[Previously on Mad Men Power Rankings: Sally visits Don at a neighbor's apartment ... Don learns about the Air National Guard ... Teddy gets some juice ... Peggy and Stan Rizzo both make new friends ... Pete thinks about oral hygiene.]
1. Don Draper (last week: 2)
And just like that, Don Draper is back on top.
Well, maybe not "on top." Curled up in the fetal position on his sofa is perhaps not the posture of winning. Arms splayed on the prow of a boat with the king-of-the-world wind in your face, or standing on a balcony above a teeming throng of worshipers, or even just leaning back in a desk chair with your feet propped on top of the desk so that your polished wingtips can blind your soon-to-be vanquished enemies, sure. All say "winner." Knees-to-chin on your office couch, listening to your halting breath, not so much. At least he wasn't sucking his thumb. Though who knows what happened after the cut to black; Don might have gotten his whole fist in there.
Happy Father's Day Don Draper! You're a monster! During the penultimate episode of Mad Men's sixth season, Don celebrated the joys of parenting by curling up in the fetal position as often as he could get away with. I might do a supercut of this episode that's just 50 minutes of Don lying in the fetal position interspersed with the part where he pretends to be a crying baby. WAHHHHH! WAHHHHH! I WANT A SUNKIST WITH VODKA! Just like a baby. Don's schedule is always jam-packed with drinks and naps, broken up by the occasional window-rattling tantrum.
[Previously on Mad Men Power Rankings: Don goes for a swim at a Los Angeles party ... Roger has a disagreement with an ex-employee ... Peggy and Joan reach an understanding ... Jim and Teddy successfully brainstorm ... Pete Campbell learns to appreciate Janis Joplin.]
1. Don Draper (last week: 1)
You were expecting Sally Draper in this spot. You are disappointed that Sally Draper is not in this spot. You are thinking to yourself, This is an outrage that Don Draper is still in this spot. He's always in this spot. Why is he still in this spot? Did these idiots not watch the episode I just watched? And then you are thinking to yourself, loudly enough inside your head that maybe some barely squelched shouts leaked out into the room, startling the dog and the rabbit, and you're now yelling, "These are called the POWER Rankings. Doesn't Sally have all the power right now? One little word to Megan, or to Arnie and/or Mitchell Rosen, and this whole shit-sweater Don's knitted for himself unravels, relentlessly and ceaselessly, until his shoes are covered in yards of the filthy yarn of his lies and he is standing topless in the middle of his living room, tearing out his own chest hair with his meaty hands because of his pathetic grief!"
And then you are looking in the mirror, ashamed that you're getting so worked up about this, and then you realize you are the self-same idiot who is writing these words, too late into the night, and you may have now talked yourself into it. Shouted yourself into it, really. Things are getting loud up in here. You are typing with your fists. Maybe take a deep breath and stop doing that.
"Thought I knew where I stood with you, I was mistaken. I thought I knew where your head was, I was wrong. I do all of the giving, you're just taking. And a one-way conversation can't last long. Communication, baby, what went wrong?" —Paul Revere & The Raiders, 1968 ("Communication Part 1 & 2")
Well, now we finally have the answer to this season's big mystery; Sally is an ass man! Don Draper's daughter has inherited both his eye for detail and his awesome coping skills, which involve dealing with trauma by lying face-down and feebly trying to block out the world. Not all surprises are bad, but tragedy usually happens unexpectedly. Things were going almost swimmingly until the episode's life-altering last few moments, which somehow didn't culminate in one of Mad Men's patented stress vomits, although Sylvia Rosen's punching the bed came close. Megan's chipper demeanor after the irrevocably disturbing incident made it all the more surreal as Sally found herself with a flash understanding of why Betty was so miserable in her marriage to Don.
With Bob Bensonmania reaching such a fever pitch that answer-crazed Mad Men fans are injecting vitamin shots into their posteriors and rioting in the streets to demand any crumb of information about whether the charmingly wrong-floored enigma from Accounts is a government spy, time-traveling bastard (hi, Molly!), or a budding psychopath who always carries two severed heads in case someone needs one, showrunner Matthew Weiner briefly stepped out of his Internet-proof mystery box to address the hysteria surrounding his most baffling creation. He tells The Wrap:
Surely dying should be enough to bump Don from no. 1 in the Power Rankings!
To which we respond:
Not this time, pal!
Perhaps it's going to sound as if we're making the rules up as we go along, like there isn't a secret algorithm that dispassionately spits out the Rankings each week after we input 3,400 individual data points into our system late on every Sunday night during the season, but a very, very brief and reversible clinical death is, in and of itself, not something that necessarily moves the needle. And what if Don didn't actually die* in that swimming pool, despite what the ghost of PFC Dinkins, stepping through a portal to the afterlife ripped open by one too many hits of hash, wanted us to believe? (This could be a trickster narc-spirit, sent to deceive us; no reputable apparition crashes a party in the Hills in full military dress.) What then? Does Don tumble because Roger had to fish him out of the drink like an inflatable adman pool toy with a slow leak? That's not even the most embarrassing thing that happened to either of them — that would be, of course, Roger's surprise breadbasketing by a dashiki-clad, lotus-eating Munchkin with a nasty right jab. We can't move people up and down, willy-nilly, on the say-so of the Private First Casper. That's not how it works.
"If any of you are secret poets, the best way to break into print is to run for the presidency."
—Eugene McCarthy, 1968
The late ’60s weren't all assassinations, bad trips, and riots. Some of the trips were actually pretty great. Don's occasional trips to Los Angeles are a fan favorite, usually serving as a broadening respite from the chaos of his New York life. Compared to the depressing, dread-soaked tone of the rest of Season 6, this episode was positively uplifting. Sure, Don almost drowned and the California business trip was a bust, but Peggy helped Joan and Pete Campbell got high!
If Don Draper were alive today, he’d be 87 years old. Roger Sterling would be 96. Pete would be 79, Peggy would be 74, Joan would be 82, and Megan would be 73, but the likelihood that all of them would have survived after years in the smoky, boozy pressure cooker of SCDP (and its permutations) is slim. A show with so many characters, spanning such a broad swath of past decades, is bound to incur some casualties. There’s something ominous about Mad Men and its internal clock: Even without the jumping-off point, there’s nothing like children zooming past puberty, peeling mod wallpaper, and fringe characters battling cancer to remind you that we all must die. The question isn’t if, it’s how, and whether or not we’ll be there when it happens. Sneakily secretive Matthew Weiner loves leading us down false paths (remember when we all thought Pete Campbell was a goner in Season 5?), but in this Room 237 world in which we live in, the Internet is now convinced that Megan Draper is Sharon Tate, a fellow actress and wife of a philanderer, and she’s fixin’ to get murdered.
[Previously on Mad Men Power Rankings: Don opens a door … A helpful doctor visits the office … Jim Cutler introduces Wendy to the gan … Ken Cosgrove talks about his job … Stan Rizzo thinks about cars … The Draper kids meet a kindly older woman.]
1. Don Draper (Last week: 1)
All great relationship moments involve balconies. Romeo and Juliet, Megan and Don, and countless others we can't think of right now because we're not really in the "spending a lot of time Googling up other examples to support our obviously correct claim" headspace; this is a holiday weekend, after all, and everyone within eyeshot of these words on a Monday afternoon should be drunker than Roger Sterling volunteering as a test patron at the New York Bartending School's introductory happy hour lesson. (If you're not seeing this until Tuesday, we hope the throbbing headache and tongue-shattering dry mouth of your hangover will make for a similarly forgiving reading experience.) But who wasn't moved by Don and Megan's reconciliation on that slab of concrete floating over Manhattan, accompanied as it was by the serenading siren of the ambulance ferrying Abe and Peggy to the Accidental Disembowelment Department at Mt. Sinai? One great love is dying down here, on the street it sang, but high up above us, a great love survives. We didn't say it was a great song. Sometimes volume makes up for subtlety.
It started out with the best of intentions, and ended with a stabbing. I'm talking about the '60s, of course, but also Peggy's relationship with Abe. The merger is looking increasingly like a war over Peggy of Troy, but Peggy recognizes that no war is worth its weight in bloodshed. The chaos at SCDPCGC benefits neither Don nor Ted. It really only hurts the company. Peggy wasn't just trying to be diplomatic telling Ted and Don their ideas are equivalent. It was a no-win situation. No matter who she backs, it will piss off her other father figure. She can't please one without angering the other, and she can't possibly satisfy them both. Ted greases her up while Don dresses her down, but neither one of them talks to her on her actual level. They tell her they care what she thinks, but they won't show her they believe that.
[Previously on Mad Men Power Rankings: A rooster crows, a pitcher beads, Don and Teddy share a cocktail Roger and Burt say good-bye Peggy moves forward Don looks for his shoes.]
1. Don Draper (last week: 1)
How's it going? I know you're all feeling the darkness here today. But there's no reason to give in. No matter what you've heard, these Power Rankings will not take years. In my heart I know we cannot be defeated because there IS an answer that will open the door. [Opens door, looks out, checks to make sure an elephant that shoots technicolor spears out of its trunk is not waiting to charge in, closes door.] There's a way around this system. This is a test of our patience and commitment. [Leaves room, spends five weeks in a mud-yurt in Mahopac, returns and picks up the thought.] One great idea can win someone over.
"This is no dream! This is really happening!"
— Rosemary Woodhouse, Rosemary's Baby, 1968
Speed is no joke. I should know, I get spracked on green tea and Coca-Cola every Sunday night to stay up and write these recaps until dawn. Sometimes I find myself staring in the mirror at my sweaty reflection, unable to recognize my own face, muttering to myself "Who is Dick Whitman anyway? Why is he such a controlling pervert? Does Ken Cosgrove know how to tap dance? How dangerous is it exactly to play William Tell with X-Acto knives?" Lately I've been fantasizing about setting Don up with Julia Louis-Dreyfus's Veep character, Selina Meyer. It would be a fair fight. We now know that Don's fetish for loudmouth brunettes who put him in his place was probably implanted in his cortex by the hooker with a heart of gold who relieved him of his virginity without his consent at The House of the Rising Backstory.
[Previously on Mad Men Power Rankings: Don takes an interest in puppies Teddy shows Peggy his gratitude Peggy writes some copy Roger flies Northwest Bert orders a drink Pete and his father-in-law have a heart-to-heart.]
Don Draper (last week: 1)
"It's morning. We know because we see the rooster crow. A farmer's wife sits pancakes on the kitchen table, she puts a pat of margarine on top, and sets the dish down next to the yellowest fried eggs, a loaf of homemade bread, and a beading pitcher of heavy cream. Syrup pours. A smile comes over their Dorothea Lange faces."
Now, we ask you: Is this the margarine pitch that wins the day, steamrolling over warm-up nonsense about the various Gilligan's Island equivalencies of the butter-substitute oligarchy, or is this utter horseshit served with a side of perfectly crisp toast and artisanal marmalade? We honestly don't know the answer; maybe it's both. But there is, as there always is, the unflinching confidence in the delivery, because if Don Draper is good at one thing, it's mesmerizing with his monotone while he paints the room around him sepia and then convinces you it's never been a different color. The worst part, of course, is that now we desperately want some breakfast. And to drench it in margarine, it really brings out the flavor. Just like grandma used to make.
“Is growin' up always miserable?" Sonny asked. "Nobody seems to enjoy it much."
"Oh, it ain't necessarily miserable," Sam replied. "About 80 percent of the time, I guess."
— Larry McMurtry, The Last Picture Show
Everyone is mysterious when you're first getting to know them. You have to peel back layer after layer of false front before you hit any oil. Social personalities are mostly misdirection. It takes forever to find out what anyone's really all about. You learn to differentiate between what someone says they believe and their actual beliefs; between what they say they're going to do and what they do. We are often mysterious to ourselves. Every human being is steered by several stars. Inside each person are a naive sailor, a seasoned captain, a scientist, the girl next door, a foxy redhead, a millionaire, and his wife. We contain multitudes.
Margarine will never be butter. But it can only really be compared to butter, and butter will always win.
[Previously on Mad Men Power Rankings: Don takes Bobby to the movies … Peggy and Abe look at real estate … Betty considers an old dress … Harry and Pete have a frank discussion on current events … Joan hugs a secretary.]
Don Draper (last week: 1)
"If you don't like what they're saying, change the conversation."
No, that's not right. It's a little too trite at this point to start with a catchphrase so good even Peggy's using it in pitches.