Boxing was the theme of this week’s Mad Men, or rather, it was a much needed respite. When the credits rolled this week, sitting on the couch with my girlfriend, watching the episode on my computer, I immediately turned it off, unable to listen to the Simon and Garfunkel soundtrack in it’s entirety and flipped to You Tube, to watch more boxing. First I clicked onto the Ali vs. Liston fight to show her how crazy the knockout was, why everyone thought it was fixed. Next I clicked onto a "Best of Ali" link, showing her the fine points of his fight with George Foreman and the choice bits of Ali’s infamous shit talking. For a good forty minutes I talked her through boxing highlight reels, waxing knowledgeable, masculine. Really, I was thinking about the Mad Men episode, the incredible roller coaster ride that the writers achieved this week in single hour, pounding through intense emotions so trenchantly that it was like the equivalent of Ali KO’ing Liston in 90 seconds. It was uncomfortable how effective this week’s episode was. So much so that I needed forty minutes of male on male brutality to feel to normal again.
The episode revolved around drunken all-nighter with Peggy and Don on the night of the legendary boxing match and Peggy’s 26th birthday. Let’s be clear, Don has been plummeting this season; rejected the hot women we expect him to sleep with and seeking solace in the pants of women he absolutely shouldn’t be sleeping with, completely derailing our notion of Don Draper as a man of composure and standards. Anyone watching this week’s episode strongly considered the possibility that Don was going to give Peggy an extra special birthday present, the 1964 version of his "Dick in a Box."
Old Ms. Blankenship –who we now know used to be a sex kitten thanks to a sneak peek at Roger’s autobiography– tells Don early in the episode that he has a message from California and Don knows that the real Mrs. Draper, "the only person who really knows him" is probably dead from cancer. So, instead of going to watch the fight with everyone from the office, and instead of going out to dinner with Roger and the Pond’s people, Don buries himself in work, avoiding making the call to California. Also, Bert Cooper has no testicles.
This week’s episode has an alcoholism theme. Duck is a wasteoid — so off the wagon that the thing has run over him a few times already, and Roger dreads his meeting with Fred and the Ponds people because they’re blathering AA folks who obsessively talk about their drinking days until they cry. Even our hero, our protagonist, is a functioning alcoholic and these days, just barely so.
Peggy is turning 26. She meet’s Pete’s super-pregnant wife in the bathroom and even though Pete’s wife knows nothing of the secret baby mamma drama Peggy has with her husband, she pities her for not being married and pregnant at 26. Peggy knows better though. It’s her birthday and she has a romantic dinner planned with her boyfriend, with whom she’s quite serious. She’s doing fine! All she has to do is come up with some ideas for Samsonite, and she can go meet her beau for that romantic dinner. What Peggy doesn’t know is that her man invited Peggy’s terrible mother and sister along for the dinner. Her day is further complicated by a call from her ex-lover Duck, who is jobless and off the wagon and wants Peggy to quit working for Don (again) because he doesn’t appreciate her, and join him in jobless squalor.
Of course, Don doesn’t like any of Peggy’s idea for Samsonite, or maybe he does but Don’s will do anything to not have to deal with forthcoming phone call, so he keeps Peggy in the office into the night. Calls shoot back and forth from the fancy restaurant, where Peggy’s man is sitting with her family, become more and more heated and Peggy almost leaves the office a few times, but she doesn’t, in fact, she doesn’t even tell Don that it’s her birthday so that she can leave. The final phone call from the restaurant ends with Peggy and her boyfriend breaking up, as her mom and sister listen. When Don finally finds out, he takes her to dinner at a greasy spoon diner. Don gets wasted, tells Peggy she’s an attractive girl, and then pukes while she takes care of him, happily. In fact, we get the sense at this point that Peggy’s having a pretty great birthday.
Enter Duck, who storms the SDCP office sloshed and attempts to shit on Roger’s office furniture, thinking it’s Don’s, but all the comes out it’s a toot before Peggy drags him away. Duck pulls up his pants, professing his love for Peggy. Peggy un-wooed, ushers him toward the door, he call’s Peggy and whore and Don arrives to fight to him. Duck wins the fight, thinking that this means Peggy will automatically leave with him, but she doesn’t. In fact, Peggy spends the rest of the night with Don’s head in her lap until they both fall asleep. In the middle of the night, Don wakes up and sees Mrs. Draper’s sole and knows that she’s dead. The next morning with Peggy still asleep, he makes the call and it’s confirmed. At this moment, Peggy wakes up and sees Don sobbing.
Don cries like a man breaking down, his young female apprentice watches and we watch on helpless. It’s a beautiful moment, a perfect choice. Peggy and Don have something truly special and we’re lucky just to be in on it.
Jesus, I need a drink.