Mad Men S04 E7 “The Suitcase”
|REVIEWS - TV|
It's not just Cassius Clay preparing for a fight this week...
"This was possibly the best episode of Mad Men I’ve seen – which makes it, without hyperbole, possibly the best hour of TV I’ve seen yet."
In this episode, against the background of the epic Cassius Clay / Sonny Liston rematch, Don Draper and Peggy get really, shockingly drunk. Don makes Peggy stay at work to do a pitch, missing her birthday dinner, but does it for his own reasons - to avoid business requirements on one level and personal trauma on another. Peggy and her boyfriend Mark break up, and Don’s friend Anna dies. Peggy gets some closure to her relationship with Duck, and we learn something about Don’s ancient secretary Ida and get some good old 1960’s racism, wrapped up in a gender-stereotypical bow.
Harry Crane is handing out tickets to the Clay / Liston fight. The fight itself was held in Maine, but there are tickets to closed-captioned viewings of the fight which Harry is giving or selling to his coworkers, depending on their level. Or how much he likes them. I wish I had a similarly easy-to-read method of classifying the people that I am around every day. “You, grommet. Pay me for that. You are above me in social circles, I curry your favor by providing this for free.”
Interesting debate on the fight ensues – historically accurate as well. I love this show. They reference Muhammad Ali’s elevated heart rate prior to the February Clay-Liston battle, and the fact that Liston has never been knocked out. Clay beat Liston in the first match up on a technical knock out. Don Draper puts money down on Liston, then accepts an invite to pre-party with the guys at the Palm.
Don calls in the Samsonite team: Peggy, Joey, Stan Stan the naked man and Danny offer a commercial with a Joe Namath endorsement. Don rejects it, hard. He sends everyone out of the room except Peggy, and offers her, “I’m glad that we have created an environment where you feel free to fail.” Ouch. Some day I aspire to put someone down that succinctly. Go Don!
Peggy goes back to her desk to find a giant bouquet of flowers from Duck. Duck, the anti-drinking slogan come to life from the Clios. And Season 3. Duck is forming his own company focused on women’s products and offers Peggy the post of Creative Director. He even had cards made up for her! Aw. But she realizes, almost immediately, that this has come about because Duck was fired, and also that Duck is like super-drunk. She lets him down, kind of easy. Duck goes from all indignant: this is an actual job offer! Too pathetic: I need to see you tonight, I’m falling apart! - in a less than three minute conversation. Love it.
Ida Blankenship, Don’s comically ancient and unattractive secretary, lets him know that he has a call from California. Don obviously suspects bad news, and can’t make the call back. Instead, he tries to get Roger for a big drunken night out watching the fight. Roger has been called into an AA dinner and is anguished at the thought of depending on a pre-party and a flask. He tries to get Don to come too, but Don needs distraction, and not the sneaking-drinks-with-Roger type.
Roger bet correctly on the fight; is that weird? Everybody else from the ‘establishment’ seems to have bet on Sonny Liston. But Roger bet $300 on Cassius Clay. (“$300. Liston has to lose. By unconsciousness.”) The interesting part of that is that this is the second Clay-Liston fight: Cassius Clay had already beat Sonny Liston in February 1964, with this episode taking place in November 1964. At the time of the first fight, Liston was heavily favored as the knockout king, and Clay won in the seventh by TKO. Nine months later, Liston challenges Clay to a rematch; and Roger bets that this man, Liston, who has never been really knocked out, will lose by unconsciousness. Does it seem relevant that Roger bet on the winner and Don bet on the loser?
The writing team from Samsonite is in the break room, with Peggy in a paper crown, obviously from a birthday party. Joanie confronts everybody about the mess which she can see from her office. Joey is the only one who refuses to clean up, “Although I am paid less, I am still not a janitor.” And he walks out. Is he pissed that he makes less than Joan, practically a partner and him, a contractor? Really?
In the bathroom, Peggy is touching up her makeup. The receptionist asks her about her plans (dinner at the Forum of the Twelve Caesars with her boyfriend) and asks how old she is. “26? You’re doing all right, aren’t you?” she says, admiringly. She exits and Trudy Campbell enters. Trudy, hugely pregnant with Campbell’s demon spawn, has a conversation with Peggy as well; when she complains about being kicked by the baby inside all day Peggy responds, “No different than living with Pete, is it?” Trudy laughs, not knowing what the audience knows: this is Peggy’s dig at Trudy, having already borne Campbell’s demon spawn and handed it off to her more domestically-minded sister in order to pursue her career at SCDP. Even not knowing that, Trudy takes her dig at Peggy: “26 is still very young.” Awesome. Trudy assumes that Peggy wants what she has, but Peggy has already rejected that choice. Their scene together is so fantastic, only topped by the look on Pete’s face when he sees Trudy and Peggy exit the bathroom together. Hah!!
Trudy joins the boys to head to the bar and watch the game; Peggy goes down the hall to respond to a summons from Don. Which of these women is really liberated? Trudy mentions that her father was a fan of blood sport, and that she’s been watching fights since she was a child. Now she is doing the same thing with her husband. Peggy seems more free, but is she? She’s still responding to the requests and whims of her father figure (Don).
Miss Blankenship reminds Don that he has a call from California to be returned. “Shall I do it before I go? There’s a time difference, you know.” Don replies, “Yes, but it goes the other way.” Bazinga.
After Don rejects three of the team’s ideas, Peggy reluctantly delays her departure for dinner at the Forum with Mark to talk Samsonite with Don. He is aware that she wants to leave (although, in his defense, not that it’s her bday) but demands that she stay to work on the pitch. “What, do you think elves do this?” Again, with the witty snark. Which is far tastier than Cutty Snark.
"It’s hilarious to see Peggy as the worst yes-man in the world"
Peggy calls Mark at the Forum restaurant to let him know that she will be late. The camera pulls back to show that he has her whole family there, as well as her roommate. The sisters and roommate pile on the judgmental/disdainful, “No surprise” while her mom at least seems supportive.
Afterward Peggy tries to talk business with Don, but he’s more interested in her opinion of Cassius Clay. She admits that he’s handsome and he counters with, “He’s got a big mouth. ‘I’m the greatest’. Liston is methodical, goes about his business.” So this is what Don admires, then? The closed-mouth Don Draper would appreciate that, I guess; but the full-of-himself ad man being interviewed by the Times, isn’t that more a Cassius Clay thing? Don gets an idea for Samsonite here, and it’s hilarious to see Peggy as the worst yes-man in the world.
Roger calls drunk from a pay phone, Don refuses to meet him out and help him with clients. Roger complains about being out with teetotalers and having to escape to drink, “[one of these guys] ran over a guy with a speedboat? You know how you get over that? By drinking!” This sounds so super-scary, ominous to me. Like someone on the background tape making spooky ooooooo noises. What is Roger going to have to drink to get over? Or Don? Yikes.
Mark, the boyfriend, calls complaining that Peggy has been an hour when she promised it would be fifteen minutes. He confesses that he invited her family and that they are waiting with him. Peggy says she’s on the way, then goes to Don’s office, where she confesses that she’s missing her birthday dinner and needs to leave. Don goes defensive and sarcastic, although he says, “You are twenty… something years old, it’s time to get over birthdays! Go ahead, I’ll do it myself.”
Mark gets call from Peggy – Mark looks at waiter bringing him phone and says, “Yes! I’m that important!” Hilarious. Peggy’s mom gets on phone and says, basically, they’re not lining up to date you, you should be grateful! Mark threatens her, she calls him on it, and they break up over the phone. Peggy goes to Don to tell him that they broke up, and that she intends to keep working. Don tells her to go home. Thus follows the best one-on-one fight I’ve seen on TV since Buffy killed Angel at the end of season 2. Peggy demands recognition for the Glo Coat commercial. Don responds that yes, she gave him a kernel of an idea, which he turned into a commercial. Don: You give me ideas, it’s your job! Peggy: And you never say thank you! Don: That’s what the money is for! Peggy runs out crying, Don has the modicum of decency to look a little bit upset.
Don is taping ideas for Samsonite when he realizes he’s out of tape, and sees a mouse run across the floor. He’s pounding on Peggy’s wall to come to his office: where he plays the new tape he put into his machine. It’s take #4 of ‘Sterling’s Gold’ by Roger Sterling. He talks about how Bert Cooper hates him because of his joie de vivre, his (Roger’s) affair with the ‘Queen of Perversion’ Ida Blankenship (Don’s current ancient secretary) and the fact that Bert lost his balls to an unnecessary orchiectomy.
Laughing at this – how could you not? – Peggy sees a mouse and thinks it’s a rat. Don says that it’s a mouse, and reveals that he grew up on a farm. He also says, “You know what, there’s a way out of this room that we don’t know about.” This sounds heavy, portentous, riddled with double meaning.
Don takes Peggy out to dinner at a Greek diner, the antithesis of romance. (It’s still Greek, but it’s no Forum of the Twelve Caesars!) Peggy reveals that she’s never been in an airplane, and Don’s talking about the war and his Uncle Max, with a suitcase always packed. Peggy says, earnestly, ” I know what I’m SUPPOSED to want but it just never feels right.” Don talks more about Korea, and how he saw his father die, and how he never knew his mother. (If he just tells her that he assumed Don Draper’s identity she will know as much about him as Anna ever did. Maybe she’s Anna, v.2.)
In a dark bar, Peggy confesses that everybody thinks she slept with Don to get the job and makes a snarky comment about how she’s not as attractive as his other secretaries. Bazinga. Peggy confesses that her mother thinks Don is responsible for Peggy’s pregnancy ward / mental ward visit at the end of s1. Just then, Cassius Clay knocks out Sonny Liston! Other listeners say, “The fix is in. I don’t believe it. Nobody goes down like that.” (Again with the historical accuracy: there was talk at the time that Liston, who was supposed to be in with the mob, took a dive.)
Back at office, Dapper Don takes a dive into the toilet, head first. Peggy goes to find toothpaste and instead finds Drunk Duck about to poop on a chair, “Leaving Draper a little present.” “This is Roger’s office!” HA!
Peggy is helping Duck out of the office, when Don comes from the bathroom. Duck, “I guess when screwing me couldn’t get you anything, you had to go back to Draper!” Ew. Even if he hadn’t just tried to poop on the wrong guy’s chair. The sentiment is still, ew.
Duck calls Peggy just another whore, Don tries a big roundhouse punch and Duck gets Don down; Don actually says uncle. Duck tries to get Peggy to go with him, but Peggy goes with Don to his office instead. She asks Don how long he can go on like this, and Don responds, “I have to make a phone call and I know it’s going to be bad.” Peggy brings him a drink and sits on the couch, and Don rests his head in her lap. They fall asleep.
Anna ghost appears with suitcase. Don wakes up and sees her. Anna smiles, walks away.
The next morning, Don wakes up and finally makes the call to CA. Anna’s niece Stephanie answers. “She’s gone. She wanted you to know.” “Sorry I didn’t call, did she want to talk to me?” “She wasn’t really there.” Peggy is awake and Don tells her “Somebody very important to me died. The only person in the world who really knew me.”
Don sends Peggy home, but Peggy sleeps on the couch in her office until she’s woken up by Stan Rizzo. Don recognizes the iconic picture of Cassius Clay over the prone Sonny Liston and wants the picture for Samsonite. Peggy comforts Don on work basis, it’s very good. Don, responds with hand on hand, look. Go home and come back, give 10 tag lines.
This was possibly the best episode of Mad Men I’ve seen – which makes it, without hyperbole, possibly the best hour of TV I’ve seen yet. Lots of Peggy and Don time, lots of drunken rambling. Jon Hamm giving a multi-layered performance with about 17 different motivations for every action, and they all come through. While it would have been easier, even made sense, to have a show centered on the Clay / Liston fight be an expose on 1960’s racism, they chose instead to showcase Peggy and the attitudes people have toward her career choices, and the sacrifices she is making for her work. Weaving these elements together into a coherent story (even the drunk scenes were meaningful) and showing the two main characters one-on-one was great.
IF YOU ENJOYED THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE HELP SUPPORT OUR SITE, AT NO COST WITH ONE CLICK ON THE FACEBOOK 'LIKE' BUTTON BELOW:
If you're interested in writing for Shadowlocked (disc and screening reviews, etc, or just getting some extra coverage for your extraordinary writing talent, get in touch with us.