“The Suitcase” moves our storyline several months into the future: it is May 25, 1965, the night of the Muhammad Ali-Sonny Liston fight, and it seems everyone at SCDP is betting on Liston, even though in his previous fight against then-Cassius Clay in February 1964, Liston stopped the fight in the seventh round, claiming injury. But anyone outside of the advertising business who keeps claiming they’re “the greatest” is going to get their fair share of bad feelings, and Ali’s then-recent conversion to Islam took care of the rest. But two minutes into the fight, Ali hit Liston, but he didn’t seem to hit him that hard. It was a fight that was widely perceived as being thrown. Don Draper, meanwhile, is going down for the count in “The Suitcase,” but there are indications toward the conclusion that he might yet live to fight another day. But to extend the boxing metaphor as far as I am willing, “The Suitcase” was a knockout.
Harry’s selling tickets to the fight, and the attitude around SCDP is mostly pretty nastily pro-Liston — everyone is still referring to Ali as “Clay,” and Ida Blankenship makes the kind of bad racist joke that makes you wonder about the wisdom of the ancients. With the hindsight afforded by history, you have to wonder about all this confidence in Liston, given how badly he performed in his previous fight with Ali, but a large section of the population would have placed spite bets against Ali back then, even if his opponent was Danny Siegel. Speaking of Danny, he, Peggy, Joey and Stan perform a proposed Samsonite ad for Don that would theoretically star Joe Namath, the University of Alabama star who had just been drafted by the New York Jets. The ad play, involving a kind of suitcase scrimmage, is supposed to be funny but is more whimsical than actually humorous, and Don’s not happy. He also doesn’t think Namath should be used, since he considers using celebrities a “cheat” and besides, Broadway Joe had yet to play his first pro game. So they’re sent back to the drafting board.
It’s Peggy’s 26th birthday (she’d be 71 now, for those keeping score at home), and Duck Phillips calls after having sent over some business cards for a new firm he’d like to start with her. Of course, Duck made an ass of himself at the Clio Awards earlier in the year, and he seems to have lost his job because of that and is hitting the booze in a way that makes Don look like a poster child for temperance. She can hear the ice clinking in his glass and tries to gently pass on his idea, but Duck becomes belligerent when she accuses him of drinking. He eventually admits he is “falling apart.” After Peggy has to hang up, Duck even spills ice on himself while tipping the glass — the man is preserved in 80 proof.
Blankenship tells Don he received an urgent phone call from “a Stephanie” in California, but Don is avoiding the obvious: Anna is either dying or has passed on. Roger begs Don to come with him to Lewiston for the fight, mainly because he’s stuck with on-the-wagon Freddy Rumsen and his AA sponsor at Pond’s, and Roger desperately needs a drinking buddy. Don declines to work on the Samsonite campaign, and if Don’s working late, everyone’s working late, damn it, especially Peggy, who is supposed to meet Mark for a birthday dinner at Forum of the Twelve Caesars, which was the big, ostentatious place to eat in Midtown back in the 1960s, and served food with ridiculously lavish names like “Pheasant of the Golden House on a Silver Shield of Gilded Plumage Roasted with an Exquisite Sauce.” Trudy stops by SCDP mainly to make Peggy feel bad about being 26, unmarried and without child, but the work that has sidelined Peggy from matrimonial and maternal bliss will consume her more as the Draper Monster insists that she stay and finish Samsonite. She calls Mark at the restaurant (they have one of those elite phones with long cords) and informs him that she’ll be 15 minutes late, and we learn that he has invited her evil mother and sister along as a surprise. Somebody doesn’t know his girlfriend very well.
Peggy has more ideas, but Don’s shooting them down like skeet and trying to find an Ali-Liston angle as a he grumbles “Muhammad Ali” under his breath. Roger calls to beg Don to come to the fight — he just sneaked out for a drink — but who’s kidding who? That’s like a six-hour drive. Then Mark calls again to complain that an hour has passed and he’s stuck with Peggy’s miserable family at an ultra-expensive restaurant. Peggy tries to escape, but the Draper Monster attacks, complaining that she should have grown out of the whole birthday celebration thing by now. She calls Mark back and they have one of the worst breakups imaginable: over the phone, while he’s sitting at dinner with her family. Cringe.
That’s when Peggy goes back and a kind of World War III breaks out in Don’s office, with Peggy accusing him of forcing her to work on a concept late mainly because he stole that “Cure for the Common Breakfast” crap from Danny, and further accuses him of running with the Glo-Coat concept for which she apparently provided the early inspiration and never thanking her for her work. By this point, Don’s screaming at her, “That’s what the money’s for!”
Peggy goes away to cry, only to have Don call for her when he discovers a Dictaphone tape from Roger’s memoirs, in which he describes the early days of Sterling Cooper and how Bert Cooper’s secretary, Ida Blankenship, was the “queen of perversions.” Yes, the ancient Ida Blankenship was apparently the Joan Holloway of her day, and poor Bert Cooper is a gelding. Yikes! They share a laugh and then spend a couple of hours drinking and eating, actually talking like friends, and they discuss the rumors that surround Peggy and Don — the subject of much of Stan’s venality in the previous episode. Don claims he never made a pass because of office decorum, but Peggy then mentions the whole Allison fiasco as rebuttal, to which Don says, “You don’t want to start giving me morality lessons, do you?” They talk about Peggy’s baby: apparently, Peggy’s venal mother thinks Don was the father, because he was the only one who visited her in the mental ward.
Then they return to the office and after the rocket-ship ride up the Time-Life elevators, Don runs to the bathroom and yaks up everything. And really, that was one of the most visceral-sounding vomit sessions I’ve ever heard in TV or film — glad he made it to the stall rather than going full-splat like Roger and his martini-soaked oysters. Meanwhile, Peggy sees Duck sneaking into the office, ostensibly to leave a steaming brown present in Don’s office. Peggy points out that it is, in fact, Roger’s office and tries to get Duck out of there, but Don, still reeling from the retching, calls Duck out. Duck might be drunk, but he didn’t just vomit his guts out, and after a brief and ridiculous fight that makes the Ali-Liston rematch look like the Thrilla in Manila, Don says “Uncle.”
Don asks Peggy to pour him a drink. She asks, “How long are you going to go on like this?” His response is about as laid-bare as Don/Dick gets at the office (well, until the next scene). “”I have to make a phone call, and I know it’s gonna be bad,” he said. Then he rests his head on Peggy’s lap and passes out.
There is likely some fairly inconsequential debate going on about what happens next: Don wakes up and sees the ghostly image of Anna, carrying a suitcase. She smiles at Don, turns and disappears. I’m certain there are some fans of the supernatural who would like to believe that Don was actually being visited by the angel or ghost of Anna, but Don went to sleep deeply intoxicated and worried about the phone call. Anna was at the very tip of his brain, and so his dream reflected his immediate anxiety. He wakes up at dawn and calls Stephanie, who informs him that Anna died, and asks Don if she can live there in San Pedro for a semester. He agrees, hangs up and starts crying uncontrollably. Don tells Peggy that Anna was “the only person in the world who really knew me.”
Peggy replies, “That’s not true.” Yes, indeed.
Peggy goes to her office to sleep for a bit before being loudly awakened by Danny, Joey and Stan. She goes back to Don’s office, where he’s showing her a Samsonite storyboard based on the Ali-Liston fight. She has problems with it, to which Don asks, “Why are you sh–ting all over this?” Peggy then tells him, “It’s very good.” Don holds her hand for a moment, then tells her to go home, take a shower and “come back with 10 tag lines.”
Jon Hamm and Elizabeth Moss: this is your 2011 Emmy reel. Another great episode from a superb season, “The Suitcase” is establishing one thing above all: Don Draper will probably do exactly as Faye Miller suggested earlier and get remarried within the year, but the most important relationship he will have in his life after the death of Anna Draper is with Peggy Olson. In the “previously on ‘Mad Men’” montage, we were reminded of Don visiting Peggy in the hospital and seeing her at her most vulnerable. Now, the score is even. A cynic might say that they each have something on each other, but in the offices of SCDP, where most communication is done superficially and people are identified by their conquests both business and sexual, no one knows one other better than Don and Peggy.