Mad Men Power Rankings: Episode 506, ‘Far Away Places’

[Production note: Do not recalibrate your Tele-Vision sets: Those vibrant blues and oranges on your screen were intentional. And they're the same hues we're splashing all over our homes in 2012! We are all Howard Johnson's bitches. He's won, he's finally won.

Last week's Power Rankings can be found here.]

1. Don Draper (last week: 1)

We know what you’re going to say. We *know.* Don’s no. 1?! But HOW? Megan’s the one who calmly caught a six-and-a-half-hour bus ride back from Plattsburgh, and DON’S the one who fell asleep in the Howard Johnson’s lobby waiting for her, being roused by a state trooper like some kind of HoJo HoBo, and harboring guilt-fueled visions of her being sexed and/or murdered by whatever hippie sex-murderers Brenda the Waitress saw her leave with. IT’S NOT FAIR, I SAY! IT’S NOT FAIR.

And to that we respond:

  1. Life is not fair.
  2. See response no. 1.

The Power Rankings, like Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce itself, or like the Draper marriage, are not a democracy. They are a place, like Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce itself, or like the Draper marriage, where there is occasionally the illusion of democracy whenever the biggest asshole in the room is forced to pretend to listen to the concerns of others, then goes about doing whatever he likes anyway. So don’t worry, Don will be no. 2 next week, promise. We hear you.

But we should note that Don, not Megan, was the one who hopped in the Caddy and peeled the rubber of the self-righteous, leaving his bride to fend for herself, a totally appropriate punishment for embarrassing him in front of a waitress with her stubborn refusal to enjoy orange sherbet. In 1966, ditching your wife in a glorified diner’s parking lot was an acceptable, and widespread, marital conflict-resolution practice; look at virtually any work of diner-related pop art from the period and you will find a beautiful woman watching, with arms crossed and mascara streaked, the taillights of the family sedan disappearing from the frame. It was a total power move, and one that we should all note, no matter how “counterintuitive” or “dangerously retrograde” it seems, ultimately worked. Indeed, Don had to kick in his own door (his own fucking door!) and then chase his sobbing bride around the apartment, finally bringing her down in the living room in a dark echo of their post-surprise-party clean-up sex. This time, however, there was no zoobie-zoobie-zooming, just a tearful, kneeling Don whispering, “I thought I lost you,” as he buried his face in Megan’s pelvis. But he cried and clung to his bereft wife like a boss.

Don Draper Fingerbang Threat Level: Orange Sherbet
“Now you are really embarrassing me. I can’t believe this. They have 28 flavors. Surely you can find one you like.”

Megan looks out the window. She shakes her head petulantly. Or so it seems to him. Don notices a nearby table of children scooping up burgers and fries. Ecstatic to be there, crammed in their booth, little apple-cheeked Norman Rockwell bastards taunting him with their easy smiles, their uncomplicated bliss.

“Why is this so important to you? Why does it make any difference whatsoever in the world that I like any of these?” She picks up the orange-splattered napkin into which she’s spit a mouthful of sherbet and slaps it against the table.

“Because we are on vacation. Because this is what people do on vacation. They pull over at the Howard Johnson’s, they have a satisfying, hearty meal, and then they top it off with three goddamn scoops of delicious orange sherbet. It’s what’s good. What’s wholesome.” He angrily jots this down in a notebook. “What America stands for.”

“Stop selling me. I hate when you sell me.”

He gestures toward the two-dozen-plus glasses of sherbet, each in a discreet stage of sticky meltdown on the table before them, ticking them off one by one with a flourish of his hand as he goes down the line. “They have orange, which you spit out into a napkin. Raspberry. Same, in the napkin. Blueberry. Boysenberry. Strawberry. Fudge ripple. Fudge ripple!” He pounds the table, continues. “Orange pineapple. Butter pecan. Peppermint. Banana. Maple walnut. Goddamn plain vanilla. Your chocolates. Regular chocolate. Chocolate chip. Chocolate fudge. Chocolate almond. Rocky Road. Coffee. Mint. Lemon. Peach. Cherry! Everyone likes cherry! French vanilla, come on, right up your alley. Key Lime. Banana walnut. Fudge walnut. Jesus H. Christ, with the walnuts already. Watermelon. Grape.”

She shakes her head. “Non.” The French is a taunt, a repudiation. In America’s dining room.

“Then I suppose that brings us back to square one.”

“Whatever.”

“Look at me, Megan.” She’s staring out the window again, at the parking lot. Anywhere else but at Don. “Look at me.”

Her glance continues to scan the dining room, reluctantly meets his. “Good. Now watch.”

He grabs the original glass, now streaked with melted tendrils of orange cream, holds it between them. He collects a drippy sample on his fingertips, languidly licks them clean. Then, without warning, unless one could consider the greedy, deliberate tongue-bath some sort of augur, goes three fingers deep into the glass, over and over again, the savage intensity building with each thrust. He does not break eye contact. Nor does she, nor can she. The finger-pistons keep firing, relentlessly, covering them both in sticky orange blowback until the vessel is finally empty.

“So delicious,” he says, placing it back on the table. “Yes?”

“No.”

He gestures toward the glass of raspberry. Their eyes meet again. He raises an eyebrow.

She shakes her head.

He lifts the glass.

His fingers skirt its rim.

“Twenty-seven more.”

2. Megan Calvet Draper (last week: not ranked)

If (or, let’s be honest, when) the Draper Marriage Take Two collapses, it’s nearly impossible to imagine Megan living in Larchmont, elbow-deep in a box of Bugles, encased in a latex prison. She’s much more likely to resume her downtown life (remember the one she threatened Don with in the elevator after they encountered Andrea the Soon-to-be-Dream-Murdered Freelancer? Of course you do, that was two episodes ago), fall in with some rock stars, and eventually wind up married to someone in the Velvet Underground. She stands up to Don in a way we certainly didn’t see from Betty (her outbursts were always more of the “Please be more discreet about your constant secretary-tenderizing” than “You can’t boss me around, I must be respected” variety, though Betty did eventually open Don’s Big Box O’Secrets and unleash the marriage-devouring ghosts within), even if the unfortunate events of the ill-fated Plattsburgh trip turned out not to be a marital deal breaker we might have expected from the more liberated Megan. “Every time we fight it just diminishes this,” she warns, letting Don know he’s played his one and only “Leave me for dead in a HoJo’s parking lot because I don’t like your stupid fake ice cream” card, and that this particular fight won’t be ending with any horny-maid role-play.

3. Roger Sterling (last week: 3)

From a note found on Roger Sterling’s desk shortly before a phone call to his divorce lawyer:

My name is Roger Sterling
I have taken LSD
I live at
31 E 66th st #14A, NY, NY
PLEASE HELP ME.
(turn me over)

And on the back:

NOTE TO SELF:
Mirror Don told you to go to your wife
You were alone in the truth together
And that truth is
YOU HATE EACH OTHER
Call your lawyer tomorrow
Also
(note 1 of 2)

He finds another loose piece of paper on the desk:

(2 of 2)
You have opened the doors of perception
and boldly stepped through
BUT YOU ARE NOT A HIPPIE
Always remember:
Stolichnaya bottles hide miniature Russian orchestras
and joints are tiny magic trombones.
(continue on back)

On the back:
[A crudely rendered smiley face, adorned on its edges with giant flower petals, and the word RRRROGERRRRRR underneath.]

Roger steps out into the SCDP lobby, full of light and joy for the first time in recent memory. “I have an announcement to make: It’s going to be a beautiful day!”

4. Peggy Olson (last week: 4)

This was another big week for the Pegster, though not in the giddy, I-can-do-anything, pantsing-Roger-for-the-sport-of-it way we saw a mere two episodes ago. (Are we being patronizing by calling her “Pegster”? Would we call Don “Donster”? Actually, we kind of like that. But we digress.) Like Megan, she finally stood up to an inscrutable man who was thwarting her work with his maddeningly domineering attitude. So she unleashed on Raymond Geiger after he seemed to get lost in reverie during their “campfire tales” pitch, then quickly shot it down, demanding that they somehow read his beans-addled mind: “You’re right, we don’t understand you. Do you know how often people come in here and look at work and feel something? Almost never. You have to run with this. It’s young and it’s beautiful and no one else is gonna figure out how to say that about beans.” This display of spine, of course, completely backfires; Raymond intimates that he would’ve given her one right across the chops if she weren’t just a girl, Kenny Cosgrove has to throw himself on the Heinz grenade, and Pete Campbell gets to break the news that she’s been summarily removed from the business. Not her greatest day in the office. So she has a cigarette and a glass of whiskey, gathers her things, and steps out for a movie.

And we all know what happened in the movie theater.

Peggy Olson Hand Job Threat Level: Manual Alanis
Peggy gives some dude a hand job in the movie theater! Holy shit!

CUT TO: Peggy washing her hands.

CUT TO: 3 million people staring slack-jawed at their televisions.

CUT TO: This.

5. Jane Sterling (last week: not ranked)

Meine Liebe. Dies ist nicht einfach für mich zu sagen, aber jetzt, dass wir endlich allein sind in unsere Wahrheit, unser Verstand und unsere Herzen wurden mit dem LSD geöffnet worden ist, ist es schmerzhaft klar, dass unsere Ehe eine logische Schlussfolgerung hat. Ich finde mich bei dem Gedanken über etwas anderes als Dinge, obwohl ich mit nichts mehr als einem abgebrochenen Kuss kommen. Und wir alle wissen, dass Sie Ihren Penis legte in zahllosen anderen Frauen. Ich kann nicht wirklich die Schuld für Sie, dass, Sie sind ein Produkt Ihrer Generation. Lassen Sie uns unsere Gewerkschaft auflösen, ohne Schuld und Bitterkeit. Es ist Zeit für uns, unsere eigenen Wege zu gehen. Aber schnallen Sie sich an, Liebling. Diese Scheiße ist zu teuer. Wow, hast Abraham Lincoln nur erbrechen einen Regenbogen von Teddybären auf deine Schuhe? Alles ist so schön ich es kaum aushalten kann.

6. Michael Ginsberg (last week: not ranked)

Michael Ginsberg is:
A. An aspiring ad-man in the Don Draper mold
B. A concentration camp survivor
C. An orphan tended by the Swedish child protection system
D. A full-blooded Martian
E. An embarrassed son
F. A wearer of loud jackets
G. Well, really more of a metaphorical Martian
H. All of the above

7. Raymond Geiger of Heinz (last week: not ranked)

Oh, how things would have been different if only Peggy had thought to dose Raymond Geiger’s drinking water with acid. Then he’d definitely have been on board with the Bean Ballet. Hell, he’d fill his in-ground pool in Scarsdale with Heinz beans and there would be “a splash of mouth-watering sauce as each tripping-balls Raymond Geiger cannonball lands.”

8. Bert Cooper (last week: not ranked)

Oh, so that’s why Bert Cooper’s always hanging around in the conference room. It’s not because there’s no room for him (literally and figuratively) in the SCDP office these days, it’s so he can, when the moment is appropriate, lure Don into his lair with an angry red DO OVER slashed through a brassiere ad, chastise him for letting a “little girl run everything,” and give voice to the problem that’s been painfully apparent in these first six hours of the season: “You’ve been on love leave. It’s amazing things are going as well as they are with as little as you are doing.” “It’s not your business,” Don snaps back. “This is my business,” Bert responds, ominously, correctly.

Also: He’s on hallucination-money!

9. Sandy and Catherine Orcutt, professor/LSD guide and celebrity psychiatrist (tie) (last week: not ranked)

“I will not be indulging tonight. Instead I will be your guide through this wonderful, mind-expanding experience. Catherine, can you please stop fondling my face for a moment? I know you think my head is made entirely of kitten-fur shag carpeting and baby foreskins, but I need to help our guests.”

“Rock Hudson killed a man! He experiences no guilt!”

“Dear, now is not the time nor the place for the betraying of professional confidences. Let’s calmly retreat into our Truth and enjoy the journey together. And I assure everyone that nothing she says is true.”

“Steve McQueen slept with his grandmother! He said he liked it! His desire consumes him!”

“Sweetheart, please, imagine yourself on a beautiful boat, floating gently on the most placid sea in the world …”

“Eva Marie Saint was BORN WITH MALE GENITALIA! Three penises, in fact!”

“Oh, dear. Well. As everyone can see, Catherine is having what we refer to as ‘a bad trip.’ It happens. I must now lock her in the bedroom. For the love of God, Olive, would you stop crawling around like a cat for a moment? You’re really getting underfoot. Everyone else, continue on your journeys while I handcuff my wife to the radiator. Um, to the radiator of, uh, perception, of course.”

10. Pete Campbell (last week: 6)

Pete essentially had the night off, and usually that would earn him some time in Not Ranked purgatory as we await his return next week. But we’d like to take a moment to speculate about what he might have been up to during his off-camera time; our best guess is “threatening Trudy with a crossbow, then storming off to the city to force two prostitutes from Madame Giselle’s brothel to beat each other with giant clubs.”

Not ranked: Joan Holloway, Sally Draper, Gene Draper, Fat Betty Francis, Kenny Cosgrove, Stan Rizzo, Dawn Chambers, John and Olive Frank, the state trooper, Brenda the Waitress, Morris Ginsberg, Dale Vanderwort, Bert Cooper money, Salome the big-breasted date, Frank Lloyd Rice, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, the orange back scratcher, the yellow rose, the driving green screen, the parking lot boat.

Filed Under: Elizabeth Moss, Fingerbang Threat Level, Jessica Pare, John Slattery, Jon Hamm, Mad Men, Power Rankings

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Mark Lisanti is an editor at Grantland.

Archive @ marklisanti