self-hatred and Peggy stewing over Don not appreciating her. I also think we've seen enough of both Mark and Duck, though there's a part of me that will always feel a little sorry for Duck. What can I say, I seem to have sympathy for the characters that everyone else hates (Betty, Pete, Duck, even Dr. Rapist). But if Peggy's going to be a life-preserver to any man, it's clearly not going to be Duck. Don may have cried uncle, but he came out on top after all.

And surely being covered in his own vomit and pinned by an even drunker Duck has got to be Don hitting bottom, right? I'm keeping my fingers crossed that this episode - Don's "purging" (that was a hella puke), his crying, his last vision of the beatified spirit of Saint Anna (with a Samsonite suitcase, heh - carrying away Don's baggage, perhaps, and leaving him in Peggy's care) - was the final kick, the moment of catharsis he needed. I take encouragement in our last view of him, with his fresh shirt, his crisp yet kindly tone to Peggy at the end, the door he told her to leave open.

But on the other hand - Don bet on Liston to win.

Best line - or at least, best-delivered line, from Peggy:

"Cooper has no testicles?"

Random notes:

-There seems to have been a gradual erosion of Joan's omnipotence at Sterling Cooper over this season. First Lane Pryce deprecates her charms; then she gets relegated to the ranks of "old married women" who aren't needed for a focus group study; now that young punk art guy has been going out of his way to defy her authority. (Although to be fair, he doesn't seem to have respect for anyone's authority, judging by his past comments on Don and Pete.) There was a time when Joan would have had all the underlings eating out of her hand. Now, not so much. Sign of a culture shift at Sterling Cooper? Or her own thinning patience and diminishing joie de vivre? Or just a reflection of her own changed social status as a married woman?

-Loved the look of alarm on Pete's face as he saw Trudy and Peggy emerging from the ladies' room. Vincent Kartheiser has really been knocking it out of the park this season.

-Not surprised that Trudy appears to have inherited her father's love of bloodsport. This is a lady to be reckoned with.

-Whom did Pete bet on to win the fight? It wasn't clear to me from his comments, though it was clear he identified with Ali. I thought it was interesting that the dweeby new guy, Jane's cousin (who will always be Doyle from "Gilmore Girls" to me, though I understand he was also on Buffy), definitely DID bet on Ali to win. And he also called out Harry on his greed and antisemitism. Perhaps we shouldn't underestimate the little dude after all.

-So Dr. Lyle Evans does mean something after all! Well played, Weiner, well played.


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