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September 3, 2015

'Mad Men' Season 4, Episode 7 Recap

by Maureen Ryan, posted Sep 6th 2010 9:20AM
['Mad Men' - 'The Suitcase']

"You know what? There's a way out of this room we don't know about."

In Sunday's terrific 'Mad Men' episode, 'The Suitcase,' Don Draper said that about a rodent in his office. But he might as well have been talking about himself.

The episode was one of the series' best hours and a sensational acting showcase for Jon Hamm and Elisabeth Moss.

If anything, 'The Suitcase' made the case even more strongly that, as I wrote last week, this is the best season of 'Mad Men' yet.

In Sunday's episode, Don tries to escape from the pain of Anna's imminent death. He doesn't go to the prizefight broadcast, knowing he shouldn't be that far away from the phone (a phone he doesn't want to pick up). He makes Peggy stay late and takes his emotional turmoil out on her. He drinks gallons of alcohol but it's increasingly hard to blunt the impact of the dread and agony he feels.

Don finds that the only way out of the situation is through it -- through the grief that he can no longer fight off. And when the pain finally hits him like a tidal wave, he is not alone. That may be the most significant thing about not just the episode but about Don's adult life.

Don has opened up to people before, but they were people safely locked away in separate compartments. Rachel was a mistress who didn't travel much in his workplace orbit. Midge got to see a more relaxed side of him but never really was allowed into his world. Betty found out his truths, the bare facts of them anyway, but wasn't that interested in getting to know his difficult history. Anna knew him intimately but was thousands of miles away.

But when he sobbed like a child at the news of Anna's death, Peggy was in the room. He actually let someone in on his pain, someone who's known him for years, someone who's seen many sides of him, good and bad. Earlier, Peggy even got bits and pieces of his Dick Whitman history -- a history he no longer goes to great lengths to hide.

He called Anna "the only person in the world who really knew" him, but Don had to know that wasn't true -- in that moment, Peggy knew him more deeply than any woman aside from Anna had. He may have thought she was asleep, but the fact that he wanted her there all night, to be his friend when he needed one, was a massive step forward.

Peggy did not turn away -- she comforted him, she stayed at the office for him. And we had a lovely callback to the first episode of season 1, when Peggy the rookie, unsure of what Don expected of his secretaries, put her hand on his. If he'd taken her hand and more back then, that would have been unfair, it would have been Don taking advantage of an underling (a mistake he made with Allison).

But in this episode, he took the hand of a good friend and a trusted co-worker. In his own halting way, he recognized her worth and value, and that was far more valuable to Peggy than Duck's dependence or the stability Mark offered. Don may have lost Anna, but he still has someone in his life who knows him and loves him despite his flaws. Peggy may have given up her fiance, but her best qualities are appreciated by the only man who's ever understood what drives her. Peggy and Don both emerge from the experiences of that pivotal 24-hour period better off.

He's spun out of control for much of this season, and in last week's episode, he may well have hit bottom (A drunken, rambling pitch? A waitress named Doris? Losing entire days? Those are some serious low points). But the fact that Don is able to open up means that he may survive -- not just the Sixties, but his life.

It's appropriate that the advertising story line of the week revolved around luggage, and that Anna appeared with a suitcase in her hand. Don's in the process of trying to leave baggage behind, and one of the legacies of his past is reticence, a reflexive need to wall himself off from others and nurse his wounds in private.

The generations coming up after him don't understand that approach to life, and as the vision of a beaming Anna retreated, perhaps Don finally put down his own baggage. The man whose suitcase had always been packed was ready to stay put. Maybe he's ready to be Dick Whitman, or a mixture of Don and Dick. As Don laid his head on Peggy's lap (which he did with Allison, before he took things too far with her), he's able to recognize that all he wants is emotional intimacy and comfort. And he gets it from the right person.

Hamm and Moss are so shockingly good on a consistent basis that it's entirely possible to take their skills for granted. But we shouldn't. We should review the many different tones and moods they had to create.

'Mad Men' is a show stacked with many different levels in almost every scene, and Hamm somehow nails all of them. That could be a purely technical exercise, but through it all, you never forget that Don is essentially an emotional creature -- but who has, through painful experience, learned to shut away his true self away most of the time.

This time, he couldn't repress what he was going through, and Hamm was spectacularly moving in the way that he portrayed Don's pain. When a well-meaning Stephanie uttered the cliche that Anna was "in a better place," the way Don's face convulsed was heartbreaking. "That's what they say," he finally responded, but his face said everything -- that such phrases don't help when your soul is breaking apart.

in the course of the hour, Peggy cycled through resentment at her tough boss, anger at her fiance's "surprise," irritation at her mother's melodramatic declarations, easy friendship with Don, flummoxed alarm at Duck's appearance, caretaking duties with both Don and Duck, as well as a wistful sadness at the recollection of the child she gave away. With one word -- "playgrounds" -- we understood the pain that Peggy has kept private all these years.

Many times in this episode and this season, Peggy has had to make choices between her career and other aspects of her life. She seems forever poised at the elevator, torn between groups, trying to figure out whether to take her coat off or put it on. And it can't help to have a perky Trudy tell her that at 26, Peggy is "still very young," which probably wasn't meant as a dig at Peggy's unmarried status but served as another reminder of how isolated she is as career-oriented woman over 25.

Peggy's in as much flux as Don, but with less guidance, and sometimes it's all just too much. In another callback to season 1, when she resisted the urge to be the girl who cries at work, Peggy actually wept in the bathroom. Don is a tough boss, but the more she hangs in there despite his anger and attempts to driver her away, the more she appears to be his heir apparent. They both have the kind of tenacity and creativity that find their best expression at work. They're two of a kind.

But when the time came for compassion, Peggy knew exactly what to say to Don. She knew when to leave him alone -- but she also knew not to go far. Moss had to be forceful in the episode's earlier scenes yet utterly subtle and quiet in the later ones. Like Hamm, she has complete mastery of timing and an amazing ability to modulate every one of Peggy's moods to make it all hang together seamlessly.

Don was understandably shocked to find out that she'd had an affair with Duck, but one of the things that made this episode truly great was the way that many truths came out into the open. 'Mad Men' has been very well paced this season, sprinkling in just the right amounts of setup material, character development and forward plot movement. But every so often, the show unleashes an episode like this, in which the focus comes down to a few people and many cards are put on the table. As I wrote last week, the richness derives from the amount of history these people have, which gives their every encounter and discovery layers of meaning and import.

To see Don and Peggy come out and openly argue about many issues that had been percolating between them for ages was magnificent. It was a cross between a prizefight and 'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,' and it also reminded me of the 'Breaking Bad' episode 'The Fly,' another episode that basically consisted of two people talking in a room. But that can be transfixing when those two people are wonderfully nuanced characters arguing, sharing truths and revealing secrets.

There were many fights this episode -- the Muhammed Ali-Sonny Liston bout, the sloppy brawl between Duck and Don, the donnybrook between Peggy and her fiance, the internal battle between Don's desire to know about Anna's condition and his desire to block out the truth. But the most riveting battle was between Don and Peggy as they argued about who got credit for Glo-Coat, who was more valuable, who should be recognized, who needed whom. Don wants Peggy to be like Sonny Liston -- to do her work methodically and not cultivate the spotlight, not bask in attention, as Ali did.

But Ali was the victor in that famous (and controversial) fight with Liston. Ali may have been cocky and full of himself, but he delivered the goods. So can Peggy. And as much as Don promotes the idea that underlings should be egoless about their work, he has an ego himself. He loves recognition (from the Clios and even from Peggy). And the mindset of 1960 -- that people should do what they're told and never speak up -- is going out of fashion very quickly.

Don isn't just sensing that change, he's living it. As the cultural and social barriers are relaxing all around him, the barriers between Don and Dick are falling away. The walls he's kept up around his inner self and his deepest secrets are coming down. There was one wall left between him and Peggy, who's in the office next door, but even that came down, figuratively speaking.

There's no guarantee that, next week, Don won't yell at Peggy or rip apart someone's ideas or be a cad to a woman. He's not perfect, and he still has a long way to go.

But like the mouse, he may have found a way out of the room he'd been trapped in.

A few final bullet points:

* Just how much hilarity do those 'Sterling's Gold' tapes contain? If the entire hour had consisted of listening to Roger talk about Bert Cooper's unfortunate surgery and Miss Blankenship, office temptress, it would have been an hour very well spent. Every single thing about those Roger tapes is comedy gold and I very much hope we keep revisiting Roger's memoirs. Oh Roger. The man with no baggage but a full highball glass.

* Best Roger lines: "You know what gets you over something like that? Drinking!" "Lyle Evans, M.D. I think he had him killed."

* The master-student relationship between Don and Peggy was still very much in flux, given that Don wanted Peggy's approval and she critiqued his work as an equal would.

* "The fact that you would stay there ... " Peggy can't respect Mark for not having the self-respect to leave the restaurant. And though she accused him of being manipulative, she herself tried to manipulate Don and make him feel bad about her missed date and breakup, but that gambit went spectacularly awry; he soon launched into a tirade about her resentment and desire for credit. As she left his office, ready to cry, he called after her weakly, "Sorry about your boyfriend!"

* Credit where it's due: Pete and Danny, among others, thought Ali would win the fight.

* I kept waiting for Don and Peggy to hit on the idea of having a gorilla stomp on a Samsonite bag, but that ad didn't come out until 1970 and it was actually for American Tourister (which was not acquired by the company that owned Samsonite until the '90s).

* Thanks to the wide range of tones and settings, "The Suitcase" didn't feel static. There were other bits and pieces sprinkled in here and there: Peggy's relationship with Stan, the art director she tamed with nudity, appeared to be much improved; Joey actually stood up to Joan (which he may come to regret); and there was the briskness of the failed Samsonite pitch and the relaxed scenes in the diner and bar. For an episode intently focused on two characters, one of whom was facing down a wrenching crisis, the episode didn't feel cramped and airless. It was a brilliant character study and, like a good novel or short story, took you on a satisfying journey with characters whose lives and dilemmas seem absolutely real.

* "Why is there a dog in the Acropolis?"

* I cannot get the idea of Ida Blankenship, Queen of Perversions, out of my mind.

'Mad Men' airs Sundays at 10PM ET on AMC.

Follow @MoRyan on Twitter.

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I am clearly in the minority, but I find the character of Peggy, mousey, dull, and uninteresting. Betty is much more fun to watch.

September 10 2010 at 1:30 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Episode brought me to tears... mostly because it ended. Brilliant recap as well. Thank you!

September 09 2010 at 12:47 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jesse Jackson

Another great episode, this is on pace to be the strongest season yet. Don losing a day due to drinking is not a good sign.

September 08 2010 at 12:49 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Roxie in the Lou

Well 3 hours to watch Mad Men with an expectation of seeing some pent up sexual tension being released and all I get is holding hands?!!! Well I suppose now I know what they (they = men usually) are talking about when they complain about nice dinner, drinks, small gift and all they get is a hug and a handshake . . . .very disappointing. But I loved it!

September 07 2010 at 10:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I think the fact that Peggy slept overnight in the office, just like the "guys" often did, sealed her choice between work and personal life.

September 07 2010 at 1:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

fantastic episode... until the ghost of anna showed up w/ the subtlety of a parade float shooting fireworks...

September 07 2010 at 11:31 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Good to find you back at it Mo. My Monday morning routine (reading your recap) can now go back to normal. One moment of the episode which reveals one benefit that Peggy gets from her relationship with Don, is when she tried to explain the whole Duck relationship ("it was a confusing time for me"). Don just waves it away, no more needs to be said. She wore a grateful expression. After a repressed relationship with her Mom, she appreciates the lack of guilt from Don (at least in her personal life).

September 07 2010 at 9:42 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I missed a line (or two) in the episode and it's driving me crazy wondering what was said: it was when they were in the bar listening to the fight- Don asked Peggy something like "Do you ever think about it?" (referring to her having the baby) and I couldn't for the life of me make out her kind of softly mumbled reply - what was it? Thanks!

September 07 2010 at 8:56 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Karen's comment

"I try not to. But it comes up out of nowhere sometimes. Playgrounds"

September 07 2010 at 2:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Pat Braem

It might help to use subtitles. I could not hear what Peggy said, either.

September 12 2010 at 3:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This is one of the finest reviews of Mad Men I have ever read, Maureen. Obviously wherever you were carried previously I missed it but am grateful to catch you here.

This was the single best hour of television I have seen in a long time. Matt Weiner is a genius and he makes love to these characters he created. I am privileged to be along for the ride.

September 07 2010 at 8:54 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
3rd of 5

I agree that this is the best season of Mad Men to date, and Sunday's episode was the strongest since the season one finale.
At its heart, Mad Men has always been about the cost about keeping up appearances. Finally, we saw Don pay the emotional cost so long in coming for so many reasons, including Anna. We also saw Peggy pay the cost in her personal life for keeping up her career.
I like Miss Blankenship in small doses, but I can see it being very easy to overuse her. The late announcements to Don that someone's in his office have already become a gag that seems like it would be more at home in a show like "Are You Being Served?" rather than Mad Men. The show needs comic relief moments to be sure, and Miss Blankenship sure provides those moments. But I worry a bit about her getting overused at the expense of face time for the regulars.
Loved how Don saw Anna in a waking dream shortly before finding out that she died. Very touching.

September 07 2010 at 2:08 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to 3rd of 5's comment
Pat Braem

I am totally hookedon Madmen along with my daughter and her teen-age son. I have two friends who watch taped episodes with me. I relly hooted at Blankenship's statement about the Liston-Muhammed Ali fight, "If I wanted to see two black men fight I'd just toss a dollar bill out my window."

September 12 2010 at 3:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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