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Mad Men Recap: Happy Birthday, Peggy!

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Wow! This week's episode of Mad Men was truly superb, the best this season -- perhaps the best of any season. It's now May 25th, 1965 -- the day Cassius Clay beat Sonny Liston. In a show where so much goes unsaid, "The Suitcase" finally gives us what we need. Don, Peggy and creative are working on a pitch for Samsonite with the tagline that it's "tough." Don is kind of like the Samsonite suitcase, with a tough exterior that doesn't let anything out. He's always closed, but in this episode, he finally opens up and shows Peggy what's inside. Often like what's inside a suitcase, his hard shell is holding together a softer, messier interior.

On the night of the historic fight, Don and Peggy hang back in the office and do some sparring of their own. It was a full range of emotions, and both Jon Hamm and Elizabeth Moss performed brilliantly. Let's backtrack and look at Don and Peggy's relationship. They've always been especially close. Don came to the hospital when she had her baby, helped her move on and kept her secret, she knows he relies on her creatively, when they made the move to SCDP, he begged her to come with him (in one of the first best Don-Peggy scenes), but as he explained then, he's especially hard on her because he sees her as an extension of himself, which makes their relationship particularly intense. Over the past year, since he's been having such a hard time himself, he's been taking it out on her, abusing her mind along with his body. He's been ruder, and meaner, and less grateful -- kind of the way you are to your best friend or family when you're angry about something else. Misplaced anger, and she's been the victim. While that may be true, she's fed up with being treated this way. She's beyond frustrated by him, by his drunken belligerence, and for not giving her any credit for GloCoat.

It's Peggy's birthday, and Don doesn't know. From the moment he walks into the office, she's unwilling to put up with his bullshit. He's late. They show him their Samsonite pitch and he immediately rejects it. He says "Peggy, I'm glad this is an environment where you feel free to fail." He's incredibly harsh to her all day, ordering her around, while she passive aggressively complies. Don's been having his own other kind of day that Peggy doesn't know about. In the morning, Miss Blankenship (loudly) announces an urgent call from Stephanie in California. From that moment, Don knows Anna is dead. He stares at the message slip, unable to make the call, going back to it every time he's alone.

Don calls Peggy to see what they've done just as she's leaving to go to what she thinks is a romantic birthday dinner with Mark (such a bummer that he's back -- what happened to Abe?). I think Don just needed some company. He's turning to her, but being awful to her at the same time. He yells at her condescendingly and berates her, "I gave you more responsibility and you didn't do anything!" and he demands that she stay to come up with something else. She's annoyed but gives in. They're sitting there, not really working, as Don continues to get very drunk, and she's just trying to get out of there. When she tries to leave, telling him it's her birthday and she's late for dinner, he feels bad for a second and then starts yelling again. "So now I'm supposed to feel like crap -- oh, I'm so sick that I ruined her birthday," he mocks her in a ridiculous tone, and screams, "Enjoy your evening." But Peggy's angry. She doesn't really like Mark that much in the first place, and she hates him for inviting her family to what was supposed to be a romantic dinner. Mark's using her family to try to get closer to her and it's just the worst possible move on his part. She says she won't be coming at all, and as a result he breaks up with her on the phone, in front of her family. (Mark is such a loser, I literally cringe every time he speaks, so congrats Peg -- it's about time.) The truth is, as annoyed and angry with Don as Peggy is, she would still rather spend her time with him. As she says later, her personal life "never feels right or as important as anything in that office." She's not connected in the same way.

So she goes back into Don's office. She's angry, she gets a drink, and this is when the fun really begins. She was sitting out before, but now she gets into the ring. She's ready to fight. She finally gets to attack him about the two things that have been bothering her. 1. That he's a drunk and 2. That he doesn't give her credit for her work. Now it's her turn to be mean and yells, "It's not my fault you don't have a family or friends or anywhere else to go." He tells her she doesn't have to be there and she shoots back, "I do have to be here because of some stupid idea from Danny, who you had to hire because you stole his other stupid idea because you were drunk." Oh no she didn't! This gets him riled up and he snaps back, "Don't get personal because you didn't do your work. And, by the way, I know it kills you, but guess what, there is no 'Danny's idea', everything that comes in here belongs to the agency." This is what she's really been upset about and she yells, "You know what, here's a blank piece of paper, why don't you turn that into GloCoat!" Now Don really starts screaming, "Are you out of your mind?" It gets louder and louder in a crescendo-like build up until the veins in Don's head and the tears in Peggy's eyes are equally about to burst.

Peggy (with tears in her eyes): "But you got the Clio!"
Don: "That's your job. I give you money, you give me ideas."
Peggy: "But you never say thank you!"
Don: "That's what the money is for! [...] and honestly it is absolutely ridiculous to be two years into your career and counting your ideas, everything to you is an opportunity and you should be thanking me every morning when you wake up, along with Jesus, for giving you another day."

And you know what, I've been feeling this whole time that Don's been such an asshole to her, but he's basically right. It is her job. They were both phenomenal in this scene. Peggy bursts into tears, runs out, and Don feels bad. Elizabeth Moss's crying in the bathroom was so realistic, so well done -- you could really feel her pain.

They make up as Don calls her back in after a little while, laughing, because he found one of the tapes from Roger's memoirs. "Sterling's Gold" by Roger Sterling -- HA! This tape is amazing. We knew that Roger's memoirs would be ridiculous but this takes it to a different level. Bert Cooper hated him because of his "joie de vive, [his] romantic prowess," Roger slept with Miss Blankenship, the "queen of perversions"(!!!!!!), Bert's balls were cut off "in an unnecessary orchiectomy. Lyle Evans M.D. I think he had him killed." SAY WHAT. (Lyle Evans was the doctor Roger mentioned in the meeting about Honda, that no one knew what he was talking about -- well played). This is definitely an underrated part of the episode, overshadowed by the serious drama surrounding it, but as usual we can rely on Roger for inserted humor. The tape's ridiculousness cuts down the tension. Peggy still not ready to joke around says "why are you laughing?" and he perfectly appropriately replies, "Come on, Ida was a hellcat, Cooper lost his balls, Roger's writing a book!"

Peggy tries to leave and Don tells her to stay and visit. "We have personal conversations," and she replies, "no, we don't." He thinks they're closer than she does. He feels close to her, but even though she kind of does too, she doesn't feel like she's treated that way -- and she's not, or hasn't been until now.

So they go to dinner, and they start to talk -- to have a real conversation, like friends. This is the most personally revealing conversation we've ever seen Don have, except for when he told Betty everything and when he was with Anna, but she already knew, and now she's gone -- he needs a new friend. This was very new for him. He tells her he was in Korea. He shares her French fries, and they share stories of their past. They both saw their fathers die, and he tells her he didn't know his mother. His father "was kicked by a horse." She laughs but he's serious. After dinner, they continue on to a bar. Don tries to comfort her about her breakup and says, "You know you're cute as hell." She tells him about the other ways that he haunts her life -- that everyone in the office thinks she slept with him to get the job and they joke about it as if "the possibly was so remote." And then he explains, a little weirdly, why he hasn't. "It's not because you aren't attractive, I have to keep rules about work, I have to. You're an attractive girl, Peggy." She mocks him about Allison, and bringing us back to the pregnancy, he says, "you don't want to start giving me morality lessons, do you?" And she tells him her mother thinks he's responsible for the baby because he was the only one who visited in the hospital. It was a touching, honest conversation. I was a little nervous he was going to turn scummy and hit on her at one point there, but so glad he didn't! It ended with Ali winning the fight. They go back to the office and Don throws up. He doesn't just throw up, he violently throws up. Considering that he drinks himself into oblivion on a daily basis, why would this time make him so sick? It's probably partially emotional, nauseous from the thought of Anna, from the thought of making the phone call and dealing with the reality. It's also symbolic of his emptying out in this episode, purging his secrets, no longer able to keep it all inside.

So while Peggy's dealing with one drunk boss, in comes her other old one. Duck is kind of a parallel to Don, he's a drunk mess, and a boss that, in this case, she did sleep with. He sent her flowers for her birthday, with a drunken offer to make her his creative director at his new agency since he's been fired by Grey. He was inspired by what Don did and he wants to do the same. Now he's come looking for Peggy in the office, and she finds him in Roger's office, with his pants off, "leaving Draper a little present" (aka shitting on his chair). HA! She gets him -- and his pants -- up and is trying to get him out when he and Don see each other. It's ridiculous watching Peggy deal with these two drunk old men. She handles them very well. And they both love her -- in their own way. Duck says about Peggy , "I guess when screwing me couldn't get you anything you had to go back to Draper, that's right, we were in love (hold up -- REALLY? I don't think so... but Don has an amazing WTF?! look on his face) it turns out she's just another whore." Don, rightfully, attacks him, and they have a drunken brawl -- the third fight of the night. Don gives up, cutely/childishly ending it by saying "uncle."

Peggy sends Duck off and goes back to Don, and he falls asleep on her lap. It was sweet even though he was covered in vomit. He wakes up to a dream of Anna standing there, holding a Samsonite suitcase (for her journey to the afterlife?), smiling at him in a yellow dress. He knows she's gone, he knew it from the minute he saw the message, but it's a reminder and when he wakes up he calls Stephanie. Jon Hamm was truly outstanding in this scene. This was real Emmy-winning material. He looks so hurt, so heart broken, trying to hold it together, you can see him holding back the tears and hear the gulp in his voice. It was heart wrenching to watch. I cried. Then -- Don Draper cries, yes, cries. As sad as he's been, it was shocking to see. He completely broke down, sobbing and genuinely sad. Peggy looks even more shocked. Peggy asks who died, "the only person in the world who really knew me." She comes over and rubs his back, and tells him, "that's not true." But it was true. Anna was the only one who really knew him. Even so, Peggy doesn't know that, and in this moment, she steps in, ready to take on the role herself. It felt as though a torch was being passed from Anna to Peggy, as his one true friend, the one person he can be himself around. Having the vision of Anna as he was sleeping on her lap also suggested a transition. He could feel/see Anna while he was with Peggy -- she could conjure that kind of feeling for him. As he looked at her, Anna seemed to smile at the two of them approvingly, happy he's found someone new to fill her role. He's going to need Peggy now.

In the morning in his office, Don shows Peggy his new idea for the ad. It's the result of last night -- the famous Ali shot from the fight. He realizes the significance of the night, for sports and for them. It's interesting that he decides to use an athlete, after shutting down Peggy's pitch with Joe Namath, telling her "endorsements are lazy." He's using her idea, once again altering it just enough. Now taking on Don's role, it's Peggy who's questioning it. They seem to have leveled out. Don replies to her questioning, "Why are you shitting on this?" and she complies, "It's good, it's very good." Was she being sincere? It was unclear. I thought it was a good idea, but she wasn't going to get started with him again. He holds her hand and squeezes it and they have a moment, of closeness, of understanding. And like in the picture of Muhammad Ali, with his fist up in victory, Don threw the final blow, winning this fight.

Peggy leaves and says "Open or closed?" "Open," he responds, for a change. He's now open -- the suitcase, like the door, has opened, and Don has let someone see what's inside. After emotionally exposing himself, he's ready to physically expose himself. He looks fresh and clean, as opposed to Peggy who looked like she slept on the couch in her office. This is what he does, he moves into the next day. He has his drawer of shirts and toiletries in the office -- he's prepared for this kind of a night. I'm intrigued to watch their relationship move forward, and see how much he will continue to open up to her. If he'll let her, she could be his way out the darkness.

So, I know this sounds crazy and but tell me what you think about this. Let me just say, I would have been horrified and offended by the idea of Don and Peggy together, and still am by it in the near future, but I could see them ending up together much much later, maybe two full seasons later, maybe in the finale, or maybe even 20 years later, long after the series ends. But they obviously have an intimate relationship, that will only get more so, and I could see them falling in love. If done correctly, I think I'd be pretty into it. Her dad is dead, and if it doesn't go this way, he'll probably be the one walking her down the aisle. Anyone agree?

Just a few things other things about the episode:

Miss Blankenship has taken on a whole new amazing level now, you know, with the whole hellcat thing, but it was interesting that Don is actually consciously punishing himself by keeping her. He tells Peggy who suggests he get rid of her, "No, Joan knew exactly what I needed and made sure that I got it" He's trying to change...?

There's a lot of racism in this episode:
Harry says to Danny, "You're such a Jew."
And Miss Blankenship says about the fight, " If I wanted to see two Negroes fight, I'd throw a dollar bill out my window"

Of course Roger overdoes it when he's out with (sober) alcoholics because he's feeling particularly insecure about his own problem. Besides his very special tape, I also enjoyed:

"Are you serious? We can solve this problem with flasks"

"Did you know Freddy Rumsen collects Indian arrow heads"

And him complaining that Liston "has to lose by unconsciousness." I found that funny/mocking them because Roger and Don could be the ones to lose from unconsciousness, since they're both so drunk and vaguely unconscious most of the time.

Great interaction with Peggy and Trudy in the bathroom. "You're witty. I always assumed that, but it turns out it's true" And it was precious when Pete saw the two of them walk out of the bathroom together. He looks terrified. Also, how pregnant Trudy is reminds us how many months have passed--they're moving so quickly through the year.

When Peggy and Don were looking around for the mouse, Don says, "You know what? There's a way out of this room we don't know about." That line felt significant, like they too could find a way out of their situations, his with his family and alcohol and hers with men and feeling unappreciated (hers obviously less of a problem). Maybe they'll help each other and break out of the places they're stuck in.

And lastly, I liked Peggy's dress.