At twenty-seven minutes into “The Suitcase” episode of Mad Men, I knew I was ready to call this one of my favorite episodes to date. Then I pondered if that was true – was I just in an exceptionally good mood? (Sidenote: I’m super stressed as of late, so this seemed unlikely.) This morning, I feel the same. This episode is one of my most favorite episodes of Mad Men, ever. Now the question becomes: why?
Elisabeth Moss (who wore a great dress to The Emmy’s) gave a performance in this episode that was tremendous. I found myself not just appreciating the ensemble, but really seeing her acting. (Kudo’s go to the costume department who used this integral Peggy episode to really put her in a splendid dress.) Same goes for Jon Hamm. Suddenly, on my screen he wasn’t just this idea of Don Draper. He was sexy and multi-faceted and I hated him and loved him in the same breath. It’s a complex relationship that him and I have.
I connected deeply with “The Suitcase” and the Peggy plot line. I think that’s partly why I’ve fallen for this episode. But aside from that, isn’t it undeniable that this episode was full of details to love? The bathroom scene between Peggy and Alison Brie as an uber pregnant and aqua-looking Trudy? Roger’s it’s-funny-cause-it’s-true audio tape? Roger calling Don from a pay phone? Joan putting the men in their place? Oyster’s as big as hockey pucks? Ida Blankenship as the “Queen of Perversions”?
But, back to Peggy. Peggy’s story is the story of many a modern girl. We saw her star off as painfully awkward, and she’s finally becoming confident and respected a bit more. Although, it never just ends. You never just suddenly become respected and it’s the end of the story. There’s always going to be a push-pull, and a challenge with every new step. Especially if you’re a woman in the 60’s.
Peggy’s worth ethic, which detracts from her personal life, is something so many people can understand. It’s the burden of the responsible, workaholic type, who wants to blow things off but refuses to break their self-imposed standards. How many times did Peggy try to leave that office? Put a different Mad Men character in that scenario, and half of them would have weaseled out of that place. Peggy even had a good excuse on account of it being her birthday. (And Don, you never get too old to celebrate a birthday!)
When Don and Peggy finally had it out, it was good. After that confrontation, Don shared Roger’s tape with Peggy. And I firmly belief it was not just because she was the only one there. I think those sorts of obstacles and arguments bring a new, shared sense of intimacy. Good things can come out of the bad moments. That’s one of the beautiful things about life. That, and finding $20 in an old, discarded purse.
Everywhere in the episode are symbols of running away, evoking the symbol of a suitcase. And it’s not just with the Samsonite suitcase account, where we saw actual suitcases in play. I mean… Don wants to pack a suitcase and go to California to save Anna (even when he know’s it’s too late.) Peggy thinks about starting a new job working with Duck. Seeing Trudy pregnant brings up thoughts of the married with child life suitcase she gave away once. Her sad sack of a boyfriend wants her to pack a suitcase and marry him. Duck wants her to save him. Anna packs a suitcase for the afterlife. Roger wants to pack a bag to the past – so he’s going through every detail for his book, and trying to rebuild a friendship with Don. Peggy wants to have Don’s life – airplane flying and all. It’s all about escapism. Where you don’t want to be, and where you do want to be. What you have in your suitcase defines what sort of trip you’ll be taking. As Don says, “Jesus, maybe it’s a metaphor.” Ya think?
The boxing fight – seemed like a metaphor, too. (Not just between Don and Peggy.) Everyone has two different lives in their mind, both fighting to win. There’s the life you live, and the one you want to live. Just as, in the episode, they couldn’t decide who had won at first, it’s hard to ever tell which path is the winning one. Sometimes, all you need is a good ad campaign (or mantra) to sell you on it. And the people at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce are skilled at doing just that.