ACG Blogger Alex Guillen weighs in here with his thoughts on the latest “Mad Men.” Below, don’t miss new contributor Vanessa Van Landingham’s analysis.
Last night’s episode of “Mad Men,” “The Suitcase,” was certainly the best of this season and possibly the best of the series overall, and it did that by focusing almost exclusively on Peggy and Don and their lack of real, satisfying personal lives.
“Mad Men,” more than most drama television, is marinated in metaphor, each line and action — no matter how seemingly throwaway or derivative —more likely than not steeped in simile. Beginning the episode with discussion of the big Cassius Clay vs. Sonny Liston fight practically guarantees a knock-down drag-out between two of the characters. Actually, as it turned out, two knock-down drag-outs; one physical, between Duck and Don, and the other emotional, between Don and Peggy.
They’ve bickered in every episode, and it was finally time for the trash-talking to lead to (metaphorical) blows. The bell rang at five, as the entire office filed out to dinner and the boxing match while Peggy prepped for a romantic dinner with What’s-His-Face, Karl from “Lost.” Obviously she wasn’t going to make that. Peggy also suffered the added stress of Duck propositioning her to head creative at some never-to-happen new ad agency (offshoot ad agencies apparently being the hot new thing of the mid-‘60s).
Don yells at her for a while about her crap ideas for Samsonite (side note: Peggy’s Joe Namath idea was so shockingly on the nose she should get a raise in a few years when he becomes wildly popular), and Peggy hits back with a few pent-up barbs about her contributions to the Glo-Coat ad. He counters that she should thank him and God every day that he employs her, something he appears to immediately regret and which is rather silly considering he begged her to join SCDP.
Peggy stays standing, and Don treats her to a birthday dinner at a sanitized blue diner, where they open up about his time in Korea and her father dying of a heart attack in front of her. “Let’s go someplace darker,” Don says, shifting their conversation from such light-hearted affairs as war and myocardial infarction to a dank, Draperian bar and the office’s sexual politics. Peggy concludes that nothing in her personal life matches the thrill or importance of her professional life, a great realization in her and a reflection of Don. She has a weenie ex-whatever and a family who thinks her baby was Don’s. He has a troublesome daughter, and ex-wife who despises him and a prostitute who will slap him for free.
This episode-long conversation continues back at the office, where while Don barfs Peggy stops Duck from defecating in Roger’s office. There’s a short break for Don and Duck to engage in some fisticuffsmanship, and then Peggy must tacitly decide to whose wagon she should hitch her star. Both men are drunk, true, but she goes with the one who “freshens up” in the mornings, apparently none the worse for the wear.
The morning after revealed a shift in their relationship, one hopefully more permanent than Don’s professions of professional love for Peggy last season. Don, having seen Anna’s ghost depart (Samsonite in tow!) for the afterlife, takes Peggy’s hand, transferring his relationship with Anna to Peggy. She doesn’t know all the details of his life, obviously, but Peggy really does now seem like the person who knows who Don truly is. She (rightly) criticizes his boxing luggage idea, but in the end takes his hand.
“Open,” he replies, not referring to his door.
“Mad Men” is a drama, and Peggy and Don have had a rough-and-tumble relationship through the seasons. It’s likely they’ll have some serious issues ahead, but as long as they don’t mix business and pleasure their creative relationship seems set up to soar to new heights.
In other news, there were some delicious revelations courtesy of Roger’s forthcoming memoir. Cooper’s eunuchhood was surprising and provided crucial background for the fleeting mention of Dr. Lyle Evans two weeks ago — Roger’s throwaway remark regarding bowing to the Japanese now more artfully represents his feelings on the matter (and explains why Cooper nodded knowingly while Pete and Joan floundered at the reference). Perhaps more shocking was the discovery of Roger’s ancient tryst with Mrs. Blankenship, Don’s punishment for sleeping with and spurning his previous secretary.
One of the more telling moments, a scene that undoubtedly seeded a later episode, was Pete’s nervous glance at his wife and Peggy as they exited the restroom at the same time. The two women he’s impregnated, one obviously near term, seemed to be a little much for him, and though the moment was quickly surpassed by more pressing matters “Mad Men” will return to that trope soon.
ACG Blog contributor Vanessa Van Landingham shares her thoughts on the episode. You can learn more about her at the About page, and look forward to seeing more of her thoughts on “Mad Men.”
If there’s one thing Don Draper has in spades, it’s power. The trouble is, power is transient, and Don is heading toward a very Duck Phillips-y future. “You still think you’re better than me?” he asks Don after the two drunkenly brawl in the SCDP offices. And with his personal life in utter upheaval, Don isn’t quite so sure.
After all, he’s already partially there; like Duck, he’s a divorced drunkard who is terrified of the very real possibility of being alone. And now that Anna, “the only person who really knew him,” is dead, he’s really feeling the sting of solitude.
Peggy, on the other hand, has the family that Don so desperately wants — people who know everything about her, and love her anyway. Yes, Peggy has the family, and wit and moxie to boot, but she’d trade it all for the kind of power Don has. When it comes down to it, Peggy’s authority is nothing more than a silly pink paper crown — a chimera of control that anyone in the office can pluck from her head and crumple up.
And it’s on these desires that Don and Peggy are building a symbiotic relationship. Don is the grantor and arbiter of power at SCDP. He gave Peggy her first hit, and he can give her more. Peggy is the closest thing Don has to family. She’s seen him at his worst, cleaned up his messes, and isn’t afraid to tell him when he’s made a mistake. She may not know his secret, but she certainly knows him, nevertheless.
My concern right now is that this relationship is headed for something more romantic in the not-too-distant future, and, for the most part, I’m really enjoying the interpersonal dynamics of the show as they are. I say, let Don and Peggy simmer for a bit, and bring back Joan and Roger. With Roger’s wife, Whatsherface, being as insufferable and petulant as she is, and Dr. Rapist surely deployed by now, this pairing is essentially an inevitability.