Mad Men Power Rankings: Episode 505, ‘Signal 30’David T. Cole/Grantland illustration
[Production notes: How great was this episode? Feels like an instant all-timer, right up there with the suitcase, the tractor, and the Season 5 DVD outtakes of the makeup department entombing January Jones in the Fat Betty suit. Amazing. We should probably just quit right here. But we’re not going to, because letting you down is an important part of our journey together. So as they say: Here goes nothing.
Last week’s Power Rankings can be found here.]
1. Don Draper (last week: 1)
The jury is still out on whether or not we like this new, content, dick-safely-inside-pants-except-when-he’s-had-some-drinks-and-a-baby-makes-him-horny version of Don Draper. Indeed, in real life we’d admire his hard-won fidelity, but inside the TV box, come on, dude, that brothel full of “college girls” was a Get Out Of Marital Monogamy Free card. What happens in Madame Giselle’s whorehouse stays in Madame Giselle’s whorehouse, as the book of matches on the bar clearly states. (By the way, don’t take those home.) Dance for us, once delightfully amoral fuck-monkey! And by dance, we mean, well, we just said the bad word in the previous sentence; let’s not burn it out in the first paragraph. But you know what we mean. When you get down to it, isn’t Pete Campbell right to resent him, to simultaneously worship and despise him? Don spent years establishing himself as the caddish role model atop the agency totem pole, and now that Pete can almost taste the Brylcreem and rye, the boss is all, “Not cool, bro”; all shade-casting* side-eye** when Campbell decides to pay for some — in a totally legitimate business context, it should be noted. And this after Don was the guest of honor in Pete’s house, the big “get” whom Trudy wouldn’t let wriggle away, no matter how far down the Other Things I Need To Do Instead Of Attending Your Nightmare Suburban Dinner Party Excuse List he was willing to go. And then Don lets Pete get his ass whupped by a dandy using old-timey fisticuffs technique! What was that Queensberry bullshit? This is the kind of thing that happens when Don Draper is stable, too fat and happy. Remember how he dream-murdered that lady last week? When is that guy gonna wake up, hop in the Cadillac, and not stop driving until he’s an oddly magnetic, lantern-jawed Armenian mechanic in Glendale named “Drick Whitmanian”?
Yeah, we have very complicated feelings about all of this. We’re still working through them; bear with us. These Don sections always turn out a little dicey.
[*The kids still say this, right?]
[**And this? Yes?]
Don Draper Fingerbang Threat Level: Super Mario
“Ohhhh! Ohhhhhhh! Come quick!”
They all file into the kitchen, where Trudy stands admiring the cold-water geyser erupting from her new sink, the one her husband, in an utterly unexpected display of handiness, had “repaired” last night. In truth, she’d expected the debut of Cos Cob Old Faithful hours ago, perhaps accompanied by a waterlogged crater opening in the linoleum below and swallowing the entire house. Pete’s a lot of things, but “useful” isn’t necessarily one of them.
“I fixed that!” says Pete, already in the hall closet, hunting down the toolbox he’d recently bought at the True Value. Did he need 15 screwdrivers? Maybe, maybe not. You never know. Better armed-with-seven-different-sizes-of-Phillips than sorry.
He returns to the kitchen, where Don is already manually inspecting the geyser’s source. Pete sets down the toolbox and begins randomly picking up and considering items. A trowel? Probably not the right choice. An awl? Maybe he could punch a hole in the sink’s neck, relieve some of the pressure causing the water to erupt ceilingward. WD-40? Lubrication did not seem to be the problem. Especially now that Don had stripped off the Oxford Trudy was holding for him. Hey, why was his shirt off? And did Trudy just sneak a whiff of it? They’ll be talking about this later.
“I’ve got it, Don,” he says, weakly, holding a fistful of loose Allen wrenches for some reason. “I fixed it last night.”
“Pete,” Don says. “I’ve got this. I grew up with this.”
“Shhh.” Now Don peels off his undershirt, sopping wet from the gushing water. “Hold this, too, would you?” He hands it to Trudy. It’s in her mouth instantly. Pete squeaks an inaudible disapproval. “I’m going to fix the sink now.”
Don reaches into the toolbox and withdraws the can of WD-40, liberally coating his fingers with it.
“Why do that? Everything’s soaking wet already.” Trudy giggles. Megan smirks, like a child hiding a secret.
“Always lubricate, Pete. Always.” Kenny Cosgrove faints dead away. Cynthia steps over him to get a better view.
In the blink of an eye — half that, really; an eye-blink is an eternity at times like these — Don is knuckle-deep in the faucet. Thrusting. Withdrawing. Then thrusting again, deeper. Pete silently offers him a ball-peen hammer. The gesture isn’t ignored; it’s not noticed. A man is at work.
One more thrust. The geyser subsides, then disappears. Fixed.
“That should do her.” He gently withdraws his undershirt from Trudy’s mouth, mops his brow with it.
Pete tosses the hammer into the toolbox. “Great. You wanna chop some wood now, Don Bunyan?”
“What do you think I was doing while you were showing Kenny your hi-fi? You’re set through October.”
“Thanks.” Pete slumps into a chair.
“You’re welcome.” Don buttons up his shirt. He steps over Kenny, who’s now drooling lightly on the linoleum. “I’m gonna freshen up my drink, if you don’t mind.”
“Sure.” Pete looks over at the toolbox. Don tosses his wet T-shirt onto it and disappears into the living room.
A man is at work.
2. Lane Pryce (last week: not ranked)
This is what Lane Pryce’s night looked like: England wins the World Cup; he brings in the Jaguar business; he nearly loses the Jaguar business over dinner; Don, Pete, and Roger try to save the Jaguar business; he loses the Jaguar business because Don, Pete, and Roger tried to save the Jaguar business with hookers; Pete Campbell tells him he’s been useless ever since he fired them all at the old firm; he doffs his jacket, rolls up his sleeves, and KICKS THE LIVING SHIT OUT OF PETE CAMPBELL!; Joanie brings him an ice bucket, so that he can treat the swelling in his hand, a side effect of HAVING KICKED THE LIVING SHIT OUT OF PETE CAMPBELL!; he kisses Joanie, the sweet taste of Pete Campbell’s bloody knuckles still on his lips.
Cobra in a basket, motherfuckers.
3. Roger Sterling (last week: 5)
The Roger Sterling Eight-Step Guide To Closing The Deal:
- 1. Take the prospective client to dinner, on the company tab, in hopes of getting him to reveal the correct answer to the RFP.
- 2. Lying won’t get you anywhere. You think it will, but it won’t.
- 3. Order a Scotch rocks and water. Drink half of it, then wait until it turns see-through.
- 4. Order another round. Smile and sit there like you’ve got no place to go.
- 5. Get mega-shitfaced and just talk about whatever.
- 6. ???
- 7. Hookers.
- 8. Check for chewing gum on the pubis.
4. Peggy Olson (last week: 2)
Having serviced her so generously last week (go ahead and snicker, you 12-year-old monster) with one of her best-ever episodes, Matthew Weiner essentially gave Peggy the night off to make room in the lineup for a couple of his bench guys. And so we get Lane Pryce picking chunks of Pete Campbell out of his fists, Kenny Cosgrove and whatshername, it’ll come to us, and Trudy Homemaker Campbell with some high-quality screen time. We’d like to imagine that in one of her off-camera moments, she was hanging out in the copywriters’ office with Stan Rizzo, a captive audience for his Cirque du Soleil–quality autofellatic contortions. (He almost got there. Almost.) Boys will be boys! She’ll be back next week, though the Sphinx itself could go Thebes-shittingly insane trying to make sense of Weiner’s deliberately opaque “scenes from next week” riddles.
5. Joan Holloway (last week: 3)
Joanie’s return to the office is a joyous occasion for us all. Huzzah! We knew it wouldn’t be long before she rejoined the workforce after kicking Dr. Dumbfingers back to a curb in Ho Chi Minh City, happy to raise not-his-baby by herself. And she hasn’t missed a step: running the partners’ meeting, providing ice for when the partners’ meeting debate devolves into hand-to-hand combat (though one imagines her merely tossing a raw steak into Pete’s office as she sashays by), and gracefully deflecting the awkward come-on of a man who really needed the ego boost of a kiss. “I’m sorry.” “About what? Everyone in this office has wanted to do that … to Pete Campbell.” Yeah, she’s been here before. She’s a pro at handling these situations.
And now she’s back at work, alongside the father of her child. Jane Sterling’s got to be sweating a little. It’s OK, though; she’ll get one of the houses in the divorce.
6. Pete Campbell (last week: 4)
“Oh, honey, you’ve had such a hard day.”
“Um … this is my first time. I’m kind of nervous.”
“You’re my king!”
“You’re my big, powerful king. No, you’re my emperor?”
“You are the master of my universe! Take me now, Ming the Erotically Merciless!”
“Uhhh … You’re my sexual Jesus! Save me from my naughty sins, my Lord.”
“Oh, God no.”
“Paging Dr. Handsome? There’s an emergency in his bed that needs immediate attention.”
“If I had really wanted to be a doctor, I could have.”
“You can be anything you want. How about an architect? Architects are sexy.”
“Can I, though? Can I?”
“Look … ”
“Tell me I’m the best Accounts man in the world.”
“Like an accountant?”
“No, not like an accountant!”
“Baby, you’re the greatest Accountsman I’ve ever seen!”
“Better than Roger Sterling?”
“So much better!”
“And Don Draper? Well, he’s not Accounts, but—”
“You know Don?”
“I HAVE NOTHING!!!”
“Oh my God, I’m so sorry—”
“I WANT THE BIG STEAK! THE BIG STEAK IS FOR ME!”
“Sure, baby. Whatever steak you want.”
“Just stroke my hair for a little while.”
“I like it medium rare. Not too bloody.”
“You got it, baby. But maybe stop crying, OK?”
Blue Suit Watch: He wore the Blue Suit!
7. Ken Cosgrove (last week: not ranked)
This is the bleakest thing anyone’s ever said to Kenny Cosgrove: “As a fellow unappreciated author and friend, when this job is good, it satisfies every need. Believe me, I remember.” Maybe Kenny wants a little more out of life than servicing accounts. Sure, they were both operating in certain genre niches, with Roger working the erotic-coming-of-age-memoir-cum-professional-guidebook space, and Kenny in the fantasy/sci-fi realm, but there’s a huge difference between vanity publishing and the hallowed pages of Galaxy. Was Farrar, Straus looking to reprint Sterling’s Gold? No, not even pulling out the Blankenship chapters for a bodice-ripper called Sexual Perversity on Madison Avenue. (Though that’s actually not a terrible idea.) Stories like The Punishment of X-4 need to be told. And Kenny Cosgrove’s going to tell them, even if it means killing Ben Hargrove and starting over.
8. Ben Hargrove (R.I.P.: 1962-1966) and Dave Algonquin (tie) (last week: not ranked)
“The Man with the Miniature Orchestra,” by Dave Algonquin
“There were phrases of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony that still made Cole cry. He always thought it had to do with the circumstances of the composition itself. He imagined Beethoven, deaf and soul-sick, his heart broken, scribbling furiously while Death stood in the doorway, clipping his nails. Still, Cole thought, it might have been living in the country that was making him cry. It was killing him with its silence and loneliness. Making everything ordinary, too beautiful to bear.
“But yet he knew the job that lay before him, too important to be ignored, even if the country was making him feel small, insignificant, lost. He must repair the Miniature Orchestra, bequeathed to him by B’Neez-Alook Zarr, the Elder from Rangoork VI whose Transport Pod had crashed into Cole’s garage the previous evening. It hadn’t been easy to convince Marcia that the hole in the garage roof had been caused by an overburdened tree branch finally giving way, but eventually she relented, and Cole was able to spend some unsupervised “repair time” alone with the Elder, receiving maddeningly vague instructions on how to fix the Orchestra and signal the Rangoorkians to retrieve Zarr’s soon-to-be-lifeless form. But Beethoven would be his touchstone, his muse, as he attempted to restring tiny cellos, fuse together the shattered tubes of the Grammulon, an alien hybrid of a bassoon and a pipe organ which, when properly played, would send beautiful music through the universe on a frequency only discernible to the High Beings. Yes, he knew Beethoven’s loneliness, felt it in his bones. But Zarr would have really loved the Ninth Symphony if he’d lived long enough for Cole to get the record on the hi-fi.”
9. Edwin Baker (last week: not ranked)
There’s a reason Roger Sterling’s Guide to Closing the Deal has an eighth step, Edwin. Always — and we can’t stress this enough — always check the pubis for chewing gum. Even better: Double-check the pubis for chewing gum. You can’t be too careful about this.
10. Jim Hanson (last week: not ranked)
Jim Handsome Fingerbang Threat Level: Signal 30. (Under the skirt, during a film about gruesome highway deaths.)
Not ranked: Megan Calvet Draper, Trudy Campbell, Cynthia! Cosgrove, Jenny Gunther, the Jaguar XKE, Stan Rizzo, Michael Ginsberg, Daphne the hooker, Madame Giselle, the ice bucket, Dawn Chambers, Bert Cooper, Harry Crane, Fat Betty Francis, Henry Francis, Sally Draper, Fourth Bobby, Rebecca Pryce, Mrs. Baker, Ma Holloway, Holy Cross, Charles Whitten, Pete’s rifle, Charles Whitman, the English soccer team, Wilt Chamberlain, the drippy faucet, vanilla extract.