As much as I hate forced comparisons between Mad Men and Matthew Weiner’s previous television hit The Sopranos, one element of “The Suitcase” is worthy of such consideration. Specifically, the suitcase motif parallels a similar use of the device in “Mayhem” from the last season of The Sopranos.
In “Mayhem,” Tony, on the brink of death, has a coma induced dream (which could be interpreted as an actual supernatural experience) where he takes on the identity of Kevin Finnerty (“infinity”). During the last part of the “dream” sequence, when he is just about to surrender to death, another character in the vision tries to take Finnerty’s briefcase. Tony/Kevin protests and, clinging to the case, explains that his entire life is held within it.
This theme is something that has certainly been explored in Mad Men as well.
In the second season, suitcases played a role in three successive episodes.
“Six Months Leave” shows Freddy Rumsen reading aloud the magazine ad copy he has written while preparing his pitch for Samsonite. It describes the sadness of an imaginary customer upon discovering that their suitcase, though beautiful on the outside, is empty (much like Freddy’s own life at that moment).
When Betty informs Don of Gene’s stroke in “The Inheritance,” she mentions dreaming of a suitcase. Later, Don finds his find his wife’s suitcase (a Samsonite perhaps?) fully packed.
The last shot of “The Jet Set” focuses on Don’s suitcase being left at his front door.
In Season 4’s “The Suitcase,” Don discusses with Peggy (and the audience) the idea of a suitcase being a “metaphor” for one’s life. While working late to come up with an ad concept for Samsonite, Don and Peggy discuss throwing the suitcase off the side of the building (evoking images of the falling figure from the aforementioned opening credits).
So, I think it’s fair to say that Don’s vision of Anna’s ghost (or phantom in an episode centered around the infamous Clay/Liston “Phantom Punch” fight) carrying a suitcase has symbolic importance. IF a suitcase represents a person’s life, what is the significance of the one Anna is holding in Don’s dream? It’s been noted how much more at peace Anna seems (her limp gone). But to say that the suitcase is a symbol of her life doesn’t seem quite right. This is Don’s vision after all. Clearly, Anna’s death is yet another severing of ties for Don with his past life as Dick Whitman. It’s that past life, I’d argue, that is symbolized by the suitcase Anna carries when she vanishes (both literally and figuratively). And with her, Don may hope, the phantom pains that were left on his psyche as well.