Episodes #7: Mad Men Special, The Suitcase (Season 4, Episode 7)

With the season five premiere of Mad Men having been and gone last night, it’s time to round up the special editions of Episodes focusing on the show, with the pivotal fourth season instalment The Suitcase being concentrated on preceding a review of last night’s two hour extravaganza A Little Kiss coming over the next few days here on RhettMedia.

Celebrated as one of the best episodes that the show has turned out, The Suitcase appears mid-season and ushers in a key turning point for the season in a manner which is both touchingly poignant and delicately balanced, and is an indicator of why the show’s return last night has been anticipated so rapturously over the last month and half. Picking up on the major story arcs of the season, the episode is crucial for its portrayal of Don Draper reaching the lowest point of his life as his drinking and excessive outlook in the face of his bachelor lifestyle is capped off by the subconscious awareness of the death of his truest friend Anna Draper, leaving Don emotionally and spiritually at his lowest ebb. Over the course of the season, Don has increasingly become more wayward morally and in an incredible personal crisis due to the death of his marriage and the isolation of his identity in his hedonistic, excessive manner of conducting himself. This episode signifies a definitive turning point in the season, both in tone of the overall presentation and in particular with Don himself. The episode is the pinnacle of Don’s spirit being ground into the abyss, and fully represents an absolute turning point that clearly separates the first half of the season with the second half.

What makes this such a brilliant piece of television drama however is the manner in which Don reaches the epiphany that turns the character’s life around. Full of the verve, sharp wit and multi-dimensionally drawn characters that has seen Mad Men become the finest television show of this generation, the most important aspect of this particular instalment lies in the evaluation of the relationship between the two main characters of the series. Holding a significant amount of understanding and a really special, often unspoken admiration and respect for one another, the episode is a triumph in its analysis of the bond between Don and Peggy Olson. Framed by the infamous second Muhammad Ali-Sonny Liston championship fight, Don forces Peggy to stay in the offices of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce to complete an idea for marketing a brand of suitcases. With everyone else having left the office already, Peggy and Don are alone in the building with Don aggressively castigating Peggy for her poor ideas that fail to meet his incredibly lofty standards. What Don doesn’t realise is that it is Peggy’s birthday and his subsequent tirade at her insufficient workload combined with Peggy’s heartfelt pledge that she doesn’t think Don respects her forces the young copywriter to crack in floods of tears.

What follows is some meaningful interplay as Don attempts to make things up to his colleague, and this again leads to some of the most poignant allusions in a relationship that often flies beneath the radar on a show full of complex emotions and connections. With Don being the only person in the office to know about Peggy’s accidental conception and delivery and Don feeling comfortable enough with Peggy to elaborate on where he really comes from, the episode frames and reignites a touchingly meaningful relationship that sits on the backburner for much of the series run. Added to this is a gripping confrontation between the drunken returning Duck Phillips and Don which comes to blows in the SCDP offices as Peggy is caught in the middle. Duck is ostensibly meant to symbolise a dividing force between the pair, and when Peggy leaves the offices with Duck, Don is left thoroughly defeated and in a drunken, broken haze of depression. However, Peggy’s return ultimately heralds a turning point for Don and consolidates their relationship as the most important and her comforting of a distressed and emotionally drained Don in the following morning at the news of Anna’s death marks this as a touching example of how good Mad Men truly is.

The episode feels like a Samuel Beckett stage play in the ilk of Waiting For Godot at times, where only two characters hold the majority of the audience’s attention and their dialogue both highlights the conflicts in their personal philosophies while also referencing the endearing compassion they have for one another. Much has been made of Peggy’s true feelings for Don and this episode is the first real indicator that something unspoken lies under the surface between both of the two characters, while foreshadowing Peggy’s slight surprise and perhaps subtle disappointment at the announcement of Don’s engagement to Megan in season finale Tomorrowland. All in all, the episode is a prime example of how to map out the height of a storyline arc, with the narrative of Don’s downfall reaching fever pitch in setting up the rest of the season as his return to form. In the meantime, we get to witness some absolutely stellar performances and cracking interplay between two of the best characters in modern television, and from the electricity that the episode produces for the viewer, it is obvious why it earned both Jon Hamm and Elisabeth Moss nominations at the 63rd Emmy awards.

 

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~ by jrhett on March 26, 2012.

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