Previously on Mad Men Power Rankings: Don chats with some fellow veterans … Betty gets some news … Pete fields an intriguing offer … Sally reads a letter … Roger, Peggy, and Joan quietly attend to some business … the Campbells consider Kansas.
1. Don Draper (last week: 1)
Let’s not spend too much time looking backward at the arc of Don Draper’s life, as it bends from that cliff’s edge in Big Sur all the way to that perfect moment in the Sterling Cooper conference room, when a momentarily sputtering visionary regained his composure and changed the advertising-carcinogens game forever with two simple words: “It’s Toasted.” The Power Rankings are concerned with what just happened. Concerned with where we are right now, as we all huddle together by the flickering light of our television sets, still not accepting that our Sunday nights will be bereft of a certain adman’s dangerous charm, his ability to alchemize raw bullshit into the purest gold. We’re going to miss being mesmerized by the familiar timbre of his voice. We’ll probably still hear it in our heads for a while. Telling us that love was invented to sell nylons. Yeah, that’s the stuff right there. Load up the drugstore basket with Topaz, we’ve got a hole in our hearts that only reasonably priced pantyhose can fill. Everything’s going to be OK.
But even as his words linger with us, we ask one final question about the erstwhile Dick Whitman as he exits our lives forever:
Coke was always going to be it, wasn’t it?
Just three weeks ago, we were invited to contemplate what it would be like to die and go to advertising heaven, and the answer was so powerful it had to be whispered, had to be absorbed gently and obliquely, with eyes squeezed shut so that the carbonated furies turned loose from the Ark of the Soft Drink Covenant wouldn’t melt off our collective faces. Coca-Cola. If you must read those words, please do so through a pane of smoked glass, just to be safe. We can’t know their full power, even now.
Maybe Don wanted to save Stephanie, to move to L.A. and attempt to make the life of yet another broken woman whole again with his money, his attention, his stubborn — if repeatedly disproven — belief that you can always put everything behind you and charge headlong into a new reality, and that each step becomes easier as you move forward from the spent husk of your abandoned self. But maybe, after his brief descent into a borderline suicidal catatonic state slumped underneath that pay phone, after relating so deeply to Invisible Leonard’s stirring refrigerator-light story, after attempting to connect with the universal alongside his om-chanting fellow Esalen Institute searchers, he heard the bell. No, not the meditation bell. The cosmic big-idea bell.
Why think small? I can save the entire world. And every pigtailed hippie, sad waitress, and department store heiress in it.
But then it chimed again. Ding.
Now let’s get back to New York and sell some soda. The world is going to eat this hippie shit up.
Forget advertising heaven.
Don achieved advertising nirvana.
Forget the nylons. Love is a thing he just reinvented to sell you Coca-Cola.
Don Draper Fingerbang Threat Level: Smoke Gets in Your Eyes
Don sits alone at the counter in a quiet diner. A man — balding, well dressed — slides onto the stool next to him.
“Thanks for meeting me, Don.”
“I thought we’d never get here.”
“Me neither, to be honest.”
“Are you relieved?”
“Maybe a little.”
“So … I have a lot of questions.”
“I don’t really do answers. It’s better if you work it out for yourself.”
“Come on. Just one.”
“You can try. No promises.”
“How did this whole thing get started? I don’t even remember at this point.”
“Oh my god, you’re right. Wow. Haven’t thought of her in a long time. How’s she doing?”
“Dead, I’m afraid.”
“Her too, huh?”
“I’m not having great luck with that lately.”
“I should say not.”
“Let’s toast to her, then.”
Don notices there are no glasses with which to toast the memory. The balding man snaps his fingers, and two ice-cold bottles of Coca-Cola appear.
“Ah! I see what you did there.”
“I thought that would be a nice touch.”
“About that. Not a little … on the nose, do you think?”
“I suppose that depends on the nose. You see what you want to see.”
“And I came up with that whole thing?”
“I said no answers.”
“It seems pretty clear—”
“No answers, no answers. You have to keep plausible deniability.”
“Fair enough. I guess I’m buying these, then. How many on the tab … the whole world?”
“Nice try, Don.”
“I had to give it a shot.”
“I won’t hold it against you. Now, back to business.”
The man lifts his Coke to toast Don. Don clinks bottles. He finds himself sitting behind the desk in his original Sterling Cooper office. The man now sits across from him.
“Put your right hand on the desk, Don.”
“I’m not sure I like where this is going.”
Don places his hand on the table.
“OK. Now what?”
“Open your desk drawer. The one that used to have all the dress shirts in it.”
Don opens the drawer. And withdraws a meat cleaver.
“I definitely don’t like where this is going.”
“It can’t go anywhere else, Don.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah. I’m sure. Would you like me to do it for you?”
“No, I suppose I should be the one to do this.”
“Let’s get it over with, then. You’ll be shocked …”
“… how quickly it never happened?”
The man smiles.
“Something like that.”
“Here goes. Last chance to come up with something else.”
“I’m happy with all my choices.”
Don wiggles his outstretched fingers, brings the cleaver down on them.
The man calmly scoops them up from the desk. Ushers Don over to the window with him. The man opens it.
And tosses the fingers out.
They turn black, ghostly silhouettes of the digits they once were, and tumble to the Madison Avenue sidewalk below.
“Not how I saw this going.”
“Come on, really? It’s what everybody’s been saying since the opening credits. I mean, not exactly. You can’t give them exactly what they want. They’d never respect you for it.”
“Should we head back to the diner and get a couple more Cokes?”
“Oh, one more question.”
“Yeah, her too.”
“Sorry I asked.”
“Let’s go get those Cokes.”
Don takes one last look out the window.
And waves to the tiny people going about their day below.
2. Peggy Olson and Stan Rizzo (last week: 9, not ranked)
Stan was right. It’s annoying how much Stan was right. She could strangle him the way he always wanted to strangle her when they were face-to-face, he was so right.
Stan told her that looking over her shoulder at what other people had would never make her happy, that she was more excited about the possibility of being in charge than about the work she’d be asked to do, that she was considering running off with Joan just to get her name on the wall somewhere else. That there was more to life than work, and there’s nothing wrong with being very happy doing a job you’re great at, a job where you’ve got nothing left to prove.
But most importantly: He told her she was starring in a rom-com set in the high-stakes, fast-paced world of advertising. That she was a hotshot copywriter unhappy in her personal life because she kept ignoring the rakish, ascot-wearing art director — kind of a fuckup, sure, but charmingly so — right in front of her nose. He could prove it all, too — he could make a speech so heart-swelling that she’d have no choice but to answer in kind, stuttering out the revelation of her buried but reciprocal feelings. Then they’d both realize they were on the phone for some reason, when they were talking from a couple of offices apart. She’d fear the line had gone dead when he didn’t react to her enthusiastic answer. And then he’d appear in her doorway, ready to deliver the kiss that begins their happily-ever-after, a kiss that would have all of premium-cable-watching America standing in their living rooms, dabbing millions of tissues at moist eyes, too caught up in the moment they so badly wanted to think about whether “there’s more to life than work” was actually a satisfying conclusion to her story, a story that so often focused on her remarkable professional progress through an often-hostile, male-dominated field. Or if it was even appropriate to make her share a single slot in her last Power Rankings appearance ever. There was a lot to think about in between those tissue-dabs; we can’t be expected to have all of our emotions worked out already.
Stan should probably shut up now, before we all strangle him for how right he was about everything. Especially the ascots. We’re really going to miss the ascots.
3. Betty Francis (last week: 2)
Oh, Betty. So frustratingly committed to the idea of enduring her last days with stoic dignity that she would ask her first husband — the father of her children — to respect her wishes not to see her again before she died, and not to interfere with her plans to have the kids live with their uncle instead of their absentee, if still loving, dad. And so committed to hammering in her own coffin nails that the last time any of us will see her is sitting at the kitchen table, soon-to-be-motherless daughter scrubbing dishes behind her, haloed in a cloud of the very smoke that fatally poisoned her. Let’s opt out of that final Betty image and replace it with our most cherished one: Mrs. Draper clutching an air rifle, cigarette dangling from her lip, ready to dispense her special brand of disaffected-housewife justice upon a filthy pigeon. Birdie was a crack shot back in the day. And that’s exactly how we’re going to remember her.
4. Roger Sterling (last week: 9)
“Sterling’s Gold. Epilogue. November 1970. She was a hot little number, a fiery French Canadian, which is like French with all the fun tricks but much better manners. I was immediately smitten, but I never thought our dalliances, as thrilling as they were, would amount to anything — you wind up with somebody’s head in your lap at the Cancer Society gala while her husband’s in the next room, and you’re not exactly thinking about picking out china patterns one day. Then, years later, the two of you play a round of human carpet cleaner on the wine-stained rug of your friend’s empty, depressing apartment — it’s empty, I should mention, because she stole all the furniture; also, she’s your buddy’s mother-in-law, let’s throw that in there for kicks — and still nobody’s thinking long term here. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned through all of these erotic adventures, it’s that you never know where life is going to take you. One minute you’re opening the doors of carnal perception and spending a solid eight hours sticking it into everything that moved in a hotel suite full of tripping conquests, the next you find yourself in a café, admiring the senior couple at the next table, telling that new Francophone wife of yours that one day — like, tomorrow one day — you’ll be that still-smitten pair. And ordering two lobsters and a bottle of champagne, because you’ve got something really special planned for up in the room later and your love machine needs all the fuel it can get. Your old pal Sterling might be tied down again, but he’s keeping it gold forever.”
5. Joan Holloway (last week: 9)
The Power Rankings hate to say they told you so about Richard,1 but they also realize this is their last opportunity to do so. In an evening full of happy endings, Richard’s departure from Joan’s life at the precise moment her ambition was in full bloom was the giddiest of them all. “Good riddance” doesn’t even begin to cover it. Maybe “tell that imaginary secretary of yours to book you a one-way ticket to go fuck yourself” gets us there. Joan’s life is not an undeveloped property for him to turn into a retirement community, where she’s available to him at all times, unencumbered by the demands of a new business or a kid in the New York City school system. It’s just getting started. She’ll find somebody who’ll embrace the complications of her life, not head for the door the minute he gets a whiff of inconvenience.
And as long as the Power Rankings are keeping score, about Peggy and Stan, and Coke.
And in the end, Richard had no one to blame but himself for how it all turned out. He never should have given her that first taste of magical Colombian fairy dust. Cocaine turns everyone into producers.
6. Pete Campbell (last week: 3)
No, no one’s ever bragged that they worked with him, the way they will about Peggy. (That was a really nice thing of him to say, incidentally; he’s not totally without charm toward people he has accidentally impregnated.) But Pete’s got something more important than the admiration of his coworkers: a magical talking duck that gave him a Learjet, gave him back his family, gave him a beautiful new life in Wichita. Don’t get him wrong; the respect thing is nice, too. But he can take that plane to the goddamn Dillons in Kansas City if the one in town is out of his favorite brand of margarine. If that’s not the distillation of the American dream, nothing is, duck or no magical duck.
7. Sally Draper (last week: 4)
While her dad was out chasing land-speed records on the Bonneville Salt Flats, Sally was packing up for an indefinite stay back home to take care of the mother who wants to die with as little fuss as possible. Just a few weeks ago, boarding the bus to D.C., she said she wanted to be nothing like her parents. But Don was right; she was more like them than she wanted to admit, the good parts and the bad. And the good part of her father was ready to abandon the race cars and selfish aimlessness of his abrupt retirement to be at Betty’s bedside, to raise the children who’d lost their mother. So there was Sally, Madrid trip canceled, appearing unexpectedly in the kitchen doorway. Teaching Bobby how not to burn the house down while making dinner. Washing the dishes so her weakening mom could enjoy a cigarette. And telling her father the hard truth: The kids should be in their own beds, and stay at the same school. With Uncle William. She never did get around to killing her father,2 but that was a knife to the gut all the same.
8. Kenny Cosgrove (last week: not ranked)
Hereby we retire the Sally Draper PatricideWatch forever.
Kenny gave his eye to Sterling Cooper & Partners. He gave his dreams of retiring to a farm and writing the Great American Ex-Adman Novel, of having the most interesting author photo in the world, to Dow Chemical. But there is one ambition he will not surrender: He will make the greatest goddamn industrial film the national sales meeting has ever seen. He’s got $50,000 and eight minutes to shock the world. HE WILL NOT BE ECLIPSED BY PLASTICS AND PACKAGING. NOT AGAIN. He’s got a weird kid to feed.
9. Harry Crane (last week: not ranked)
Who were you supposed to have lunch with before Peggy bailed on you, Harry? Hmm? Who’s so important? The head of NBC? The president of Paramount Pictures? A Sears catalogue model who’s looking to get into acting, but is going to get nothing more than 15 unsatisfying minutes in a hotel room and an introduction to a low-rent commercial agent?
You realize this is the last time we’re ever going to see you, right? We suppose it always had to end this way. Brief and perfectly sour. Have a cookie and go wait for us by the elevator, keep your blood sugar up. We’ll be right out. Don’t move until we get there. Nice coat, though. Your fur collar game is on point.
10. The Extended Mad Men Happy Ending Montage, Cut for Time
[A string section swells as we say goodbye to our favorite characters.]
The happy Campbell family boards a Learjet for Kansas.
Joan hands off Kevin to her mother, then takes a seat at the bustling living room office of Holloway Harris.
Roger and Marie order a lobster and toast to their future.
Sally dutifully washes the dishes while Betty takes a languid drag of her beloved cigarette.
Peggy pounds away at the keys of her typewriter. A smitten Stan gives her a gentle shoulder rub, a tender kiss on the forehead. They share a laugh about the nearby octopus penetrating a fisherman’s wife. It never fails to elicit a smile.
Don, a striking silhouette taking in a sunset over the Pacific instead of tumbling to earth from an agency window in Manhattan, basks in the majesty of California.
Stephanie Draper presents Anna’s ring to a jeweler. The appraiser’s jaw drops as he excitedly realizes its value.
Megan Calvet takes the stage at a dinner theater in Topanga Canyon. The restaurant is packed.
The ghost of Bert Cooper picks up a cane and straw hat, tosses them to Lane Pryce. They link arms and dance.
Bob Benson and Manolo recline in matching lounge chairs on the beach of an unidentified Polynesian island, a duffel bag overflowing with embezzled Buick cash set between them.
All the Bobby Drapers, clad in Cub Scout gear, gather around a roaring campfire. They tie knots together.
Gene Draper takes a few tentative steps into the Francis family’s backyard in Rye. He falls to one knee and squeezes his eyes shut, face contorting with concentration. He launches into orbit. Flies around the Earth at light speed, reversing its rotation. He alights on the planet’s surface at the precise moment his mother reaches for her first cigarette. He intercepts it and breaks it in half. He opens his eyes again. He’s still in the backyard.
The Balding Man pulls a final script page from an antique Underwood, considers the still-drying words on the paper.
He smiles and reaches for a bottle of soda on his desk. We recognize its contours immediately.
He hums a jingle. A jingle we all know. A jingle that changed the world.
Cut to black.
Not ranked: Stephanie Draper; Anna Draper; Henry Francis; syrupy pre-show highlight packages; the driving goggles; the car guys; the prostitute; the envelope full of cash; beer and gas; Diamond walnuts; the purse; 622 mph in a car that looked like a jet; the pill bottles on the night table; the Rolodex; Birdseye; Kevin Harris; Gail Holloway; Dr. Dumbfingers; Sesame Street; the JCPenney bag; Lorraine; the cactus; the tin of cookies; a cobra in a basket; the box of secrets; Ronnie; a shower and a shave; Lee Garner Jr.; the Jon Hamm Emmy; the can of stew; Du Maurier cigarettes; Emile Calvet; the frying pan; sun salutations; psychotechnics; the creative experience of divorce; a couple of Bloody Marys; a runaway John Deere; Duck Phillips; Freddy Rumsen; Judgey Angie; Steve Jobs; General Washington in crisis; the Game of Thrones reference; Nathan’s Frankfurters; a day at Coney Island; naked Gelman; Charlie Manson’s effect on coastal hitchhiking; the sharing chair; Paul Kinsey; Salvatore Romano; Jim Cutler; Michael Ginsberg’s severed nipple; the Purple Heart; Lou Avery; Creepy Glen Bishop; the “you forgot so-and-so”; the fleeting thought that maybe Andy the Grifter moved to New York and came up with the Coke thing; the impossibility of ending this list in a satisfying manner; the queasy feeling of knowing it’s all over; two boxes of tissues, in case you forgot yours.