Mad Men Power Rankings, Episode 609: ‘The Better Half’David T. Cole/Grantland illustration
[Previously on Mad Men Power Rankings: Don opens a door … A helpful doctor visits the office … Jim Cutler introduces Wendy to the gan … Ken Cosgrove talks about his job … Stan Rizzo thinks about cars … The Draper kids meet a kindly older woman.]
1. Don Draper (Last week: 1)
All great relationship moments involve balconies. Romeo and Juliet, Megan and Don, and countless others we can’t think of right now because we’re not really in the “spending a lot of time Googling up other examples to support our obviously correct claim” headspace; this is a holiday weekend, after all, and everyone within eyeshot of these words on a Monday afternoon should be drunker than Roger Sterling volunteering as a test patron at the New York Bartending School’s introductory happy hour lesson. (If you’re not seeing this until Tuesday, we hope the throbbing headache and tongue-shattering dry mouth of your hangover will make for a similarly forgiving reading experience.) But who wasn’t moved by Don and Megan’s reconciliation on that slab of concrete floating over Manhattan, accompanied as it was by the serenading siren of the ambulance ferrying Abe and Peggy to the Accidental Disembowelment Department at Mt. Sinai? One great love is dying down here, on the street it sang, but high up above us, a great love survives. We didn’t say it was a great song. Sometimes volume makes up for subtlety.
This is probably the point at which you try to convince us that Megan and Don are anything but OK, and that Don, as usual, returned to her only out of desperation and temporary resignation, modulating the timbre of his voice to simulate empathy; the words, as always, were unimportant. When Don Draper takes your face in his hands and lilts, pseudo-tenderly, “You’re right. I haven’t been here,” you collect your liquefied sex organs in a bowl, set them on the nearby ledge to be cooled by the night breeze, and forget every other time you’ve heard the same song. He’s singing just for you right now. You can’t even hear the ambulance anymore.
Don Draper Fingerbang Threat Level: Climb
Don rolls over in bed, awakened by a sunbeam falling warmly upon the stubble on his cheek, and notices that he is alone. She stole away in the middle of the night. Of course she did; her husband, her new husband, not the old husband who reminded her of why she put up with him as long as she did, is arriving soon. They weren’t going to share this bed more than the one misguided night, anyway, and she needed to go wash his musk off of her. He had marked her like a bear, more than once, and if Henry got a whiff, he’d know his territory had been trampled on. Erotically. Several times, with sex.
Don circles the cabin, rubs the sleep from his eyes, takes a seat on the couch. He absently flips through the pages of a magazine on the rustic coffee table, not realizing what he’s reading. He inspects the cover. A man clinging to a snow-capped peak.
Modern Climber. Of course.
No, he hadn’t marked her, like an avaricious Kodiak. He’d climbed her. When confronted with a mountain, that is what a man does: He climbs it, because it is there. He doesn’t fall in love with it.
Don thumbs feverishly through the magazine, its crampons and carabiners, its pickaxes and slacklines revealing themselves to him with every turned page. He reaches the end, begins reading again. And again.
An hour passes. And then two.
She hasn’t returned. But she might. She might.
And if she does, he will climb again. He will establish a well-supplied base camp at her toes. He will gather the Sherpas. They will eat beans from hot tin cans, build their strength, set out into the lung-splitting icy air.
And then he will ascend.
That’s what you do when you see a mountain. You climb it.
Because she is there.
2. Betty Francis (Last week: not ranked)
Fat Betty is no more. Skinny Betty has risen like a conventionally attractive phoenix, not from ashes, but from a smoldering coil of hastily discarded latex, finally free of the showrunner’s curse that consigned her to a multiseason arc of thwarted dreams and greedily drained Reddi-wip cans. Huzzah! She can now stop being the body-shamed Boo Radley of central Westchester, peering through windows at the life she used to have before the suburbs crushed her will, and rejoin her husband on the campaign trail, arm-candy status restored in full. And nothing, apparently, gets Henry hotter than hearing about how his political bedfellows would like to get her alone all night long; roll up that privacy shield, Jeeves, and take the long way home. (And nothing, apparently, gets Betty hotter than being told it’s unbelievable that she has three kids at home. Who needs diet pills when you have middle-aged men throwing themselves at you while your husband’s using the bathroom? And oil-stained Esso jockeys checking out your ass when you stop for directions?)
But she’s still feeling out the Skinny Betty thing. Sleeping with Don might not have been the best idea, even if she slipped out of his cabin before he could suggest a little morning climb, possibly followed up by total reconciliation, a hasty move back to Ossining, and relearning his third child’s name. Blean? Thween? Something like that. Anyway. The fat suit is buried under a sycamore tree in the backyard. For now. Matthew Weiner knows where to dig, and his shovel is never more than an arm’s length away.
3. Bob Benson (Last week: 10)
“Who am I? Bob Benson. Beloit, Wharton. From the office. Upstairs in accounts? Sleeping with Joan Harris. Oh, did I let that slip? Didn’t mean to. It’s just a thing we’re doing now, sometimes on the beach, our lovemaking enhanced by the rhythms of the pounding surf, but only after the baby’s tucked in for bedtime. He’s called me ‘daddy’ a couple of times, and it’s not something I encourage, because his father’s a war hero, I believe, and we should respect and celebrate that. We all support the troops, it’s the right thing to do. Why, just today I helped place an Army-trained nurse — Manolo Colon, a very well-bred guy of Latin descent, did wonders with my father — in a job with my boss. Pete Campbell, generous guy, would give you the blue suit right off his back, though I did buy this one myself. Look at me, I’m prattling on and on, and all you asked was ‘Who are you?’ I apologize. I should’ve just stopped with ‘sleeping with Joan Harris.’ Because I am. See you around the office. I’ll drop by with a coffee. Benson, not Bunsen. Honest mistake.”
4. Peggy Olson (last week: 7)
Stabbing a guy in the gut with a homemade spear is certainly one way to end a relationship. Kind of passive-aggressive, though, if you’re doing it so that he’ll break up with you while he’s dying in the back of an ambulance. Maybe next time just call it off before you get to the point where you’re perforating somebody’s intestines with a steak knife duct-taped to a broom handle.
Oh, and don’t bank on anything real developing with the moony-eyed boss who thinks he’s in love with you. You’ll probably just find doors closing in front of and behind you, leaving you standing in the middle of the office with nowhere else to go.
5. Abe Drexler (Last week: not ranked)
“I don’t want you to think this is about what you did.”
[Coughs up a trickle of blood.]
“You’re scared. You’re a scared person who hides behind complacence.”
[Coughs up a cupful of blood.]
“I thought you’d be braver. But you’re in advertising.”
[Takes finger out of hole in stomach, blood-geyser erupts to the ambulance ceiling.]
“Your activities are offensive to my every waking moment. I’m sorry, but you’ll always be the enemy.”
[Plugs stomach-geyser with finger.]
“Gotta hand it to you, you gave me a great ending to my article!”
[Reaches up into suppurating gut-hole, retrieves still-beating heart, hands it to her, dies.]
6. Megan Draper (Last week: not ranked)
It’s just nice to be wanted sometimes, you know? Even if it’s by the swinging female co-star who’s really terrible at reading signals and leans in for a kiss every time you open your mouth. It’s not like your emotionally distant husband is ever showing that kind of interest. He kind of checked out the minute you said, “Hey, honey, do you mind if I make love to another man on camera? No penetration, promise.”
Maybe things will change once you start letting the wig do the work.
7. Roger Sterling (Last week: not ranked)
Oh, sure, when Don takes his son to see Planet of the Apes, everyone’s all, “Look at how adorable it is that he’s teaching his child to escape to the movies when life gets a little too hairy to deal with.” But when Roger does it with his grandson, it’s “How dare you fill up an impressionable 4-year-old’s mind with simian nightmare fuel?!”
The thing where Bob Bunsen’s his kid’s new daddy was also not great a moment for him.
8. Pete Campbell (Last week: not ranked)
“If you want to get your balls tickled … ”
9. Duck Phillips (Last week: not ranked)
It’s impossible not to suspect that Duck’s only helping Pete so that one day he can poop in Pete’s brand-new executive chair.
10. The Shrugging Paramedic (Last week: not ranked)
Hey, Shrugging Paramedic, don’t you think that maybe this space would have been better used on Teddy Chaough?
No? Not even when he revealed his true feelings to Peggy?
Come on! That was so poignant when he was worried their presentation was ruined because she brushed his hand and smiled at him!
You’re a tough guy to read, Shrugging Paramedic.
Should we just call it a day?
Not ranked: Teddy Chaough; Joan Harris; Henry Francis; Bobby Draper; Arlene; Kevin Harris; Margaret Hargrove; Stewart Dell; Bob Bunsen; the menthols; Lake Champlain; teenagers in revolt; Fleischmann’s; Blue Bonnet; Officer Mott the period-appropriate racist cop; the Yankee wrinkle; Collette; Corinne; Harry Crane; Earle Combs; Mark Koenig; George Herman Ruth; Lou Gehrig; Bob Meusel; Tony Lazzeri; Joe Dugan; Pat Collins; the rock; the blonde wig; Bobbys 1-4; Father Abraham; “Against the Storm”; the big mill; the little mill; Pete Campbell’s hairline; Sir Edmund Hillary.