Sunday, September 5, 2010

MAD MEN 4.7--"The Suitcase"

Before I begin, congratulations to Mad Men fan, friend of this blog, and best friend period, noted Hong Kong film expert Rusty Shackles on tying the knot with his lady love today! Much love and best wishes!

"Then there's all the talk about drinking where they start with all the funny stories and end up crying."

Okay, so last week, we took another dismaying stop on the Don Draper Dragging Himself Into The Dirt Tour '65, a flashback to how he got the job, brief nudity, and a few other bleak bits of bidness. In the B-plot, Pete tried to consolidate his position at Sterlin Cooper Draper Pryce by bringing arch-nemesis Cosgrove under his heel.

We join our episode as damn near everyone gets the prediction on the upcoming Cassius Clay/Sonny Liston fight wrong (as everyone did) and some light anti-Semitism. While all this is going on, the titular suitcase is referenced by the gang acting out a pitch for Draper for Samsonite, who bitches that a celebrity endorsement by Joe Namath is lazy. Don Draper: sometimes not a visionary. Peggy demurs and so they have a big set-to. Clearly their continual butting of heads is becoming a theme for the season.

Peggy picks up an old thread from last season as Duck Phillips (noted asshole, last seen drunkenly ranting at the Clios last week) who parlays Peggy's birthday into a new gift--the offer of co-starting a new ad agency. What seemed like a genuine offer of advancement last year is something more awful and desperate this time, as Duck, disintegrating into alcoholism, uses the tease of advancement to try to reconnect with her, and manages to make one feel genuinely sorry for Duck.

Then you remember what he did in season 2, and you're like "oh right, what an ass." Chauncey. Never forget.

Don, meanwhile, is angsting at a rate of roughly 5.5 Claremonts about the fate of Anna--there's a message from California, it's urgent, and whatever it portends, it's not good news--and uses it as an excuse to get out of a drinking rampage with Roger, the new guys mercilessly ride the chump Don had to hire last week and Peggy gets a lot of notice in which must be one of the most crowded ladies' rooms in the history of television, culminating with a cordial but underneath it all fraught conversation between Pete's wife Trudi and Peggy, who unbenknownst to the other, have something in common--pardon my crudity--both have taken shots from Pete in their baby bunker.

Poor Peggy, meanwhile, can't get out of the damn office, because Don is being a mighty ass on her birthday (isn't it always the way that the slightest slight gets magnified on your birthday?) which superheats the whole tension about Glo-Coat we learned about last week and ends up having to stay with him while they try in vain to find something that will satisfy Don's exacting need for brilliance in advertising about luggage. Have you ever thought this much about a suitcase? Yeah, me either.

In the midst of this, we get a meditation from Don about Cassius Clay and Sonny Liston, which ends up being revelatory about how he sees himself as understated and going about his business vs. the loudmouth self-promoter he's expected to be since the beginning of this season. Pressure from outside exerts on their creativity--Peggy's holding up a surprise dinner for her birthday, Roger's desperate for a pal to save him from Freddy and his fellow AA-sponsored client.

Don handles all this by being an unholy ass--why would he care about birthdays and families, or know about what it means to have connections with other people? The last link to people who care about him in more than superficial ways are Roger (who seems to be on his way to drinking himself to death) his kids (lost in an acrimonious divorce) and Anna (dying) and having no meaningful connection left, sees no value in it for himself or anyone. Roger said as much when he told him at the end of last season: "You're not good at relationships because you don't value them."

Peggy responds by hitting Don between the eyes with his mistakes for this season and the whole business explodes when Peggy accuses him of being selfish, and Don saying that this is the way it works. It's an awful moment, and made even more awful by the fact that we've seen these people and know they genuinely are connected and care about each other, but little jealousies, even among people who are close as can be, can hurt the worst. Gradually as the show's developed, Don has been nurturing Peggy's creativity, and developing her talent, giving her breaks women didn't usually get.

Now the balance is a little bit skewed. At the end of last season, Don went to her, hat in hand, and asked her to come work for SCDP. Peggy took that to mean they were equals, obviously Don didn't quite see it that way. And now that Don seems to be leeching off her ideas more than developing his own, he's suddenly fallible and she finds fault with him, like the time you discover that your parents aren't perfect, and they seem to be holding you back.

In the midst of this, Roger's book (including 2 moments that defy description--suffice it to say that I will never look at Don's secretary and Bert Cooper in quite the same way again) and a mouse leads to a momentary bit of levity in an relationship becoming unbearably frosty, and ultimately things get thrashed out over dinner. Don opens up, as does Peggy, and funnily enough, that makes the difference. Out of the office, out from under the hierarchy, some sharing happens--surprisingly from Don, who confides in stuff he hasn't told anyone easily, like how his father died (he confided in Betty last year, of course, but he was pretty much caught by the short hairs then) it's a good and needed moment for both characters--Don because he's being honest and not staying alone and drinking himself retarded and self-destructing and Peggy articulating her anxiety about whether the future before her is what she wants and how sometimes being Don's protege is a curse as much of a blessing.

There's a great moment when they end up in a bar, just like Roger and Don usually do, and are speaking honestly about themselves and their relationship, just as Cassius Clay knocks out Liston and, unbeknownst to anyone listening to the radio, becomes The Greatest. And what does this louder, more self-aggrandizing world portend for people like Don who don't want to make a fuss? Don handles this like one imagines how he usually does at the end of these lost weekends--he blows his groceries while Peggy tries to help him.

Because this isn't awkward enough, Duck decides to stop off, brain-fuckingly drunk and about to cross a line you never really imagine that anyone would cross. Now, when you add drunk Don + drunk Duck + Lingering rage + misunderstanding regarding Peggy=

Thank you, Boondocks, for explaining something I am not qualified to explain or articulate.

It does, however, lead to a very powerful moment. As Peggy asks him how long he's going to keep imploding, Don sees Anna as a ghost, carrying a suitcase, only to smile at him and vanish. Don makes the call and as anticipated, Anna is gone. Don is crushed, and wants to go to the funeral, but Anna, bless her, has one last joke and poor Don tries to hold himself together and grab any excuse to come out there, but seeing him crack and finally break is a shot in the gut. Don never comes apart as completely as he did here--not when his brother killed himself, not when Betty found out about his secret life, not for anything we've seen. Here, at this moment, in front of Peggy, he confesses about what Anna meant to him personally--he's lost the only woman who ever really knew him and he feels utterly lost.

And Mad Men being Mad Men, things turn on a dime. Morning has come and everyone's talking about The Fight. Don and Peggy are talking about the idea they've had for Samsonite--something which reflects the zeitgeist and something they come to together. All this is, of course, a neat tying up of the plot, but it's Don's taking of Peggy's hand that really gives catharsis. Anna is gone, and she's taken a connection he hasn't had with anyone else in his life away.

But that's not to say it always has to be that way, and that we leave on that note of hope makes the difference.

NEXT TIME: AMC's promo was more opaque than usual this week, so God knows what will actually happen. I predict that in a thousand years Gandahar was destroyed. A thousand years ago Gandahar will be saved and what can't be avoided will be. No, wait, that's from the movie Light Years. We'll both figure it out together next week, I guess. Next Episode--"The Summer Man." Wake up! Break the chains of destiny!

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