Previously on Mad Men Power Rankings: Don gets a Coke … Roger has a cigarette … Kenny tries a glass of wine … Peggy and Stan chat … Pete handles a family obligation … Lou Avery makes a big sale.
1. Don Draper (last week: 1)
So this is what advertising heaven actually looks like. Forget last week, with its red carpet roll-outs, its full-throated promises of Big Pharma and Buicks, the whispered announcements that even Coca-Cola itself has been laid at the feet of its SC&P annexees. Heaven is not only for real, it is far too real. It’s a battalion of creatives assembled at the conference room table, pens hovering above paper but never writing, listening to a guy from a research firm drone on and on about why the Miller Man — the paragon of lawnmower-pushing, hammock-coveting, power-tool-neglecting masculinity — can be convinced to try out diet beer for ladies. It’s tuning out the pitch and staring off into the sky at the plane streaking past the Empire State Building, wondering if the new boss would buy you an airline account if you asked for one. It’s getting up and leaving in the middle of everything and not even hearing the part about how they’re going to collectively overcome the feminizing stigma of a low-calorie alcohol option, how they’re going to tear that nagging note about the wife’s diet off the fridge before Joe Six-Pack’s dick can fall off from the emasculating shame of even considering a lite brewski. It’s realizing that the only way anyone gets to heaven is by dying, and running like hell in the opposite direction of all the dead guys talking about the coming beer-water revolution in that conference room.
But what’s outside the office for Don, really? An ex-wife studying up on Freud, gently shrugging off his best neck rub? A daughter who recently professed to hate him and everything he stood for? A road trip to Racine to chase down a depressed waitress who doesn’t want anything to do with him, with the ghost of the satisfied adman he’ll never be riding shotgun? She seemed so lost, he’ll tell the ex-husband he first tries to trick with a fridge full of Miller and then with a transparent cover story about debt collection, but that guy sees right through the city-slicker bullshit immediately. He recognizes in Don a fellow body broken by Sad Tornado Diana, then asks to be left alone while he continues to sort through the wreckage of the ruined life she fled. But Don’s a born storm-chaser. He points his car west and keeps driving farther away from his life, toward the next lonely funnel cloud he thinks he can help stop from spinning out of control, but which he’ll ultimately just speed up on their mutual paths of self-destruction.
Maybe that hippie he picked up will be less judgmental about the whole thing than Ghost Bert. If nothing else, he’ll understand fighting the power of the new beer the Man wants him to drink to keep his stomach from spilling out over the top of his bell-bottoms. They can crack open a couple of full-calorie High Lifes at a diner outside of St. Paul and talk some Kerouac, but only until Don makes meaningful eye contact with his server and disappears out the back door for the kind of poorly considered quickie that never really ends.
Don Draper Fingerbang Threat Level: The Real Thing, Part II
Jim Hobart sits on the floor of Don’s office, ringed by a reef of empty Coca-Cola and Miller bottles. Don stands at a window, pressing his hand up against the cool glass. He gives a light push; the window holds, even though he can hear the wind howling outside.
“One more time, Don.”
“No. I said it once already. That should be enough for you.”
“Enough for me? I bought an entire agency to get you Miller. The least you can do is say it for me one more time.”
“Fine.” Don presses his ear to the window. The howls grow louder, nearly drowning out Jim’s question.
“You’ll say it?”
“I will. One more time. And one more time only.”
“That’s fantastic, Don. Just fantastic.”
Hobart scrambles to his feet. Bottles scatter everywhere.
“Are you ready?”
“I’m ready, Don.”
Don removes his ear from the window, turns toward Jim. The howling ceases.
There’s a pause that feels long enough to contain the entire history of advertising, from the first breathless grunts about the benefits of fire to “It’s the real thing.” But he finally says it.
“I’m Don Draper from McCann Erickson.”
Jim gasps so deeply Don can feel the air in the room move into Hobart’s lungs.
“Now go outside and come back in, saying it like you’re introducing yourself to me for the first time. Like I’m a prospective client. Woo me.”
“I don’t think you understand, Don. You’re my white whale.”
He grabs Don’s hand, pulls it toward his chest.
“Harpoon me, Don.”
“It’s my understanding that the white whale is not the one who does the harpooning.”
“Don’t tell me how white whales work. Now harpoon me, right in the heart.”
Don tries to yank his hand away, but Jim’s grip is too strong.
“Pull my heart out and show it to me.”
“What if I buy you the Pequod account?”
“I don’t even know what that is.”
“It’s the greatest account in the world, Don. And I can make it happen.”
“I’m Don Draper from McCann Erickson.”
Jim gasps again, helpless against the power of the words. Don wrests his hand free as Hobart is staggered by his inhalation.
“I am no one’s white whale but my own.”
Jim rubs his heart through his chest, as if feeling for his phantom harpoon wound.
“That’s where you’re wrong, Don. That’s where you’re wrong.”
Don exits and closes the door behind him.
Outside, the wind howls, louder than ever.
2. Peggy Olson (last week: 4)
She began — not began began; we’re not backing this thing up all the way to Season 1 — kicking around her empty office, in limbo until the McCann people could get their relocation shit together, haunting the halls of their abandoned agency. Sure, Ed was there, too, and he might as well have been dead, a guy with no place to go and nothing to do but run up the long-distance bill and sketch horror-show pitches for the quagmire-eradicating power of Dow Chemical. Peggy was, for a while at least, the last woman on SC&P earth. She could drop a steaming cup of Maxwell House all over the floor and do nothing about it. Who was left to care?
Then she heard the footsteps. And the organ. The organ? Was some other ghost from the old days co-haunting with her, cursed to wander through the ruins of their once-proud, now soon-to-be-rewritten history? Sort of. It was Roger at the keys, game to polish off an ancient bottle of vermouth, because ain’t no party like a desperately-hanging-on-to-memories party. Soon Peggy was circling him on roller skates, prompt reporting to her hastily set-up drafting table at corporate HQ be damned. She would eventually show up at McCann, but transformed, reborn as her best self: with sunglasses on, cigarette dangling from her lips, an inherited painting of an octopus pleasuring a lady tucked underneath her arm, unconcerned with making the new men in her professional life feel at ease. Gliding, but not skating. That octoporn’s going to look great above her desk, whenever she gets one.
3. Joan Holloway (last week: 6)
Richard — still don’t like him, let’s be clear about that — tells her there are two ways to deal with her increasingly unbearable situation at McCann: You call a lawyer and tie them up in expensive paperwork, or you call a guy. You know, a guy. The kind of guy who, if you pick the right guy, all the guy has to do is show up and problems get magically solved.
Joan’s not calling a guy. Joan doesn’t need a guy. She’s had enough of the bros wanting to discuss her prospects in the brassiere business, of the idiots who suggest that wheelchair-bound clients might like to shoot a round at Augusta, of the bosses who expect — but actually demand — she’s going to be a good time. She’ll sit down across from the Jim Hobarts of the world, old men who want the mouthy redheads out of what’s left of their hair, and demand the rest of what she was owed. She’ll threaten with the ACLU, assemble an army of harassed typing-pool secretaries and glass-ceiling-suppressed copywriters behind her, and go all Ladies’ Home Journal uprising on him. Maybe that doesn’t scare a Jim Hobart, who probably does believe he could get the New York Times to print Mein Kampf on the front page if he wanted to. But he’ll pay up. She can walk away for 50 cents on the dollar, 250,000 bucks richer than when she first walked in. Half of her fuck-you money is still a pretty good fuck-you to a place that never wanted her.
4. Roger Sterling (last week: 3)
The Phantom of SC&P knows that a business doesn’t have feelings. That you get bought, you get sold, you get fired. If the account moves, you move. That you should know better than to get attached to some walls, even if your family name is on them.
Yet there he is, filling his crumbling cathedral with the melancholy sounds of his organ. Swigging from that last bottle of vermouth, determined to drain the old office of whatever stubborn life force it’s got left for him. Coming to terms with what he’s actually done. The thing that he didn’t build himself (that was Dad and Bert), but that he loved as if he did, is gone forever, sold to the highest bidder. The new place will never be as fun, because it’ll never be his place. There will be no organ-playing, no roller-skating Peggy Olsons helping an old sailor remember that this was a hell of a boat. All he can do is stand on the edge of its deck, looking down at the two-story drop below, waiting for a push into the next thing.
5. Pete Campbell (last week: 5)
Look: Pete showed up to work this week. He didn’t have to. He could have sat this one out, content with last week’s lift-up-his-kilt-and-show-an-old-highlander-his-clan-pride performance. He doesn’t know how close we are to the end. He could have disappeared into the offscreen limbo of private-school admissions bribery, or invisible accounts work, and called it a day. But there he was, punching the clock, making sure we saw his face while he did it. Thanks for that, Pete. This isn’t easy for any of us. Here, we’ll hold the mirror while you shave back your hairline. It’s the least we can do. We need to treasure these last moments together, no matter how fleeting, no matter how seemingly inconsequential. Have fun with Sears. We better see you next week. Save up something great for us. Let’s make that last weasel-faced fit of existential dissatisfaction really count.
6. Meredith (last week: 8)
“Your secretary is an idiot,” sneered Betty to Don, explaining their latest scheduling mix-up. But is she, Betty? Is she? Idiot like a fox. Like an interior-decorating, MIA-boss’s-ass-covering, don’t-worry-about-him-abandoning-the-Miller-pitch-or-shirking-off-the-Nabisco-and–National Cash Register–meetings-he’s-probably-just-with-his-family fox. Does she know for a fact that Don’s not off on another bender, choosing the self-annihilating comfort of a dark hotel lobby bar over a roomful of idiots blathering about optimal Triscuit strategy? No, she doesn’t. But she knows enough to stall the big boss when he comes looking for answers she doesn’t have. It doesn’t matter if he’s on his way to Ossining to pick up Sally, or on an ill-advised quest to find a sad-waitress needle in a Wisconsin-size haystack, or helping a filthy hippie make his way toward the Twin Cities. She’s got his back. Maybe she doesn’t keep the tidiest schedule, but she knows how to cover for her boss. Never call her an idiot again. And she’s got an incredible feel for warm color combinations.
7. Betty Francis (last week: not ranked)
Let’s sit with Betty for a minute. Let’s read Dora: An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria over her shoulder, because she’s actually doing it. Maybe we smirked at her academic ambitions when she first brought them up, but she’s lugging around the hundred dollars’ worth of textbooks on campus, she’s reading the Freud in her free moments at the kitchen table, when the kids are out of the house. She’s going to understand Sally one day. She’s going to understand all of them. Even the disappearing Bobbys.
8. Ferg Donnelly (last week: not ranked)
Hahaha, do your Don Draper impression again, Ferg-o! Come on, do it, you old sonmabitch cut-up! He’s so great at these. OK, shut up, shut up, here he goes.
“I’m working very diligently on the matter at hand.”
This guy! That’s totally Draper! He’s always working very diligently on the matter at hand! The key to a great impression is finding the tiny truth-nugget revealed in a mannerism, in a telling turn of phrase, and really biting down on it and not letting go. He’s giving Don the business, stilted-diligence wise. Classic Ferg. Now do Joan! No no no. Don’t “do” Joan. Leave Joan alone, she’s not going to be receptive to that, she was a partner. You know what? Just do Don again. You have such a great handle on the Don.
9. Bill Phillips From Conley Research (last week: not ranked)
“I’m going to describe a man to you of very specific qualities. He lives in Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio. Some call it the heartland, some call it the beer belt. I’m sorry, Don, was there something funny about that? Moving on. He has some college. Makes a good living, but it doesn’t feel like it, because he works long hours. He has a lawnmower. Wants a hammock. There are a bunch of power tools in the garage that he never uses. Am I right, Don? Eyes over here, planes fly over the Empire State Building literally all day long. Thanks. We all know this man, because there are millions of him. And he drinks beer. Not just any beer. It has to be his brand. And what is his brand? No, Don, there is no brand of beer called ‘Bullshit,’ no matter how many times you’ve coughed it into your fist. Is it the one his dad drank? The one that comes in the best bottle. Can. Tap. It doesn’t matter, because that’s it, and it’s not open for discussion. Hold on, it is open to discussion, Don? You’re not helping by pantomiming drinking a beer and then doing that quite frankly less-than-professional masturbating motion. If this is what it takes to get you engaged, then maybe you should just wander out of the meeting without explanation. Anyway, how do you get the Miller Man to open his mind? You better have something more — oh, bye, Don. Send us a postcard from Racine. We’ll be here solving the low-calorie beer conundrum without you.”
10. The Stomach-Churning Realization That There Are Only Two More Episodes Left (last week: not ranked)
Two more. And then never another. No spinoffs. No Campbell’s Way, no Sterling’s Gold, not even Peggy! Two hours, give or take, and then it all goes away forever.
The even more troubling thought: Have we already said good-bye to some of these people? Will our last look at Peggy be strutting down that hallway? Was Roger playing his exit music on that organ? Did Joan pack up her office and walk out of our lives? They literally put Sally on a bus last week. We may never see any of them again. And then what? AND THEN WHAT?
We need to lie down. This is too much to think about right now.
Someone call Bob Benson. We need a sleep mask and two Ativan. He can sit at our bedside, rub our temples, and whisper that everything’s going to be OK.
It’s not going to be OK, but that’s what the Ativan is for.
Not ranked: Teddy Chaough; Harry Crane; Stan Rizzo; Sally Draper; Shirley; Beverly; the 19th floor; Ed; the hardships of the Plaza; the smell of Air Wick and brut; dinner reservations in Farmington; the gift basket; the executive dining room; the funny papers; Travelers Insurance; the Ortho pill; long-distance phone calls; diet beer for ladies; Tubb; Augusta; Charles Butler; Marcia; the roast beef; the best box lunch around; the Mets; Loretta; Sigmund Freud; the Cub Scouts; Gene and Bobby Draper; Bermuda and Cape Cod; Daphne; Nabisco; National Cash Register; Cliff and Laura Bauer; Julia Roberts for Nationwide; Roberta; Christmas Day, 1951; Major Tom; the Freemasons.