[Previously on Mad Men Power Rankings: Don finally gets some time off … Teddy and Pete head for warmer climes … Peggy gets a little personal space … Roger brings the cranberry sauce to Thanksgiving … Bob Benson learns to love Detroit.]
1. Don Draper (end of last season: 1)
What’s that we hear? The wailing of outrage? Before we even get started in earnest on a new (and final!) season of Power Rankings? (Well, half season. There are many mouths to feed at AMC, and it’s not like spies in powdered wigs are going to put any fatted geese on the table. Bold programming move, though. Related: Has anyone seen Turn? No? I bet Ken Cosgrove is into it. But we digress.)
Let’s reset. It’s a new (and final!) (well, half) season, and that means Don Draper starts at the top. No. 1. This is not open for negotiation, even if you point out that he’s been temporarily suspended from the advertising firm he helped create and which bears his name. Or that his wife has moved to Los Angeles to chase her dreams, which increasingly seem as if they no longer include having a dour, self-destructive, philandering husband back in Manhattan. Or that not only has he been suspended from his job, but he’s also lying about that to his wife, doing that weird thing where he pretends he’s got to spend his days visiting the satellite office and has red-eyes to catch back to N.Y. so as not to miss any more of his nonexistent work time. Or that he’s also telling a version of this story to the kind of comely red-eye seatmate whom he normally would have enjoined in hasty and ill-advised acts of sexual congress either (a) underneath a first-class blanket that fellow passengers pretend not to notice is rhythmically undulating, or (b) in the coach-class bathroom, foot braced against a tiny but powerful toilet, just because he wouldn’t want her to think he’s the kind of deadbeat non-job-haver who has unlimited workweek time for depressing quickies with partners who seem not too bothered that his marriage is a disaster.
And then there’s also that thing where he’s coming up with sweet talk that good old Freddy Rumsen’s using to seduce his agency, like Don’s the sad-ass Cyrano de Bergerac of Madison Avenue.
Maybe all of the above doesn’t quite add up to no. 1 for you. You’re entitled to your own math.
But here’s the truth of it: That’s a pretty good watch pitch. We’d all buy an Accutron from him, and Peggy’s willing to kill her New Don over it, not even knowing the divine provenance of the conversation piece. So don’t you tell us who’s no. 1 right now, mister. (Or missus; these are liberated times, just ask Roger.) Don’s still got some gas in the Caddy tank even if it looks like maybe he’s sleeping in the car on nights when crying alone on the balcony seems too pathetic.
This is the (kinda) final season. Don starts on top.
Even if he eventually ends up shattered into a million tiny pieces of shadow-glass on the sidewalk.
Don Draper Fingerbang Threat Level: Broken Vessel
The widow wakes from her nap gently, groggily, head nestled on her seatmate’s shoulder. The plane has begun its descent. She could sleep through the landing, but she’s happy to talk a little more, eyes still squeezed shut, enjoying the company.
“If I were your wife, I wouldn’t like this,” she says.
“She knows I’m a terrible husband.”
“How long have you been married?”
“Not long enough. I really thought I could do it this time.”
“Did she kick you out?”
“No. She doesn’t know that much, but she knows.”
“She doesn’t know, you should just keep it that way. That’s what people do.”
“I keep wondering, have I broken the vessel.” It should be a question, but it’s not.
“If you do, what can you do about it? It’s done.”
She feels him straighten slightly. He’s tense.
“I bet I could make you feel better,” she says.
“I bet you could,” he says.
“There’s a car waiting for me. I can give you a lift.”
She feels him shift in his seat again.
There’s a whisper.
“Tell her you’re sorry, but you have to get back to work.”
“What? Tell who?”
She opens her eyes. She notices her head is resting on the shoulder of a fiftysomething man. Not the shoulder she fell asleep upon an hour ago.
The old man shrugs and points a thumb to the space between their seats. There’s a pair of lips. And two fingers, emerging between the cushions.
“… you HAVE to get BACK to work,” whisper the lips, the fingers punctuating each word with a wiggle.
She grabs the fingers and wrenches them. The lips are replaced by a quivering eyeball.
“You don’t have a job.”
She feels the fingers go limp. She releases them. They disappear back through the seat cushions.
The old man shrugs again.
“Pretty sure he doesn’t.”
The widow leans to the other side of her chair and closes her eyes again. She’ll sleep through the landing. Or at least try to.
T-1. Roger Sterling (end of last season: 6)
“Sterling’s Gold, revised trade paperback edition, 1969. Where were we? Right. There are hippies everywhere. Naked hippies. At least six of them, could be more, I didn’t check the bedroom closet nor the dumbwaiter. It’s entirely possible some tried to escape the debauchery midway through; kids today lack the commitment to follow their desires wherever they take them. They need an experienced guide in the ways of the flesh. I guided an adventurous group of them here, to my bedroom, and now their bodies surround me, broken and heaving, strewn around like fucked-out flotsam washing up on the beach of my unfettered carnality. They all seem to be alive. For now. Barry, the guy in the bed, may not survive the morning, as he wrongheadedly thought he could keep pace with me last night as I explored the outermost reaches of communal sex. Two hours in, he lost his mind and tried to make love to the acoustic guitar in the corner. We were all so high on windowpane, we thought he was playing us a new Dylan song. Oh, he’s stirring. Good. Wait. This is a telephone, not a Dictaphone. Margaret? Honey? Disregard everything Daddy said, he’s just groggy from waking up. Weird dream. See you at brunch in a few hours. Get started without me if I’m late.”
3. Peggy Olson (end of last season: 4)
She’s free of Teddy Chaough, mostly. He went to California to get out of her life, but he’s still showing up for the occasional visit, paler than you would expect, but he’s in an office here, an office there, what’s the difference, Jesus Christ, Stan, do you want any coffee?
She’s free of Don Draper, mostly. He went back to the loneliness of his apartment, where he eats sausages with the Freddy Rumsen sock puppet he uses to deliver pitches from exile. Pitches so great that she’s willing to parachute through the ceiling of her new boss’s office to fight for them, because she’s surrounded by a bunch of hacks who are perfectly happy with shit, nobody cares about anything or wants things to be better, got it, Jesus Christ, Stan, do you want any coffee?
She’s not free of solitary crying jags behind closed apartment doors, having sent her brother-in-law home because he doesn’t like Peggy’s sister alone in the house, and, oh, she’s alone now, and yes, Stan was right, it wasn’t about the coffee.
4. Pete Campbell and Los Angeles (end of last season: 5 and 9)
As all New York transplants to the great city of Los Angeles eventually learn, though some more quickly than others, it is a perfect place. Pete Campbell gets it immediately. There are oranges you pick right out of the tree. It’s 75 degrees and there is snow on the mountains. You can go to Canter’s and get coleslaw right inside your pastrami on rye and no one decries it as some kind of deli abomination; you’re in a place where even sandwiches can seek reinvention. There are pretty blonde real estate agents who will flirt with your better-looking coworkers, eventually sleeping with them in two or three episodes, as plot complications demand. There are sunglasses to perch atop your head and call attention to your receding hairline and lush sideburns, sweaters to drape over the shoulders of your polo shirt because you don’t need a sweater, silly, it’s 75 degrees. There are refugees of suburban failure, a continent away from their discarded families, strutting around in new plaid pants, trying to forget exactly what they lost on the East Coast. There are no bagels worth a damn.
It is a perfect place. Have an orange. Stay awhile.
5. Megan Draper (end of last season: 8)
Los Angeles is also a place where you can pursue your acting career while trying to decide whether your husband, who’s up to god knows what on the other side of the country, is worth the trouble. You can get a house in the canyon overlooking the entire city with a view that’s nearly as spectacular as the one you had in your Manhattan high-rise. You can land an agent named Silver who cares about the green and a pilot with the Peacock. You can take the time to decide whether to fix the broken vessel or your teeth. You can keep the giant TV. Even your struggling friends would appreciate the giant TV.
6. Joan Harris (end of last season: not ranked)
We have already forgotten what the four P’s stand for. They help sell shoes, is that right? We’d ask the business professor, but that seems like too much trouble. It’s very late and we haven’t even discussed Kenny Cosgrove’s eye patch yet.
7. Kenny Cosgrove (end of last season: not ranked )
How many accounts does he have? All of them, that’s how many. Avon, Jerry Lewis, GM … the shoe people. The shoe people? He’s not meeting with the shoe people; there’s a hierarchy that needs to be observed, lest Butler Footwear think he’s not important. He has no help. Where is his help? Torkelson? He’s zapping the secretary. What good is he? Every single account, all of them, are heaped on Kenny’s stooped back, and he needs some underlings to take off the pressure. Is this what he lost an eye for? What he wears a very cool-looking eye patch (and make no mistake, it’s a great eye patch, like he’s now the Head of Groovy Pirate Accounts) every day for? No, it is not. Make the shoe people go away. What could they possibly want, anyway?
8. Teddy Chaough and Lou Avery (end of last season: 2 and not ranked)
We don’t have anything to say about Teddy Chaough! Is that weird? What’s actually a bit weird is that we would open the season with Teddy visiting New York (didn’t Peggy have enough to deal with already?) instead of seeing his adjustment to L.A. But maybe Pete’s pants said all there is to say about that particular subject. Teddy probably likes the oranges just fine.
As for New Lou Avery, the jury is still out. Is the easygoing creative director beloved by the staff, or is he a secret monster dedicated to mediocrity and immune to Peggy’s charms? Or is he something else entirely, like a cut-rate Jim Cutler without the jawline and the injectable speed? We don’t need to answer these questions right now. It’s just a situation that bears watching.
9. Bob Benson (end of last season: 3)
Shut up! They said his name! We heard it! And then we went back to hear it again! Two or three or eight or 15 more times, maybe! He’s still around! Somewhere in Detroit! Why isn’t the whole show in Detroit now? Don’t they know it’s Detroit Week?!? Bob! Benson! Beloit! Wharton! A man with a hairpiece eating a banana! Freedom!
[Takes deep breath, sips from two cups of coffee, calms down.]
10. Wayne Barnes, the MBA of Shoes (end of last season: Cougar Town)
This wasn’t a great Sunday night for spoiled, baby-faced autocrats who delight a little too much in the sadistic and clueless misuse of their power. Don’t drink the wine, kid. Trust us on this one.
Not ranked: Stan Rizzo; Michael Ginsberg; Freddy Rumsen; Margaret; Lee Cabot; Bonnie Whiteside; Gerry Respola; the tenant’s kid; Moira; Clara; Dawn; Betty Francis; Sally Draper; Bobby Draper; Jim Cutler; Bert Cooper; Alan Silver; H. Salt; Professor Podolsky; coq au vin and bread pudding; Joan’s earring; Richard Nixon; Jerry Lewis; Roger’s genital phone; eggs Benedict; the Folgers can; parachutes and open doors; coyote howls; Dracula’s castle; buttered rolls; N.Y. bagels; Accutron watches; Playboy; Theon Greyjoy’s favorite toy; orgy folk.