Dissecting Mad Men's Best/Worst Fourth Season Episode

Perhaps to help keep Mad Men’s brand name alive during their long exile in television Siberia before its fifth season debut early next year, The Daily Beast interviews series creator Matthew Weiner and star Jon Hamm for “an oral history” of the fourth season episode “The Suitcase,” which the Website describes as the show’s “gut-wrenching, Emmy-nominated episode:”

Mad Men’s staggering fourth season featured more than a few memorable episodes, but perhaps none more so than the tour de force, “The Suitcase.” Written by creator Matthew Weiner and directed by Jennifer Getzinger, the episode finds Emmy nominees Jon Hamm and Elisabeth Moss’s Don Draper and Peggy Olson spending the night at the office, as Don avoids making a phone call that would confirm the death of Anna Draper (Melinda Page Hamilton), the one person who truly knew him.

Nominated for an Emmy Award for outstanding writing, the episode—set against the backdrop of the Muhammad Ali/Sonny Liston fight—depicts Don and Peggy dancing a dangerous two-step with one another, as truths emerge, emotions pour out, and the two reaffirm their friendship in a silent and bittersweet moment.

I may be in the minority on this, but I thought this episode was in some ways the nadir of the show’s very shaky fourth season. Don’s rival, angry alcoholic Duck Phillips defecating onto Roger’s white leather chair? Duck and Don wrestling on the floor like Alan Bates and Oliver Reed in Ken Russell’s Women in Love? (Thank God for basic cable requiring Duck and Don to keep their duds on.) And shortly afterwards, Don, in a drunken fog, sees the ghost of Anna Draper wandering off to the hereafter? As Woody Allen said when he was shooting Interiors, “It’s always been my fear. I think I’m writing Long Day’s Journey Into Night — and it turns into Edge of Night.” Similarly, this was the series’ collapse into soap opera land. It eventually recovered; the series finale was quite strong, but I didn’t find the motivations of the characters during their Fitzgerald-esque 3:00 AM crack-up in  “The Suitcase” to be at all believable, nor was the over-the-top melodramatic (in the worst sense of the word) action.

Am I wrong? (I mean about this episode, not life in general.) Tell me how so in the comments below.