Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Mad Men: What do a mouse and a cockroach have in common?

What do a mouse and a cockroach have in common? Answer: they both got a part in this episode of "Mad Men."

Together Peggy and Don cope with the vermin infecting their present and their pasts - you know those noxious, objectionable, or disgusting bits of reality that infect our memories, like mice and cockroaches.  In doing so, it appears Don's alcoholic binge may have bottomed out.

The show ends with Simon and Garfunkel singing Bleecker Street, an appropriate New York song with these words:
Voices leaking from a sad cafe
Smiling faces try to understand
I saw a shadow touch a shadow's hand...
During this episode Don and Peggy were
  • at a cafe,
  • were smiling at each other, and
  • their hands touched.
"The Suitcase" may have been the best episode of "Mad Men" yet. It was certainly the best episode in the show to date for Jon Hamm and Elisabeth Moss as Don and Peggy. If next August they don't get Emmy's for their performances in this one, that means that I have some excellent TV to look forward to.

The second Ali-Liston fight was the date identifier for "The Suitcase." (The Simon and Garfunkel song The Boxer also might have been appropriate at some point in this episode. But the duo released it several years later, unfortunately for Matthew Weiner who takes sole credit for writing this episode.)

The fight also allowed us to see Don picking the wrong player, again. He was sure Nixon would win, and he was so sure Liston would win he lost money on the fight. Predicting the future isn't always his forté. But the famous Neil Leifer photo may lead to a another Clio ad for Don:

The ad is for Samsonite luggage and Don's rejection of the efforts of the creative team led by Peggy was ostensibly the cause of a fight of their own, between Don and Peggy. But separately impacting events of that evening were the true reasons for each to lash out.

For Peggy, her self-described fiancé Mark made the biggest bone-headed move a guy could make. It's her birthday. He's taking her to a fancy restaurant, the Forum of the Twelve Caesars - romantic, right? Peggy sure thinks it is. But not Mark. He decides to make it a surprise event by including her family. You know, the judgmental family from hell for a woman like Peggy who we've already seen. Only Mark doesn't know this, because he doesn't know enough about Peggy to be her fiancé.

Don, of course, doesn't remember it's Peggy's birthday which hurts her and makes her mad. So after she and her team make the presentation, when he insists she stay late to work with him on it she's really furious. She thinks Don is going to the watch the fight at a closed circuit venue, so she tells Mark she'll be a little late thinking he's waiting at the table by himself. An hour later, a humiliated Mark calls her, a fight ensues leading to a breakup.

That breakup was inevitable, but naturally it leaves Peggy extremely upset. And it's only after all of this that she finally tells Don it was her birthday.

Don also is struggling with an inevitable crisis. About five minutes into the episode Miss Blankenship says to Don walking back to his office:
"You got a call while you were in the toilet to the direct line, Stephanie from California no last name, she says it's urgent. Would you like me to place the call?
A visibly shaken Don says: "I've got it." We already learned from Episode 3 of this season that Anna would die soon. From this point in this week's episode, Don/Dick visibly struggles with the inevitable - returning the phone call to learn when Anna died. This message successfully casts a pall over the remainder of the episode, until just before the end.

The series of scenes with Don and Peggy, exchanges of anger and understanding, all lead to Don falling asleep with his head on Peggy's lap, on the office couch, perhaps after drinking his last glass of sadness for awhile, we hope.

Then there was the incredibly effective use of other characters such as:

  • Don attempting to defend Peggy's honor by taking a swing at Duck, and his apparent acceptance of Peggy's involvement with Duck.
  • Peggy's restroom encounter with the pregnant Trudy Campbell who chirps: “Happy birthday! You know, 26 is still very young,” which was followed by a scene of Pete Campbell with a worried look observing the two of them leaving the restroom.
  • Don and Peggy listening to a tape of Roger's ramblings - Roger is writing a tell-all memoir - which includes secrets about Miss Blankenship and Burt Cooper.

Before discussing the ending, the obvious, and not so obvious, phantoms present have to be mentioned. Of course, we have the Ali-Frazer fight which was ended with what many observers called "the phantom punch." We have Anna's ghost looking in on Don. Those are the obvious ones. But we also have Peggy's baby and the dead Don Draper - the original one not Dick Whitman reborn.

Some hope for Don comes to us out of this episode. The model 1950's closed-off man broke down at the news of Anna's death with Peggy in the room. He sob's out Anna is "the only person in the world who really knew" him.

Peggy tells him that isn't true. And we know that she knows him better than anyone other than Anna. When he tentatively touched her hand, it was the hand of a true friend, and he was recognizing her value to him in a way that she needs. So much about this episode was both funny and poignant.

At the end, while leaving, at his office door, Peggy asks: "Open or closed."

"Open," Don replies, and in the final scene we see him sitting in his office from ten or more feet, through that open door, Don Draper looking sober, clean and fresh. And, as the closing music starts on this unusually high-caliber television, we're hopeful:
Fog's rollin' in off the East River bank
Like a shroud it covers Bleeker Street
Fills the alleys where men sleep
Hides the shepherd from the sheep

Voices leaking from a sad cafe
Smiling faces try to understand
I saw a shadow touch a shadow's hand....

1 comment:

Laura said...

Thank you for posting your thoughts! I really loved the episode, but I'm never very good at articulating exactly what I liked about an episode, or what was important, or why it moved me. You did all of that and more, and it was just lovely to read.