Mad Men Power Rankings: Episode 504, “Mystery Date”David T. Cole/Grantland illustration
[Production notes: Well! That was certainly something! These Power Rankings were written from a safe place underneath our grandmother’s couch, while clutching a kitchen knife and looped on Seconal. We are still hyperventilating at press time.]
Last week’s Rankings can be found here.]
1. Don Draper (last week: 1)
It had to come to this, didn’t it?
After years of figuratively slaying half of Midtown’s female population with his penis, the very same throbbing murder-implement would eventually lead to a conquest’s actual death. Fine, he technically used his hands, and yes, it was just a fever dream — thank God for that, because otherwise this becomes an entirely different, terrible show, like, say, The Killing [audible gasp!] — and therefore not an “actual death,” but come on, we all lived through that harrowing scene together, let’s not rob it of its chilling power by splitting (pubic) hairs. Ugh, there we go again. We’re obviously not mature enough to deal with this in a serious manner. It’s fine, Andrea not only survived, but later went on to star in Twin Peaks, so it’s possibly OK to let out a little nervous laughter.
Still, even though we 95 percent knew that Don’s fever-addled brain was conjuring Andrea the Horny Freelancer’s return after their chance encounter in the elevator (or, in, the parlance of Draper’s more swingingly unfaithful days, the “flying sex-closet”), that 5 percent unsure part was very, very disturbed. Even Dick Whitman at his most desperate for an identity reboot never would’ve choked a former lover to death, if for no other reason than fleeing the scene in a yellow A-line dress and pillbox hat would’ve seemed pretty suspicious. But we digress: Let’s all share a sigh of relief. Don’s not a literal lady killer like that guy with the nurses in Chicago, a story alternately played for horror and laughs for the better part of an hour, as if someone handed Ryan Murphy a dry-erase fireplace poker and let him go to town on the Mad Men writers’ room whiteboard for 10 minutes. This episode was messed up. And these Power Rankings probably aren’t going to be much better, quite frankly.
Don Draper Fingerbang Threat Level: Fever Dream
“So let me get this straight, sir. You choked a young woman to death, and you’re calling us because you want our help finding her after she mysteriously disappeared?”
Don, shirtless and slicked with icy fever-sweat, sits on the edge of the bed, gripping the telephone with both hands, afraid that if he releases this lifeline, he’ll drift out into space. “Yes. No. Yes! Yes.” He exhales, weary, defeated. “It’s more complicated than that.”
“Isn’t it always, sir.” It’s not a question. “Let’s go over this once more. Her name again, sir?”
“Andrea. She was a freelancer. A very horny freelancer. I shouldn’t make it sound like she was the horny one, that’s unfair, we were both horny.” He stares down at his toes, which flare gracefully at each recitation of “horny.” “No value judgments.”
“Right, sir. We covered the horny part already. But you’re saying she broke into your apartment, forced you to have intercourse despite the fact your wife was on her way home, and then you choked her to death when she wouldn’t leave? Is that correct?”
“Well, ‘forced’ is a bit of a loaded word. I was weakened with the flu, yes, but I suppose I was a willing participant. And then there was the choking. But after the choking … that’s when I tried to revive her.”
“Was that before or after you kicked her under the bed?”
“God. After. It was after.”
“And you tried to ‘revive’ her with that … technique.”
“Yes.” Don pries one hand from the receiver, holds it in front of his face, flexes his fingers. “The technique. My secretary passed very unexpectedly last year. It was a blow. They left her in my office. I tried … to bring her back. But I couldn’t. So this time, I had to try again. I couldn’t let another one go. Not again. So I tried the technique.”
“But the technique failed.”
“All I know is that when I woke up, my wife was serving me orange juice and Andrea was gone. Can you help me find her or not?” Don peeks under the bed, in search of a red heel, a slim ankle, anything. But there is nothing, not so much as an errant dust bunny, to offer a clue. Their girl is thorough, always has been.
The voice on the line, maddeningly patient, continues. “Sir, have you considered the possibility that you may have been dreaming?”
“That’s absurd. I’m sure the technique worked this time. It had to. It was not her time!” The sound from his throat, almost a yelp, is anguished, strangled.
“I’m afraid I can’t help you.” There’s a click, a dial tone.
Don hangs up the phone, holds his hands close to his face. He whispers into his fingertips. “I know we brought her back. I’ve never been more sure of anything.”
Megan is in the doorway with a fresh glass of orange juice. “Who was on the phone?”
Her smile is impossibly wide as she hands him the juice. “Oh, if they were looking for the dead hooker, I stuffed her in the dumbwaiter.”
Don gasps, bolts upright in the bed. He’s drenched in sweat.
2. Peggy Olson (last week: 4)
Perhaps not since “The Suitcase” have we been treated to such a Peggy Olson tour de force. She offered to save Roger Sterling’s ass, then got the better of him in a negotiation! (Though maybe that’s not such a big deal, even über-schmuck Harry Crane can pants him these days.) Her pal Joyce brought over some super-disturbing crime-scene photos of a “massacree,” and everyone had a good laugh at some butchered nurses! She made a black friend! She got stinky-drunk with her new black friend! She not-so-subtly eyeballed the purse she racistly assumed her new black friend might want to rummage through, pretty much destroying her tenuous new interracial friendship, because even semiprogressive social attitudes in 1966 have their limits! She finally might be realizing she’s not cut out to act like an asshole man all the time! That’s quite a lot of Peggy Olson business to be packed into a single episode. She better watch the drinking, though. Yikes. People are gonna start to talk, maybe do that pantomime chugalug thing whenever her back is turned. (Though Stan Rizzo will probably just stick with his go-to “phantom blowjob” move. That’s always killer.)
3. Joan Holloway (last week: not ranked)
Look at us, already dropping the Harris from her name before the papers are even signed. To his credit, Matthew Weiner insisted on doing the more dramatically interesting thing by bringing Joanie’s terrible husband back from the war (albeit temporarily) and forcing a final marital conflict, instead of giving us a more expedient (though perhaps more poetically satisfying) solution of the “telegram announcing Dr. Greg Harris met with a tragic end attempting to rape a Vietnamese landmine” variety. And so while our seasons-long, simmering bloodlust for the rage-monster cretin was never quite slaked, we all did get to enjoy Joanie finally bringing her ill-advised marriage to an end. The only thing missing from her “You’re not a good man. You never were, even before we were married, and you know what I’m talking about” speech was the “And Kevin is Roger Sterling’s baby. Suck it” kicker before he stormed out of her life (and presumably the show) forever. (But maybe we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves, and that moment will arrive later, when Greg realizes he stomped off without saying goodbye to “his” son, oops.) In the meantime, Joan has the motivation to return to SCDP as soon as possible, giving her something else to do with her time besides paint every visible surface in her apartment orange while the kid naps.
4. Pete Campbell (last week: 3)
With barely any screen time (always a necessary evil on a show with so many characters to service), Pete slides only one spot from his lofty no. 3 of last week for two reasons: (1) Roger’s coming next, and obviously Pete’s gotta stay on top of Roger, that’s the way things work now, and (2) the Blue Suit returned. We really missed the Blue Suit. For more information on the Blue Suit, fire up virtually any episode from a previous season on Netflix, fast-forward to a Pete Campbell scene, and watch him wear the Blue Suit.
5. Roger Sterling (last week: 5)
We’re doing this from memory, but here’s a pretty accurate transcription of the Roger vs. Peggy negotiation for the last-minute Mohawk corporate image campaign:
“How does this nice, crisp 10-dollar bill for an enormous amount of work sound to you?”
“The work is 10 dollars, the lie is extra.”
“What do you make in a week, sweetheart?”
“You don’t know? I guess that’s good for me.”
“Hey, I’m your boss, I could fire you!”
“Great, there’s a giant stack of portfolios in the next room. Good luck finding someone by tomorrow.”
“Why are you doing this to me?”
“Dazzle me, Roger.”
“Fine, what do you want?”
“How much you got?”
[Emptying pocket, counting out bills] “Four hundred dollars.”
[Emptying pocket, counting out more bills] “Shit. Nine hundred.”
“Give me all of it.”
“All of it?”
“All of it.”
“Jesus! It better be good.”
“You know what? Now I want your shoe.”
“My shoe? How about my watch? It’s a nice watch.”
“Give me your right shoe.”
[He pulls off his shoe and hands it over.] “Don’t you realize I’m in charge here?”
“Shut up. Now unbuckle your pants.”
“Unbuckle your pants.”
[He unbuckles his pants, which fall around his ankles.]
“Now I’m going to watch you waddle away like a sad, one-footed penguin.”
“This is humiliating.”
“This is fun! Now ask me what I make again.”
“What do you make?”
“Fuck you, that’s what I make!”
“Hilarious. Can I go now?”
“Waddle away at your own leisure!”
“Wait, have you been drinking?”
“I can respect that.”
[He turns and waddles away with a pronounced, one-shoe limp. Peggy counts her money.]
“Bye, Mr. Penguin! Quack quack!”
6. Megan Calvet Draper (last week: not ranked)
If Megan hasn’t seemed too good to be true before, this “will quietly dispose of a dead body she finds under the bed and then bring you a frosty glass of OJ, no questions asked” business is really just gilding the French-Canadian lily. What a gal!
7. Michael Ginsberg (last week: 8)
“Well, I know this one was a little dark, so we were not gonna pitch it, but since you responded so positively to the mention of Cinderella, here goes! It’s night, she’s running down cobblestones. She’s wounded prey, she sees shadows, turns a corner, she’s scared! She’s so very scared. She’s not running anymore. She stops. She wants to be caught. Now he’s standing over her, the moon glints off the blade in his hand. She’s too tired to fight. We cut away to a streetlight dimly reflected in a nearby puddle. There’s a scream! A terrible, blood-chilling scream. Her scream.
“And then, the tagline: ‘Pantyhose so good you’ll want to be murdered in them, princess.’ Too dark? I knew it was too … what? You love it?! Fantastic!”
8. Sally Draper and Grandma Pauline (tie) (last week: not ranked)
If it hadn’t already been abundantly clear in previous seasons, now it seems obvious we’re watching the genesis of a serial killer. Up until this point, young Sally progressed along her psychotic path unsupervised, left alone to discover the thrill of the hunt in her bedroom, the schoolyard, the occasional trip to Disneyland. But now, in Grandma Pauline, she finally has a mentor to fill in the blanks, one whose identity was forged through casual abuse, rather than suburban neglect. Pauline takes away the newspaper, knowing the rebellious Sally will retrieve it from the trash and read the story of those poor nurses in Chicago, then come asking questions. Why would a man do that? And Pauline would have the answers — All those young nurses, stirring his desires … they didn’t know it would be worse than that. They didn’t know what was in store for them — and she would have the tools: the kitchen knife the size of her forearm, the bottle of Seconal to quiet the voices and bring calm, the Bugles to replenish strength. Yes, Sally’s got a lot to learn, but Grandma has much to teach.
[Yikes, this is getting darker than the Cinderella pitch. Let’s distract ourselves from the gloom for a moment by wondering where Sally learned to talk like Samantha from Sex and the City all of the sudden. That was weird, right? We blame Mystery Date.]
9. Dr. Greg Harris (last week: not ranked)
“Look, if I wanted to eat steak, I’d go back to Vietnam. We have a lot of steak there. I’m just going to make this bologna sandwich and show Kevin here how good Daddy is with this hands. Now watch me, little buddy, as I dip the knife in the jar — oops, wrong jar, wanted the mayo, not the mustard! — OK, now the mayo, great, watch how I even spread it on the top slice, just so … GODDAMN IT! I cut myself. Daddy’s sorry he yelled. Why do they make these butter knives so damn sharp? So now Daddy’s wrapping a napkin around his hurty hand, just like he does in the Army, and now he’s going back to spread the mayo, a nice, even layer, not too thick … FUCKFUCKFUCK. [Throws jar against the wall] Why is this bread so thin?! Is this not Wonder? Cut a hole right into it, the mayo’s just going to squirt out when you eat the sandwich, that’s all wrong! Joanie, give me another piece of bread. Now. Good. So, watch, little Kev, one more time, I spread it nice and evenly, always the bread side, never the bologna side. You know who’s a good man? Daddy’s a good man! He has docs and medics who all depend on him, they look up to him for his skill and leadership, and he’s the best tipper at the brothel — ha ha, just kidding honey! — JESUS H. CHRIST IN A TIGER CAGE WHY DOES THIS BREAD KEEP COMING APART?!! I’M A GOOD MAN!” [Storms out of apartment, slams door, reenlists for five more years]
10. Inappropriate Accordion Guy (last week: not ranked
“You know, Joanie plays the accordion!”
Not ranked: Lane Pryce, Harry Crane, Stan Rizzo, Kenny Cosgrove, Trudy Campbell, Bert Cooper, Dawn, Dawn’s note, Andrea the Horny Freelancer, striking mechanics, more wrenches, Baby Kevin, the murdered nurses, Schafer beer, $400, Joyce, the crime scene photos, Ma Holloway, Bugles, Seconal, the busy waiter, Duck Phillips, LBJ, the burglar alarm, orange juice, the receptionist whose name we can never remember, acting like a man, Lincoln Center, Abe Drexler, the steps or the balcony.