The irony of writing about a female director and choosing a show entitled Mad Men is not lost on me. Yet, for those of us who stand firmly in the camp of “Peggy-Olson-was-the-true-hero-of-the-show”, there is no questioning why “The Suitcase” is an episode that stands out—not just because of our favorite character, but also for the episode’s director, Jennifer Getzinger.
The episode focuses solely on the characters of Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss) and Don Draper (Jon Hamm) as they spend the night in the offices of Sterling Cooper trying to come up with an advertisement for Samsonite. Though it may seem like a showcase for Don, this is truly Peggy’s episode. Within the microcosm of the episode’s hour-long duration, Peggy’s entire character arc is both contained and symbolized, placing her perfectly on the path of the hero’s journey.
This episode begins with Peggy pitching ideas to Don, all of which he rejects. He then spends the night in the office and avoids his domestic life, and it appears as though he ropes Peggy into doing the same. She spends her birthday working and avoiding a surprise dinner with her boyfriend, which leads to an inevitable breakup.
Yet, it’s really Peggy who makes the choice to stay. She chooses work over family, over her boyfriend, over her own birthday and some would say, over herself. But, for those who truly derive pleasure in hard work well done, it’s clear that she IS choosing herself. By the end of the episode, it’s Don who is pitching ideas to Peggy. This role reversal shows the full-circle nature of their relationship; it’s Peggy who elevates her own status and becomes Don’s equal through her own endurance and intelligence.
Throughout the series, Peggy goes from being a naive secretary to a powerful creative director, the first female in Sterling Cooper to achieve such a status. She chooses her own happiness over men and domesticity. She gives up her baby for adoption, a huge taboo in the 1960s. She is the definition of a strong, female character—even more so given that women today continue to face the same engendered professional hurdles—and this episode proves, once and for all, that she is the true hero of Mad Men.