'Mad Men' review: Heavyweight fights

Mad Men went to the fights this week. In an episode set against the media backdrop of the second Muhammad Ali-Sonny Liston bout, battle-lines were being drawn everywhere. Don fought with Peggy and her Samsonsonite ad team over what he thought were their unimaginative ideas. Peggy fought with Mark over having to stay late at work. In a turn that would have seemed ridiculous had writer Matthew Weiner not arranged it so beautifully, Don took a swing at Duck… and the drunk (Duck, not Don, though Don was inebriated, too) ended up on top of Don, a wobbly, momentary victor.

And I suppose for the purposes of my organizing metaphor, I’m supposed to say that Anna lost her battle with cancer, but the dignity of her death — the immensely sad wit she made of her own demise — deserves more than that dreadful cliche.

The episode gave Don and Peggy equal attention. Don tried to avoid returning the call from the West Coast that would inform him of Anna’s death, and spent the work day taking it out on everyone. No surprise that even in talking about the heavyweight championship with which America was obsessed, Don would be among the many who’d persist in calling Ali “Cassius Clay” and predict Ali/Clay would lose for that most Donnish of reasons: “‘I’m the greatest’ — not if you have to say it,” he sneered.

Don kept Peggy working late at the office, on this, her 26th birthday. This allowed for a priceless reveal: Mark the sap boyfriend left stranded with his surprise birthday gift for Peggy — her hideous family, sitting like gorgons, waiting for her in a restaurant. The thoughtful yet utterly clueless Mark roused his pique to blossom into something close to anger, and broke up with Peggy over the phone. In doing so, he left Peggy as she’s been so many times, but never as movingly: alone yet not alone, stranded with a man she for whom she felt ambivalence. And the fact that I could be talking about Duck as much as I am about Don shows you how far Don has sunk.

As viewers, we felt elated that Peggy seems to be rid of Mark, yet even as she said, “He doesn’t know me and it’s not my fault,” we also knew why she’d also burst into tears one of this week’s many high points, overcome with the burden of being lonely and too smart for everyone in the room — or not in the room.

The scenes shared by Don and Peggy had a remarkable intimacy. (Don, too, broke down sobbing.) As they discussed family deaths and the secret they share about Peggy’s baby given up for adoption, they were at once brought closer even as we saw how utterly different they remain. That last quality was encapsulated by a quick exchange.

Peggy: “I can’t tell the difference between something that’s good and something that’s awful.”

Don: “Well, they’re very close.”

Exactly. Peggy might as well have been talking about her break-up, or Duck, as she was a Samsonite luggage ad. And Don, who would later see a vision of Anna smiling, holding a gleaming Samsonite suitcase on her way to “a better place,” knows how close good and awful are.

In Weiner’s construction, Peggy was Ali (quick, a changling, trying to make titanic struggles look easy) and Don was Liston (sullen, methodical, banking on hard work and stoic denial to save himself). Peggy’s line, early on in her argument with Don — “You win, again” — showed how battle-scarred they both are. This episode, entitled “The Suitcase,” was a knock-out.

A few lighter points:

• Roger’s dismay at having to dine with AA-sobered companions yielded some superb humor, including his slurry line, “They’re self so righteous!”

• Deconstructing Roger’s dictated tapes (“Ida was a hellcat?” “Cooper has no testicles?”) is going to keep Mad Men media scholars in PhD territory for months to come.

• Duck trying to leave a excremental gift for Don, but dropping his drawers in Roger’s office, was matched in glorious grossness only by Don’s violent, seemingly endless vomiting, which approached Monty Python’s Meaning of Life in its copiousness.

What did you think of this week’s Mad Men?

Follow: @kentucker


Comments (331 total) Add your comment
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  • Sam

    I’ve been waiting for this recap to be posted so I could just say how f-ing amazing tonight’s episode was. I think I’ll watch it again before I go to bed.

    • Mr. Holloway

      My favorite thing about this show (besides Christina Hendricks) is any scene between Don and Peggy…

      …so tonight was basically “Mad Men” porn for me!

      • Donna Rose

        Couldn’t agree more. The Don/Peggy relationship is so unique in its complexity and the two actors handle it beautifully. Loved tonight’s ep.

      • Gretchen

        I agree – I about lost my shizz at the end when they held hands

    • Svetlana

      I totally agree! It was phenomenal!! It was funny/sad/poignant/angry, I think they hit every emotion possible! Jon Hamm is amazing (and GORGEOUS)and I can’t believe he didn’t win the EMMY. Not to get off topic but I watched season one of “Breaking Bad” today and while Bryan Cranston is a good actor, he is nowhere as good as Hamm or even Hugh Laurie so I don’t understand why he keeps winning? This was one of those episodes that I wished went on for hours! I love the scenes between Don and Peggy, they are so fraught with tension and sexual tension and they play off each other amazingly well. Cant wait for next week.

      • WENDY PERRY

        keep watching…seasons two & three will show you why he kept winning but 2011 & beyond will be all about jon hamm

      • ZurichHottie

        Jon Hamm was amazing in this episode. He is so vulnerable and tortured. I loved the last scene and have adopted him as my Superman. But to give credit where credit is due, Bryan Cranston is also an amazing actor. I don’t know you Svetlana, but i am excited for you to discover BB S2&S3. He really is the best actor on television.

      • scout

        I disagree about “sexual tension”. Don can have sex with just about any woman he wants; he doesn’t need a sexual partner. He needs a friend, a little sister, a comrade. She needs a mentor, a big brother. The thing they don’t need – or, I think, want – from each other is sex. What they need from each other, and what they are becoming to each other, needs to be something that is always there – not something that’s over once the “aura” of sex wears off.

    • lilian

      Although I’ve seen plenty of amazing acting and writing so far in Mad Men, I do think this is the best episode that has ever aired. Peggy and Don together are gold! And I think season 4 is simply brilliant. The Rejected was another favorite of mine. So happy to see that the show can reach such levels of greatness in its 4th season!

      • erf

        ITA! When are Jon Hamm and Elisabeth Moss FINALLY going to get their well-deserved Emmys???
        Their acting is some of the absolute best on TV.today.

      • emily

        i know! i just told a friend of mine, how this was my favorite mad men show of all time.

    • Delena

      I’ve been waiting all night for this review too. Mad Men is on fire! I have loved every single episode this season. I’m amazed at how in it’s 4th season Mad Men has risen to new heights, and continues to astound me. Bravo Matthew Weiner. Bravo.

      • Javabooknut

        I agree. Was a bit dissapointed with season 3 but this season gets better and better. The only thing that would make it even better are more Joan/Peggy scenes. Those two act brilliantly off one another.

    • Myk

      Might have been one of the single best episodes in television history. I actually went back and watched minutes 24-27 two or three times before moving on. Just great writing and acting.

    • Javabooknut

      Loved his response to her question of who had died. “The only person who really knows me (or something like that).” She put her hand on his shoulder and told him that wasn’t true. Priceless. I’m so glad we had an almost all Peggy and Don Episode. Elizabeth Moss is finally having her moment. I hope this is her year to get an emmy. She’s brilliant in one of the most complex and well acted female characters anywhere.

    • MrsDolly

      And the morale of this story is:

      “If you’re the greatest, it’s okay to say it?”

      “It’s not bragging, if it’s true?”

      “I’m not shi++ing on your idea. It already smelled that way?”

  • Sam

    Thought the fight was with Cassius Clay not Sonny Liston.

    • Sam

      lol, never mind. I know nothing about boxing.

    • Rae Robertson

      Cassius Clay was Muhammad Ali’s name before he changed it. The fight was between Clay/Ali and Sonny Liston.

  • Tim

    Is it too soon to say best episode yet? Top Five, definitely.

    • D

      Definitely best episode ever. And best acting, Jon Hamm really took it up a notch. Excellent!

    • Javabooknut

      Still love the episode where Peggy tells Pete about the baby. “I could have had you” Still amazing.

  • stylewriternyc

    Ken, Peggy didn’t have an abortion; she had the baby and gave it up for adoption. Don visited her after the birth …

    • Erica

      I’m glad that someone pointed this out early on! =]

      • lindsay

        ken never said Peggy had an abortion in the recap. He said Don and Peggy talked about her pregnancy. Which they did.

      • Nix

        Ken changed it, Lindsay. They’re sneaky like that. :)

    • thin

      Yeesh. That was kind of a major point of the show to get wrong.

      • Bandy

        How does EW allow this brilliant, popular show to be passed around from writer to writer, week after week?
        Mad Men deserves to be covered by one dedicated writer – preferably NOT Ken, but rather someone who’s actually a fan of the show and would know better than make such an egregious error.

    • Ken Tucker

      Fixed. Thanks very much.

    • Kacey

      Am I wrong in believing that Peggy’s sister was raising the baby? I thought it was one of the reason’s Peggy moved out on her own…to avoid having to see him.

      • Hrfe

        No. In the second season they kind of lead you to believe that but in a flashback you see that her sister was very pregnant when Peggy was in the hospital, it really is her nephew.

      • kim in kentucky

        no, at first we thought that’s what happened – but we later found out that she had indeed given it up for adoption

    • Javabooknut

      Am I the only one that thinks her sister is raising her child and that she didn’t give it up for adoption. I swear there have been hints and once her sister asked her, “Aren’t you going to go in and see him” or something like that.

      • Esthering

        Yes, and remember that the young priest saw her with, but not playing, interacting with the child after Easter services and gave her “something for the little one.” The child is still in the Olson family, raised by Peggy’s older sister who resents the burden their mother put on her.

      • MrsDolly

        I thought her sister was raising Peggy’s child, also.

  • Marcia

    Superb. Riveting. Touching. Funny. Sad. Perfect.

    • Dawn

      Agreed. I loved every minute.

      • ash

        I couldn’t stop tears from rolling down my cheeks when Don started sobbing.

      • Mr Blankenship

        me too ash, the acting was superb

    • Annie

      I lost it too, my Don started crying. :(

  • Stefon’s lover

    Peggy’s pregnancy, you mean. She didn’t have an abortion.

    • jj

      I’ve been waiting for Peggy to bring their kid to Pete. I think Pete’s wife will lose the baby and Peggy will tell him they have a child. Imagine that moment. Hope it happens.

      • Sienna

        Pete knows about the kid – I think Peggy told him in the second season finale.

      • jj

        Peggy hasn’t told Pete about the kid yet.

      • HL

        Yes, she has.

      • Vanessa

        Peggy told Pete she was pregnant last season.

      • Nix

        Peggy told Pete in the S2 season finale. And she gave him up for adoption; the infant in S2 at her sister’s, which Father Gill mistook for Peggy’s, actually is her sister’s.

      • D

        Peggy totally told pete about the baby along time ago.

      • seattleellen

        Yes, Peggy told Pete she had the baby and gave up for adoption. It was a very touching scene from one of the prior seasons & it seems like before he had affair with the nanny in his bldg. Of course at time, Pete was smug only because he knew the problem with Trudy getting pregnant was not because of him.
        Tonight’s episode was superb and what a team Don & Peggy Make! Too bad, Don is now almost as low with Duck with his drinking. Can’t wait to see what happens next!
        And Love Miss Blankenship, I’m glad Don told Peggy Joan knew just what he needed.

      • TMB

        I realize there was a considerable gap in time between the end of season one and the beginning of season two, but having not seen all of the early episodes…how was Peggy’s absence from the agency explained? If she had to tell Pete she was pregnant he obviously never saw her while she was (nor did most of the working staff).

        As for last night, one of the best eps of the series I’ve seen, and knowing how much the posters here love Don and Peggy’s characters I was expecting the reaction I’ve read here today.

      • Meghan

        Look, you really need to rewatch season 1 if you don’t understand the Peggy storyline. The whole season she became progressively bigger. Everyone assumed she was just getting fat. She literally had no idea she was pregnant until she went into labor. Everyone at the office just assumed she went away to “fat camp”.

      • Esthering

        I always thought Pete and his wife would end up raising the child because she couldn’t get pregnant. Kind of snide how she told Peggy that at 26, “there’s plenty of time” (to get a husband).

  • Lorie

    A perfect episode in so many ways. Brilliant job!

  • Katie

    Why hasn’t Elisabeth Moss won an Emmy yet!? Such a wonderful episode.

    • Mr. Holloway

      After watching this episode (and her work all season) I believe that will change next year.

    • Svetlana

      She was great. I was having an argument with someone while watching the episode. I am convinced that Peggy is in love with Don and always has been but my sparring partner thinks she’s always hated him. Anyone else agree with me?

      • Nelda

        I think she cares for him deeply, and he for her. But it is not romantic.

      • Anne

        Love?Hate? “They’re very close.”

      • chester

        Don said she looked like Irene Dunne when the other guys were saying she was no Marilyn and no Jackie. He didn’t objectify or sleep with her as his secretary because he respected her. He had that beautiful loving respectful bond with Anna – so sad that he had to lose her – but it was a hopeful ending, when Peggy asked if she should leave the door open or closed – he thought for a minute and said “Open” affirmatively, like he is open for business. Great episode paying off so many tensions.Wonderful that it was visceral and emotional.

      • Sharon

        I think she cares deeply for him now and before this, cared deeply what he thinks of her, but not romantically. She said in this episode that she knows what the world expects her to want (marriage, children implied) but nothing satisfies her as much as work. So that’s why she cares so deeply about Don

      • valdar

        i think they are positioning Peggy to be Don’s best friend, like Anna Draper was before she died. as women go, only Peggy is the intellectual and emotional match for Don that Anna was

  • evie

    Adoption! Love your quick post, but please fix. Much tougher than abortion.

    This episode will stay with me a long time.

    • RealDon

      Peggy’s baby is being raised by her sister folks.

      • erin

        No, it isn’t. That was misdirection on Matt Weiner’s part. The baby you think is Peggy’s is actually her sister’s. Rewatch season one and you’ll see she was pregnant the same time Peggy was.

      • jj

        Didn’t they have a moment with Colin Hanks, Peggy, and her kid picking up eggs for easter or something like that?

        I seem to remember Peggy kissing the baby when it was asleep at her sister’s house. Her sister even made a comment to Peggy.

      • jenny

        actually, no. her sister was also pregnant at the same time. she is raising her own baby, and peggy’s baby was adopted out to strangers.

      • Erica

        I think so, too. I think that Peggy’s niece/nephew was stillborn and that her sister wound up raising she and Pete’s child.

      • Vanessa

        I think Erica is right. Even though her sister was pregnant, I’m pretty sure the sister is raising Peggy’s kid.

      • Tiki

        Matthew Weiner has said in several interviews that they deliberately misdirected the audience into thinking Peggy’s sister was raising her and Pete’s baby. Peggy’s baby was indeed adopted to strangers. Everything you think you’ve seen that makes you believe otherwise was purposefully written into the script by the writers to steer you in the wrong direction, and it obviously worked. Google it for yourselves and you will see. Also, Peggy did tell Pete about their baby.

      • mcfly

        Her sister is raising Peggy’s baby.

      • Meghan

        OMG people. Seriously. Peggy says explicitly in her scene with Pete in the season 2 finale that she gave the baby away for adoption. The other baby is her sisters. The whole theme of that scene was about something being lost forever, never to be retrieved again.

      • Hypnogal

        Excerpt from Chicago Tribune 10/27/08 – Interview between Maureen Ryan (Watcher column) and Matt Weiner:
        “There seems to be some confusion over one aspect of “Mad Men.” In the show’s Sunday finale, Peggy told Pete that she had had his baby and had given it away.

        All season long, fans of the show have been speculating about whether Peggy’s sister is raising the baby that Peggy had with Pete. And that was intentional, creator Matthew Weiner said. “I mislead the audience all over the place, and that’s the fun of the show. I give out little bits of information at a time and then play on that,” he said in an interview on Monday.

        I asked him if Peggy’s sister is raising Peggy’s baby, and he said, no, that is not the case. Peggy’s sister was pregnant when Peggy had her baby, and the sister gave birth around the same time. Her youngest child is her own child; the sister is not raising Peggy’s offspring.

        Again, just to be clear: Peggy’s baby is not being raised by her sister. That child was given up for adoption. “

      • Esthering

        Peggy wanted to hurt Pete by saying she had given the baby away. I think Weiner is fooling people with that interview. The child has popped up a few times since it’s birth. Or are you saying that was the sister’s baby Peggy held while others took Communion and after the Easter service?

      • JOE

        Once and for all, Peggy’s sister is raising Peggy’s baby. Matt Weiner said in an interview that he misled people into believing the baby was Peggy’s, but it was actually her sisters. In a later interview, he said he was misleading people in the previous interview, and that the baby ACTUALLY IS PEGGY’S.

    • Lucy

      Adoption is tougher than abortion? I hope that my birth mother is glad that she gave me a chance at a better life instead of aborting me.

      • Val

        Adoption is MUCH tougher than abortion. You have to carry that baby to term, and no matter how hard you try, you develop a love for, and relationship with, that child. Every single day, you have to remind yourself that it’s not your baby, it’s someone else’s because you’ve made up the choice to give it away. And then you have to go through labor, and even if the doctors and nurses know that the baby is going up for adoption, inevitably someone says, “oh, you must be such a proud mother!” or something like that. You have to sign the papers that give your rights away, and every single day of the rest of your life, you wonder about that baby, and whether or not they’re being loved and cared for and treated well.

        Adoption is infinitely harder than having a lump of cells vacuumed out of you. It takes an incredibly strong and selfless woman to be able to go through with an adoption. You need to cut back on your snark, Lucy.

      • Kacey

        @Lucy, if your mother had aborted you, you wouldn’t know.

      • @Kacey

        Wow Kacey, that was a completely unnecessary and frankly idiotic statement. The argument itself is illogical and ridiculously off point.

      • Jenn

        well said, Val.

      • chester

        Whoa! Val I hardly call Lucy’s reply ‘snark!” Lucy is alive! It’s not an easy question at all and I don’t think it’s anybody’s job to judge!

      • Kari

        Val, how dare you. I find your post incredibly offensive — I am hoping you did not mean it to be that way. Aborting a child and giving a child for adoption both result in the loss of a child. Just because someone has an abortion does not mean it was freely done, not coerced and not without consequences. There are support groups for people who have to endure this type of pain, and it would be a good idea to choose your words a little more carefully. There are people who are deeply hurting from both of these actions. Not everyone believes abortion is okay, but that does not take away from the fact that sometimes people do things they don’t believe in, and that can result in enormous emotional burden. Please be sensitive to people’s feelings if you are going to post here.

  • Nix

    So far, the episode of the season, and one of those episodes you “need” on a Mad Men series retrospective.

  • Magneto

    This episode was a knockout!

  • Britt

    this episode will go down as one of the show’s best. I loved it.

  • Magneto

    I wonder, in which episode will Don get a bleeding ulcer?..

  • aby

    Absolutely brilliant. Possibly their best episode ever, well a tie with last season’s finale.

    • Gretchen

      Agree 100%!!!

  • Ryan

    They even showed the baby at the end of Season 1. The nurse was holding it and asked Peggy to hold it and she turned away.

    • Tawnya

      I still can’t believe that Don’s Secretary said, ” If I wanted to see two Negros fight I would toss a dollar bill out of my window” I was completely shocked.

      • elizabeth

        I think it was meant to be shocking and to remind us what it was like to live in the midst of civil-right-movement America. (It ages me, but I remember Caucasian people saying awful stuff like that, and my mother often saying, sorry, talk like that is not allowed in my house.) It will be fascinating to see how they handle the great upheavals of 1968.

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