The series finale of Mad Men starts in just over four hours on the East coast. This show is one of my favorites, to say the least. I started watching the first season while the fourth season was airing, which means I saw some reactions to “The Suitcase” months before I finally got to see it for myself.
“The Suitcase” is the seventh episode of the fourth season, and the show’s 46th episode overall. Written by series creator Matthew Weiner and directed by Jennifer Getzinger, it comes at the precise midway point of the series, though when it aired, Weiner hadn’t set the end date or even renewed his agreement with AMC. It’s widely considered the best episode of the show’s run.
Such hype does the episode a disservice, I’d argue. I’m always skeptical of universal declarations of greatness like “best episode ever!” or “best show of the 2000s” or “best performance in a sixth episode of a third season by a male actor with a beard!” Value assessments like these are useful as in-the-moment reactions but less instructive when considering the overall quality or importance of a piece of art (or anything, really – “best ear of corn ever!”).
All of this to say that “The Suitcase” is so good that it probably deserves more deep discussion than a simple stamp of superiority. In that spirit, I jotted down some random thoughts while I rewatched the episode just now. This collection of musings is by no means comprehensive, and it almost certainly doesn’t do justice to the rich text this episode has to offer. But I’m posting it as my small tribute to a show that deserves a far greater one, and will probably get it from television critics and scholars above my pay grade and expertise.
I’ll have more to say about Mad Men after the finale airs. Until then, my reactions to rewatching “The Suitcase,” in chronological order.
Pete looks so young! Stan looks so clean-shaven! Ken looks…the same.
Hey, look! It’s Empire co-creator Danny Strong!
“If I wanted to see two Negros fight, I’d throw a dollar bill out my window.” – Ida Blankenship. Amazing.
The second time I watched this episode, I completely forgot that it begins without foreshadowing the monumental scenes ahead in the slightest.
Mark Moses is so good at playing drunk. And awful. Duck Phillips is awful.
“Have you been farting in here?” In a few years, Peggy will ask this man to stay on the phone with her.
Roger asks Don to refill his drink as he complains about the Alcoholics Anonymous routine. Subtle. “We can solve this problem with a flask!” Even subtler.
Oh hey! Megan used to work at Sterling Cooper. How soon we forget. “You’re doing alright, aren’t you?” she tells Peggy. She’ll marry Don in a few months. The tables will turn.
And Trudy (Alison Brie) joins the parade of women with traditional problems telling Peggy how to be. She’s having none of it.
“I want a rare steak and I want to see those two men pound each other!” Alison Brie’s line deliveries are great. She should be on a comedy. Maybe something on NBC? Or Yahoo?
Poor Mark. Poor, poor Mark. (He’s also Karl from Lost. I hear what you’re saying, Lost fans. “Who’s Karl?” Exactly.)
“They’re self so-righteous.” Never change, Roger.
I’m so tempted to just copy down every line of Matthew Weiner’s incredible script.
Matthew Weiner should follow up Mad Men by writing the entirety of Roger Sterling’s book. I’d read it five times.
It’s so rare to see two iconic TV characters having a casual conversation about something with no overt significance to the plot or theme of the episode or series.
Elisabeth Moss deserved an Emmy for that muffled laugh at Don’s line about his dad getting kicked by a horse alone.
“Damn elevator’s like a rocket,” Don says. Just one episode later, Roger calls Ida Blankenship an “astronaut.”
Don Draper swinging his fist at Duck Phillips seconds after vomiting into an office toilet is the most heroic thing he ever did.
Peggy asks Don “Do you want to be alone?” The second half of the series is an answer to that question. If recent episodes are any indication, the answer might be “Yes.”
“It’s 10:30, maggot!” Stan has come a long way.
The direction of this episode is astounding, and so simple. When Peggy and Don appear in the frame together, it feels like a victory.
“Open or closed?” “Open.”