Season 4, Episode 7: 'The Suitcase" -- Or, No One Puts Peggy In The Corner

Matthew Weiner's script this week was genius, even if it was the most scrotum-nal and scatological episode ever. Indeed, contemplating all of man's vulnerable private parts and/or explosions of the GI tract brought new meaning to the idea of bathroom humor. Ball jokes aside, watching the show was sheer pleasure, from the brilliant writing and direction to the evocative performances by Jon Hamm and Elizabeth Moss as they plumbed their characters' essences through the long night's journey into day.

Season 4/Episode 7 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." 

Season 4, Episode 7 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?

Season 4/Episdoe 7 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.

Season 4 Episode 7 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."

Tags: mad men
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29 comments about "Season 4, Episode 7: 'The Suitcase" -- Or, No One Puts Peggy In The Corner".
  1. Jeff Weber from BizTalkRadio and Lifestyle TalkRadio , September 8, 2010 at 10:36 a.m.

    Glaring error in this week's outstanding episode. There were at least a couple of references to "Muhammad Ali" as opposed to Cassius Clay in the storyline about the fight vs. Sonny Liston.
    He didn't change his name until AFTER the Liston fight.

  2. Cathy Carrier from Ashland Indy Film Festival , September 8, 2010 at 11:36 a.m.

    Such a fabulous episode on so many levels. I loved when Don was looking for the mouse under the sofa and said he'd put it in a suitcase and throw it from the roof, that's just like all your ideas. (for Samsonite) or something to that effect.

    Thank you for reminding me about Peggy putting her hand on
    Don's in the first episode. That makes the scene even more poignant.

    Thank you so much, Dorothy, for your writing and insight.

  3. Randall Hoffner from ABC, Inc. , September 8, 2010 at 1:02 p.m.

    "Long night's journey into day" -- very apt image. Terrific analysis of a great episode, Ms Parker. There is so much packed into these episodes, and you cover it all.

    As a frivolous aside, the mouse reminded me of an incident way back when, when I was at NBC, across the street. I was suddenly staring eye-to-eye with a very tiny mouse that was clinging to the wall at my eye level. They do call it "Roachefeller Center".

  4. Anne Peterson from Idaho Public Televsion , September 8, 2010 at 1:29 p.m.

    Re Muhammad Ali vs Cassius Clay: Just reviewed a clip of that fight, which was Sonny Liston's attempt to regain the title. According to the announcer, Clay had recently revealed his new identity and the fight fans reacted with hostility.

  5. Michael Michaels from Blue Road Entertainment , September 8, 2010 at 1:38 p.m.

    episode is brilliantly crafted....Peggy now has the key to Draper's vulnerabilities and it will be interesting to see what she does with him...

    One historical error, Draper snarls "Muhammad Ali" under his breath after laying down his $100.00 bet on Liston...fact is that Cassius Clay announced his conversion after the fight and on direction of Malcolm X told the media that his new name would be Cassius X...Elijah Muhammad went ballistic over this and demanded that he change his name to Muhammad Ali, this was on March 5, 1964....it was also the final straw in the split between Malcolm X and the Black Muslims....Ali has since renounced his Sunni beliefs and now refers to himself as a Sufi.

  6. Laurie Kessler from Ubiquitous Media , September 8, 2010 at 2:25 p.m.

    And wasn't it interesting that at each turn in the episode, Peggy picked Don over all the other men in her life.

  7. Cynthia Amorese from JAL Enterprises NY , September 8, 2010 at 2:32 p.m.

    I wonder if Don thinks Duck is Peggy's baby-daddy (buh!).

    Deeply engaging episode, but I can't like Peggy no matter how much my mind tells me I should.

  8. Rob Frydlewicz from RAF Consulting , September 8, 2010 at 2:33 p.m.

    Oh, such a brilliant episode! I've never seen so many different emotions poring from either Don or Peggy. The portrayal of Anna's passage and Don's hand on Peggy's were beautiful moments. And thanks, Dorothy, for the comparisions to the first episodes, I hadn't made those connections.

    A final note - When Peggy revealed that she'd been dating Duck I was wondering if Don thought that maybe he was the father of her child? (Or did he join the company after the child was already born?)

  9. Shelli Strand from STRAND Marketing, Inc. , September 8, 2010 at 4:20 p.m.

    Matt Wiener will no doubt lose a lot of sleep over his rare historical slip re: Cassius Clay/Muhammed Ali. His intelligent audience is his blessing and his curse!

    Brilliant episode, brilliant commentary.

    I remain impressed with how accurately this show depicts agency politics, and how little they've changed since the days of Don. I wish I could say there is an obvious 'right' side to Don and Peggy's argument over the Clios. But Don did take her idea and made it better, and the idea is Peggy's job.

    Underscores how hard it is to place monetary and moral values on creative work. I am in awe of my designer and writer friends who have weathered those battles so professionally.

  10. Justin Finnegan from Kaplow PR , September 8, 2010 at 5:22 p.m.

    Actually, the Clay/Liston fight featured in this episode was the rematch that took place in May of 1965. By this point, Clay has already converted to Islam and changed his name. (This was the famous first round/phantom punch knockout.) The Ali reference is correct and not an anachronism.

  11. Richard Brayer from Car-X , September 8, 2010 at 5:36 p.m.

    brilliant writing Don's descent into the bottle is a stark contrast from Ducky and Freddie; Don struggles with his demons and got his release from women , work and now the booze will not kill his pain- is he becoming a total burned out booze-hound like D&F or was his cleaning up a sign he was regaining control? whoever writes his character understands complete the human dark side and the alcohol connection- someone really understand his pain and how booze his old friend is now failing him as a pain reliever

    Don is like tony soprano in using something to not face his pain/ his issues from childhood- tony frequently turned to violence - don to the hooch

    interesting

  12. Kate Lafrance from Hartford Woman Online Magazine , September 8, 2010 at 5:37 p.m.

    OMG! Fantastic episode and brilliant commentary! I LOVED this epi - finally got some very much needed satisfaction from the in-depth exploration of Peggy and Don's relationship. (Exactly like my own with my advertising director boss when I was just about 26 - the fighting, the drinking, the crying, the WORK.) Thanks for pointing out the hand squeeze significance. I really liked it when Don broke down and said "I just lost the only person who really knows who I am..." and Peggy said "That's not so ..." - loved it.

  13. Jonathan Hutter from Garrand , September 8, 2010 at 5:37 p.m.

    There was no error in this episode regarding Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali. Ali announced his name change after his first fight with Sonny Liston, in Miami Beach in 1964. This was Clay (Ali)/Liston 2. It was common at the time for non-supporters, or anyone who wanted to get under the skin of Ali, to still refer to him as Clay. Don Draper was clearly one of those, using Ali derisively.

    Late in 1965, Ali kicked the crap out of Floyd Patterson (who called him Clay), supposedly refusing to knock him out so he could continue to punch him senseless and repeat before each punch, "what's my name?"

    Rejecting both Muhammad Ali and Joe Namath in the same episode, Don is on track to become one of those late '60s establishment "squares" that's going to elect Nixon, call everyone with long hair a "hippie," and become irrelevant by 1972. Only 7 years in Mad Men time. However, 35 years later he will become revered once again.

  14. Karlene Lukovitz from KL MediaLink , September 8, 2010 at 6:08 p.m.

    As a general observation/compliment, "Dorothy Parker" does a great job of analyzing this show's episodes, picking up repetitive themes and acknowledging the ambiguities that make its writing above par. Agree that Hamm and Moss (and all of the actors, actually) do superb job of realistically and subtly conveying the ambiguous and/or conflicting emotions that real people would feel in the complex situations they face (due to others or their own actions). Re this current episode, "Dorothy" hints at Don perhaps beginning to consider Peggy as a love interest, as well as a more equal colleague and confidant...also occurs to me that Anna's spectral appearance might have been meant to imply her approval of Don becoming personally, as well as professionally, involved with Peggy? And while Peggy may be being forced into the caretaker role for immature men, seems like part of this episode's point was that she is also rapidly adopting their traits/behaviors, out of fear of being typecast/pigeon-holed as a "typical" woman and to further her professsional ambitions. Which, given how graphically the results of Don's and Duck's escape mechanisms are portrayed, would not seem to bode well for Peggy, either professionally OR personally. Might the message be that male or female, maturity means going through difficult decisions/pain and growing as a result, rather than escaping via easy, ready artificial means?

  15. Richard Brayer from Car-X , September 8, 2010 at 6:11 p.m.

    was Anna the housekeeper who had one leg on the Sopranos?

  16. Cynthia Amorese from JAL Enterprises NY , September 8, 2010 at 7:46 p.m.

    I liked the suitcase symbolism: Hard-case repository for the things you'll need in new territory, but also a heavy, awkward burden to carry.

    Steerage passengers traveling to Ellis Island were allowed just one bag, so carried only the things that would help them make a new life. That meant cooking pots and tools and a paltry collection of clothing, but always there was a family Bible or small photo, too, something representing their personal pasts that they would take into their futures. I think Don and Peggy got closer in this episode to figuring out what they each need to carry going forward. And it was a wonderful parting gift that Anna took away Don's baggage of shame and self-loathing in the suitcase she bore away to heaven (surely that was her destination).

    I'd love to know who chooses the ending music for Mad Men and how he/she makes the selections. Sunday's music was so right ("I saw a shadow touch a shadow's hand on Bleecker Street"), just as "Stranger on the Shore" and "Telstar" were so right in earlier seasons.

  17. Cynthia Amorese from JAL Enterprises NY , September 8, 2010 at 7:59 p.m.

    Apropos the James Bond and suitcase references in this episode -- Sean Connery did a European ad spread for Louis Vuitton luggage a year or so ago. He was 78 at the time, but as sexy as Bond ever was. Delivered quite a different message from My Suitcase Is Tougher Than Your Suitcase.

  18. Melissa Lande from lande communications , September 8, 2010 at 8:23 p.m.

    We think last night's episode was fundamentally about that in Peggy blowing off, however reluctantly (but not really so) her birthday dinner with her nebish boyfriend, and choosing instead to work with a drunken Don, she demonstrated once and for all that she and her mentor are driven, hypercreative workaholics who are simpatico, with an unspoken loyalty to (and tenderness for) each other that explains a lot. Why, for instance, Don was the only one who visited her at the hospital after she gave birth, which, Peggy told him, explains why her loutish mother (whom Peggy clearly despises) thinks Don is the child's father and hates him. Why Don came to her rescue after the hopelessly sodden Duck--a pathetic example of what Don might become if he doesn't tamper down on the boozing--showed up at the office. Why Don, though seemingly critical of much of her work (it's clearly a motivational tool), has continued to give her more and more responsibility and elevated her career--she is, at heart, a distaff him, and that's not something he can say about any of the women he's bedded. The telling moment of course is Don telling Peggy in his grief that Anna was the only one who understood him. Peggy says, that's not so--and therein lies the emotional connection. Peggy, not Don's wife, not anyone else, gets him and in some respects, is him. And, at the end of the episode when he puts his hand over her's, he acknowledges it. And so do we.

    Now let's hope that realization doesn't lead them into the sack.

    http://www.landepr.com

  19. Dean Fox from ScreenAngels Networks LLC , September 8, 2010 at 8:32 p.m.

    I'm a major fan of Ms. Parker's amazing weekly analysis, but I'm shocked that she missed what I thought was the key to this entire episode, the Samsonite creative thrash tipping us off: life's accumulated baggage, the many different ways it holds us back, until we are forced - or not - to deal with it. Don's California history and relationship with Anna, Duck's self-destructive alcoholism, Peggy's unworthy boyfriend and hideous family, and the problematical relationship between Don and Peggy. All kinds of baggage, holding each character back until they face the truth.

  20. Ron Bel bruno from HNW , September 9, 2010 at 12:27 a.m.

    Great episode and great commentary, as usual. Just one NYC trivia error--but one that would actually sort of change the plot a bit. The Forum of the Twelve Caesars wasn't actually atop the Time-Life Building--that would have meant it was just above the agency's offices, and harder for Peggy to not show up. This link discusses the site, which was actually just off Fifth Ave on 48th St.

    http://www.americanheritage.com/articles/magazine/ah/2006/5/2006_5_9.shtml

  21. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER , September 9, 2010 at 9:14 a.m.

    I can't recall a better, more accurate integration of work and personal life than this episode. It was even true to work in the advertising business, a rare look since the reality of a team trying to come up with an idea is precisely as mundane and scattered as the Don-Peggy duo showed.
    I thought the idea Don had of putting the mouse in a suitcase and throwing it off a building was really good. And there was a great touch when Don says truthfully that the idea sounds like something she had been working on (a not unusual way to get some recalcitrant partner to buy into an idea of your own). Don slides out of it or forgets about it so probably isn't convinced himself and perhaps needed Peggy's affirmation.
    "Let's go to someplace a little darker"--one of the year's great lines.
    The graffiti in the men's room not well thought out. In an ad agency of the time or a little later, graffiti would be funnier or more pointed and a little more pervasive.
    The marketing problem--hard, strong suitcases--was of an industry trying to hang on. Soft luggage was about to take over and then the ubiquitous bags on wheels which began around 1990 and within two years had taken over. (Not much advertising, but a lot of POP in airports.)
    Once again (like Life cereal), Draper is working on something that DDB would solve in a memorable, creative way.
    Ali-Clay and Liston nice symbols, given that the previous champ (Floyd Patterson) made a cameo in the goodbye to Freddie episode. Weiner's a fight fan and we might get a reprise of the Ali-Patterson "what's my name?' fight.
    Since George Lois has been whining about this show, he should be happy to see a former client (Restaurant Associates and Joe Baum) get some recognition.
    Dorothy Parker's commentary is really terrific. And I have to say that the commenters, too, add a lot to my understanding of the show and its Freudian-Jungian-Dr.Phil symbols.
    Late '66, I think, was the year of the NYC blackout. Blackouts seem to be a recurring theme.

  22. Dorothy Crenshaw from Crenshaw Communications , September 9, 2010 at 11:08 a.m.

    No matter how carefully I watch, I can't seem to deconstruct MM or deliver the insights that DP can! I particularly appreciate the comparison to the pilot episode, when Peggy clumsily put her hand on Don's...this was a beautiful parallel. The Don-Peggy relationship as kindred souls (e.g. "this never happened") is one of the highlights for me. But, I disagree somewhat about Anna's appearing as a kind of revenant with a suitcase. Seemed heavy-handed (pun intended.) Otherwise, a near-perfect episode.

  23. Alan Stamm , September 9, 2010 at 7:15 p.m.

    I value Tom Messner's insightful comments Thursday morning, so this is posted simply as a reflexive accuracy tweak . . .
    . . . in the Weiner-like spirit of compulsive attention to details:

    The Northeast blackout actually began Nov. 9, 1965, sending more than 30 million people in seven states and Ontario "to someplace darker" for up to 12 hours.

  24. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER , September 9, 2010 at 7:29 p.m.

    Alan Stamm,
    Typo on 1966. In 1965, November, I was unemployed and at Aqueduct Race Track about the 8th race when the power went out. I type too fast sometimes for good grammar or good fact-checking. The famous upshot on that blackout, of course, was the baby boom nine months later, far more benign result than in the 70s when the city went a little nutso or a few years ago when my wife was stuck in an elevator for four hours while I played golf out near Sag Harbor oblivious to the troubles at the Niagara Falls Power Project. I only remember one more thing about that year in New York: William Buckley ran for Mayor against Lindsay and Beame and promised casinos in Coney Island and a bikeway down Second Avenue. (The Buckley Bikeway, it would be called. "My finest hour," said the candidate.)

  25. Susan Patton from Susan A. Patton , September 9, 2010 at 10:15 p.m.

    The little black mouse. What was I suppose to understand about the little black mouse that Don crawls around on the floor to find and Peggy shrieks about? It must mean something. Matt Weiner doesn't just include material to fill the episode - - and particularly not an episode as perfectly scripted (and acted) as this one.

    I enjoy reading this blog and comments almost as much as I do watching this amazing program. Thank you.

  26. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , September 9, 2010 at 10:32 p.m.

    This keeps getting better - all parts of the series, DP and commentators. I noticed Don used the line "It's not my fault" again and later Peggy picked it up and used it. True, Don needs another Anna, but Peggy is not a possible substitute. Remember, Peggy is traveling without a compass and no one to help her navigate the landscape or where she is going. And Don is lost and lonely.

  27. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER , September 10, 2010 at 9:36 a.m.

    @Susan. The mouse. I thought it was a just a device to get Don to spring what (I thought) was a very good and interesting product demo. I.e., throwing a suitcase with a "lab mouse" in it off a tall building and seeing if the rodent survives. Could have also worked with a bottle of Scotch and his Clio award as fellow companions in the Fall. Peggy talks about never being on a plane. It was probably just such travel that killed these heavy pieces of luggage that couldn't fit in the overhead.

  28. Melissa Lande from lande communications , September 10, 2010 at 8:10 p.m.

    Regarding the mouse. The symbolism isn't that deep I don't think. It's just the agency is supposed to be so glitzy and Don is such a glittering creative star...and everything that glitters is not gold. Or, mostly I think, as Freud said: Sometimes a banana is just a banana.

    www.landepr.com

  29. Tommy Hollis from GAM.TV , September 12, 2010 at 9:44 p.m.

    INTERESTING STUFF. Learned a lot, as usual.
    @Jonathan Hutter. You wrote: >>Rejecting both Muhammad Ali and Joe Namath in the same episode, Don is on track to become one of those late '60s establishment "squares" that's going to elect Nixon, call everyone with long hair a "hippie," and become irrelevant by 1972. Only 7 years in Mad Men time. However, 35 years later he will become revered once again. <<
    I met Ali in 1984. At the California inaugural ball for Ronald Reagan. The trip from rebel to reverence takes a lot of turns.