Anchored by the famous Muhammad Ali-Sonny Liston bout that took place on May 25, 1965, a date that also happens to be Peggy's 26th birthday, the mid-season episode featured knock-down, drag-out fights, phantom punches, dubious victories, and several reversals. Don bets wrong, many times. He doesn't like Ali's newfangled brand of showmanship and self-promotion, and illustrates how vulnerable (and weak?) he is, in not being able to answer the phone or face Anna's death.
And Peggy, while preternaturally confident in the office, has long been at sea about her personal life and at war with the expectations of her family. She never wanted to be the girl crying in the bathroom at work, even as she finds herself crying in the bathroom at work.
But as players in a largely two-person drama, Don and Peggy discover that they share many strengths and losses: both are loners who watched their fathers die violently right in front of their faces as children. As actors, Moss and Hamm (whose last names combine to sound like a terrible snack food) share the ability to express everything in their eyes. They're also able to transform their features right in front of the camera, as if they were actors in a silent movie, although the results are heartbreaking and moving, not at all over-the-top or hokey.
"The Suitcase" was all about staying on the "toughness message," as Don reminded Peggy. There was Samson, of course (were his followers called Samsonites?), who lost his strength when his hair was cut. Through the taped nuggets of "Sterling's Gold" we find out that "Cooper lost his balls."
There's continued testicular jesting at the utterly brilliant scene at Peggy's would-be birthday celebration at the Forum of the Twelve Caesars, one of the first upscale theme restaurants launched in New York, which happened to occupy the top floor of the Time and Life Building at that time. The whole name and idea was too hilarious for the writers to stay away from; just for starters, the restaurant was designed to use copies of upended Roman helmets as wine buckets.
At the table, the Olsons talk about the astoundingly high price of the fabulously named "Oysters of Hercules," which look like "hockey pucks." Then Peggy's mom suggests that her son-in-law, Jerry, pay, even though Mark, Peggy's putative fiancé, organized the party and invited them. (And by the way, everything that Mrs. Olson says is dead-on for her character, and performed with a perfect accent.) Jerry responds with, "Ma, don't cut the kid off at the knees." It was all about men getting sliced.
Meanwhile, there are many allusions to the pilot episode, when Peggy was played for a rube and showed up for her first day of work in a dowdy hat and coat. Her look and wardrobe became much more sophisticated as the seasons progressed. But for the purposes of this episode, she was back to a "Honeymooners"-type hat and coat, which she put on and took off many times while standing at the elevator, deciding whether to stay or go -- i.e., "what kind of girl" she would be.
The next-to-final scene, with Don tenderly putting his hand on Peggy's, reversed the scene in the pilot episode. As Don's still-green, and by then, thoroughly confused and traumatized secretary (who had just made her first visit to a gynecologist), Peggy tried to place her hand on her big-shot boss' at the end of the day, and he rebuffed her with "I'm your boss, not your boyfriend." (Though at the time, he juggled a wife and a girlfriend.)"I hope you don't think I'm that kind of girl," she said, echoing something the doctor dismissively told her. Don's not much better -- tells her to go home and put her curlers in.
This time, he says to go home, and come back with 10 tag lines.. And the question now is how Don sees Peggy: wife material? Mommy? Mistress? Or work equal?
Again, in the pilot, when Don visits his mistress, the bohemian Midge, and spends the night in her village atelier, he puts his head on her chest, the way he does with Peggy during this long evening on his office couch. When he wakes to see the spectral image of Anna carrying her suitcase, (and it could have been really creepy, but somehow wasn't), she seems to be telling him that she's making her passage, and it will be okay. That allows Don to call Anna's niece, and break down in front of Peggy.
From that amazingly strong, sad, and meaningful scene, let's briefly digress to the crazy shit happening now that Duck is totally back on the sauce. Really, how soused does a guy have to be to come into the office and try to take a crap on a white leather chair in what he thinks is Don's office? Had he succeeded, and not merely farted (really -- did you catch that?) the result would have resembled the black-dots-on-white abstract/modernist painting in the background.
Meanwhile, Don was on his knees at the porcelain throne, vomiting his guts up, and Peggy had to run between them, like the harried mom of twin toddlers. (Once again there was a hesitation moment for her in the hallway, as she decided which bathroom to take him into. It could have suggested the whole fluid question of gender, but it also reminded me of what mothers with little boys go through when faced with using public toilets. The week before, Joan was in a similar situation, holding hands with both Roger and Don under the table at the Clios. (Commenter Randy Beck suggested that the whole episode was based on regression. BTW, commenters, you are brilliant!)
With puke still on his shirt, Don fights Duck for Peggy's honor. Duck tells him he killed 17 men in Okinawa, and Dick whispers "Uncle." That seemed kind of weak, except that what caused him to retch was worrying about speaking to Anna's niece, for whom he is now some sort of uncle.
Is Peggy an Anna substitute? Her old-fashioned, voluminous dress suggested the first Mrs. Draper. But the way they argued and made up earlier was half married couple, half boss/protégé. Indeed, last week, commenter Melissa Lande pointed out that Peggy's not getting recognition, and not being able to go to the Clios, is typically the way it still is at agencies. Don tells Peggy that her paycheck is her recognition. But she is able, finally, to confront him with the fact that the Glo-Coat commercial was her idea.
As it turns out, each version of the spot provides a fascinating window into each character's upbringing. Peggy had the kid locked in the closet, which is the emotionally abusive punishment of cruel and repressive mothers, like her own, and Betty. (Who indeed locked Sally in the closet after she was caught smoking.) By adding the Sergio Leone aspect of light and shadow, and making it seem like the kid was in a Western jail cell, Don made the scene more universal and existential. Hiding under a table shows fear -- and wanting to get out of there and disappear. Like a hobo -- or someone who always keeps his suitcase packed and ready to go.
Or as Muhammad Ali (whom most people in the office still call Cassius Clay) put it, "Rumble, young man, rumble."