Mad Men Not-Monday: “Knockout” Edition
Sorry this is yet another Tuesday. Holiday, you know. Also, spoilers!
Let me state up front that I don’t like ghost images. I don’t like the cute “is she or isn’t she real?” implications. I don’t like the ham-fisted symbolism of them. I don’t like the self-centered fantasies that ghosts would bother to haunt the living. Don’s journey was well-enough conveyed by the other events of the episode. I really wish they hadn’t included the Anna fantasy, especially since I get the strong feeling that Don is not exactly a believer. The ghost thing is the dumbest move I’ve ever seen the folks at “Mad Men” make.
However, the fact that Anna was carrying a Samonsite was funny enough that it made me forgive them just a little.
The episode was kind of a strange one, because the actual events of it were incredibly depressing, but the symbolism that pulsed throughout the episode was not. Two major symbols: suitcases and the Muhammad Ali-Sonny Liston fight. The Ali-Liston fight was possibly my favorite aspect of the episode, because it was clearly a symbol of the new tossing out the old—swiftly but controversially—but it was played without flashing lights or big signs. The young people are drawn to Ali (and Joe Namath), but all the old, out-of-it men stand by Liston. And when Liston loses, they refuse to believe there wasn’t a fix.
In other words, they want their country back!
Of course, it’s a credit to the writers that Don complaining that Ali is a loudmouth had a double meaning. It not only hinted at the generational tensions in play, but it also touched on one of the other big themes of the show, which is Don’s unwillingness to open up even a little bit to basically anyone. His motto of doing and not saying is clearly not serving him well. His belief that these two things are mutually exclusive is proven quite decisively wrong by Ali’s win. And so while watching him act like an idiot and an asshole and a thoughtless piece of shit was hard, I think there’s reason to hope that things might be turning a corner for Don. Old Don, when asked about the war, just refused to say anything about it. New Don confesses he saw men die and that hurt him. Indeed, the quiet, unspoken impact the wars had on the mental health of these men has always been quietly touched upon on the show, but lately it’s been roaring to the forefront. Roger losing his shit over the Japanese businessmen. Duck drunkenly freaking out on Don, threatening to kill him by suggesting that he killed 17 men in Okinawa. And for Don, the boundaries between Dick Whitman and Don Draper are beginning to fade.
Old Don also wouldn’t have cried in front of Peggy. Old Don pretended to the New York world that Anna Draper didn’t exist. New Don has her picture on his desk and tells Peggy a little bit about her. It seems small to us, but to him, it’s a revelation.
The Samonsite bags, of course, invoke baggage. Don and Peggy are obsessed with how strong the suitcases are, aka how well does it keep your baggage locked up and hidden away from everyone else? And this is where I think the symbolism got complex and interesting, because there’s no indication that there’s anything wrong with wanting to keep your baggage in a nice, strong container. Just that never talking about it, and having no one in your life that you can open up to is the problem. A middle ground is hinted at, somewhere between being a loudmouth and being someone who never lets anyone else know what you’re thinking ever. Peggy and Don drop their guards around each other, and even though they’ve been kind of close for nearly five years now, for the very first time in their tumultuous relationship, they become friends. And have ever two people needed a friend so badly? Think of how much stuff comes out in their night from hell: their frustrations with each other, Peggy’s sadness at giving a baby up for adoption, her anger at being seen as someone who slept her way to the top when she didn’t, Don’s trauma after the war, Don’s own inability to live by the rules he made for himself, Don’s actually admitting that he does notice Peggy more than he would ever let on, Peggy admitting she hates her boyfriend but doesn’t want to be single, Peggy’s affair with Duck. And while Don was a monster in many ways in this episode, he redeemed himself a little in my eyes for refusing to judge her when it came to Duck, and of course his searing anger when Duck called Peggy a “whore”.
Don has another interesting journey that points to potential redemption. At the beginning of the episode, he rejects what I think was actually a good idea, which is the Joe Namath Samonsite ad idea. Don has rules, the ad breaks the rules, full stop. He’s rigid and unkind about it. By the end, he basically writes up an ad that actually has the same basic idea, which is pulling on sports imagery to represent strength. He starts off the episode in grumpy old man mode by being dismissive of these young people’s enthusiasm for Joe Namath. By the end, he’s embracing enthusiasm for Muhammad Ali. This whole season, the tension has been over whether or not Don is going to be able to save himself by getting with the times. At the end of the episode, we have reason to believe the answer is that he can, especially if he’s willing to actually deal with his alcoholism. He can’t become Duck or Roger, stuck in the past and drinking endlessly in a pointless attempt to forget. But that’s the path he’s on, and the suggestion at the end is there’s an exit sign on the path. He can accept Peggy’s friendship. He can embrace the new. He can stop drinking to forget. But all these things are, of course, easier said than done.
Re: the little hand-holding at the end. There was much speculation at our apartment about whether or not Peggy and Don will hook up now. I’m really not fond of the notion that all warm relationships between straight men and straight women lead invariably to romance, so of course part of me is rooting for them to simply be friends. That said, there are reasons to believe the writers could be moving in that direction:
*The man Don Draper is partially modeled on—Draper Daniels—really did marry his female comrade-in-arms. By her own account, she decided to go for it, even though she was wary of marrying an already-divorced man (who is 12 years older), because she didn’t “believe” in divorce. The Peggy-still-has-some-conservative-ideals-she’s-shucking-off storyline fits right into that. Their relationship increasingly seems like it was inspired by Myra Janco and Draper Daniels. For those who find the alcoholism storyline tense, you might be interested in the fact that Draper Daniels successfully quit drinking.
*Don admits he finds Peggy lovely. People at home guffaw at the idea that a real world woman that looked like her, especially with her newly stylish dress, wouldn’t be swimming in male attention.
*Hey, Peggy likes older guys. Just not Duck, who successfully proved that all us Duck-haters were so right about him.
*They’re both married to their work, which their non-colleague partners have basically always hated. But hey, marry a co-worker and that problem goes away. They can’t be waiting on you to show up for dinner if they’re in the same meeting as you.
*And let’s face it. If Don can quit drinking, a marriage between them would actually be exactly the sort of thing both of them are listlessly drifting around looking for. Don needs to get over his sexist, old-fashioned belief that your wife is basically your pet human, since he clearly finds more pleasure being around women that wear their brains on their sleeves. He needs someone he actually respects in his life, but only if he can get to the place where he accepts that and can get over treating Peggy like crap when she threatens his authority. Peggy, on the other hand, wants to get married and have a life partner, but she doesn’t want to sacrifice her dignity to get there. Her boyfriend’s whole “surprise” of springing her whole family on her was indeed the lamest gift of all time. She has trouble articulating it, but Peggy wants someone who basically treats her like a grown-up. This possibility has opened up between her and Don.
But still, I don’t like it. I want Peggy to get with the cute journalist she met at the party. Where’s that guy? I want to see more of him. I want her and Don to settle into the relationship that Liz Lemon and Jack Donaghy have on “30 Rock”. But I find myself mollified by the idea of Peggy getting into bed with a guy that looks like Jon Hamm.
What do you think? Are you Peggy/Don ‘shippers? Do you think they’re going to get married? Do you think that’s a good idea?