Monday, September 6, 2010

Mad Men - "The Suitcase"

Hang in there, Peggy (Elisabeth Moss)! You're gonna make it after all!
Photo Credit: AMC
Review by Paul Steven Brown

'Mad Men'
Season 4 - Episode 7
"The Suitcase"

While the episode title "The Suitcase" refers to the Samsonite campaign that Don and Peggy bang their heads against during most of the hour, it's also a reference to another word: baggage. Boy, do these two have some baggage. Some of it, the pair are aware of, but during this episode Don and Peggy slowly begin to reveal even more to each other.

"The Suitcase" couldn't have happened at a more perfect point in the season's narrative. Don has fallen back on the habit of being hard on his protégé, to the point of abuse. Peggy has not been feeling appreciated by her mentor and has been in a desperate need to find something worth staying for at SCDP. This all comes to a head on a night that Peggy was supposed to go out to dinner with her boyfriend to celebrate her birthday.

Mark really does not know Peggy. In his defense, she really hasn't exposed any part of her past or her real desires to him. There's been a constant internal dilemma within Ms. Olson; a battle between what she thinks she wants (thanks to society, upbringing, etc.) and what she really desires. Duck was loved her talent, but he also loved her youth. Even he didn't really know the real Peggy Olson.

Don has a better idea than most. He was there for Peggy after she gave birth and he has kept her secret. He knows what it's like to wear a mask. Ironically, his mask begins to come off a bit as "The Suitcase" progresses. He is very casual about revealing details about his past to Peggy. Some of this is the alcohol, but I think most of it is that shared experience between Don and Peggy and that mutual understanding of what it is like to maintain illusions. She's also another Anna in many ways.

Don hasn't been happy with his life since the divorce, but Anna's impending has been really weighing on him. It's been hanging over him like a Sword of Damocles ever since his return from California. When Anna's niece leaves a message with Don's secretary, he knows that Anna is gone or is about to expire, but he spends the entire evening trying to find other distractions. He's not ready for that part of his life, a very good and pure part of his life (albeit an odd confluences of events), to disappear. He's lost his wife and children. He's lost his control of alcohol. He's even lost some of his charm and swagger.

Throughout this episode, Jon Hamm and Elisabeth Moss deliver some of their best and most powerful acting since the inception of this series. I'm not just talking about their individual breakdown scenes, while fantastic, either. There's a amazing and mutual since of frustration that cooks through most of their scenes together. On the other end of the spectrum, there's are beautiful moments of relaxation. These two may infuriate the hell out of each other, but they also intuiatively understand each other, too.

"The Suitcase" is the strongest episode of the fourth season, thus far. I would certainly put it up there with some of the best of the series. While the ghost of Anna moment was a bit too on the nose, I can find really very little to criticize about this installment, but tons worthy of praise.

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