'Mad Men' Fan Columnist: The All-Nighter
Monday, September 06, 2010
Last night's episode of Mad Men blew me away. The way it starts is similar to any other episode. The boys are going to the Ali/Liston fight. The episode starts with a pitch about a Samsonite suitcase to Don from Peggy and the boys. Epic failure as Don blames Peggy for the poor idea and requires her to continue plugging away at the idea on her birthday. What she didn't realize was that she was in for a revealing all-nighter with Don that could change the course of their relationship to come.
Loyal viewers of the show were rewarded for their devotion as we were witness to a long-time-coming exchange of everything Peggy and Don have ever needed to say to one another. This episode's relevancy is due in part to the series creator penning this episode and of course to Moss' and Hamm's superior performances. If anything, Peggy and Don's dynamic relationship has just been turned up to eleven and from here until season's end, Peggy will no doubt be tested where Don is concerned since she is now the sole person Don can really count on.
Blame it on the Alcohol
Don Draper's journey is ongoing and at each milestone in his life, alcohol has played a major role. When his father died, he had just tried it for the first time. From the first moment we lay eyes on him at Sterling Cooper, he's pouring a drink. And in this season, we've repeatedly seen him drink at least five drinks too many and put himself in several precarious situations. One week he can't remember taking two different women to bed and giving his real name. Another time he is too drunk during a pitch meeting and gives a client an idea that he stole. Alcohol makes him miss meetings with his kids, sleep with secretary, and in this episode, get physically ill. However, alcohol also allowed him to open up to Peggy, which could be his saving grace for the rest of the season and for as long as they know one another.
While Peggy's relationship to Don is a mystery to those around her, it makes perfect sense to us as viewers as these two know nearly every fatal flaw about the other. There are a few secrets left (Pete's the father, Don Draper is not really Don Draper, etc.), but both Don and Peggy know that they need to guard the others' secrets carefully because between the two of them, their collective information could be damaging. When Peggy's innocent boyfriend Mark throws her a surprise party and invites her family, I cringed right along with Peggy. She doesn't really like her family, so it makes sense that she'd choose Don over her birthday celebration with Mark. She can either let Mark into who she really is or end things with him. Several times throughout the episode she chooses Don. Even after a harsh shouting match, Don still calls her in to share a laugh at Sterling and Cooper's expense. Mark's simple and Don's complicated. I know which direction I'd take, even in friendship.
What does it mean that so much of this episode's exchanges took place over the telephone? Juxtaposed with Peggy and Don's face to face interactions, I felt so detached to the people on the other line. Peggy and Don's interactions were physical, intimate, and real. I wonder what message the folks at Mad Men were trying to get across when they put Peggy and Don's intimacy against a radio broadcast fight and too many telephone calls to count. Could it be that technology thwarts true intimacy? I digress.
With an urgent message from Stephanie in his pocket, Don stares at the phone and the message from Stephanie avoiding making a phone call he knows will devastate him. What surprised even Don though, was that he took Peggy along for the ride to avoid the phone. Don has used Peggy in various ways before, but he realizes finally that she's irreplaceable. After too many drinks, they each swap war stories in a strangely casual tone in a diner including how both of their fathers died right in front of them. They address their lack of a sexual history and Peggy opens up to him about how she feels about the baby she had. Both of them lend the other an ear that's nonjudgmental, stripping away the societal mores of the period and sexual roles that were so firmly in place in 1965. By the time Don finally gets the news he was so afraid to confirm, that Anna in fact has died, he's shaken so much that he bursts into tears in front of Peggy, not capable of masking his true emotions.
Knowing how fragile Don is after a night of already exposing so many of his vulnerabilities, Peggy approaches him in just the right way. He tells her that he's lost the only person who ever really knew him and she assures him, that's not the case anymore. The episode ends with the two of them sharing an incredibly charged look and clasping hands briefly while talking about the suitcase ad that brought them together to begin with. Notice how they are both standing behind Don's desk in a position of equal power in contrast to when Peggy first tried to hold Don's hand in the series' pilot. Their relationship is so unique and Matthew Weiner has done a superb job of keeping their relationship one of the most interesting aspects of the show. I'm glad they never slept together and I know if it does happen someday, it won't just be another notch in Don's whittled bed post.
Also of Note:
-The all important fight between Ali and Liston didn't go unnoticed. Nice parallel between Duck and Don's fight. 90 seconds for a three hour analysis.
-Duck is a complete mess. I'm glad Peggy has grown enough not to involve herself with him.
-Trudy is so patronizing!
-Peggy's zinger to Don about how she might not have been as attractive as his other secretaries. Perfect.
-Don attempts to punch Duck over Peggy's honor.
-Don's open door. A metaphor for a renewed Don?
Can't wait for next week, although I couldn't imagine anything better than this episode.