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‘Mad Men’ Power Rankings, Episode 713: ‘The Milk and Honey Route’

Making sense of the penultimate episode of one of the greatest TV series of all time.

Mad Men Power Rankings

Previously on Mad Men Power Rankings: Don goes for a drive … Peggy inherits some art … Roger has a drink … Joan meets with the new boss … Betty reads a book … Pete breezes in … Meredith does her job.

1. Don Draper (last week: 1)

You were expecting Betty at the top. Maybe we were expecting Betty, until we typed Don Draper’s name up there just now, next to the no. 1. Sometimes the Power Rankings will surprise us like that. They are unsparing, unsentimental. They see what they see, want what they want, go self-referential at the least opportune moment. There’s no point in trying to divine their intentions; that way lies madness, or, at minimum, a need to immediately lie down in a dark room with a washcloth over one’s eyes, waiting for the waves of bone-deep nausea to pass, and we don’t have the time for that right now. This whole thing is over next Sunday night. Hug your loved ones close, your less-loved ones closer. The Power Rankings will get around to the Betty situation, or they won’t. Right now they want Don. So we get Don. Here, take this washcloth. The dark room is right over there.

“I killed my C.O. We were under fire. Fuel was everywhere and I dropped my lighter. I blew him apart. And I got to go home.” Thus was partially confessed the original sin of one Dick Whitman, still roaming the country in the Don Draper disguise he acquired in Korea, to a Legion hall full of drunken veterans in Alva, Oklahoma. The actual name on the dogtags he stole wasn’t important, nor was the name on his current driver’s license. What was important was sharing his story with the fellow vets who coaxed it out of him with their own horrific tales at the fundraiser for good old Al Bettendorf, with their assurances that they were all the kind of people who knew you do what you have to do to come home. Maybe we’ll never know their specific opinions on identity theft in extreme wartime circumstances, but we did learn how they deal with the suspected petty larceny of a donation jar they’ve filled with kitchen-restoration cash, and it involves beating a suspicious city-slicker about the jaw with the Yellow Pages even as he insists on his innocence. Due process isn’t their strong suit, at least not when a flashy outsider with a seemingly unlimited whiskey-and-abandoned-trade-paperback budget blows into town with nothing better to do than read some Puzo at poolside and miraculously fix the occasional typewriter. They weren’t born yesterday. They knew something was up. They just didn’t know exactly what.

Maybe if Don had calmly explained in between tooth-rattling phone book blows that he had walked out of a light beer research meeting to chase a sad-eyed, waitress-shaped tornado to Racine, drive a hippie to St. Paul, and then stop at the Grand Canyon to stare into a God-created abyss even more majestically yawning than his own, they would have understood. They might have even volunteered to go along for the ride, keeping the Caddy idling while Don stood at chasm-side, listening to the mocking echoes of his unanswered existential questions being repeated back to him. Instead, they tuned him up in a hotel room. They wanted their money back, and they got it. They didn’t particularly care that it was the shifty lobby boy who actually took it, and Don didn’t bother to make an issue of it. He was content to get back his veteran-impounded car, give the keys to that misguided kid, and then catch the first bus to anywhere else. To the Grand Canyon, maybe. He’s heard the mocking echoes are fantastic this time of year.

Don Draper Fingerbang Threat Level: The Bus Stop

The Cadillac pulls over to the side of the road. Don shifts it into park, eyeballs the relative stranger sitting beside him. A few yards in front of the Caddy’s grille is a bus stop. They sit in silence for a long time before the stranger works up the courage to speak.

“Are you going to kill me here, Mister?” asks the kid in the passenger seat.

“At the bus stop?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, the idea was that you were going to be getting out at this bus stop and leaving town forever. But there’s been a change of plans.”

“Where you kill me.”

“No, not where I kill you. Where I give you this car.”

“Excuse me, sir?”

“The pink slip’s in the glove box.”

Don flips him the car keys.

“And now that I have your keys you’re going to kill me. Say I stole them.”

“That’s not what’s happening here.”

“I ain’t get it.”

“You don’t get it.”

“That neither.”

“Listen to me. I see a lot of myself in you. Young guy, full of undirected promise, limited by humble circumstances he can’t wait to escape. So I’m going to teach you something about the grift, kid.”

“I’m just happy you’re not going to kill me for setting you up. I coulda seen this going that way.”

“Never try to frame the mysterious stranger from out of town, no matter how rich he seems. He’s always got a secret. And it’s not one you want to find out about. Do you hear me?”

“I hear you, sir.”

“That’s the way you wind up dead at the bus stop, over a coffee can full of five-dollar bills. That’s small-time thinking. That’s corrupt bed-and-breakfast bellhop shit that’ll get you strung up by the local chapter of the Sons of Normandy Beach. They’ll eat you alive.”

“Got it.”

“Now you take this car and point it east. And you don’t stop driving until you get to Manhattan.”

“New York City?”

“New York City. And you find Madison Avenue. Then a place called McCann Erickson. You walk right into the lobby and you tell them your name is Donald Draper Jr., and you’re there to see Mr. Hobart.”

“Should I write this down?”

“If you can’t remember this on your own you’re already dead.”

“Right, got it.”

“They’ll bring you right up to Mr. Hobart’s office. And when you get there, I want you to place a bottle of Coca-Cola on his desk.”

“A Coca-Cola?”

“Yes, make sure to bring the bottle. And before Mr. Hobart can do anything, you tell him these three words. Are you ready for the three words you’re going to say?”

“Yup’m.”

“Yes, I am. Those three words: Coke. Is. It.”

“Coke is it.”

“Coke. Is. It.”

“Coke. Is. It.”

“Perfect. Everything will take care of itself from there. I promise you.”

“I don’t know why you’re doing this, but thank you.”

“Your meteoric rise will be thanks enough. Oh, and one more thing.”

Don grabs the kid by the wrist, holds his hand up in front of his face.

“If things go south, always remember. These” — Don grasps the kid’s fingers, a little too tightly — “will save you.”

“I don’t understand at all.”

“You will, kid. You will.”

Don gets out of the car, walks over to the bus stop. He waves the Cadillac on its way.

A bus will be along eventually.

Don can wait.

2. Betty Francis (last week: 7)

madmen_7.13_bettybooksAMC

Betty’s not a quitter. She’s fought for plenty. She’s been through some things. The death of both her parents. A failed marriage with a man who lied about who he was, who kept a box of secrets in his desk, who was a box of secrets she probably never should have opened. A rotating cast of eldest sons, where each new one looked just enough like the one he was replacing to keep her off balance, to keep her thinking it was all in her head, of course that’s not a new Bobby at the kitchen table, she doesn’t live in a Twilight Zone episode. A season-long imprisonment in a latex prison, her only sustenance coming from the Miracle Whip containers and Bugles bags her capricious tormentor left within arm’s reach. So don’t call her a quitter. Call her a realist. Call her a stone-faced pragmatist doing what she can to keep her family together in her final days.

She’s learned to believe people when they tell her it’s over. They don’t want to say that; that’s incredibly difficult and awkward news to break to someone, the last thing, really, they would ever want to say. So they must know what they’re talking about. That ability to accept things for what they are, to not crumble beneath the weight of a looming tragedy, isn’t a weakness, as is hiding behind the ironic remove of listing off some time in a poorly executed fat suit and dealing with distracting casting changes like they were significant life struggles to avoid dealing with one’s emotions. It’s a gift.

Last week, we wondered if Betty reading that Freud case study in the kitchen would be the last we’d ever see of her, a smile and a shrug of a good-bye. We feared that it might be.

And now we wish that it had been.

3. Pete Campbell (last week: 5)

Everything’s coming up Pete Campbell! Wow. Didn’t see that one coming. At all. An out-of-the-blue visitation by enchanted chessmaster Duck Phillips, moving the pieces around the game board of Pete’s life, putting him in a position to checkmate his past and go out a winner. A beautiful house in Wichita — a hundred bucks gets you two bedrooms, so Pete’s starting salary buys him the entire southern half of Sedgwick County, thanks, Duck — filled with the wife who never stopped loving him, the daughter who improbably adores him, the giddy laughter of new beginnings. Access to a private jet they can treat like the family station wagon. The gnawing feeling, once the fleeting, heady bliss of second chances realized dissipates, that things might be better in New York. Or in Cos Cob. Or in Topeka. God, why didn’t they hold out for Topeka? He’s got his own plane now! He could commute in every day, that can’t be more than an hour, max, door to door. Everybody worth knowing’s in goddamn Topeka. He can get a pied-à-terre in Wichita if he has to.

He’s still Pete Campbell. There may be a storybook ending staring him right in the face, but whatever’s in the epilogue is still terrifying. And there’s still a week left for the whole fairy tale to unravel. Duck Phillips can do only so much.

4. Sally Draper (last week: not ranked)

“Dear Sally,

“I know that you are frightened and there are many decisions I can’t prepare you for. But you must immediately tell the hospital and the funeral director that I am to be interred intact in the family plot in West Laurel. Uncle William has the details from Grandpa Gene’s burial. I know it may seem cold that I’m opening this letter with such grim and matter-of-fact business, but there are many jobs to do right now, and Henry’s a mess, he’s not going to be able to handle them. I’ve also enclosed a portrait from the 1968 Republican Winter Gala. Don’t roll your eyes, I know you think you’re a hippie now, but the Republican party has bought this family some very nice things. The blue chiffon I wore there is my very favorite. I hung it in the gold garment bag in the closet, beside the mink. Please bring them the lipstick from my handbag and remind them how I like to wear my hair. Will you show them the picture? Please show them the picture, Sally, I’m not asking for much here. Don’t make that face. This is difficult for all of us. I know you’re picturing me struggling to walk up the stairs at the college, as if that were the place where the cancer finally took me, among strangers rushing off to class, not even noticing the older student collapsing under their feet. Please exhale. We both know I went quietly, at home, surrounded by all of you, even your father. Take solace in that memory, never giving in to the cruel trickery of a potentially misleading flashback.

“I always worried about you because you marched to the beat of your own drum. And now I know that’s good. I know your life will be an adventure. I love you.

“Mom.

“P.S. I know what I just said about life being an adventure, but please be careful around those hippies. They can be extremely dangerous, especially the charismatic ones with wild eyes who think they’re folk singers. Don’t get mixed up with them. Trust me on this.

“P.P.S. I apologize if your last scene will involve holding a letter and listening to my voice-over. Even if that’s the way it works out, be grateful for the screen time you’ve already had. You were magnificent.”

5. Trudy Campbell (last week: not ranked)

Trudy isn’t sentimental. She remembers things as they were, and she knows that you can’t undo the past. Not with a 4 a.m. speech including all the sweet, contrite things Pete should have said two years ago, not with the promise of a new house and a fresh start in the Midwest. What is she supposed to tell Tammy? That her birthday wish came true? Birthday wishes don’t — hold on, did Pete say private jet? Well. OK. No, no. That doesn’t change anything. Round-the-clock access? That makes the birthday wish sell a little easier, there’s no denying that. Tammy wanted a pony. But if mommy can tell her no, there’s no pony this time, but we can take the jet to visit some ponies whenever we want, hmm, that’s really interesting. That could work. That kid’s had a rough time with the divorce, with daddy being away all the time. Tammy deserves this. Trudy will float the idea when they all get together for dinner on Saturday. But she’s got a good feeling about it. This could work out.

6. Duck Phillips (last week: not ranked)

“Tell me how this grabs you. New job with Lear Jet. A negotiated exit with McCann Erickson, where you get all the money they owe you. Now I know you already said you’re not interested, and then some hurtful things about me being a stupid wino who’s trying to ruin everything for you, but I used all that to get you an even better deal. I told them your disdain was masked desire, that you secretly wanted nothing more than to make Lear the incredible success story that only a visionary like yourself could deliver. Let me tell you, that Mike Sherman ate. It. Up. Like a baby bird gobbling up his mama’s regurgitated food. The sooner you realize that I’m your fairy godfather and not some terrifying alcoholic menacing you in your own depressing apartment, the sooner we can close this deal. What else do you want? Two million dollars? Done. The return of your estranged family? You got it. To be MVP of the World Series? Check your mantel, the trophy’s already there, champ. Nothing’s impossible for Pete Campbell when Duck Phillips is waving his wand around. You let good ol’ Duck work his magic for you and you’ll be on the next jet to paradise. It looks a lot like Wichita.

“There’s only one catch. This is going to sound strange, but I promise you it has to be done. I need to defecate on your favorite chair, right now. I know, I know, it’s not great. But I don’t make up the rules for how the fairy godfather sorcery works. Don Draper — remember that guy? — interrupted the ritual and where is he now? That’s right, no one knows. He’s certainly not about to get his own fucking plane, I’ll tell you that much. So are we doing this? We are? Fantastic, Pete. Fantastic. I see the chair, that’ll do just fine. Eames, very nice! Good taste. Thank you for letting me help you. Yes, you have to watch. Here we go. Wichita, here you come.”

7. Sharon Hill (last week: not ranked)

She seemed like such a nice lady. They named the motel after her! You’re supposed to be able to trust people with motels named for them in rural Oklahoma. You fix their typewriters and their malfunctioning Coke machines, and they won’t let a drunken gang of vets from the Foreign Legion into your room in the middle of the night to work you over with a phone book, demanding the return of an emergency kitchen-restoration fund you never took in the first place. There’s a sacred trust between flashy strangers with seemingly nowhere to go and the innkeepers who temporarily shelter them, and Sharon broke that trust. If she and Del had put any energy whatsoever into screening their own employees, this never would have happened. Everyone would still be drinking down at the Legion hall, trading stories about the commanding officers they accidentally detonated in Korea, and everybody would still be happy, even thousand-yard-staring Floyd and Jerry Fandango. But no. Don gets his teeth loosened and the kid gets a new Cadillac. Tight operation you’re running over there, Sharon. Real tight. Enjoy the typing and the icy Coca-Colas.

8. The Burlesque Performer Who Jumps Out of the Cake in the Legion Hall (last week: not ranked)

War is hell, boys. War is hell. Pass the swear jar, Al needs a new Frigidaire.

9. Roger Sterling, Peggy Olson, and Joan Holloway (last week: 4, 2, and 3)

Even if we never see these three again — and we still might, keep hope alive — we couldn’t have asked for more indelible endings for any of them. Roger playing that organ in the abandoned shell of the place that used to have his name on the wall. Peggy striding down the hall of her new corporate home, cigarette dangling insouciantly from her lip, octopus-based erotica tucked defiantly under her arm. Joan threatening Jim Hobart, but ultimately settling for 50 cents on the dollar,1 because a half-win’s not the worst outcome when you’re outgunned by the establishment.


1.

Reminder: Pete’s getting a Lear jet.

But let’s see them again anyway. Let’s not have last week be good-bye. This Betty situation’s hard enough to deal with.

And we’d really like to know how the octoporn looks in Peggy’s new office. It’s not a huge ask. Indulge us. We’ve given you so much.

10. That Tightening in Your Chest When You Realize That Next Sunday Night Is the Last Sunday Night

It’s probably not a heart attack. You don’t have heart attacks because a television show is ending, even if you’re the guy who created it and you’re going to have a hard time ever approaching its greatness again.2 Just take some deep breaths and white-knuckle it through the next week. Netflix up some classic episodes if you have to. It’s all going to be OK. Unless it isn’t.


2.

We believe in you, but the odds are not on your side, hashtag notfadeaway, hashtag treme.

Betty needs to write us another letter immediately. 

Not ranked: Harry Crane; Teddy Chaough; Stan Rizzo; Meredith; Caroline; Gene Draper; Richard Burghoff; Bobby Draper; Dr. Buckley; Dr. Barton; Nurse Judy Greene; aggressive treatments; the state trooper; the Colgate; Lyman Orchard; Wonder Woman; Friendly’s; poisoning the children; the basket of apples; Madrid; the two-headed cow; Rte. 35; Sarah; the globe bar; Mike Sherman; Princeton ’52; Dartmouth ’56; Tri-City Towing; more 10-gallon hats; the chlorine; The Godfather; the kids at the pool; the hot lady at the pool; The Andromeda Strain; Hawaii; Tammy’s pie; Redd Foxx; Wyatt the overcharging mechanic; Al Bettendorf’s incinerated kitchen; the Seventh Infantry, Korea; the shrimp cocktail; Wayne; Jerry “Jerry Fandango” Fanning; the blue eyes; the real commandments; residual wartime racism at the Legion; Floyd; the Hurtgen Forest; Stan Wojciehowicz; boiled bark; Bud Campbell; a reminder that patriarch Andrew Campbell died in a plane crash, just saying; the bag full of money; the pink slip in the glove box; the missing scenes from next week; Matthew Weiner’s endearing spoiler paranoia; actors sitting around a table and talking about how much they love and will miss each other after the creative experience of a lifetime, no, you’re getting choked up like an idiot; one-eighth Comanche.