Mad Men Power Rankings: Episode 510, ‘Christmas Waltz’

David T. Cole/Grantland illustration Mad Men Power Rankings

[Production note: Previously on Mad Men Power Rankings … A French-Canadian siren sings a very catchy song and eventually quits her advertising job … Pete Campbell and Lane Pryce come to blows in a conference room … Roger Sterling gets a blowie at an awards ceremony … something about hobos from a long time ago … an untouched glass of orange sherbet in an upstate HoJo’s … a $250,000 version of “Tomorrow Never Knows.”

Last week’s Rankings can be found here.]

1. Don Draper (last week: 1)

Admit it. Go on. You know you want to.

You desperately ached for Don, feeling a booze-lubricated stirring in his long-dormant oats-sowing machine, to stop fighting the irresistible violence of its firing pistons and steam-belching exhaust pipes and finally — finally — sleep with Joan. And their congress would have been magnificent, all broken vases and overturned couches and splintered credenzas and fat lips and underthings shredded as if pre-treated with bacon extract and set upon by starving mongrels in an alley of a São Paolo slum. These two have chemistry they’ve never been allowed to weaponize for fear it would reduce their soundstage to smoldering rubble and send the rest of the cast scrambling for gigs on a CBS horny-doctor procedural or some USA thing about a psychic accountant within two episodes of their universe-realigning intercourse. And we got so close, didn’t we? Maybe it would’ve marked the beginning of the end of everything, maybe it wouldn’t have. But we’re not going to find out the answer this week. Or possibly ever. It’s probably better this way, with the explosives defused by some flowers, a meaningful card, and the knowledge that this is how things have to be. Remember, a few weeks ago Don murdered a lady with his bare hands just for showing up in his dream. Who can say what destruction detonating a five-megaton Joan bomb in the vicinity of 73rd and Park Avenue would have wrought?

Don Draper Fingerbang Threat Level: Cold Spaghetti
Megan said she was going to clean it up after he’d finished eating. Finished a plate of cold spaghetti, which she had prepared for him, hoped to eat with him, and sat angrily beside while waiting for a phone call disclosing his whereabouts that never came. But now that he’d dutifully cleaned his plate as they’d sat in mostly tense silence, she’d gone off to bed and left the mess on the floor, a mess of unwanted noodles and shards of porcelain.

“Megan! You want me to clean this up?” No answer. So, yes.

Don grabs a dustpan from the kitchen and bends over to shovel up the mess. Eight glasses’ worth of whiskey goes sloshing toward his head, tells him maybe it’s a better idea to sit down. He slumps to the floor, swallows down some bile before it can catalyze a reverse-peristaltic chain reaction, closes his eyes for an instant. How did this go so wrong? He came home to her, even if he’d forgotten to call. And even then he was sure that Megan’s histrionics about feeling like an idiot waiting for a guy who doesn’t give a shit about anybody — low blow, low blow — was just her latest attempt to fire herself up for a sprawling quickie on the cold kitchen tile. Yeah, no. That’s not what this is.

Don picks up a handful of clammy noodles, holds it up for inspection. Who the hell asked for spaghetti, anyway? Right? Didn’t they already have Italian this week? He wiggles it around, watches it shimmy limply in his grasp. Spaghetti: It’s what’s for dinner the one fucking time you don’t call, he pitches. He raises his other hand, first running his fingers through the dangling, disappointing pasta, but then he’s jabbing at it with the ineffectual force of someone who’s suddenly angry at a curtain. Why didn’t he call, why did he ask Joanie to dance, why couldn’t he have just asked Megan to go for a Jaguar joyride, why are his goddamn digits all tangled up in tepid Ronzoni right now? He stabs at a large piece of broken plate, shattering it, then another, and then another, until there’s no more plate to break. He shakes the spaghetti off his fingers, letting it fall to the floor. He’ll clean it up later.

Or maybe Megan will in the morning. Someone will.

2. Joan Holloway (last week: not ranked)

Should Joan have been co–no. 1 with Don? You could make the case, even if we’re not going that way. She was served with divorce papers by the world’s worst field surgeon (why isn’t that guy dead yet? We’re waiting patiently for a somber telegram), blew up at Meredith the Idiot Receptionist for letting the process server through SCDP’s Maginot Line–quality defenses, knocked the tiny plane from its pedestal, engaged in some light domestic role-play to get a free ride in a Jaguar, sized up a schlub at the bar, looked pretty good in front of a jukebox. She had a week, the kind of week you pray for when Matthew Weiner puts her on the bench for a game to rotate in some characters who needed the reps, because Quality Joan Time is always a special thing. In the Olden Days of five seasons ago, it felt like entire episodes were spent tracking Joan’s slinky route through the old office, her commanding promenade like a special effect, a tick faster than slow motion. Or maybe that’s just how we remember it. In any case, last night’s scene at the bar instantly registers as an all-time favorite, as Don and Joanie brought us to the brink of obliteration, with nothing holding them back but the principle of Mutually Assured Coital Destruction that always keeps their sexual cold war from going nuclear (and maybe Don’s “perfect” wife, who would soon be shouting at him over a plate of pasta).

3. Megan Calvet Draper (last week: 4)

Though it was a light week for Megan, we knew she was top of mind, even if Don was too drunk/otherwise engaged for the courtesy of a phone call. Why drag him to garbage like American Hurrah to be punched in the face with its subtle anti-capitalist message? “People buy things because it makes them feel better,” he explains, rolling out the defensive mantra of any adman who’s spent a minute considering his place in the world. That’s what she abandoned her innate talent for? He’d probably prefer that shit where everyone’s standing around a black box theater channeling their inner ficus; at least that’s not a reminder of her recent stand against advertising. In the end, though, she does remind him that he loved The Game long before she played it, so he can’t blame his workday malaise on her absence anymore, inspiring him to reengage, at least for the moment, and give that Pattonesque speech to his troops. Never before had a conference room full of soldiers seemed so inspired to surrender their holidays chasing an elusive, and now crucial, piece of new business. So let’s give Megan due credit for that.

4. Harry Crane (last week: unranked)

Just when we’re ready to write off Harry Crane as the quintessential office schmuck, a little-seen punchline who appears only to reinforce, hilariously, his unparalleled schmuckiness, Matthew Weiner gives him extended screen time to make us realize he’s a complicated schmuck. He tries to dodge Hare Krishney (krishney krishney) and gets briefly entangled in Paul’s new world of terrible Star Trek specs and brainwashing femme fatales, ultimately trying to spring his old friend from a life of tambourines and surprisingly comfortable cultwear. He easily could’ve told the truth about the poor structure and flat dialogue in Paul’s script and sent him back to the Krishnas, but instead he offers him $500 to chase his crazy Roddenberrian dreams far away from the sarong-clad loonies. There’s a decent enough guy in there, somewhere, when he’s not bending a mother over his desk, assuring himself that this kind of thing is totally cool in their religion.

5. Lane Pryce (last week: not ranked)

We suppose it’s time to begin seriously worrying about Mr. Pryce. In a season that always seems to be nodding toward that silhouette plunging toward the Madison Avenue pavement, have we finally found our jumper? Is embezzlement ever the best way to go? His debts need to be paid, but there’s no way raiding the firm’s checkbook can end well. Even if the Mohawk strike ends and the Jaguar business comes in, someone’s going to notice he took the (fictional) Christmas bonus the partners deferred, that unexplained $50,000 line of credit.

The saddest part of it all is that he probably could’ve raised the money just by fleecing Roger. He’s an easy mark these days. Cobra in a fucking basket, man.

6. Paul Kinsey (last week: not ranked)

Coverage of Paul Kinsey’s “The Negron Complex”

SUMMARY: The Starship Enterprise answers a distress beacon from an escaped member of the Negrons [Note: They are white], a race enslaved by the powerful Kakazaans. When the impulsive Scotty decides to transport himself into the Kakazaan slave ship in an attempt to free the Negrons from their servitude, the crew of the Enterprise must decide whether to ignore the Prime Directive and try to free the Negrons or merely retrieve their rogue engineer.

ANALYSIS: Writer shows little flair for characterization or dialogue and a near-total ignorance of structure. Captain Kirk is killed in the cold open and is immediately replaced by Ensign Kinsey, a “rakishly handsome genius/seeker whom Kirk had been secretly grooming as his successor for years, unbeknownst to the rest of the Enterprise staff,” an unbelievable breech of Starfleet protocol. A graphically described orgy in the captain’s quarters involving Kinsey, Uhura, Sulu, and the seven-breasted, five-vaginaed Negron escapee certainly violates all conceivable network standards of decency. The sudden appearance of Batman in Act 10 is unmotivated and absurd, as is his unexplained use of heat vision to incinerate a Kakazaan lizard-guard. At one point Ensign Kinsey shows his penis to Spock for no discernible reason.

The entire 145-page script is typed in what seems to be the house font of the A&P grocery chain. In fact, the last 10 pages are printed on various coupon circulars, making them nearly impossible to read.


7. Mother Lakshmi Bennett (last week: not ranked)

“Take me like this.”

8. Pete Campbell (last week: 8 )

“Last year at this time, whether you knew it or not, the survival of this company was on the line. I look at the faces in this room who have given their all to this tenuous recovery and I say: Prepare to take a great. Leap. Forward. Prepare to swim the English Channel and then drown in champagne. There are six weekends between now and the pitch. We are going to spend them all here. We will celebrate Christmas here, we will ring in the new year together. And in the end we will represent Jaguar and it WILL be worth it. Every agency on Madison Avenue is defined by the moment they got their car. When we land Jaguar, the world will know we’ve arrived. And I, Pete Campbell, Head of Accounts, will have led you there!”

Just as Meredith, Joan, and Scarlett move in for a kiss, the wild cheers of his co-workers crescendo and Pete finishes with a throaty, strangled moan. He looks down at the sticky throw pillow in his lap, tosses it aside in disgust. He quickly cleans up with a handkerchief, collects his briefcase, and hustles out the door. He can still catch the 5:38 if he hurries.

9. Roger Sterling (last week: 3)

Roger Sterling has the week off to drunkenly celebrate Pearl Harbor Day and leave Joanie alone with cards from other men. He’s been working hard lately; let’s not begrudge him the down time.

10. Meredith the Idiot Receptionist and the Tiny Plane on the Pedestal (tie) (last week: not ranked)

If you’re not going to perform your basic job function, you can’t really be surprised when someone throws a tiny plane at you.

Not ranked: Peggy Olson, Bert Cooper, Kenny Cosgrove, Rebecca Pryce, Scarlett, Dawn, Caroline, Walt Jarvis, Anthony Marsh, the Jaguar XKE and Mark II, the process server, Doctor Captain Greg Harris, the Russians, Edwin Baker, the $7,500 check, Mohawk, the missionary position, the car salesman, Peter Scolari’s penis, the clean jobs bill, the incorrect secret whore, Leonard Nimoy.

Filed Under: Mad Men, Christina Hendricks, Fingerbang Threat Level, Jessica Pare, AMC, Jon Hamm, Vincent Kartheiser, Mad Men Power Rankings, Mark Lisanti

Mark Lisanti is an editor at Grantland.

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