Monday, May 7, 2012 Mad Men Power Rankings: Episode 508, 'The Lady Lazarus'
By Mark Lisanti
[Production notes: If you queue up Revolver in your media player of choice and press play at the end of this Production Note, nothing will happen. Well, you'll be listening to some great music as you muddle through these Rankings, but there's no magic synchronization thing that will reveal previously unimagined layers of each work. Maybe we'll set that up for next week. There's probably an intern around here who's both good with that kind of technical thing and a hallucinogen enthusiast.
In the long and storied history of these Power Rankings, only twice has Don Draper's stranglehold on the no. 1 spot been loosened, albeit temporarily. The first time, in Season 3's "Everything's Going to Be Fine," Betty broke Don's spell with this powerful incantation: "I don't love you anymore. I know that. I kissed you yesterday. I didn't feel a thing." And last year, in "The Suitcase," arguably the single best episode in this show's celebrated run, Peggy pulled past her mentor after a long night of vomiting, seeing ghosts, and narrowly avoiding being an enraged, shit-crazed Duck Phillips's latest kill. (RIP, those 17 souls in Okinawa; we can only pray the mighty Duck did not bayonet open your chests and befoul your still-fresh corpses in some sort of scatological flag-planting ritual.) Poor Don. The women get him every time.
But let's not make this a lamentation for Don; there is still time for that below if that's how these Rankings unfold. This is a celebration of Megan. Megan, who seems to be good at everything — advertising pitches, Francophone proto-karaoke, make-up-sex-inducing housework, the discreet disposal of the bodies of murdered, obsessive fever-dream lovers, angry intrastate bus rides after being ditched in HoJo parking lots — who represents the ideal of the modern woman in 1966. Can she have it all? She's going to try to have it all. And her husband's going to support her pursuit of creative fulfillment, because he's seen what happens when a wife's dreams wither and die: They return and attach themselves to a lady's jowls in a laughably conspicuous manner, infecting their host with an insatiable desire for Bugles, their daughter's unfinished ice cream sundaes, and, most sinisterly, the supple, delectable flesh of their youngest child. (Why do you think we never see Baby Gene?) Don can't — won't — go through that again. Support is the only option.
But is Megan too perfect? [SFX: dramatic piano sting] Stay tuned and find out if her acting skills are limited to semi-improvisational banter about baked beans and artificial whipped cream!
2. Don Draper (last week: 1)
Don's defining moment this week wasn't the late-night conversation about Megan's acting ambitions (and concurrent lack of advertising ambitions), nor was it his utterly flummoxed chat with Joan about how best to handle his wife's departure from the firm, nor even his brief, confused Revolver listening party. It was the elevator doors sliding open, with no car to be found, and his baffled glance down the yawning shaft before him. What's going on here? Is this the way elevators work now and no one warned me? Things HAVE been changing pretty fast all around me. Am I supposed to slide down the exposed cables like Batman? Or am I supposed to just step into it, trusting I'll be supported by this newfangled, invisible contraption instead of plunging down into the unknown and certain death? Nah. Fuck this, I'm waiting for the regular elevator. Matthew Weiner has taken critical heat in some quarters for this season's seemingly heavier thematic imagery, but we found the words THE FUTURE that flashed at the bottom of the shaft for a single frame to be quite subtle; you have to work the DVR pause button with some precision to uncover them.
But will Don return to no. 1 next week? [SFX: dramatic sitar sting] Stay tuned and find out if Don is willing to run lines for an off-off-off-Broadway production of Oklahoma! with his current wife, or finally confronts his ex-wife about eating his son!
Don Draper Fingerbang Threat Level: Tomorrow Never Knows Don reclines on the couch, considering the record spinning on the hi-fi, the album sleeve in his hands. What's all the fuss about? Who are these crudely drawn hippies the entire world is entranced by? What's their appeal? What the hell kind of a name is Ringo? It's just well-packaged rebellion, that's what it is. He can sell rebellion; he has sold rebellion. It's another product to hawk, nothing more. It's not music. Music is the stack of Frank Sinatra albums under the record player, the one Dave Brubeck LP for when he has to pretend he likes to shake things up. This Beatles nonsense is not for him; he can't tell the difference between them and whatever garbage Stan Rizzo played for him in the office, anyway.
But the record keeps spinning, the insistent, thrumming bass line echoes through the empty apartment, empty because Megan's off at her acting class, leaving him alone with the Beatles and the glass of rye in his hand. This was not how it was supposed to be. Now he'll never see her at the office, those locked-door quickies gone, their suppressed giggles as Dawn intercoms that Roger's waiting outside a thing of the past. They could do it at home in his den, sure, with the doorman buzzing when the kids arrive for their visit, but it won't be the same without Sterling impatiently screaming, "I know you two are humping on the sofa!" Don looks down and realizes he's been resting his fingers two knuckles deep in his rye. Hadn't his pour been a three-knuckler? He doesn't recall having taken a sip yet. What are you up to down there, boys? Sneaking a sip while I wasn't looking. He looks over at the clock. Megan won't be home for at least another hour, and she'll be excited about her class, but too tired to do anything but head straight to bed. This is life now.
He withdraws the fingers from the glass, considering them for a moment as a drop of whiskey slowly slides from fingertip to palm. Is the Ringo just playing the same thing over and over again? It's awful but mesmerizing. "Tomorrow Never Knows," indicates the cover. You said it, guys. He loosens his belt, pulls down his pants, lifts his hip.
Looks like it's just you and me, boys. His fingers slide underneath him.
This is life now.
3. Roger Sterling (last week: 2)
So it seems like the newly revitalized Roger has found a gear he likes: coasting. Why not just take all the good parts of the job — the boozing, the schmoozing, the balling — and let Campbell do all the hard work? (And was the job ever really any more than that?) He definitely seems to want it more, even if he always looks as if his nuts are in a vice at the base of a guillotine. Free skis? Sure, take the free skis, Pete. The ski people love you without even having met you. Knock yourself out. Keep making a name for yourself. Maybe they'll even put it on the wall one day. Yeah. Anyway, coasting's not so bad.
[Also, dropping acid while there are skis lying around the office makes for a really good time. Did you know that the Alps are made of rainbow marshmallows? They are; just ask the Yeticorn running the lodge. He's a very mellow, very aware guy.]
4. Peggy Olson (last week: 4)
"Honey, I don't even think I want dessert."
"You love dessert."
"You love dessert, and you just want me to have some so that you can have some."
"I made five!"
[Whispered] "Two. You made two."
"I made two!"
"What is it?"
"It's Cool Whipped!"
"Surely you mean Cool Whip, right? And it looks like whipped cream."
"Just eat it!"
"So it's a dessert?"
"Just eat it!"
"Taste it. I should just TASTE it."
"Right, whatever! It's just like real whipped cream, but, um, totally artificial. Just eat it!"
"JUST TASTE IT. The line is, 'Just taste it.'"
"Well, maybe I don't like your wife's stupid line. Get her back here to read her line, if she doesn't think advertising is stupid."
"You were threatened by everything about her! And now you're making the Head of Desserts very uncomfortable."
"I supported her for eight months and did everything right and I'm still getting it from you!"
"Great, now the Head of Desserts is crying. Will someone get the Head of Desserts a goddamn hanky?"
"The Head of Desserts can just eat it!"
"Just taste it. The Head of Desserts can just taste it."
"Just taste it!!! Happy now, Head of Desserts?"
"Great, now the Head of Desserts is anxiety-eating sample B."
"Is it sweet? Does it go great on fruit, or on cake?"
"Now you're just being a bitch."
"Just taste it."
5. Pete Campbell (last week: 8)
"Why do they get to decide what's going to happen?" That's an excellent question, Pete Campbell. Why do they get to decide when you're going to move to Cos Cob and have a kid and a really, really nice kitchen? And why do they get to decide when you're allowed to come inside after a ride back from the train station, knowing full well their husband's down in the city with his new, big-titted mistress, where you can have sex on the floor and instantly develop an unhealthy fixation on a sad woman who's kind of a weird stand-in for the beautiful wife you're pushing away? Why is that up to them? And why are they always comparing your eyes to the pictures of the lonely, tiny Earth, and drawing hearts on frosted-over car windows and then rolling those windows down to erase them, as if those poignant, delicious moments never even existed? Why isn't everything always the way we want it, even when we have no idea what we really want? They just do, and it just isn't.
On the other hand, free skis are pretty nice.
6. Joan Holloway (last week: 6)
"Peggy, she's going to be a failing actress with a rich husband." Well, well, well. Someone finally got to speak her mind about the secretary the boss married and quickly promoted, the one she expected to fail, the one following the Second-Wife Playbook.* Fair enough, though; Joan's seen enough Second Wives to know how this usually goes. But the Betty thing was a low blow. Megan's no Betty. Betty's a terrible actress, always letting the fat suit and the box of Bugles do all the work.
[*By the end of business today, we will have sold a pitch for The Second-Wife Playbook to a major Hollywood studio. Kate Hudson, Reese Witherspoon, and Anne Hathaway attached to star.]
7. Michael Ginsberg (last week: not ranked)
Signs Michael Ginsberg Might Actually Be a Martian
Believes actresses are required to supply their own clothes, which would really make Westerns a casting challenge
Thinks Megan threw away her career over an unpayable $15 lunch debt
Spent an entire week drinking bottles of Chevalier Blanc to "get a feel for the product"
Urinated in that son-of-a-bitch Don's bar to avenge Megan's firing
Experiences sudden, severe heart-stabbing pains when exposed to the sonic frequencies of dated pop songs
8. Stan Rizzo, Office Existentialist, and Harry Crane, World's Worst, Guiltiest Office Sexual Harasser (tie) (last week: not ranked)
"You work your ass off for months, bite your nails. For what? HEINZ BAKED BEANS."
"The good news is, we don't have to look over our shoulders wondering when she's gonna tell him."
9. Howard and Beth Dawes (tie) (last week: not ranked)
Call us crazy, but we feel like these kids are going to make it. He'll have his place in the city for his side pieces, and his "late nights at the office" give her plenty of time to retaliate with the occasional Metro-North commuter. Seems pretty foolproof, as long as the train beef she picks up doesn't start doing insane shit like showing up to the house on the flimsy pretense of haggling over an emergency life insurance policy. Maybe she should stick to men whose eyes don't remind her of majestic space photography, just to be safe.
10. Pizza House! (last week: not ranked)
Not ranked: Kenny Cosgrove; Cool Whip; Calvin Nichols and Rick Swanson; Rick Swanson's boyfriend; Phil Wallace; Richard Belding, Head of Desserts; Head skis; hobos and panhandlers; The Beatles; beef bourguignon; Meisner and Stanislavski; champagne; the elevator shaft; Megan's lunch tab; Jody and Troy; the strawberry blonde; the new tie; Rory Gilmore jokes.