The Moth Chase

Elevating the Art of Procrastanalysis – Academics wasting time on pop culture

Thanking Me and Jesus for Another Day

with 2 comments

Dear Kathryn,

What a stunning episode!  Our reflections so far this season have oscillated their focus back and forth between Don and Peggy, hinting toward but never quite landing on their connection.  This season is intently focused on each of them – but whether that focus intends to pick up a passing of a gauntlet, the mystery of friendship, the painful beauty of a mentor relation or (and it’s almost certainly always this in some way with Mad Men) the erotics of all the above, remains unclear.  Don’s loss of domestic, family life and Peggy’s ongoing inability to attain it came together in “The Suitcase” as the two modeled something that looked like that life, but also looked different.  I was stunned by the naturalness of their bickering – how much they seemed like an old married couple while at the same time they didn’t.  And then the sexual tension panic began as Don sought to save her from a mouse…such an image from domestic life of the wife on the chair while the husband scurries around on the floor.  Their hands came so close to each other across the diner table (the french fry eating was a nice echo to last week’s pick-up of Doris – Don with his “sister” eating fries).  They flirted or, rather, explained their lack of flirtation over drinks – and then performed the marital, “should we head out now, honey” move – taking them back to the office.  She basically held his hair while he puked and put him to bed – the two falling asleep on the couch, much in the same position we saw Don and Betty fall into in the first season a few times.   Each scene built the sexual tension and released it just a little – holding enough heat into the next that I worried over and over and over again that they were going to end up wrecking everything with consummation.  To end with that hand-hold (another echo back last week and the Joan hand-holding?  But also demonstrating something decidedly more heated than the hold, or even the kiss, with Joan…really, is there anything sexier than hidden touches in plain sight?!) was perfect!  Open or closed?  Open, yes.  But to what?

Only a week after the Emmy’s, this episode had me screaming out for next year’s nominations.  Hamm and Moss were incredible! How he manages to maintain that look of defeat and desperation throughout an entire episode without drifting into melodrama is astounding.  And when he actually broke into the sob over Anna’s death, I was amazed that he could manage continuity between all the Don’s he’s been over these seasons, culminating in a moment so helpless  that I couldn’t believe he remained recognizable.  And Moss paced him all the way – holding her own with her own incredible ability to balance emotion with its restraint.  Their fight over the Cleo and her own crying in the mirror (not to mention her hilariously awkward first look at a urinal) all conveyed the fullness of her character and more.

We wrote last week about how Don’s unraveling is leading him to share more and more Dick with those around him (and I mean that in the sense of his old self, although the crasser interpretation holds too).  His bonding with Peggy – war stories, both watching their dad’s die, shared avoidance of difficult phone calls, etc… – is certainly opening up a dangerous can of worms.  And even so, it feels like the least dangerous thing they did in the course of their night.

I loved the backdrop of the Ali/Liston fight – not only because of the fun historical situating, but also because of the opportunities it afforded to remind us how racist the 1960s were, and all of what is brewing in the background of our narrative.  Don’s secretary – usually deployed for comedic relief – demonstrated a more sinister side with her comment about “two Negroes fighting” and a “dollar bill”.  And Peggy’s dad’s tossing of the Nat King Cole’s records too reminded us how African Americans might have been developing cultural capital by the 1960s (paving the way for Civil Rights), but that they were still outsiders to any mainstream inclusion.  The role of women, African Americans, Jews and other ethnic minorities have always provided for interesting side-themes in Mad Men, but I’m not sure how much longer they’ll be able to stay on the sidelines.

One more side-note – Anna, RIP.  I liked her as a character, and the stability she gave to Don.  But even as they took away the last thing I thought he had to lose, they gave him back Peggy – which leaves me wondering where we go from here.  Watching Anna walk out with that suitcase – prepping for the greatest journey of all – felt like a sweet, sad good-bye to an old friend.  But it was also a sweet, sad good-bye to the last vestige of who Don was – an invitation for reinvention, perhaps, and the ability to form some genuine relationships, honest friendships as the man he has become.  I’m excited to see where Peggy will fit into all this (and very, very hopeful that she’ll, like Anna, maintain a non-sexual role in Don’s life).

Can’t wait to hear what you thought!

xoxo,
Natalie

—–

Dear Natalie,

This was one of my favorite episodes so far. It is rare that Mad Men hunkers down and focuses on one storyline so intently, and I absolutely loved it. I think, like you, I was so hungry to see more of Don and Peggy interacting. We’ve had hints all seasons that he thinks of her as a protegee, and they both share the burden of hiding huge, life-changing secrets, but we have barely seen more than Don’s constant ragging and nagging and a few sweet moments of Peggy returning the favor (when she shows up at his house after his blackout weekend, for instance). The sexual tension was definitely there, and the whole time I kept thinking, wow, in a couple more decades, these two could get married and have a super productive, healthy, slightly competitive, partnership/marriage. In 1964 and given their personalities, I don’t see that happening. And, frankly, I like it that way. They might have the most healthy male/female relationship on the show, if not one of the best relationships, period.

This episode also helped focus attention on each of them as individuals. We’ve watched Peggy struggle with the tension between social expectations and personal ambition throughout the series, and this episode encapsulated the struggle so perfectly: does she want to be Trudy (fecund image of maternal womanhood hungry for a rare steak and male violence!) or does she want to be Don Draper? The pleasure of watching her slowly but surely choose the latter option is enhanced because one suspects she might just achieve the zen balance Don tries so hard to project but is incapable of capturing. It is hard to imagine a washed out, drunk Peggy collapsing on her sofa twenty years from now.

It was also very pleasurable to watch Don become Dick just a little bit more. It has taken desolation and abandonment to force him to open up to Peggy, but it is so much more interesting. Who knew that a broken, vulnerable, screwed up Draper was so damn compelling? Do you remember the look on Don’s face when he finally finished confessing to Peggy last season: a man completely stripped of facade, broken, humiliated… and so hopeful, with a look of such longing to be loved and accepted, and with so much joy that he was done lying. That face constantly rises up in my mind when I see the Draper mask plastered on for another day. I saw something like it again when he crumbled in the wake of Anna’s death. I think the small hand-holding gesture at the end was his own, small, but very profound way of affirming a relationship with someone who saw him broken down and didn’t turn away. That in itself might make Peggy his most substantial relationship now that Anna is gone.

I do wonder if he might not eventually share some of his real story with Peggy. After all, he knows her deepest “this never happened” story. There relationship will always seem imbalanced so far as the revelations are not mutual.

I have nothing but agreement to add to your observation that this episode brought race simmering to the surface again without really dealing with it. Which, I think, is actually probably a lot what it was like for upper middle class white America. I really hope the series stays around long enough to show us what happens when the simmer turns to a full blown boil.

Final thought before I sign off: did you suspect for one moment that Anna showing up with a suitcase was going to lead to the cheesiest ad campaign ever? I totally worried that Don would wake up convinced that Anna had given him the perfect slogan/image: Samsonite, the suitcase for the ultimate journey. Thank god the writers are more creative than my half-baked brain. Though, why, do you think she was carrying a suitcase?

hankering for a rare piece of meat,

Kathryn

Written by themothchase

September 7, 2010 at 8:55 am

2 Responses

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  1. I was so nervous that Don and Peggy were going to hook up. Sweet relief.

    The hand-squeeze was a clever reversal of a moment from one of the earliest episodes, maybe the pilot. Peggy touched Don’s hand when she was a scared new secretary and (I think) she thought she was expected to make herself sexually available, but he rebuffed her and put her in her place. Now they are once again standing at a desk but it’s Don reaching out with totally different intentions. A lovely annotation of how far their relationship has come.

    I was a bit shocked that they went so metaphysical on us, showing the ghost of Anna in such a matter-of-fact way. But it advances the story in a reasonable way, so we just accept it. I too thought Anna was giving Don a final gift of a suitcase slogan. Alas.

    Jean Bean

    September 9, 2010 at 3:31 pm

    • Hey, great point, Jean! I had forgotten about that earlier scene. The moment felt pregnant with something more, but I couldn’t put my finger on what it was. Thanks for clearing up my hunch! (natalie)

      themothchase

      September 9, 2010 at 4:45 pm


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