“Mad Men’ Season 4 Episode 7 “The Suitcase” takes place on the eve of and during the Cassius Clay/Sonny Liston rematch that changed boxing history. But the real title bout is between Don Draper and Peggy Olson.
The night that Clay (also known as Muhammad Ali) knocked out Sonny Liston is also the night that changes the lives of Don and Peggy forever in ways that cannot as yet be predicted. Peggy and the creative team are working on an ad campaign for Samsonite luggage. So far Don hates the ideas that he is being presented with, even ones that people of a certain age will recognize as having actually made it on commercials, such as the Samsonite suitcase-being-abused series. So Don forces Peggy to stay after hours to hash out a campaign he will be satisfied with. Unknowingly, because Peggy is afraid to tell him that it is her birthday, a dinner her boyfriend has arranged for her and, eventually, her relationship with her boyfriend, are ruined.
All sorts of undercurrents play out throughout that evening. Don has gotten a phone call from California and he knows that when he returns it that it will be the worse news he has ever gotten. The real Mrs. Draper, whose husband’s identity he stole and whom he loves probably more than anyone else in the world, has died of cancer. He tries to distract himself by bantering with Peggy and then with drink. It doesn’t work.
In the meantime, Peggy is consumed with anxiety about her own life. She feels she is not getting the recognition she deserves as a creative force at the firm. Don dismisses this, telling her tartly that the money she is paid is all the recognition she needs. Don is often angry and dismissive of Peggy and her talents. But in a way it seems, like a tactic to spur her on.
Peggy is also anxious about the fact that she is 26 and not married. While she has a mind and a personality that is often appealing, she is also acutely aware that, physically, she is little to write home about. She wonders whether she actually should want the mid-1960s ideal of marriage and children.
Peggy’s somewhat dysfunctional romantic life is also displayed when Duck Philips, a man whose life is in a death spiral, appears at the office in a state of drunkenness, bawling about how he “needs her” and other alarming things.
But there are also some fun moments, as when Don and Peggy find a tape of Roger Sterling’s dictated memoirs. Did that really happen to Cooper? Or is Roger trying for some revenge?
And there are the soul-searing moments when, having vomited the night’s liquid dinner, Don finally calls California and gets the bad news. Previously he had seen a vision of the woman, entering the office, carrying a Samsonite suitcase. Then Don does something that he has never done before; he weeps inconsolably. Peggy sees a new side to the boss she has admired and feared for years.
The next morning, Don finally hits upon something for the Samsonite campaign he likes, inspired by the boxing match that happened the night before and about which people are still talking. Samsonite knocks out the competition. It seems lame and kind of perfunctory. But the real climax to the episode happens when Peggy briefly takes Don’s hand in her own. It is not sexual. Don is incapable of loving when there is sex involved. The gesture, though, has far more meaning than a thousand loveless and meaningless couplings.
Source: Mad Men, The Suitcase, Cultural Leanings