Mad Men Power Rankings: Episode 509, ‘Dark Shadows’

David T. Cole/Grantland illustration Mad Men Power Rankings

[Production note: Does it completely disorient you to watch a Thanksgiving episode in early May? And, to make it even more temporally upsetting, to watch a Thanksgiving episode on Mother’s Day? Is it just us? Are we weak of constitution and fragile of mind? All we know is that we want some canned cranberry sauce right now, as these Rankings spill forth like so much rotten fruit from our overflowing mind-cornucopia. Shut up, it’s late, we should be asleep. Next to a can of cranberry sauce. We’re not letting that go until we get some.

Last week’s Power Rankings can be found here.]

1. Don Draper (last week: 2)

Here’s the thing about the weeks following those history-making, paradigm-shifting Rankings in which Don slips on the banana peel of Fate and momentarily stumbles into the second position: Order is always, always swiftly restored to the Draperverse; we’re not sure what would happen if Our Hero weren’t allowed to immediately scramble back to the top of the Power Pyramid, but we imagine that a theoretical second consecutive Monday morning of two-slottedness would involve so much grief-vomiting into a fedora that we’d require an intravenous drip of one part rye to three parts Four Loko just to get straight long enough to mash out a suicide note. (We take this show very seriously.) Thank Anna Draper in Heaven that the Creator (Matthew Weiner) allowed Don to scramble back to his feet after last week’s existential knockout, even if he hasn’t completely regained his footing (and probably never will).

Even so, we’re glad to be presented with a Don Draper who’s (somewhat pettily, desperately) reengaged with work after being fed up with so many Michael Ginsberg credits on campaign storyboards, who deals sensitively with Sally’s questions about Anna (albeit with Megan’s patient advice), who hangs up on Pete when he tries to ruin a Sunday morning with his petulant bitchfacery. (Don’t try to dump your failures in his lap, dude. Do you want Don to come over there, strip off his shirt, and reupholster your couch? It’s Sunday, for Chrissakes, spend a couple of hours getting angry at the crossword instead, maybe ask Trudy to squeeze you some juice you don’t actually want.) So it’s not exactly like Don is back atop the world, but these are complicated times, and we’ll take it. There was, however, a conflict-craving part of us that wished Megan’s advice not to give Betty any satisfaction over her craven attempt to remotely open the Dick Whitman Box O’Secrets in their Manhattan living room had fallen on deaf ears; we bet the scene following that fight would’ve been a doozy, with Henry Francis — tiptoeing down to the kitchen to sneak a late-night steak — stumbling upon his wife’s trembling body on the floor, a telephone receiver in one hand, five spent cans of Reddi-wip circling the other. That desire probably makes us bad people, but so be it. The Power Rankings are an ugly game sometimes.

Don Draper Fingerbang Threat Level: Sno Balls
Ginsberg, like a ghost haunting an ugly plaid coat, slips between the elevator doors an instant before they slide shut, taking his place next to Don.
“I know you saw me.”
“I thought you were hiding from someone.”
“That was a bold last-minute decision, going with your idea.”
“I thought it was more what they wanted.”
“Well, we’re never know, will we? Because they never heard mine.”
“Look, I don’t like going in with two ideas. It’s weak.”
“And you don’t want to be weak, so you pick yours.”
“And they bought it, which is our goal, isn’t it?”
“What do I care? I got a million of them. A million.”
“Good. I guess I’m lucky you work for me.”
“I feel bad for you.”
“I don’t think about you at all.”
The bell dings, the doors slide open, ready to disgorge their passengers. Don doesn’t get out. The doors slide shut.
“Wasn’t that your floor?”
The instant the words have left his lips, Don is upon him, spinning Ginsberg around and pinning him in the corner. The alarm bell drones.
“Let’s hear them.”
“Hear what?”
“Your one million ideas.”
Impossibly, Don’s already four fingers deep inside him. Ginsberg gasps, convinced he can feel a well-manicured fingernail tickling the back of his throat, the cold of a wedding ring against his tonsils.
“You know, a million’s more of an expression than an accurate accounting.”
“One million ideas. Go. One.”
“A beautiful woman’s walking down a rainy street on a miserable, wet day. Everyone’s frowning, rushing to work, getting soaked. But she has a bounce in her step. She’s somehow happy. She smiles. And the sparkle from her smile floats up above her and deflects the rain. ‘Colgate. Let a smile be your umbrella.'”
“Not bad. Two.” Don removes a finger. Ginsberg moans with incremental relief.
“A bunch of secretaries sit down in the typing pool. They’ve just gotten to work, they take off their shoes, complain about how uncomfortable they are, rub their aching feet. But one lady’s already typing away, happy as can be. ‘Don’t your feet hurt?’ they ask her. She shakes her head, removes a shoe, and a little puffy white cloud floats out of it. ‘I wear Dr. Scholl’s. It’s like walking on a cloud.'”
Another finger slides out. “Three.”
“You know, it just occurred to me you don’t have a million fingers.”
One goes right back in. Ginsberg wails in agony.
“They want to sell Manischewitz to Christians! They want to call it Monarch Wine, but I think they should stick with the Manischewitz brand! Tagline: ‘A New Testament in Taste.'”
“Please don’t tell me you have Moses pouring some into the Holy Grail for Jesus.”
“It’s a powerful image, Don.”
Draper looks at his watch impatiently, sighs.
“Fine. Nine hundred and ninety-nine thousand, nine-hundred and ninety-nine.”
“Three words: ‘Clear. Coca. Cola.'”
The doors open. The alarm bells go quiet. Ginsberg turns around, but Don’s already gone.
“I”ll have a million more by Tuesday! A million more!”

2. Somewhat Less Fat Elizabeth Hofstadt Draper Francis (last week: not ranked)

Oh, Betty! Meddling, petty, manipulative, jealous Betty! How we’ve missed the way you light up a scene like the freshly ignited tip of a Lucky Strike. Yes, we still couldn’t help but spend a minimum of 50 percent of your screen time scrutinizing your modified, making-some-progress-in-Weight Watchers fat suit, and that’s going to be a given until your character’s made enough progress in portion control to finally be freed of your latex wattle-shackles, but at least you kept things interesting trying to destroy your ex-husband’s domestic bliss with his newer, skinnier, bustier bride. That tossed off, yet elegant, love note (“Lovely Megan, I went to buy a light bulb. When I get back I’ll see you better”) you found provided enough rancid motivation to load up Sally’s backpack with emotional explosives and dispatch her on a suicide mission to 73rd and Park, but Megan quickly recognized the threat and defused it before Don could trigger the bomb by angrily dialing the 914 Westchester area code. And let us not forget what will be looked back upon as one of the greatest scenes in Mad Men history, one that will even dispatch that briefly iconic box of Bugles to the margins of feelings-eating history: Your rushing to the refrigerator to deep-throat a can of Reddi-wip, hoping to erase the pain, however fleetingly, with the whippets of Despair. Some will argue that you intended only a dalliance with the canister’s creamy, points-obliterating payload, but we know what you were really up to. We won’t begrudge you that moment of sweet, sweet oblivion. See you again two or three weeks — and a dramatically reduced fat-suit size — from now.

Oh, and let’s not forget the world’s best Thanksgiving blessing. “I’m thankful that I have everything I want and that no one has anything better.” Yeah, your kids will grow up fine.

3. Roger Sterling (last week: 3)

There’s nothing more fun than a revitalized Roger Sterling, even when he’s sneaking around behind Pete Campbell’s back in trying to land the Manischewitz campaign, or pimping out Jane for her once-undesirable Jewishness, or once again peeling hundreds off his wad to bribe a copywriter for some after-hours creative. Especially when he’s doing those things. We’re long past Sterling’s Golden Age, but Roger’s still got enough life in him to fill up a few more memoir pages with LSD trips, awards-dinner blow jobs, and ill-advised, incredibly expensive ex-sex. And this line would’ve made the cut in every Sterling epoch: “When a man hates another man very, very much, sometimes he wants to know that something is his, even if in the end he has to give it up.” Not the pithiest turn of phrase, but a sentiment flexible enough to be applied to a coveted wine account or a recently discarded trophy wife who got a little too flirty with a prospective client’s handsome son.

4. Megan Draper (last week: 1)

Don writes Megan a perfectly composed, two-line love poem, and all he gets in return is “Gone to get bagels, *heart* M”? How about, “Gone to get bagels. When I return, we’ll fill the holes with our love”? Or “Gone to get bagels, bringing home a schmear for my schweetie.” Maybe, “Gone to get bagels. When I get back, I’ll slather you in cream cheese and toss smoked salmon at your manly chest”? You know what? This is harder than it looks. She gets a pass. Even if she’s haughtily dismissive of the writing on Dark Shadows. Not everyone’s got a fancy apartment and a rich husband, you know. Sometimes you’ve got to eat chuck to keep from starving.

5. Sally Draper (last week: not ranked)

Sally Draper Patricide and/or Matricide Watch: Sally Draper doesn’t take kindly to being the pawn in someone else’s game of thrones. Taking Megan’s counsel, Don wisely leveled with her when confronted with the Anna situation, explaining the relationship patiently and apologizing for making a little girl deal with their messy grown-up problems. However, with Don safe for the moment, Betty should be watching her back. We could easily see a suspiciously calm, submissive Sally serving her mother Weight Watchers’ approved Thanksgiving portions, all the while surreptitiously cradling a steak knife and eyeing a vulnerable spot on Mommy Lannister’s exposed, if latex-armored, neck. Dinner is coming.

6. Michael Ginsberg (last week: 7)

Please see today’s Don Draper Fingerbang Threat Level for what happens when a Martian copywriter attempts to threaten a cornered boss at million-ideas-point after acting a little too surprised that his detached, onetime hero can still muster an “actually good” idea from time to time. He might as well have remarked, “Wow, you can still get it up? I’m impressed — good to know!” after stumbling upon one of Don and Megan’s office quickies.

7. Peggy Olson (last week: 4)

Whining to Roger that he’s secretly contracting some other copywriter for his clandestine accounts work was not Peggy’s proudest moment. “I’m not an airplane, either. I can write for anything,” she snips at Sterling’s explanation that he needed to break out the big Semitic guns to court Manischewitz. Yeah, well, it’s every man for himself. And every woman, too. Also, your side-work quote’s too high. He can get Ginsberg for wipe-his-ass money.

8. Pete Campbell (last week: 5)

And in other “we’ve seen prouder moments” news, we have Pete Campbell fantasizing that his (ultimately failed) New York Times Magazine profile lured a lust-crazed Beth Dawes to his office for a reckless nooner, then lashing out at the openly philandering Howard about how Pete would like to go to his house and tenderize his wife’s Butterball while he spends Thanksgiving with his mistress in the city. But Pete’s considered such a non-threat (or Howard’s just that checked out of his marriage) that he merely shrugs off the suggestion with a “Good luck with that.” What’s a guy who’s desperate to feel something gotta do to get socked in the chops around here, threaten to fuck the turkey?

9. Jane Sterling (last week: not ranked)

There are worse ways to get a new apartment than to sit through a single business dinner. Unfortunately, you have to remember not to immediately ruin that new apartment with any hasty housewarming sex.

10. A Big Blue Whale With a Bunch of Arrows in It

First of all, why arrows? Aren’t harpoons the whale-slaying weapon of choice? Did Queequeg prance around the deck of the Pequod like some sea-salt-encrusted Katniss Everdeen? And Betty makes an excellent point: Why is the whale smiling? Blood is gushing from those arrow holes. He’s obviously in agony and will be dead soon. If that grin’s meant to be some kind of death rictus, it’s a piss-poor evocation of one. Lastly, given Matthew Weiner’s love of obviously meaningful imagery, was Bobby just crudely illustrating a murder fantasy about his still-portly mother? If so, we’ll forgive the ineptness of the technique and tip our cap to the directness of the presentation. Well played. And hurry up; Sally’s already got a steak knife.

Not ranked: Stan Rizzo; Bert Cooper; Bobby Draper; Henry Francis; Joan Holloway; Edith Huff; Max, Amelia, and Bernie Rosenberg; Anna Draper; Julia the actress; Beth and Howard Dawes; Judy Steckler; Katherine with a K; the colored pencils; Sno Balls; canned cranberry sauce; Bobby’s messy homework; Peter, Paul and Mary; the Devil; Hitler; the light bulb; a bag of bagels; LSD promises; midnight steak.

Filed Under: Mad Men, AMC, elisabeth moss, Fingerbang Threat Level, Jessica Pare, John Slattery, Jon Hamm, Mad Men Power Rankings, Mark Lisanti

Mark Lisanti is an editor at Grantland.

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