Mad Men Power Rankings: Episode 501/502, ‘A Little Kiss’

[Production notes: The Power Rankings have moved to Grantland! Very exciting. Unfortunately, the content will be in no way improved in the transition; expect the usual shoddy attention to accuracy, laziness of thought, and prurience of intent. Actually, that's not entirely true: There's now an upgraded, more elegant logo with a bigger DDFBTL bolt. Evolution! Also, please bear with us as we remember how to do this; the show's been off the air for 14 years, a time during which we did nothing but drink bargain whiskey directly from a giant plastic bottle with a built-in handle. But now it's back, and we are very, very excited to once again appropriate Matthew Weiner's hard work for our own nefarious purposes.

Season 4 Power Rankings can be found here. Ranks do not carry over from last season, except when they do.]

1. Don Draper

He went through with it.

Of course he did. What was he going to do, back out of it, after returning from Disneyland with a fiancée who was, to the surprise of everyone (except Joan, who put her on his desk after the Blankenship Situation), his secretary? (“Who the hell is that?” Roger asked, after Don announced his insta-engagement to “Ms. Calvet” to the office.) They all marry the secretary eventually. Especially if they are French (fine … French-Canadian, go ahead and split whatever the French word for “hairs” is; I don’t have time to babelfish it right now), hot, young, and good with the little monsters. And double-especially if she’s the kind of hot, young, little-monster-beloved secretary who will respond promptly and favorably to the HR-verboten command “Open your blouse,” even if the other edge of this particular sword is a tendency to do things like throw surprise parties featuring a captive, sexy serenade en francaise quite obviously meant to trigger the orgy response in its guests. (Mercifully, the party crowd was just square enough that we were spared the image of Pete Campbell, stripped down to nothing but that plaid sport-coatbortion, pumping away as the caboose of a five-car fucktrain consisting of Harry Crane, Kenny Cosgrove, Megan’s redheaded actress friend, and the bass player in the house band. Even free love had a taste limit.)

So here Don is, married, with a swank new pad in Manhattan and the kids every other weekend, 40 Don-years and 40.5 Dick-years old. He now seems to enjoy his job only insomuch as it’s an erotic staging area for quickies with the wife, whom he has quickly and unsurprisingly promoted to copywriter. He still has the best office, the best jawline, and the lion’s share of Caroline’s secretarial time, even if he’s showing up only when he feels like it. It may be a few more weeks before we get a full measure of this season’s dissatisfactions, but the premiere’s 154 minutes of setup seems to suggest that by Episode 505, the happy-enough-for-now Don’s going to be bored of the Everything he’s achieved (again) and will pretty seriously consider murdering Goofy on the next trip to Disneyland, assuming his pseudo-canine identity, and spending his next Whitman-rebooting phase conquering every last piece of costumed princess ass atop the dingiest stretch of white carpet in the Magic Kingdom’s subterranean dressing rooms. Remember, you need to keep four or five of those carpets on hand to have any chance of enjoying them. Zou Bisou Bisou, dirty old man.

Don Draper Fingerbang Threat Level: Rust

“Will the Mohawk people be coming up?” asks Don.

Pete Campbell glowers across the desk, far too big for his cramped office. “I’m not sure the Mohawk people should even come up here, considering the situation.”

“The situation,” parrots Don, turning and closing the door.

The office situation. The shithole-with-the-support-beam-in-the-middle situation, the too-small-for-hosting-important-clients situation. The office, the office.

Don leans across the desk. “Why don’t you tell me more about the situation, Pete.”

“Well, as you know, I’m bringing in all the business — “

“All the business.”

“All the business. The Sugarberry Ham business, the Secor Laxatives business, the Mohawk Airlines business. If you eat it, it comes back out of your ass, then flies from Ithaca to Providence on a high-quality regional airline, it’s my business, Don. And I deserve a better office.”

“Deserve.”

“That’s right.” With the smirk of someone convinced he’s won an argument spreading across his face, Pete slides back in his chair, arranges his hands into a tent of smugness. “I’m Head of Accounts.”

“Get up.”

“Why?”

“Now.”

Pete gets up. Don grabs his arm, pushes him toward the support beam.

“Put you hands on the column.”

Pete doesn’t move.

“I won’t say it twice.”

Pete puts his hands on the column.

“You know I just about broke my nose on this thing earlier. It’s a real danger. I can’t have Coca-Cola people in here cracking open their heads.” He looks back over his shoulder and sees Don rolling up his sleeve. “Oh God, what are you doing?”

Don clenches his exposed forearm, fans his fingers with an elegant menace. “Let’s handle the office situation.”

Pete feels a sharp tug at his belt, and then another. “Seriously, what are you doing?”

“Will you loosen the goddamn belt already?”

“I’m not going to help you.”

“Fine. I don’t need your help. But if I were you, I’d grab a pencil to bite down on. These fingers have a mind of their own once they’re deployed.”

There are several more frustrated tugs. The pants don’t budge. “If I can’t go around, I’m going to have to go through.”

“Hey, OWWW! Are you punching me? You said fingers only!”

“What is this, wool? In June? I can’t get through this fucking thing.”

“It’s hot as hell, but it looks smart. It’s a power suit.”

Don clutches his fingers and slumps down onto the couch. “I’m really out of practice. Has to be like, what, 16 months since I’ve tried that.”

Pete lets go of the column and sits on the edge of the desk. “Apparently.”

“Look, I’ll ask Roger about the office. We’ll handle it.”

“Great!”

“But if they ask, you suffered. And anyone in the office so much as cracks a knuckle, you better break out in a cold sweat and swoon like Scarlett goddamn O’Hara.”

“Fair enough.”

Don, still flexing his forearm and staring at it with a mixture of disappointment and disbelief, exits the office, closing the door behind him. Pete knocks twice on the column, softly, but with finality.

2. Pete Campbell

Say what you will about Pete Campbell — he’s a bitch-faced weasel, an entitled brat, a sore winner — he’s always been a comer. So now he’s got the (junior) partnership, the baby, the house in Westchester with the nice big stove, and a reasonable Metro-North commute. He’s even upgraded The Blue Suit to more of a dark navy number and added the optional vomit-plaid sportcoat for the weekends. But is he happy? Of course he’s not happy. He’s Pete Campbell, and if he were satisfied with what he has for even a moment, his entire body would instantly be sucked with black-hole force down the displeasure drain that’s usually stoppered by his puckered lips. So now he’ll fixate on what he doesn’t have: Roger Sterling’s big swinging dick and bigger swinging office. And so he’ll send Roger on a wild goose chase to Staten Island at 6 a.m., and wheedle and whinge until he gets an office worthy of his rainmaking stature. But it better be Roger’s office, that’s the whole point, to swap Sterling into his column-marred shitbox and then piss a neon-yellow “HEAD OF ACCOUNTS” on Rog’s favorite rug the minute he moves in. Harry Crane can jump out that window he loves so much; it’s gotta be Roger’s or it doesn’t count.

3. Peggy Olson

Let’s be honest here: Peggy’s done much better work than “Bean Ballet.”* Yes, the commercial’s going to use that new camera technique, the one that can capture spinning bullets in flight, for the first time on TV, and perhaps that will be bold and artistic. But Raymond from Heinz is right: Is there anything less appetizing** than kidney beans in bullet-time? He’s been to the war and seen some things. Things that look like a bowl of beans splattered across a linoleum floor, but flying out of his buddy’s bayonetted-open guts. You wouldn’t have a sense of humor, either, if you had to see that a dozen times. So best not to overthink things and give him some beans in a bowl, a message, a bite-and-smile. Jesus Heinz Christ, give him the bite-and-smile. Without the bite-and-smile, they’re just selling the Depression back to a gang of hobos heating up a rusty ladleful of baked beans over a flaming trash can. Don was right not to spend an hour and a half trying to save the pitch. They’ll get ‘em next time.

But Peggy’s doing great otherwise. Well, as long as she’s not drunkenly accosting Don at his demi-orgy, complaining about all the work she has to put in redoing the Heinz pitch. Wait, and she’s dating that a-hole Abe “I Just Wanna Take My Pants Off and Slide My Ass on the Carpet” Drexler again? And she’s being a little shitty to the boss’s wife? Do we need to cut and paste this down to no. 5? Nah. Peggy’s a 3 this week. But she’s on threeprobation; another showing like this and we reserve the right to bump her down to mid-list ignominy.

[*Rule of thumb: If Stan Rizzo can turn your campaign into a running gag about taking a dump with basically no effort, back to the drawing board. Five-year-olds will do the same thing.]
[**Maybe the phrase "There's a splash of mouth-watering sauce as each one lands"?]

4. Roger Sterling

Sometimes we like to play a little game called “Sterling’s Gold or Sterling’s Fool’s Gold?” (Yeah, we’re working on the name — my God, it’s awful. Make up your own name right now.) Rather than linger any further on Roger’s apparent uselessness in matters unrelated to pouring martinis down clients’ throats, we’ll list some things he said and some things he didn’t say.

    1. “Is it just me, or is the lobby full of Negroes?”
    2. “Stable is that step backwards between successful and Holy shit, I’m boring myself, pour me a goddamn martini, Frank.”
    3. “The only thing worse than not getting what you want is someone else getting it.”
    4. “When you’re done with him, just fold him up and slide him under the door.”
    5. “Look at you delivering drinks. We should get you a pair of roller skates.”
    6. [Ruins surprise party.]
    7. [Picks up (his) baby (who he thought was aborted last season) with a cigarette in his mouth.]

Answers:

    1. Roger. Remember when he performed in blackface at the Derby Day party? Progress?
    2. Not Roger, though he might have said this if he’d overheard Pete before heading to the bar.
    3. Roger. Poignant.
    4. Roger. Dissing Pete.
    5. Roger again! Dissing Pete again.
    6. and 7. Those aren’t even quotes. What are the rules here?

We may have been lying about this “game” being a “thing” we actually do. Come on, you already saw the episode, you know what he said. We just couldn’t bring ourselves to dwell on the reality of a diminished Roger Sterling. If things don’t get better for him soon, we’re looking at a 6 or a 7 ranking in his future. (Honestly, this is a charity 4. We’re definitely going “body of work” over “downward trend in a small sample size.”) A depressing prospect. Keep Sterling Gold.

5. Megan Calvet Draper

“A Little Kiss” was Megan’s coming-out party, an erection-beckoning tour de force that let the world see, in very clear terms, what Don was thinking when he impulsively gave her Anna’s ring at the end of last season. Yes, she threw him a surprise party, and he hates surprise parties. (Who doesn’t, really?) But you know what he doesn’t hate? A wife he can command to open her blouse at the office, and who will occasionally leave work in a huff, just to lie in wait to spring some kind of deranged French maid fantasy on him that ends in some charged White Carpet Sex. If he’d ever come home to an angry, robed Betty holding a trash can, he could’ve been reasonably certain the outcome would have been less “sexual” than “now she’s just dumped some dog shit in my briefcase.” So for now life’s all surprise! and pouting and Zou Bisou serenades and hot boning in last night’s party filth. He’ll take it, until he doesn’t. (In, like, Episode 8.)

6. Harry Crane

Always a schmuck, he’s now gone douchebag supernova. Take his hilarious encounter with Roger:

    Roger: “So we need to talk … “
    Harry: “I didn’t mean to do it! She was begging for it, singing all seductive like that! That part where I said I would’ve stood up and grabbed her little French behind and pushed her through the cheap walls, with my penis, in a very aggressive sex-maneuver kind of way, that was all taken out of context! Also the part where I said the dirty French stuff and the bit about wanting her heels on my shoulder, you know, that was meant with all due respect, maybe I just wanted a good look at her shoes, she’s Don’s wife and everything. Oh, Jesus, does Don know? I’ll apologize to him right now. I’ll wash his car for a year! Fine, I’ll let him put my ankles on his shoulder and say filthy French things to me, I just don’t want to lose my job, I have to sit in on a Green Acres table read tomorrow, Eva Gabor personally invited me. Not personally, but she’ll be there. Please, Roger, you have to know how sorry I am about this. Goddamn Stan Rizzo, he set me up. I think he’s sleeping with her, that’s why he did it. I’m beside myself with grief. Really. I’ll get you Eva’s number. Whatever you want, we’re very close. We’ve never met. But I’ll get it. Don’t worry. Just don’t tell Don. I probably have to kill Megan now, don’t I? Oh, God, I just crapped in my pants.”
    Roger: “I have no idea what you’re talking about, idiot. Here’s $1,100 for your office.”

7. Joan Holloway Harris

If there was a “most important” scene in the premiere, it was the one where Joan learned that Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce took out that “equal opportunity employer” ad to tweak the water-bomb-tossing bigot jackasses at Young & Rubicam, not to replace her. Of course, we already knew this, but it wasn’t certain until Lane Pryce made it absolutely clear that the place was a shambles without her, that they wanted and needed her back. So while it was dispiriting to learn that Greg “Dr. Dumbfingers” Harris did not meet his expected end in Vietnam, shot in the back of the head because he drifted off into a daydream about his wife’s pregnancy-engorged breasts (seriously, dude, you’re doing fine, don’t get greedy) while field-dressing an infantryman’s sucking chest wound, we’re happy it seems like she’ll be returning to the office soon enough. And if there’s a “second-most-important scene” in the premiere, well, that’s gotta be the thing with Megan cleaning up in her lingerie. We are only human. But “third-most-important scene” definitely goes to Roger holding baby Kevin with that cigarette in his mouth, which also gave us the amazing image of Pete Campbell seeing Peggy standing over a baby carriage. Just everyone ditch their awful spouses and make a new family, OK? Seems simple.

8. Lane Pryce

“Dear Penthouse:

I have been quite enjoying your new publication since a recent and messy break with the Playboy family (this is a story for another time, I’m afraid) and thought I would write in with my own tale of sexual derring-do. My Yellow Cab was pulling up to the curb outside my office building — I am a very important figure in big business — when I spied a wallet a previous passenger had left behind. After convincing the cab driver to let me be the one to return it, as it contained a substantial amount of cash, I in short order received a phone call from the “girl” of the wallet’s owner. Let’s call her “Dolores,” shall we? Very good. So as it turns out, in addition to the hundred or so dollars in cash, the wallet contained a comely photograph of “Dolores,” a buxom lass indeed. After a brief, but undoubtedly erotically charged conversation about how best to handle the billfold’s return — I intimated she was lying about in her underthings in the middle of the day! Naughty boy am I — well, she refused my offer to return it in person. But for a moment there she was certainly considering the idea, which, if I may be so bold, would have definitely involved some lingering eye contact at her door, some further flirtatious exchanges about the undeniable aphrodisiac that is my British accent, and if things went as I can only assume they would, a vigorous round of mutually pleasurable intercourse. Oh, my! Unfortunately, as I said, she refused my offer of a personal delivery, instead sending her boyfriend — a quite nice chap, truth be told — to my office to retrieve his property. I tried to refuse his reward once he confirmed no cash was missing, but he insisted; the money remains tucked in the breast pocket of my jacket, untouched. But what he didn’t realize at the time, and may not still realize, is that I kept the photo of “Dolores” for myself to commemorate the very sensual phone call we shared.

Yours in Libertine Adventure,
Blaine Pryce

P.S. I masturbate to this photograph every day. I am a naughty, naughty boy!”

9. Sally Draper

It’s long been a pet theory of ours that Sally, whose emotionally turbulent life has always made her seem a little (OK, dangerously) “off,” will eventually murder her father. Though we unofficially retired the Sally Draper PatricideWatch some time ago, is the premiere of Season 5 the right juncture to revive it? Yes, Sally’s older now, and seems (at least so far) somewhat better adjusted. But that bit where she “mistakenly” came to Don’s bedroom door in the middle of the night, claiming she thought it was “the bathroom”? Suspicious. Was she there to murder Megan with the pair of scissors she’d hidden under her nightgown, no longer so enamored of the interloper now that she’s gone from “fun Disneyland babysitter” to “new mom”? And, having gotten the “new mom” out of the way, would she have then put into motion the long-gestating plan to finally kill off Daddy, but only after introducing fresh grief to their already divided household? It’s unclear, but the situation surely bears monitoring.

10. New Bobby Draper

From a note found in the trailer assigned to “Bobby Draper”: “To whoever reads this note: Run! Run for your life! Before January finds you! Please, no. 4, go now! It’s your only hope! Run straight to your agent’s house! Don’t tell your mom — January’s already gotten to her! Go! Go! [Text unreadable, smeared in what appears to be blood.]“

Not ranked: Betty Draper Francis, Henry Francis, Bert Cooper, Ken Cosgrove, Stan Rizzo, Trudy Campbell, Jane Sterling, Abe Drexler, Clara, Caroline, Scarlett, Ma Holloway, Greg Harris, Alex Polito, Dolores, Baby Kevin, Baby Tammy, the racist Young & Rubicam water-bombers, the redheaded girl at the party, the guy on the train, the African fertility idol, the walking stick, the support column, Glen Bishop, Salvatore Romano, Paul Kinsey, the wallet, Raymond, Mohawk Henry and Jack, Bobby Drapers 1-3, Carla, tickets to the Bean Ballet, Kevin’s bicycle, the cabbie, the Civil Rights Movement, Masters and Johnson, Matthew Weiner’s new contract, Heinz beans, the Depression, dissatisfaction, ambition, stability, Mussolini.

Filed Under: Amc, Don Draper, January Jones, Jon Hamm, Mad Men, Matthew Weiner, Vincent Kartheiser

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Mark Lisanti is an editor at Grantland.

Archive @ marklisanti