‘Mad Men’ Power Rankings, Episode 711: ‘Time & Life’David T. Cole/Grantland illustration
Previously on Mad Men Power Rankings: Don gets an offer he won’t refuse … Betty says good-bye to an old friend … Sally sets a goal … Peggy has a dream … Joan makes an acquaintance … Pete has a peanut butter cookie problem … Teddy eats a doughnut.
1. Don Draper (last week: 1)
A week ago, Don roamed the hallways of SC&P, attempting to dip his mind-brush in the dream-palettes of his coworkers, then emerge 48 hours later to present a completed masterwork to his corporate patrons, standing before a canvas dappled with happy little lies about the future like the Bob Ross of bullshit. It seems that he painted quite the picture for his McCann Erickson bosses, because one accidentally discovered lease renewal document later, the entire Sterling Cooper brain trust was learning that their scrappy firm was about to fulfill its ultimate contractual destiny of being swallowed whole by the advertising entity that had so recently and extravagantly enriched its partners. Funny the way that works, when you sell your firm and the buyer eventually does whatever he pleases with it, up to and including relocating the whole thing because the extra rent is too damn high. One man’s red carpet rollout is another’s well-appointed march before the firing squad.
So what happens when you get everything you ever thought you wanted? When you die and go to advertising heaven? Well, first you panic. You rage against the dying of the light, fearing that those blinding beams are from the headlamp of an oncoming train, a meteor streaking through the night sky on a collision course with your house. You make plans to rally millions of dollars’ worth of redundant clients to your still-waving, no-longer-independent banner. You call up the square footage of your once-promising California outpost, which is now not much more than a couple of rooms full of Sunkist oranges and goldbricking douche bags trying to sell their derivative monkey cartoons to Hollywood. You try to cut a deal with the eyepatched Devil, because having the folks who make napalm on your side is never a bad idea when you think you’re about to go to war.
But once the initial shock wears off and the storyboards of your life have finished flashing before your eyes, you slowly learn that that light you once feared is just the glare off St. Peter’s halo as he welcomes you home. They saw every dream represented on that canvas you painted for them and decided to make them all come true because you passed the test. The unthinkable car account. The faceless pharmaceutical concern. The snack conglomerate. The global soft drink juggernaut. The fear of assimilation begins to fade. You’d like to buy the world a Coke, but first you need to buy your stunned partners enough beer to kill every soda-chugging hippie on earth, because none of this will make sense until you’re all vomiting into potted plants like the good old days.
Stop struggling. You’ve won. Take the rest of the day off.
What could possibly go wrong?
Don Draper Fingerbang Threat Level: The Real Thing
Don and Jim Hobart sit next to each other, alone, in the conference room. Don rolls his chair up uncomfortably close to Jim, leans in to talk softly into his ear. Don’s hands remain on the table for the entirety of their conversation.
“Say it again, Jim.”
“It’s Coke, Don.”
“No. Say it the right way. Say the whole thing.”
“No. Not like that.”
“That was hyphenated. Give it to me in two words. No hyphen. I don’t want to hear any hyphens.”
“No, Jim. With the periods.”
“Better. Still too loud.”
[Whispers.] “Coca. Cola.”
[Whispers more softly.] “Coca. Cola.”
“No. No. We’re still not there.”
“I don’t know what it is that you want me to do, Don.”
“Fine. Picture yourself sitting on a beach. A foreign beach, country uninmportant. Staring out across the ocean, thinking that if you squint hard enough, maybe you can see all the way home. A cabana boy approaches. He’s holding a tray. And on that tray is— ”
[Whispers.] “A Coca. Cola.”
“Shut the fuck up, Jim, I’m not finished yet. On that tray is a single glistening bottle. An iconic bottle. Curvy and beaded with sweat like Raquel Welch under some really uncomfortable set lights, but she’s not complaining, she’s a professional, it’s all part of the job. The cabana boy reaches his tray toward you. You grab for the bottle. You grasp the bottle as you meet the cabana boy’s gaze. Now say it like how’d you say it to that cabana boy when there is suddenly nothing else in this disgusting world but you, that icy cold bottle, and your indescribable gratitude for this moment you’re sharing.”
[Whispers, barely making a sound.] “Huaca. Huolaaaaaa.”
“Yes, Jim. Goddammit, yes.”
[All breath, eyes rolling into the back of his head.] “Huacaaa … Huolaaaaa … ”
“One more, Jim. One more good one, for the cabana boy.”
[Sliding out of chair, onto the floor.] “Hu. Ack. Cah. Hu. Ole. Huahhhhh.”
“Very good. Very, very good. Now let’s do Buick.”
“I need a few minutes, Don.”
“Of course you do, Jim. Of course you do.”
2. Roger Sterling (last week: 3)
He made a deal with God that if this thing worked out, he’d give up smoking. And yet there’s a cigarette dangling from his lips. What’s God gonna do, hold him to it? Take back everything? Come on. That’s not how God works. God is a sport about that kind of stuff. He’s got bigger worries than knocking the Lucky Strike out of Roger’s mouth over a desperation prayer.
So Roger will go right on smoking, and right on pursuing whatever it is he’s pursuing with that nice French Canadian lady — oh, by the way, Don, he’s sleeping with your crazy ex-mother-in-law, and yes, Megan knows, even about the dirty stuff on the floor of your empty apartment — and right on living the rest of his incredibly wealthy final days on this planet just as he always has. The Buick account’s a shiny plaything that might help him to forget that soon, very soon, the only place he’ll be able to read the Sterling name on a wall is at the family mausoleum. Hold on a minute. Yeah, that is pretty sad. Good thing that Bert didn’t have to live to see them removing his proud Cooper from the reception area. But otherwise this is great news for everybody, right? Hey, where are you all going? He’s still got some thoughts to share about how it’s going to work out fine at the new place, how the transition will be smooth and painless! And maybe after a couple of years, he and Don will marry some secretaries, just like old times! Hey, come back here!
3. Kenny Cosgrove (last week: not ranked)
Kenny had fantasized about this moment. Sitting across from Roger Sterling and Pete Campbell, swigging from a bottle of Chateau Margaux ’53, shoveling caviar into his maw by the handful, because they’ll bring him every last beluga egg in the entire ocean on its own tiny spoon if they thought it might curry favor with Dow. Expressing continued ambivalence about their bathroom product strategy, finding it too vaguely poop-related to green-light, and dispatching them on the wild goose chase of redoing the work. Then getting to the good part, listening patiently as his ex-boss — the ex-boss who recently shoved him out the door with a foot in the ass and a smile on his smug face — made his big pitch for the business that could save his firm.
And then leaning back, taking a deep breath, and telling them he’d toyed with them long enough. Letting them know that he had heard their cries for salvation and had a cruelly speedy and direct answer for them. Flipping up his eyepatch, revealing the mangled socket where the eye he once lost for them used to be, and pointing to the word embroidered on the inside of that patch for exactly this delicious occasion: NO.
But send over another bottle of the ’53, boys, maybe they can get together on some other work in the future, something in the Ziploc space? Being a big-swinging-chemical-company-dick client is amazing, my god, they really have to taste the power some time.
4. Peggy Olson and Stan Rizzo (last week: 5 and not ranked)
Last week, we learned what Peggy wants: the creative directorship, the big catchphrase, the lasting mark in advertising, maybe the small amount of fame in the industry that goes along with it. And it seems, given her professional trajectory, that she might eventually get it all. She might change the world with the perfect words underneath a bite-and-smile, a sip-and-aaahh. Who knows, maybe she’s the one who ultimately buys the world a Coke, not Don.
And then this week they fill the office full of little kids to show her everything she’s afraid she might never get. And they put Stan Rizzo in that room with her, to accuse her of hating them, to teach her how to relate to them like human beings, to Stansplain how it’s OK, maybe children aren’t going to be her thing, she’s got that great career instead, she should be happy enough with that. Oh, Stan, if you only knew. Knew what it was like to make the most difficult decision possible that didn’t involve which ascot might make your half-unbuttoned shirt really pop. Knew what it was like to not know where your child is, because you’re not supposed to know or you can’t go on with your life. But keep on telling her she hates kids.
Still, we want them to wind up together, now more than ever. That’s what happens with only three hours to go. There’s an urgency to this. Does she need him? No. She’ll eventually become creative director of McCann with or without him. Does he need her? Probably. The nurse is nice, but destiny is staring him right in his exquisitely bearded face. But we need them. And time is running out.
5. Pete Campbell (last week: 7)
A centuries-old grudge, resurfacing in the most unexpected place. Two combatants, a Campbell and a MacDonald, a Not-So-Braveheart and a Suburban Connecticut Highlander, suddenly engaging on the corpse-strewn plains of the Greenwich Country Day waiting list, just as their ancestors had done. The MacDonald, looking to avenge the cowardly night-murder that ignited the feud, strikes first, holding up the Campbell scion’s developmentally unimpressive Draw-A-Man test, all vaguely sketched heads and mustaches and neckties where the specificity of fingers and toes and eyes and ears detail work should be. He strikes again, insulting the child’s negligent mother for presumptuously placing all her eggs in one private-school basket. The Campbell is staggered, temporarily, but he has the one weapon in his arsenal that his opponent should have anticipated: the sucker punch. Down goes the MacDonald, just as his ancestor did, ignoring the most important lesson of their history: Never take a nap in front of a sleep-stabber. Victory. There can be only one. And this time it will be the Campbell, writing a large check1 the next day to fix everything. Greenwich is built on divorce money, and Campbell has a giant sack of it hidden underneath his kilt. The MacDonald should have seen that one coming, too.
6. Joan Holloway and Richard Burghoff (last week: 6)
While we ache — ache, we say! — for the Peggy-and-Stan union of our fevered dreams, we continue to actively root against the blossoming of the Holloway-Burghoff relationship we seem to be getting whether we like it or not. There’s Joan, desperate to tell him about the existential drama of her firm’s imminent absorption into McCann Erickson, getting interrupted with a “Sssh, honey, tell me all about it when I fly in tomorrow. I’m a big important man with no obligations other than to make you wait a day to express your fears about your professional future.”2 Perhaps that’s the least-charitable interpretation of that phone call, but we’re unconcerned with fairness here. We’re not interested in the Joan and Richard thing even a little bit. We’re much more interested in Joan and Jim Hobart, or in Joan and Ferg Donnelly, and how she convinces them to give her a Nabisco or a Buick to handle. Richard can get that mystery secretary of his to book him on the next first-class flight to the pyramids. Joanie’s got real work to do.
7. Teddy Chaough (last week: 9)
You know what? This big agency stuff ain’t so bad. Teddy was never going back to California. He’s been there. He’s left an ex-wife behind there. He’s sat in that empty office, watching the shadows creep from one side of the room to the other, marking the slow, inexorable death of all his sun-kissed hopes. He’s a New Yorker for good now. He’s got a new lady — not too young, gorgeous, a little bit deep, whatever that means — and he’s not going to leave her now that they’ve found each other again years after meeting in college. He’s always been the hands-on type, but he knows it’s time to let somebody else drive, a relief to let someone else take the wheel for a while. Maybe he’ll let the mustache grow out a bit more. He’s just going to take it one resigned-to-his-not-terrible-new-fate day at a time.
8. Meredith (last week: not ranked)
We know, right? She finally pipes up after mostly existing to be told to get the hell out of the room whenever somebody needs to yell at Don, or to bungle the occasional appointment, and here she is sneaking into the Power Rankings. We’re not going to “sweetheart” her. We realize that in a month we won’t have an office or a place to live. Or a Meredith. We’ve got to enjoy these things while we still have them.
9. Sterling Cooper West, a Subsidiary of McCann Erickson (last week: not ranked)
With an impressive portfolio of conflict clients like Sunkist, Burger Chef, and the coveted Secor Laxatives business, as well as the 18 million imaginary dollars of theoretical billings they would generate, Sterling Cooper West is the leading nonstarter full-service advertising agency in Greater Los Angeles. Come visit their beautiful beach-adjacent offices and see how SCWest can meet all your fake print and television campaign needs. But make sure to call ahead first. The bureau chief might be out at lunch with Hanna-Barbera. And once you’re inside, please ignore all the sketches of an Army-uniformed monkey holding a giant peeled banana like an assault rifle tacked up on the walls. Dee is supposed to take those down before the clients come over.
10. The Baffling Persistence of the Memorial “Lou Avery Is a Dick” Power Rankings Spot That We Honestly Believed Would Be Retired Last Week, Huh, Life Is Funny Sometimes, Isn’t It? (last week: 10)
“Hey, Don, I think we need to have a conversation. I’m going to Tokyo! No, not for McCann, you preening Brylcreemed simp. Scout’s Honor is a go! The Japanese are making my cartoon come to life, and I have the $15,000 advance check I’m wiping my ass with right now to prove it! Don’t try and talk me out of it. My mind’s obviously made up. Obviously. I wish I could see the look on your face right now! I bet you’re very upset! You’re not laughing anymore, are you? Laughing at crazy old Lou Avery, who you exiled to California, where all his goddamn monkey-drawing dreams are ironically coming true! Sayonara, my friend, and enjoy the rest of your miserable life. Talk to you never.”
Not ranked: Betty Francis; Hanoi Sally Draper; Glen Bishop, possibly already bleeding to death in a PX beer-opening accident; the disappointed ghost of Bert Cooper; Harry Crane; Dawn Chambers; Handi-Wrap; Diana Bauer; Caroline; the curlers; Ferg Donnelly; Jim Hobart; the Time-Life Building; four-year contracts and a noncompete; Lisa the offscreen mystery secretary; the red-eye to NY; Marie Calvet; actors assuring you of the unthinkable last-season genius you’re about to watch unfold, totally unprompted by the showrunner they’re celebrating; Melanie the real estate agent; the unseen two two-bedrooms; Speed Racer; Tatsunoko Productions; the curtains; the other private-school applications; the girl with the lisp; Suzie Q the thumb-stapler and her mom; the guys in Diana’s apartment; Albert Einstein; Christopher Lambert; Sean Connery; Mel Gibson.