‘Mad Men’ Power Rankings, Episode 707: ‘Waterloo’

David T. Cole/Grantland illustration

[Previously on Mad Men Power Rankings: Don listens to Sinatra … Bob Benson pitches a business arrangement … Peggy stares in the windows of station wagons … Pete has a drink … Roger takes a steam.]

1. Don Draper (last week: 1)

Yes, we know. These Power Rankings are a day late. (And, even though we don’t know how they’re going to turn out because we just started typing them, probably a dollar short.) We can already hear the murmuring from the back of the gallery growing into an unsettling roar, the sounds of the torches of outrage set asunder, the clinking of pitchforks hoisted with murderous intent, as any unfortunate souls stumbling upon these words discover that Roger Sterling wasn’t ranked no. 1. Roger, the architect of not only Don’s salvation, but also the entire firm’s. Sterling Cooper’s true Napoleon, riding his trusty obsidian stallion Fuck Jim Cutler across the battlefield, cutlass raised in victory, the heads of his enemies dangling from his saddlebag. Napoleon? Hell, he’s Accounts Jesus, back from the dead to deliver new life to his believers, even those who once doubted him.

Surely that’s worthy of the top spot. Surely that’s worthy of special recognition. Indeed, we’ve been discussing Roger at length, anointing him emperor and messiah before we’ve even invoked the name of our inevitable alpha.

To this we say: Yeah, pretty good week for old Rog. A strong finish to a nice half season.

But Don was the key to the deal. No Donald Draper, no McCann Erickson takeover. No car. No millions of dollars flowing into the partners’ pockets in exchange for five measly years of contractual servitude to the very firm that precipitated their defiant existence. No filling up the hollowed-out shell of Teddy Chaough with the pathetic hope that the work — just the work, not the politics — would make him whole again.

Don’s the one who started out holding a breach of contract letter and finished up back where he belonged, using the sound of his voice to make his wants their wants.

And so the final half season ends as it began. With Don on top.

Don Draper Fingerbang Threat Level: Re-Animator 3: The Claws of Life

The old man stands in front of his former office. Don blinks. Squeezes shut his eyes, rubs them vigorously, opens them again. It couldn’t be him.

Bert Cooper was dead. The partners were just talking about it. Fighting over the uncertain future he left behind.

But there he is, beckoning Don forward. Don complies, approaching with trepidation.

“I just wanted to say good-bye,” Bert says.

“I’m so sorry,” Don says. “Did you at least get to see Neil Armstrong leap?”

“The heart bursts with pride. Literally.”

“It doesn’t have to end this way, you know.”

“How so?”

“I … I can bring you back. Maybe.”

“I’ve lived a life, son. Maybe it’s time to let go.”

Don rolls up his sleeve.

“It’s still worth a try.”

“If you must.”

“Look, I’m going to be upfront about this. I’ve tried it before but I don’t know what’s going to happen. Maybe nothing. Maybe everything. Maybe, I don’t know, you come back only for the length of a musical number with some dancing secretaries, and then you dissipate into the ether, as if you were never here.”

“Just promise me one thing.”

“Anything.”

“I want you to find a good home for my hentai.”

“You have my word.”

Don extends his hand.

“Grab the fingers.”

Bert reaches for them.

A secretary shimmies by.

The office fills with music from an unknown source.

T-1. Roger Sterling (last week: 9)

… and so the final half season ends as it began. With Don on top … tied with Roger Sterling, again?

Oh. How about that.

Looks like we talked ourselves into it after all. It was a pretty good sales job, what with the Napoleon and the Jesus and the imaginary uprising of angry villagers, the self-generated drama.

Maybe he’s not a conqueror or a savior, but Roger’s finally a leader. A president. He began his final season’s journey tossing the exhausted bodies of orgy-ravaged hippies around his apartment and finished it picking his teeth with the splinters of Jim Cutler’s bones. Along the way he lost a daughter to a commune and smuggled a disgraced Don back into the office, even if he might have forgotten he’d drunkenly cut that deal. But Sterling Cooper will stay whole. (A whole subsidiary of McCann Erickson, but still.) He’d survived a takeover by the British and by a extravagantly cheekboned marauder with chunky glasses and nefarious plans, and now he’ll sit atop a kingdom bought with somebody else’s cold, hard cash.

Way to go, Roger. Head down to the Village and pick up a town-car-load of hippies to celebrate. Some really flexible ones. You’ve earned it.

3. Peggy Olson (last week: 3)

She ticked off the reasons she couldn’t present to Burger Chef: She was unprepared. She couldn’t just say what Don was supposed to say. She was the voice of moms. Pete wouldn’t allow it. It would be too hard to follow touching the face of God with hamburgers, and it’s not like they were pitching In-N-Out. Her best friend in the whole world was leaving her for Newark. They had no liquor.

But in the end, they were merely excuses. She was ready. She was the voice of both Authority and Emotion. She would lead with the divine face-caressing and finish with a plastic tray overflowing with the grease-laden spoils of the war for the dinner table. You want a transcendent communal experience? Screw moon landings, Burger Chef’s going to keep your family together for the duration of a meal. The Soviets didn’t even have that technology yet; it’d be years before they landed a McDonald’s in Pushkin Square.

And so Peggy did it her way — all she needed was for Don to set the stage. Yeah, we’re back to the Sinatra song again. They hit that one pretty hard last week, seemed worth mentioning again now that it paid off.

4. The Amazing Singing and Dancing Ghost of Bertram Cooper (last week: not ranked)

We felt a little overdue for a pivotal death; the beast needed feeding before the show disappeared for another year. Would it be Teddy Chaough, so drained of life that even the restorative California sunshine couldn’t brighten his darkened soul? No, the despair card had been played too recently for Lane Pryce. How about Harry Crane, falling dead into Robert Evans’s pool after his heart exploded while trying to impress a struggling actress with his near-superhuman cocaine capacity? Not this time, kiddo. Pete Campbell, because that black cloud circling his head might soon send a bolt of lightning down to scorch his retreating hairline? Never. Pete Campbell will be with us until the bitter shitweasel end, because that’s the way things must be.

Bert’s number was up. He was a giant. A giant who got the farewell he deserved.

We hope Don takes care of his tentacle porn. A promise is a promise, especially when it’s sealed with a song.

5. Megan Draper (last week: not ranked)

Finally, some closure. Or is it? The long-anticipated demise of Don and Megan’s inscrutably resilient bicoastal relationship now seems clear. But didn’t it also seem clear when Megan told him to hail a cab, get on a plane, and go home? Or when she told him, “This is the way it ends?” “Ends” is a pretty end-y word. It’s definitely not as open for interpretation as a desperate threesome.

What this latest conversation lacked in verbal finality it made up for in gut-wrenching silences, deep gulps of courage-fortifying chardonnay, and Don sitting in the dark of his apartment, cradling the phone in his lap like it was his wife’s head following breakup sex. They seem done for real this time. Right? So let’s consider “You don’t owe me anything” a binding divorce settlement, where Don gets to keep the apartment in Manhattan and Megan retains the Laurel Canyon place. At least until her lawyer figures out he just cleared like $6 million in the firm’s sale and California’s communal property laws suddenly get really interesting.

6. Pete Campbell (last week: 6)

“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

—Neil Alden Armstrong, American astronaut, July 20, 1969

“Hot damn!”

—Peter Dyckman Campbell, American poet, July 21, 1969

Other notable works by P.D. Campbell:

“Marriage Is a Racket”

“That Is a Very Sensitive Piece of Horseflesh, He Shouldn’t Be Rattled”

“Sunkist Is Distraught”

7. Teddy Chaough (last week: not ranked)

Perhaps we were a bit hasty to label Teddy “off the deep end” or “hopelessly depressed.” A guy who takes some juice executives up in a tiny prop plane and shuts off the engine just to make them stare into the infinite void at the center of their outwardly sun-kissed lives knows how to have a good time. They’ll treasure every fresh sip of their OJ for as long as they live. That’s a real gift.

As for quitting advertising, well, maybe there are some Buick men who might benefit from an eye-opening ride on Air Chaough. He’s got enough money to expand the fleet, maybe open a hub in Detroit.

8. Jim Cutler (last week: not ranked)

Say what you will about Jim Cutler, but he had a real vision for the agency of the future. Computers. Data. Harry Cranes as far as the eye can see. An ascot around every neck — the very best, most stylish ascots money can buy — and a B-12 shot into every set of flagging hindquarters. An office on the virgin territory of the moon, ready to service the vast untapped lunar market. No bullies, no drunks. No football players in suits, blubbering like little girls about their impoverished childhoods, clinging tight to whorehouse Hershey bars like milk-chocolate binkies.

Or, you know, he’ll just vote for the buyout after all. It’s a lot of money!

9. Harry Crane (last week: 5)

He’ll take it!

10. The “Lou Avery Is a Dick” Memorial Power Rankings Slot: The Split Final Season (last week: 10)

The split final season is a dick.

[“SEE YOU IN 2015!” balloons tumble from the ceiling. A marching band wearing Lou Avery masks and cardigan sweaters parades through the AMC programming office. Somewhere, Matthew Weiner clears space on his mantle for another round of Emmys.]

Honorable Mention: Going Cold-Turkey on Bob Benson (last week: 2)

Come back to us, Bob. Our time together was far too short. We’ll take the ring and the house in Grosse Pointe and all the sweet lies that come with it. We know we’re never getting a better offer. We know that you only want the best for us. We see that now. We can’t live these next seven hours without you. Come back to us right now. Beloit. Wharton. Sadness. Longing. A heart broken in two pieces.

Honorable Mention II: Meredith (last week: not ranked)

When we’re confused, she is our strength.

Not ranked: Joan Harris; Lou Avery; Betty Francis; Stan Rizzo; Henry Francis; Sally Draper; Bobby Draper; Gene Draper; Kenny Cosgrove’s eye patch; Jim Hobart; Mathis; Neil Glaspie; Sean Glaspie; the vacuum; Apollo 11; Commander cigarettes; the Sunkist pants-crappers; the second popsicle; Bert Cooper’s maid; Todd; Brooks and Ellery Hargrove; the stipulations of the addendum; Burger Chef; the key to Peggy’s apartment; Julio; the yard in Newark; Julio’s mom; The Wild Bunch; Indiana; Napoleon; another cup of coffee and piece of pie; leadership; the deep end; Jim Cutler’s baggage; Lane Pryce; Polaris; cancer; Walt Whitman; Peggy’s dream; parliamentary procedure; the cloud of mystery; the telescope; the awkward first kiss; the $25 billion; Bert Cooper’s nameplate.

Filed Under: Mad Men, Mad Men Power Rankings, TV, Fingerbang Threat Level, Amc

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Mark Lisanti is an editor at Grantland.

Archive @ marklisanti

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