Monday, September 6, 2010

'Mad Men:' The Suitcase (Otherwise Known as When Peggy Became Anna, Sort Of)

*Warning: Spoilers ahead from the recent episode of Mad Men.*

We always knew that Peggy and Don had a special relationship. They both have deep secrets that they’ve only partially shared with one another . . . which is more than they’ve shared with others.

Don knows all about Peggy’s secret pregnancy, her involuntarily mental commitment and didn’t care. He still wanted her to work for him and was determined to pretend as though her whole pregnancy and her denial of the pregnancy, never happened.

Therefore he trusted her, trusted her when he and Bobbie Barrett got into a booze-fueled car wreck and Peggy not only bailed them out but let Bobbie stay in her apartment until her bruises faded. He chased Peggy down and begged her to work at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, saying that if she didn’t work for him he’d spend his whole life trying to hire her. He also added that little chestnut about how he sees himself in Peggy and that’s why he’s as hard on her as he is on himself.

For her part, Peggy felt indebted to Don for not only plucking her from the secretarial pool and christening her as a copywriter, but for keeping her secret and not treating her with sexist kid gloves.

That was all backstory for this strangely intimate episode, “The Suitcase.”

“I got drawn into his web,” Peggy said, explaining to Mark why she was going to be late to their dinner after Don pressured and berated Peggy into staying at the office with him. Don may have or may not have realized that he was doing anything he could to get Peggy -- who’s very susceptible to Don’s guilt trips -- to stay in his company for the evening, including revealing things about himself personally (about being a farm boy, about his father, about Uncle Mac, about Korea), so he wouldn’t have to face the fact that he would have to call Anna’s house in California and be told that Anna ("the only person in the world who really knew me") had died, something which broke his heart, left Dick Whitman feeling completely alone.

At first, the tension was over the fact that Peggy wanted to leave and Don didn’t want her to. To be fair, Peggy didn’t tell Don until she was an hour late for Mark’s surprise dinner for her, that it was her birthday and she had dinner plans. When Don learned that she had plans, he got all snippy and nasty but told her to go, though he clearly didn’t want her to. Only thing was, Peggy didn’t really want to go. She didn’t want to have dinner with Mark and her family. What she wanted seemed a lot closer to what Don was looking for that night, even as she was verbally lashing back at Don, giving as good as she got from him.

This all seemed like one big test for Peggy who, three times during “The Suitcase,” had men telling her that the money spent on her or handed to her (whether in the form of a salary, a set of phony business cards or a dinner in a nice restaurant) meaning that she owed them something, a notion she rejected on all three accounts.

What DID move Peggy wasn’t people telling her exactly how much they’d spent a lot for a shrimp cocktail, it was when people demonstrated that not only did they trust her and have enough confidence in her to treat her like a smart, professional woman, but also had the wherewithal to back up what they were saying. (Duck’s empty promises of making her a creative director were all just a pretense to get her into bed again. The petulant Mark used her birthday as a tool to ingratiate himself with Peggy’s mother, regardless of what Peggy may have wanted to do to celebrate her day.)

Don -- mired in the depths of his personal alcoholic rock bottom -- argued with Peggy (who was unafraid of telling him off, accusing him of stealing ideas while drunk and not sharing credit) and made her cry in a way that reminded me of a big brother-little sister relationship. However Don also built Peggy up by telling her she’s smart and “cute as hell,” but not because he was trying to get sex out of her. Peggy also knows that Don is not going to impulsively give her her walking papers if she breaks dinner plans. He’s not going to call Peggy a whore, even when he asks her if she knows who the father of her baby was and he learns that Peggy’s mother thinks it was Don. In fact, I doubt Don would sever the relationship with Peggy (she’s the one who threatened to do so when Don didn’t ask her to join SCDP, he initially told her to). Their odd relationship can withstand fighting and tears, like some kind of strong, albeit somewhat dysfunctional marriage.

Come to think of it, that little grasp of the hand at the end of the episode, where Don touched Peggy’s hand after asking her not to criticize his ideas for the Samsonite campaign (although he’d been pretty brutal to her ideas the previous night), seemed like an indication from Don that what he wanted from Peggy wasn’t sex – which he could get from anyone -- it was a real, emotional connection which he sought, like what he shared with Anna. Despite his put-downs of Peggy, which seem to worsen as his feelings of self-hatred increase, Don trusts Peggy with secrets, like the OUI arrest and that his dad was killed by getting kicked by a horse. He didn't trust Betty that way. Which is why, as Don lost the one woman on earth whom he felt truly knew and loved him despite all his frailties, he clung to Peggy, the new Anna.

There were more than a few moments of weirdness in “The Suitcase:”

Weirdest Moment I: “Why is there a dog in the Parthenon?”

Weirdest Moment II: Listening to Sterling’s Gold tapes about Bert Cooper and “the queen of perversions” Ida Blankenship (!) and the removal of Cooper’s testicles.

Weirdest Moment III: Duck wanting to leave a “present” for Don and Don then crying “uncle” when Duck had him pinned. So much for Don the tough guy who clocked Jimmy Barrett in the face.

Come to think of it, the entire episode was saturated in boxing analogies, with the Liston-Ali fight as the jumping off point. When Liston went down shortly after the match began and all the folks in the bar were yelling, “Get up,” I kept thinking that that’s how I felt about Don. I wanted someone to yell at him to get the hell up off the mat, stop staying uncle, stop wrecking his career and sabotaging every relationship he has left. Get up off the mat Don.

Image credit: Michael Yarish/AMC.

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