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Wednesday, 3 of March of 2021

Mad Men – “The Suitcase”

“You should be thanking me along with Jesus for giving you another day.”

Don and Duck confront each other over Peggy at the SCDP office after hours.

Peggy is all Charlie Brown since these two jackasses are the most important men in her life. Good grief.

God, does Peggy’s life suck.

Not only is she constantly being berated by her mentor, a man she’s saved on several occasions, a man she admires even as she watches him circle the drain, but she also has to contend with a drunker, more desperate version of a barely-lover trying to make a Peggy comeback. The only person that comes through for her a little bit in this episode is her boyfriend who she doesn’t even know if she likes. Her uncertainty is so unbalanced that she takes his planned surprise dinner with her family and turns into into a check mark on her con list, saying he doesn’t know her very well. Work is her only solace and, when it comes down to a decision between her having to choose between the shaky life she’s built outside the Time/Life Building and Don Draper’s ambivalence, she is programmed to choose the latter.

This is my favorite kind of episodes of any television series: where the A-plot is so strong/dense that everything else feeds into it like a nexus (or a black hole). Every other storyline in this episode (and there are several) only acts to service the A-plot. There is good reason for this format as everything is set-up for the final scene. And whether you like it or not, no matter what you take from Don and Peggy at the end of “The Suitcase,” the gesture is important enough to deserve an entire episode in dedication to building it up.

Just don’t go writing Mrs Peggy Draper on your notebooks anytime soon.

Peggy and Don are not going to be the next Huddy (House) or Shules (Psych) or whatever other crazy mash-up name you kids might come up with (although their names don’t really lend to that anyway). Let’s be clear that there is no romance. Because Don might be incapable.

Don Draper is the corrupter and destroyer of all things. Not only is he predilected to crushing any non-professional relationship he has, even the ones with himself and with Dick Whitman (also himself), but he is also the cause of the downfall of those around him. The lush that we know as Roger began his nearly-obscene drinking streak with an early morning breakfast with Don Draper (as we saw in last week’s “Waldorf Stories”). He is a man of mighty ego, hubris even given his tragic direction. As he rips through the fabric of all the lives around him, pulling the strands into the downward spiral with him, his successes only give him the puffery to continue one more day before realizing he’s digging new lows in a rock bottom.

Don’s black outs from last week and his inability to hold his liquor this week (puking in the bathroom is not something we often see from Don’s devilishly-collected demeanor) further contribute to this season’s quest to destroy its protagonist. Recent weeks have also shown Peggy’s frustration with her mentor. She is the one that is singled out when ideas are not to Don’s liking. She is the one that is forgotten when Don wins an award. And this is the episode where she finally tells him off, an explosion of Peggy Olson we’ve seen hints of (think back to early this season when she told Don they all left their old jobs to follow him) but never realized like it is in this episode. That’s when we see the extreme of Don’s puffery.

He puts himself on the same level as Jesus for her allowed continuance. Essentially, he tells her she would be nothing without him. True or not, this is the voice always on Peggy’s professional mind to help her make the right decisions and it is booming that she is worthless without Don Draper’s guidance. That WWDDD bracelet feels a little tight when he decides to throw his weight back in her face. The fight, and Peggy’s choice to stick around at work despite being talked down to so severely, eventually leads to “the Night.”

On Friends, there is an episode where Joey spends the evening with a drunken castmate. After she sobers up, they stay up all night talking about each other, their families, etc. Monica terms this as “the Night,” usually the beginning of a deeper, more meaningful connection. Of course, in the Friends context, where men and women struggle to stay friends without benefits, this is almost certainly to mark the beginning of a romantic relationship. But in the more complex world of Mad Men, Don opening himself up to Peggy, telling her just about everything short of his alter-ego as Dick Whitman, constitutes the non-romantic equivalent. How do we know that this is to be non-romantic? Despite him saying she’s a good-looking girl, he never gives Peggy that same look he gives to all the other woman that were supposed to collapse into his arms in sheer rapture. He never tries to seduce her. They are a team in their profession and peers outside the office.

So when Duck stops by the SCDP after hours looking for Peggy and a scrap with Don, and Don stands up for her, it’s not out of some new found love for Peggy (again, I’m not sure he’s capable). He’s just standing up for her, just like he did in the very first episode. This time is more clumsy, more primitive but with the same sentiment. This is foreshadowing, my friends, for the inevitable scene at the end.

The set-up for Don and Peggy’s relationship started with a single moment: her putting her hand on Don’s after he stands up for her to all the other horndogs at the office. He immediately chastises her, telling her firmly that he is “not [her] boyfriend.” So after the Night, after sleeping together on the couch without “sleeping together,” after he cries in front of her when he learns about Anna’s passing, they have another scene where they touch hands. When Peggy held his hand in “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” it wasn’t about romance. It was part obligation, part gratitude. Don pulling his hand away before cheapened the gesture. In this episode, even though their hands linger, it is still not about romance. Don is returning the favor. Even though he defended her again this episode (however pathetically), it’s her that’s there for him this time. With Anna’s passing (and a really cheesy scene with her apparition), Peggy is the only person on the planet that knows him at all. Maybe she’s not up on the details of his history but she knows Dick Whitman if she doesn’t know that side of Don Draper has a name. As he circles the drain (Peggy is the only person that has the perspective and the position to ask him, “How long can you keep doing this?” in reference to his drinking and melancholy), she is who he can lean on, even if he’s harder on her at work or if that means she approves his lame decisions in advertising (that suitcase one was no Carousel).

I know some other things happened in this episode, like Duck offering Peggy the opportunity to be a creative director at their own silly startup agency, but the dynamic between Don and Peggy was the focus. Because of how it could be construed, I want to make this point: Mad Men does not need shippers. This is not your opportunity to campaign to get Peggy and Don together. Hopefully you realize how awful/disastrous that would be. That being said, expect it to come in season 5. Don will have to find a new low somehow.

Update: 2010 Sep 6, 8:10AM PST One thing I forgot to mention that I remembered on my run this morning: Don’s quote, where he compares himself to Jesus, is the end-game for SCDP’s encouragement of his messianic puffery. After weeks of selling Don to others and to Don himself that Draper is the icon, and then winning the Clio, his comparison to a Savior, especially one who insists that through Him goes the path to righteousness, is complete. When Peggy is upset that he takes credit for everyone’s ideas, he returns that the ideas aren’t hers, they are the company’s and, therefore, his. Just as Jesus is the symbol and the reason for Christianity, where all Christian work is done in his name, all the work done at SCDP, even with all those other names in the title, are done, ostensibly, for him. Sure, Draper is a little more hands on than Jesus, but I think Draper would probably see that as a positive.

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