Mad Men - The Suitcase

As fans gear up for a new "Mad Men" tonight, I wanted to take a look back at last week's episode.  Season 4 has been a vivid, rejuvenated season all along, and Episode 7: The Suitcase may have been the best episode of "Mad Men" yet.  It was structured like a Tennessee Williams play –  one room, two characters, too much booze, and the sloppy purging of pent-up fear, frustration and family secrets.  If the genius of "Mad Men’s" first season was Betty Draper’s passive aggressiveness, her quietude, then the genius of this season has been Peggy’s outspokenness, her fearlessness, and her boiling, ball-fisted self-confidence. 

Set against the backdrop of a famous fight (Cassius Clay [aka, Muhammad Ali] v. Sonny Liston, a much-debated underdog victory), the episode features Don and Peggy finally coming to blows. The juxtaposition is not subtle, but neither are their personalities. Don insults Peggy's work and demands she stay late; it's Peggy's birthday and she's still pissed about Don getting an award for a campaign that was her idea. From there, the night explodes.

What I think was so impressive and lingering about this episode was how utterly satisfying it was.  This is the fight we wanted Betty to have with Don, when instead she calmly and levelly told him she was leaving him.  This is the fight we wanted Peggy to have with Pete, when instead she crawled into a corner and quietly gave birth. Even when Betty broke down, it was alone and silent, during the middle of the day. And even when Peggy told Pete the truth, it was shameful and apologetic, as if she were in the wrong.

But Sunday night, the fists came out.  For the first time, a woman on the show behaves like a peer, not a victim; and maybe for the first time ever, someone really challenges Don Draper, and really holds him accountable for his behavior.  Fueled by Peggy's resentment and Don's loneliness, this fight was a long time coming, and undoubtedly signals a major turning point in their relationship. As Vulture put it,
“Peggy has risen so high, and Don has fallen so far, that maybe they're now meeting in the messy middle. After all they do have so much in common: They're both discreet, kinky, witty, smart, unsentimental, and often ruthlessly critical. They know each other’s secrets, and they both obsessively love the same thing: work.” 
This is the dynamic that's kept them circling each other since the first season, that's propelled them toward each other even though some unseen force kept them from getting too close.  Now, we're all waiting to see what the morning after will look like.

Vulture interpreted this dance as the overtures of a romance, citing the marriage of real life “Draper Daniels” to his “little giant” wife, a successful advertising co-worker. But I disagree. Don recognizes in Peggy something he's only ever found before in Anna, (seemingly) the only woman in his life  he didn't have a romantic relationship with. Don and Peggy have shared a deep intimacy, but it's familial and respectful, not sexual. Don's series of unsatisfying sexual encounters have been an increasingly desperate attempt to find true acceptance and create depth (neither of which he ever had with Betty). I think he's found what he was looking for in Peggy, and not a moment too soon. 

At the end of the episode, Don says the only person on earth who really knew him just died. "That's not true," Peggy responds.

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