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‘Mad’cap Recap 4:7

When we first met Don Draper, he was on top of the world: staggering talent and superstardom in his field; a picturesque suburban life, complete with worshipful wife and children; and all the noncommittal action on the side he could handle. Meanwhile, his new secretary, Peggy Olson, was coming up poor, unfashionable and naive into an industry that would eat her alive if she couldn’t develop some instant savvy and toughness.

In the pilot episode, Peggy tried to hold Don’s hand in a clumsy gesture of seduction, letting him know that she was ready to serve all his needs if that’s what the job demanded. He (thankfully) scorned her advances, and I think she never got over it until now. Not because she had romantic feelings for him, but because, from day one, Don’s approval has been the most important thing to Peggy.

For the past three and a half seasons, Don and Peggy have been on opposite trajectories. As Don’s fall from power gathers speed and force, Peggy’s rise through the SCDP ranks does, too. These mirror selves have been on a collision course for years, and in this sublime episode, as Peggy and Don found themselves truly eye-to-eye for the first (and maybe last) time, it was a powerful convergence.

Framing the Don and Peggy story is the real-world event of the second Sonny Liston/Muhammad Ali fight, which is a fitting complement to all the fights that occur in this episode. First, Peggy stands up her boyfriend (and her family, it turns out) at her birthday dinner so that she can work, which finally prompts the boyfriend to dump her. Over the phone. In front of her mother. Classy. Peggy nails it when she complains, “We’re supposed to be staring at each other over candlelight, and he invites my mother? He doesn’t know me.” Winner: Peggy, eventually. She’s better off without him.

The breakup puts Peggy on edge enough to pick her own fight with Don about whose idea really drove the Clio-winning Glow-Coat campaign. Don is already drunk and highly emotional himself, because he knows that the worst news of his life is only one phone call to California away, and he’s putting it off. He screams at Peggy to stop looking for credit and to just do her job, and Peggy rushes out of the room in tears. For a man who makes his living getting inside people’s heads and making them want things, he has a remarkably large blind spot about his own personal influence. He missed all the signs with Allison, and he’s missing them all here with Peggy. (Maybe if these women knew that there is no Don Draper, they wouldn’t be so invested in what he thinks of them.) Winner: Don by default, but barely.

After Don and Peggy recover by bonding over Roger’s ridiculous autobiography (Ida Blankenship? Really, Roger?) and discover they still can’t come up with a good Samsonite pitch, they spend the night out, eating, drinking and sharing some of their own baggage with each other. I was surprised to learn one more thing they have in common–they each watched their father die in front of them. They stagger back to the office and into the third fight of the episode, the one with actual punching in it. Duck Phillips has tried and failed to charm, bribe and guilt his way back into Peggy’s life, so now he’s forcefully invading and violating her space–which is to say, Don’s space. Duck comes to fight with Don, not Peggy, because that’s what Peggy really is to Duck: just another thing that Don won and Duck lost. Don manages to get out of this fight without a broken nose thanks to Peggy’s intervention, but the two men are both so pathetic at this point, I don’t think we can call a winner.

Empty and exhausted, Don and Peggy fall asleep on Don’s couch together. Don dreams one last glimpse of Anna Draper, happy and healthy and taking only one small suitcase to her final destination. He wakes up and finally makes the phone call he’s been dreading for 24 hours. Stephanie confirms it: Anna is dead. Don believes he has just lost the only person in the world who really knew him. Peggy lays her hand gently on Don’s back to reassure him that he hasn’t–she knows him. Later that morning, in a beautiful reversal of the pilot, Don takes Peggy’s hand in thanks and companionship. Some people have speculated that this means Peggy will become the new Anna, the person who loves Don in spite of all his secrets and failures. I rather think she can claim to truly know him because she is his mirror self. Whether that will be a comfort to either of them, or whether they will simply reinforce each other’s fundamental loneliness, remains to be seen.

Photo credits: amctv.com

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One Response to “‘Mad’cap Recap 4:7”

  1. Again, well done. I so look forward to these recaps every week! And this was one of the best MM episodes yet.

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