I’m going to go with everyone who said that “The Suitcase” was probably the best written and acted episode so far this season. And definitely one of the best of the series as well.
Usually, on Mad Men, we the viewers find out a lot about the characters. However, in “The Suitcase,” the characters find out a lot about each other. Specifically Don and Peggy, who are both intensely private people. When an upset and drunk Don makes Peggy stay behind to work on a suitcase ad instead of attending her birthday dinner, they both find out a lot more about each other.
I was really pleased that this episode was so Peggy-heavy on content because she hasn’t had a ton of material this season. Sure, we find out more about her ambitions professionally and watch her meet her new friends in the art scene. But we’ve all been dying to find out what’s up with her and Duck, why she keeps Mark around, and just what floral-patterned dresses her sister and mother are wearing these days.
Another looming event is Anna’s impending death. And this was the episode when the stack of cards fell.
“The Suitcase” focuses less on the ability to pack up one’s life and leave, which was their initial ad pitch idea. (Which Peggy has no intention of doing and Don already tried several times.) And more to do with the baggage that each character carries around with them.
For Peggy, the biggest piece is that of her child, which she gave up for adoption. We get a clear acknowledgment that Don knew what went down when he visited her in the psych-ward, and there’s acknowledgment to him that, no, she didn’t go and forget about it. Which even Don, who’d like to forget a lot of things, knows better than that. I loved the reveal that her mother thinks Don’s the father and hates him.
For Don, his biggest baggage is his identity as Dick, which Anna had always lent a hand in carrying. She knew him, and she still loved him. She helped him hoist it and provided a place for him to run when he needed it. However, with her death, that safe refuge in a piano teacher’s house in California is gone.
There is no one who can tear Peggy down more than Don, her mentor. Yes, it upsets her that people in the office think she slept with him to get her position, but it matters more if Don likes her ideas and, moreover, likes her. And when Don goes off on her, there’s a reason she ends up crying in the bathroom. Though even she must’ve gotten how ridiculous he ended up being toward the end when he told her you can’t celebrate your birthday in your mid-20s. That’ll be funny in retrospect, Peggy.
My favorite line being…
Don: “Do you know when my birthday is?”
Peggy: “I was your secretary!”
Of course, the night becomes more absurd at it goes on. Peggy continues to get angry calls from Mark, who set up a surprise party with her family for her. She knows he’s just trying to get in good with the future in-laws. And she knows this is just another signal that he doesn’t know her, so she takes his ultimatum and they break up.
Don cheers Peggy up by playing her the tapes Roger has made of his book that Don found. In which, Roger reveals that Burt had his testicles removed, and before said operation, he and Miss Blakenship were lovers. But young stud Roger soon took over that role and called Miss Blankenship the “queen of perversions.” I don’t know about you, but I would completely buy Sterling’s Gold if it was filled with things like that.
Don also takes Peggy out to dinner and to a bar for her birthday. However, Don becomes completely smashed and heads back to the offices with Peggy. Peggy holds up his drunk swaggering as they rush to the men’s room so Don can pray to the porcelain god. While in other seasons, we modern viewers have been aghast at how people could function on that much booze, this season has really been digging into the alcohol is bad territory. (Compounded in this episode with glimpses of Roger also getting sick as he snuck off the bar next door to get away from sober Freddie and the Ponds’ guy and a drunk Duck trying to get Peggy to join his new firm, when in truth, he just got fired.)
Then there’s Duck breaking into the office. He too thinks Peggy’s sleeping with Don. In his view, Peggy slept with him so why wouldn’t she also take up with Don? (Don is also younger and arguably better looking than Duck.) At this point, Peggy’s pretty much had it with immature drunken men between Don barfing in the bathroom and Duck trying to take a shit on Roger’s chair, which he mistook for Don’s.
When the boys get into their fistfight, it’s pretty clear that Duck is out for blood and death. He even says so. Their fight went quickly, with Don crying “uncle” before too much happened. Echoing Muhammad Ali knocking out Sonny Liston and ending the fight when it had barely started. Peggy is so done with Duck. He’s an embarrassing note in the past.
I thought it was rather touching when Don and Peggy fell asleep on his couch. Yes, indeed she is his new Anna. Ghost Anna was a little cheesy, but can be played off as drunken stooper rather than Mad Men having some kind of magical realism.
Peggy and Don have a truly great platonic relationship, and I don’t see their hand-holding as anything more than the acknowledgment that they love and understand each other. Just like Anna and Dick did. Don kept Peggy all-night, not because they needed an ad due in two weeks, but because he needed a friend and confidante.