Monday, April 2, 2012 Mad Men Power Rankings: Episode 503, "Tea Leaves"
By Mark Lisanti
[Production notes: This is the second week of the Power Rankings on Grantland. Let's see if we can all get out of here before 3,000 words, OK? As always, we make no guarantees as to the accuracy of transcribed dialogue, period detail, or phonetic transcriptions of ostensibly Cockney accents. Rankings are arbitrary — maddeningly so — and should not be the basis for cash wagers unless you are a crazy person.
Are any of us sufficiently prepared for the sudden appearance of Old Man Draper? (OK, possibly not so sudden, but when you go off the air for 16 months, everything seems like a surprise. Occupational hazard of extended hiatuses.) It's almost like Megan had cut out of the bottom of the chair Don was forced to sit in at the climax of his surprise party, and instead of serenading him in French, repeatedly battered his testicles with a knotted rope. He's too tired to have sex with his hot young wife after getting his brains zou-bisoued out (well, unless he gets to leave the office early and do it on a filthy carpet; everyone has "their thing"), he's too upset by the prospect of Betty's mortality to hang out on Fire Island, he's too responsible to smoke a joint with a teenager at the Stones concert. What a fucking drag this guy has become in 1966. Remember when literally every encounter he had with a female between the ages of 21 and 45 resulted in spontaneous sexual combustion? No waitress, coat-check girl, comedian's wife, schoolteacher, stewardess, junkie artist, department store heiress, elevator passenger, focus-group mind-violator, secretary, secretary, secretary, hand model, deli counter attendant, meter maid, secretary, podiatry nurse, or Gabor in the tri-state area (or California) was safe from Don's heat-seeking meat-missile for a good four seasons. Yes, his retrograde cocksmanship was often as sad as it was thrilling, but let's be honest here: It was totally thrilling all the time, right? Whenever a pair of elevator doors slid shut, we expected a cut to some lady's well-manicured hand pounding the top row of buttons like she was urgently trying to deliver a donor heart to the penthouse. The '60s, man! And now Don's settled down with a new wife, three kids, and an enlarging prostate, slogging his way through 1966 like a tar-slicked dinosaur with a great fedora collection. Everyone gets old eventually, we guess. But come on, Don. One more secretary. Just. One. More. (Don, Dawn. Dawn, Don.) Then you can get back to being 40.
Don Draper Fingerbang Threat Level: Painted Black
The dressing room reeks of marijuana smoke, puddles of spilled whiskey, despoiled groupies. Don starts to raise a handkerchief to his nose, thinks better of it, and tucks it away in his breast pocket. He goes to loosen his tie, but remembers the girl out in the hall had already playfully removed it. Good. All eyes were on him for a split second as he entered, before dismissing him as some record label suit — maybe a lawyer, whatever — and returning to the bacchanalia.
"The fuck are you?" The voice is more confused than angry, emerging from a generously belipped interrogator on a nearby couch. Don recognizes him immediately as the only member of the band he recognizes.
He extends a hand as he approaches the couch. "Don Draper. Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. I'm here on behalf of Heinz —"
"Heinz? Loik da beans?"
"Exactly! Yes, like the beans."
"Get fucked!" It's almost polite, impossibly, but he's already up and crossing the room. "Talk to me manager," he says over his shoulder, thumbing back to the couch. Even by backstage-at-a-concert-in-1966 standards, no one fitting that description remains in the vicinity. Don takes a seat on the couch anyway, next to a wastrel with his mouth wrapped around a bottle of Jim Beam.
"You're not Allen Klein by any chance, are you?"
"[Unintelligible gargling noise.]"
"I'll take that as a no. Don Draper." He extends his hand.
Don's couchmate removes the bottle from his mouth. "Keef."
"Oh." There's a beat as Don realizes. "From the band?"
A nod and another gargle.
"Well, 'Keef,' I'm here on behalf of Heinz beans to gauge your interest in working with us. I know the Stones have done commercials in England in the past, and we could really harness the deep, emotional, romantic connection fans feel with your music for an American campaign —"
"Heinz, Heinz, Heinz is on my side!"
"Get " he begins, extending a middle finger, "fucked!" A fountain of Jim Beam erupts as he throws back his head in laughter. Before he can retract the finger, Don's got one hand on his forearm, and another encircling the defiant bird. Draper twists the arm behind his back and thrusts the immobilized finger toward the seat of "Keef's" pants.
"Look. 'Keef.' I came here with a proposition. A business proposition. You think you're above it. But you're not. Art, like everything, has a price. Rock 'n' roll and a can of baked beans, at the end of the day, are both products. Products you and I are selling. If you're not interested in using your product to help sell my product, fine. We'll part ways here, and you can go on selling rebellion to lost 16-year-olds with bad haircuts, and I will go on selling canned nutrition to people stocking their bomb shelters. Separately. But what will not happen is you telling me to get fucked again."
Don and a silent "Keef" both look down. His pants are split neatly at the seam, the fresh crevasse filled by his hand, which disappears halfway into the red leather recesses of the ruined trousers.
"Sorry about that. I'm a little out of practice."
"Can't feew a thing, mate." He half shrugs, an awkward gesture given the disposition of his buried hand. There's a delicate jangle of bracelets as he feebly tries to free it.
Don stands up and heads for the door. The air seems even thicker with the marijuana cloud than when he entered. He nods toward the big-lipped one, now surrounded by no fewer than five nubile groupies, and exits, taking a lungful of sweet smoke with him.
2. Betty Draper Francis (last week: unranked)
Before we get into issues of aging, or mortality, or depression, or the Big C, or whatever else, we suppose this is the part where we need to address the Fat Betty issue. We mean fat suit, right? The storyline was obviously generated to compensate for January Jones's real-life pregnancy, and kudos to Matthew Weiner for not having Betty enter every scene with an armload of groceries from the A&P and then dive behind a kitchen island, but that latex-assisted subterfuge was just transfixing. Oh, the tumor's benign and Betty's not going to die? Great! Still staring at the George Lucas-quality rubber neck-wattle. And the totally mismatched body-double employed for the scene where Betty won't let Henry watch her step out of the tub bumped us out of the scene harder than if they'd had her do a couple of pirouettes behind his back while covering her up with a floating Girls Gone Wild logo. The Big Betty's House distractions essentially drained all poignancy from the cancer scare, though to be fair, the whole thing was capped off beautifully by the one-two punch of the "It's nice to be put through the wringer and find out I'm just fat" line and that final image of her housing Sally's leftover sundae. Oh, and the Bugles! The Bugles, the Bugles. If she has just been eating the Bugles in the bathtub, true mind-scrambling, pathos-drowning perfection would have been achieved.
Next week: After a follow-up visit to the doctor, Betty gets those diet pills, quickly develops a debilitating addiction, and is terrorized by her demonic refrigerator.
3. Pete Campbell (last week: 2)
No one's ever been prouder of anything than Pete Campbell is of luring back the business of a regional airline they once jilted for a shot at a big-time carrier. But this is Pete we're talking about here, and whatever pride and happiness he derived from this victory will be tragically short-lived; that very evening, he'll be riding the 6:43 Metro North train back through Westchester, and in between hands of gin rummy he'll stare petulantly out the window, upset that he didn't think to make Roger spread out his arms and zoom around the office shouting "I'm a little airplane!" for his share of the Mohawk account. "What's wrong, Pete?" his seatmate will ask. "It's your turn." And Pete will toss his cards onto the lap board, still focused on some unknown point in Scarsdale outside the window and answer, "Everything is wrong."
4. Peggy Olson (last week: 3)
With the "Bean Ballet" postponed indefinitely to clear the venue for "Heinz Beans Presents The Rolling Stones in Concert in the Hollywood Bowl" (set list samples: "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction (From Bulk-Bin Beans)," "Ain't Too Proud to Beg (For Delicious Heinz Beans)" and, of course, "Heinz is on My Side"*), Peggy is charged with finding a full-time copywriter for the Mohawk business, and boy-o, does she find a copywriter for the Mohawk business. He not only can't be bothered to pretend he's interested in her during the interview, he actually asks to skip to the Draper round, because can this broad even make any hiring decisions? Why should he waste some time on a skirt when the legend is so close by? Is he saying all this out loud? Peggy, to her credit, handles him about as well as one can handle a creative with low-grade Tourette's. Has she sown the seeds of her own destruction? Only Heinz will tell. Time.
Also, nice of her to lend Betty her fat suit. Teamwork!
[*You don't need to check, all these songs were out by June of 1966, we promise.]
5. Roger Sterling (last week: 4)
"When is everything going to get back to normal?" asked Roger, and we all know the answer: Very soon! Oh, wait. Never. The hippies will give way to disco, which will step aside for new-wave preppies and hair-metallers, who will be drowned in a fetid toilet by grunge, then shot in the head outside a Vegas casino by hip-hop, and suddenly a 90-year-old Roger is asking his great-granddaughter what a "Katy Perry Four Loko rainbow party" is, who ignores him to text "OMG LOLLLL GAMPA ROG IS SO LAME :((((( 8===> IDOL 4602." Normal's never coming back. Roger's going to spend the next couple of years lurching around the office with Pete Campbell's arrows protruding from his once-proud haunches, firing off the odd zinger as whiskey sluices out of his glass and onto the floor. Best to just enjoy what's left of the ride before retirement; if he's feeling nostalgic for his legendary prime, he can always lock the door to this office, fire up the reel-to-reel, and listen to the "Ida Blankenship: Queen of Perversions" chapters of the Sterling's Gold tapes. That trick she did with the Lazy Susan and the bowl of unpitted cherries always made him feel better about things.
6. Henry Francis (last week: not ranked)
Welcome back, Henry Francis! Nice house. Castle? It's kind of a castle. We'll just call it a castle. My God, that fat suit, right? We don't know how you managed to be so supportive and sensitive in the face of this brief thyroid hysteria, when you surely realized fairly early on that you could have just grabbed a pair of scissors and carved your sad wife free of her latex prison. Way to take one for the team. Great work, great work. Don't worry: In a couple of weeks, your wife will be swallowing diet-speed by the handful, claw her way out of that thing, and be back to the sort of borderline-awful person you hastily married, albeit in a version that never sleeps and whom you frequently find scrubbing the kitchen sink with an old toothbrush at 3 a.m.
7. Harry Crane (last week: 6)
"Ladies, you know who has the best stuff? Mary Jane. Weed, best weed. Charlton Heston. Ben-Hur. Moses? Never mind, he's only the biggest star in H-wood. Hollywood. So we're hanging around his pool up in the Hills, we're all toked out of our minds — and by 'we' I mean me, Sophia Loren, Charlie Chaplin, Ringo Starr, and Ann-Margaret — and I'm trying to pitch him on being the voice of VapoRub, it's a huge deal. Just huge. And he's sort of into it, kind of digging on the idea of delivering the Ten Commandments of Mentholated Topical Cream, carrying the Vicks-slathered tablets down the mountain, the whole nine yards. But then he just gets up, takes off all his shorts, and says, 'Harvey, I like you, kid, you're a comer. Let's talk details right after Sophia and Ringo and I get back from the fuckitorium.' And I'm just taken aback, he's hung like an elephant wearing those penis weights from the back of Playboy, and he's sort of waving it in my face a little bit. Ann-Margaret's like, 'Harvey, that means he really likes you,' and I don't know what to say. He disappears inside with Soph and Ring, I hear a couple of rifle shots at one point, and that's weird, but I don't think he killed anybody, I would've read about it in Variety the next morning. Long story short, he passed on VapoRub, but that was some really good stuff. Who's Charlton Heston? I told you, Moses! He's Moses. You wanna go inside and maybe try to blow Brian Jones? Cool, I'll come with. Hey, do you like White Castle? No reason."
8. Michael Ginsberg (last week: not ranked)
Was "Judge not lest you be judged" embossed on the cover of his portfolio not enough of a red flag for Peggy? Sure, the talent is obviously there, but like Stan warned her, "Stick to mediocre, you'll sleep better." (And like Roger warned her, "The last guy I hired was Pete Campbell.") So instead she gets mistaken for a secretary, handed a wadded up Allen Ginsberg poem as a résumé, looked through like she's not even there as he searches for his idol, the guy who wrote The Letter. A guy who insults because he's honest, apologizes because he's brave, a guy with no hobbies, no interests, no friends, no girlfriend, no family (well, some family), who talks to the radio, whose rumbling stomach sometimes sounds like "fuck you." Who loves plaid and dreams about throwing stuff out the window. Who's probably going to take her job. Hey, Stan, tell us the hiring strategy again, just so we're clear:
9. Stan Rizzo (last week: not ranked)
[Obscene gesture involving an index finger sliding in and out of a loose fist, tongue-waggle, five armpit farts, exaggerated jerk-off motion.]
Thanks, Stan. You're a prince.
10. Tiny Plane on a Pedestal (last week: not ranked)
"Ladies and gentleman, boys and girls, I present to you the return of Mohawk Airlines!" [Whips off a bed sheet, revealing a tiny plane atop a pedestal.] "Now I know what you're thinking: That is a tiny plane atop a pedestal. But we need to start somewhere, and let's not lose sight of what's important here: I, Peter Campbell, brought this tiny plane on a pedestal into this office, all by myself. And every year I will bring in a slightly larger plane on a taller pedestal, until this room is so filled with increasingly large planes and pedestals that there will be no way to walk through it without brushing up against a monument to my success! Oh, yes, of course, Roger. If Roger is nice to me, I will let him polish my planes on pedestals. Now chop chop, back to work, all the accounts I've brought in aren't going to service themselves!"
Not ranked: Megan Calvet Draper, Sally Draper, Lane Pryce, Joan Holloway Harris, Kenny Cosgrove, Bert Cooper, Dawn the New Secretary, Pauline Francis, the doctor, Pa Ginsberg, Allen Ginsberg, White Castle, Brian Jones, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Raymond from Heinz, the Tradewinds, the bag of White Castle, eating first, Fat Betty's body double, the box of Bugles, the ice cream sundae, Don's youth.