Though of course, it won’t be: instead, it will be a day for mild heartbreak, major office conflict, and absolutely no birthday sex. Fortunately for us, however, it will be the first full episode of The Don & Peggy Show, a hilarious and emotional spinoff variety program that I, personally, have been waiting for since season one.
Of course, just about everyone in Peggy’s life remembers the day except Don—beginning with her old flame Duck, who sends Peggy a gift-wrapped business card for what he’s hoping will be her new position, creative director of his brand new firm. He helpfully reminds her that he “did spend some money on those cards,” and seductively informs her that he needs to see her because he’s “falling apart.” So thoughtful! And yet, Peggy suspects he’s been drinking. Fortunately, the Samsonite team of Larry, Curly and Moe is there to rescue her with a gracious offer: “Come on, it’s your birthday! We’ll let you talk through lunch.” Even (a very pregnant) Trudy Campbell has nothing but well wishes: “Happy birthday! You know, 26 is still very young.”
Don, meanwhile, is all business—there’s that Samsonite deadline, but there’s also an important call from California to avoid. He convinces Peggy to stay at the office late; she calls Mark (who appears to be aging backwards) and lets him know that she’ll be a little late—probably just 15 minutes! No biggie—except it won’t be just 15 minutes, and Mark has taken it upon himself to surprise Peggy by inviting her entire family to dinner. Such a pair of romantics!
When it finally comes down to it, Peggy chooses to abandon her boyfriend and have it out with Don instead: a fantastic shouting match in which Don outclasses, out-reasons, and out-cruels her, leaving Peggy to run back to the bathroom and cry it out. Happily, they make up over Roger’s recorded notes for the autobiography he’s working on, in which they learn Miss Blankenship was once “queen of perversions” and Cooper has no balls—literally. (Dig Don’s look of delight on re-listening!)
The Peggy-Don bonding that follows is pure Mad Men pleasure. The dialog crackles, the plot moves forward, the look is, of course, gorgeous, but we also learn some secrets even more tantalizing than Roger’s: Don didn’t shoot anybody in Korea; Don thinks Peggy is “cute as hell,” but really does keep “rules about work”; Peggy’s mom thinks Don is the father her baby—and all-knowing Don doesn’t know who is.
Following a vomiting scene of incredible violence, a fist-fight scene of far lesser violence, and a brief nod toward the long-gestating deterioration of Don—“How long are you gonna go on like this?”—we get to the heart of the matter: Anna’s death. Don sees her ghost in the night, then wakes up on Peggy’s lap and finally returns the call to California to confirm that she’s passed. Like a man, Don does his crying at the desk, admitting to Peggy that he just lost “the one person in the world who really knew me.” Peggy’s whispered reply, “That’s not true,” is (of course) perfect.
As is the episode’s end—Peggy wakes up in her office with the Three Stooges in her face, and finds Don at his desk looking his dapper best. After a brief moment of hand-holding (Don seeming to have finally learned the lesson of the Allison episode), he tells Peggy to go home, get dressed, and come back to work with 10 tag lines for the swell Samsonite ad he just came up with.
How long am I gonna go on like this:
— They have really put the smallness of the new office to great use this season, tonight in the super-cute, brotherly-sisterly back-and-forth between Don and Peggy: “Peggy, get in here!” “Nnno!” “Come on! You gotta come in here right now!”
— Though it makes for a confusing moment when Don tells Peggy, “I spruced up,” and motions toward, um, the Murphy shower hidden in the wall? The magical sprucing up machine he keeps in the corner?
— “Do you want me to get California before I go? There’s a time difference, you know.” “I do. But it goes the other way.”
— On Miss Blankenship: “Joan knew exactly what I needed, and made sure I got it.”
— What’s up with Duck? More like Loon! Am I right?
— Interesting how Don and Peggy edge toward the iconic elephant-standing-on-a-suitcase-ad (in fear of a mouse?) without ever actually getting to it.
— Mark: “Should I have invited Don? You never stand him up.”
— “Sometime in the summer of ’48. No: 1932. No: 1939.”
— “Goodnight, sweetheart.”
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