Mad Men Power Rankings: Episode 511: ‘The Other Woman’

[Production note: Holy. Shit.]

[Also, last week's Rankings can be found here.]

1. Peggy Olson (last week: not ranked)

These Power Rankings are entering uncharted territory. Never before has a non–Don Draper character occupied the top slot twice, and never before has Don been knocked from his perch more than once in a single season. Nothing makes sense. Up is down. Left is right, the sun is made of ice, and Girls is universally embraced as the uncontroversial reflection of a very specific kind of coming-of-age experience in New York. Pete Campbell wore a black suit, for the love of Showrunner. You get it by now, we know. We’ll stop. But it was either this self-indulgent and, quite frankly, repetitive lead-off as we stalled to scrape off the bits of skull-shrapnel glued to the living room walls with bits of gray matter, or the word “NO” spelled with 500 O’s. Perhaps we chose poorly. Cut us some slack; things are very touch-and-go right now.

Peggy is leaving, assisted in her flight-slash-upward-career-move by one Freddy Rumsen, whom you might remember as the office pants-wetter. (This is reductive and unfair, but that’s how you get remembered after you’re written out of this show: Duck Phillips* is the mad shit-bomber, Freddy’s the pants-wetter. Direct all letters of complaint to AMC Viewer Services, 11 Penn Plaza, 15th Floor, New York, NY 10001 — and please, don’t send water balloons full of urine or feces-stained Eames chairs; there’s no good place to store those.) Maybe we all wanted to believe this was all a giant and perfectly timed bluff, as Don did, or that Peggy wouldn’t go through with it, even with a piece of notepaper in her purse worth $19,000,** but once Don mentioned that circumstances has promoted Joan to partner, that was that. No amount of patented Draper bullshit sliding off that now-tarnished silver tongue was going to change things, there was no number that could bring her back. Once Don realized this, all he could do was kiss her outstretched hand, as much an act of last-ditch supplication as it was a heart-wrenching good-bye, fighting off the tears as he finally let her go. (To all bosses negotiating from a place of weakness: “Let’s pretend I’m not responsible for every good thing that’s ever happened to you, you tell me the number, and I’ll beat it” is probably not your best play. Nor is making it bitterly rain upon her head with a dismissive “You want to go to Paris? Here, go to Paris.”) And she didn’t even tumble to her death down an exposed elevator shaft, even though we gasped at the thought of that as being the perfectly destabilizing finish to an hour of television that had already smashed our genitals between two very pointy rocks while we were still reeling from a sucker-punch to the breadbasket. Everything was on the table before the end credits rolled. Pete Campbell wore a black suit.

So now Peggy’s off to Cutler, Gleason, and Chaough. And even though this episode’s plot detonations felt like finale-quality fireworks, there are still two installments remaining in the season. What will Matthew Weiner do for an encore? We’ll be wearing a chest protector and a cup next week.

[*Duck also ate all of Peggy's lingerie, but drunken shit-bombing tends to stick in the mind.]
[**2012 salary equivalent: $134,926.39. Thanks, Internet!]

2. Joan Holloway (last week: 2)

Who are we supposed to be angry with here? We could lash out in any direction and hit a worthy target. Herb Rennet for indecent-proposaling Joan? Pete Campbell for playing the pimp (a role he unsurprisingly took to without much fuss)? The partners for not only humoring Pete’s insane kowtowing to Herb, but for ultimately signing off on it? Lane Pryce for teaching Joan how to back herself into a corner with a deal she couldn’t refuse, at least partly because a cash payout might have exposed his embezzlement scheme? Roger for not socking Pete in the jaw for attempting to prostitute the mother of his child? Don for arriving too late to stop her? Dr. Greg Harris for not being dead so Joan could get her military widow’s benefits? Joan for selling herself short, selling herself out, selling herself into lifetime financial security?

Last week’s “Will they or won’t they?” moment suddenly seems so quaint. Better one potentially disastrous night of passion with the boss than a few extremely well-compensated hours wearing a metal bikini while Jaguar the Hutt rattles your chains and bores you with his unimaginative, conflated mytho-historical sex fantasies.

3. Don Draper (last week: 1)

Should Don have fallen further still? As we mentioned, we’re flying blind here, and this week’s no. 3 feels like it might as well be a spot on the “Not Ranked” list sandwiched between a couple of decontextualized references to props. Maybe we should trade him to Greenwald’s Game of Thrones recap for a scheming eunuch and a Lannister-to-be-named-later before his value slips any lower.

Where does all this leave Don? Just as he had (at least temporarily) rededicated himself to work to land the all-important Jaguar account, he now finds himself without his protégé and trapped at a place that’s just introduced a partnership fast-track for anyone willing to whore themselves out for new business. At home, his perfect bride’s very stubbornly not gotten bored with and abandoned the acting thing, but she has offered to resent him forever if he makes her choose their marriage over her crazy dreams of slowly rotating in front of sleazeball producers on a dingy couch. We should, however, point out that things can always be worse: Sally hasn’t found the time to murder him yet, as she’s been too preoccupied with trying to figure out how to undetectably poison the nozzle of a Reddi-wip can.

Don Draper Fingerbang Threat Level: Don’t Be a Stranger
“You don’t have to wait until the third. I’ve got a roomful of freelancers out there. I’ll get by.”

Peggy extends her hand to Don, even though his words were sharp, tinged with acid. This is it. He’d do the same. She was right about that. There was no number that could undo this, nothing left to say. Just a hand extending out into the void between them, a hand he desperately didn’t want to touch, because that would mean the spell would be broken and she’d be walking out of his office. Forever.

He grabs her hand anyway. Presses his lips to it. An eternity passes, and then another. A couple of tears break free from Peggy’s quivering eyes, roll down her cheeks, and he fights back his own. But he doesn’t let go. She can’t leave if he doesn’t let go.

“Don.” He feels her pulling away. He tightens his grip on her hand, slides it over to the stubble of his cheek.

“Peggy.”

“I really need to go, Don.” She tries to pull away again.

He grasps her by the fingers. “Peggy.” He separates out her forefinger and her middle finger, grips them as one.

“Don, what are you doing?”

“You know what I’m doing.” He pulls her fingers downward. “It’s time I taught you this.”

“He warned me about that.” She hands him a folded piece of paper. Don takes it with his free hand and flips it open.

“Nineteen thousand? I thought you said there wasn’t a number. I can beat this.”

“The other side.”

He turns it over. Scrawled on the back of the paper:

Don’t let him do any finger stuff.

He kisses her hand one more time, releases it. She takes a step toward the door.

“Don’t be a stranger.”

And then she’s gone.

4. A Crippling Sense of Loss and a Deep Sadness

You felt it. Don’t try to pretend you didn’t.

Shut up. You’re just a TV show.

5. Pete Campbell (last week: not ranked)

You’ve got to hand it to him; a lesser Head of Accounts would have tried to laugh off Herb Rennet’s proposition, but Pete Campbell found a way to make a car dealer’s dream come true, turn an office manager into a partner, and deliver the firm’s first car — all in one fell swoop. Let’s take a moment to relive Pete’s pitch to Joan, shall we?

“He said he was crazy about you, and then he just asked. It was quite conditional, a night with you or no vote.”
“Well, I’m sorry to hear that.”
“Anyway, if you could think of some way to break this to the company that we’re out of this, I’d appreciate it.”
“You’re unbelievable. I’m married. How would you feel if someone asked Trudy?”
“I didn’t bring it up, he did. If you’re not interested in this idea at all … I appreciate … it’s just … it seems to me that there’s something that could be worth the sacrifice. We’re talking about a night in your life. We’ve all had nights in our life where we’ve made mistakes for free.”
“We’re talking about prostitution.”
“I’m talking about business on a very high level. Do you consider Cleopatra a prostitute?”
“Where do you get this stuff?”
“She was a queen. What would it take to make you a queen?”
“I don’t think you could afford it.”
“This was an act of desperation. I hope I haven’t insulted you. That’s all that matters to me.”
“I understand.”

You almost want to admire the guy for his balls, for the effortless grace of his full heel-turn. And by “admire the guy” we mean, of course, “shoot him in his fucking weasel face and let a pack of hungry coyotes eat out the buckshot.”

There’s only one way to properly repay Pete for this one:

Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce Holloway.

6. Megan Calvet Draper (last week: 3)

You know what, Megan? Go to Boston, don’t go to Boston. We don’t have time for your actress nonsense this week. It’s always me, me, me with the actresses.

7. Roger Sterling (last week: 9)

We’d been greatly enjoying Roger’s resurgence. The LSD trip-induced divorce, the unrepentant hummer from Megan’s mom, the constant, exasperated peeling-off of hundred-dollar bills from his bankroll to fund Sterling Unlimited, his rogue sub-agency — they were all signs that he wasn’t going down without a fight. But when there was a chance to derail Pete’s terrible proposition to turn Joan into a Cleopatratute, this is all Roger could muster: “I’m not going to stand in the way, but I’m not paying for it.” We expected Bert to go for it; he’s just a figurehead with no real skin in the game who probably thinks it’s a totally sensible thing to trade one of their old secretaries for a shot at a car. And Lane, well, Lane’s got his own problems. With Don out of the room (note to Don: Never leave the conference room early), Roger was the one who not only should have killed the deal, but also cracked Pete Campbell in the face for letting Herb Rennet believe there was any way a deal for Joan could be struck. “Don’t kid yourself, this is some very dirty business,” he told Pete, doing nothing to prevent the dirty business from happening. Maybe Roger’s more checked out than we thought.

8. Lane Pryce (last week: 5)

Not that we necessarily even believe the Lane Pryce Jumper Theory — if we’ve learned anything about this show, it’s that you never see it coming — but if one were to allow oneself to wander down that theoretical path, one would have to note that not only did Lane (very, very stupidly) embezzle from the firm, he was the one who made Joan’s decision a seeming inevitability by teaching her how to extract maximum, life-changing value from the transaction — a move that simultaneously prevented the discovery of his unauthorized “loan” by having to cut an unexpected $50,000 check and bolstered the company’s future prospects, increasing the odds his crime might never be detected. Maybe Lane’s better at his job than we thought.

Nah, they’re totally going to catch him.

9. Jaguar

“Every firm on Madison Avenue is defined by the moment they got their car.” Truer word, truer words.

Rejected Taglines From the Jaguar Pitch Session Before They Arrived at “At Last, Something Beautiful You Can Truly Own.”

  • Jaguar: An Exquisite Piece of Shit.
  • A Buick in the Garage at Home, a Jaguar in the Expensive Apartment Downtown Your Wife Doesn’t Know About
  • The Nutjob Mistress Who Shows Up in Your Driveway to Smash Your Station Wagon with a Sledgehammer, But Looks Great Doing It
  • The Cursed Monkey Paw of Performance Automobiles
  • Because Your Boring Old Cadillac Won’t Let You Put It in the Tailpipe
  • Whoremobile

10. Teddy Chaough (last week: not ranked)

Perfect.

Not ranked: Kenny Cosgrove; Bert Cooper; Herb Rennet; the freelancers; Chevalier Blanc; Gail Holloway; Cleopatra; Freddy Rumsen; Julia the Trampy Redheaded Actress; Fanny; the green nightie; the Kinks; lobster from the Palm; a theoretical spot for Don Draper in his worst week; the emerald necklace; Cutler and Gleason; Paris; Lady Godiva.

Filed Under: Christina Hendricks, Don Draper, Fingerbang Threat Level, John Slattery, Jon Hamm, Mad Men, Matthew Weiner, Power Rankings, Vincent Kartheiser

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Mark Lisanti is an editor at Grantland.

Archive @ marklisanti

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