[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.
"Sky pilot, how high can you fly? You'll never, never, never reach the sky." —Eric Burdon & the Animals ("Sky Pilot," spring of 1968)
I know it can be annoying to see GIFs loop during a post, but it's impossible to get tired of watching Pete Campbell fall down the stairs. Do you like when his butt hits the step and then scoots him down one more step, like a final apple bonking him on the head before rolling into a pig's open mouth? This is a really well-executed pratfall; it almost looks like a real accident. Pete has reason to be all pent-up. Trudy insists on pretending to the world that the Campbells' marriage is fine, but she won't do the horizontal Charleston with him anymore. Pete is actively keeping the secret that the company is about to go public, and he doesn't understand that an honest compliment about Joan's flawless paperwork skills is much more important to her than some dude she would never touch wanting to bone her. It crosses the mind that Pete and Joan are both technically single and could hook up, but Joan wisely passes on that final nightcap. Like Pete could ever handle that little red Corvette. He barely knows how to drive!
[Previously on Mad Men Power Rankings: Don and Sylvia talk about faith Peggy changes the conversation Harry Crane files his performance review Ted McGinley swings by Heinz Ketchup goes great on hot dogs.]
1. Don Draper (last week: 1)
You learn a lot about a man in a time of crisis, and this week we learned that Don's the kind of guy who responds to tragedy by worrying about the whereabouts of his mistress, crawling into the bottle of Canadian Club on his nightstand, and, upon waking the next day, bathrobe-swaddled and stinking of last night's impromptu date with the forgetting-juice, taking the boy to the movies while the wife takes the other kids to a vigil. "What else are we gonna do?" he shrugs, ready to sit back down to the half-finished, rubbery awards-show chicken that is his life and pretend the world's not going up in flames around him. You can't really say any of this is particularly new information, but it's always riveting to watch how these scenarios play out, to pluck at the jet-black What Will Don Draper Do? rubber band on your wrist and feel the blunt sting of the results.
"The Forbidden Zone was once a paradise. Your breed made a desert of it, ages ago." — Dr. Zaius, Planet of the Apes
In the wake of a horrible tragedy, traditional comforts don't always work. Things that usually make you feel better might make you feel bad or, worse, entirely disconnected. Television shows that were comfortingly absurd are suddenly jarringly unreal. All food becomes tasteless. Awards become meaningless. The usual Marxist bullshit can no longer blunt emotions about how terrible the world really is. Disasters tear open the screens put in place to protect us from horror and fear. All the other hungers and lusts are replaced with just one need: more information. After an unjust death, there can be no true satisfaction or closure. Just new facts, and an agonizing desire for more of them.
[Previously on Mad Men Power Rankings: Don and Sylvia eat Italian food Don listens to Bing Crosby Trudy and Pete have a heart-to-heart Kenny passes the ketchup.]
1. Don Draper (last week: 1)
This was a week in which Don Draper hid in dark offices while working on top-secret projects, eavesdropped at a hotel suite, and lurked in the shadows of a television set. But Don Draper is not a spy; Don Draper is an adman. Don Draper smoked joints in a clandestine hot box, drooling over the exquisite squiggles of ketchup on an illustrated hot dog begging to be smothered in the delicious suicide sauce that would hasten its own demise. Don Draper pressed an ear to a closed door, trying to hear how a professional ambush resolved itself. Don Draper sat across from a pair of swingers and barely concealed his disgust at how comfortable they were with a lifestyle that made public what he likes to do in private. Don Draper showed up unannounced at his wife's place of work, desperate to observe his on-camera cuckolding at the hands of a pretty-boy actor, and to ensure that the verisimilitude of their pantomime lovemaking met his stringent husbandly tolerance standards. Don Draper made damn well sure his wife felt shitty about it. Don Draper shattered his own adultery land-speed record, going from crying-wife-in-her-dressing-room to penny-under-the-mistress's-doormat in under 10 seconds. Don Draper avoided the crucified Jesus's gaze as he got down to business, because even though there's no God in Don Draper's life besides Don Draper, he still didn't want his partner's lord and savior tsk-tsking along with every sinful thrust, because that is a real mood-killer.
Don Draper has had prouder weeks. Maybe not busier, but prouder.
"We deplore the encouragement of an American myth that oppresses men as well as women: the win-or-you're-worthless competitive disease. The 'beauty contest' creates only one winner to be 'used' and forty-nine losers who are 'useless.'" — Robin Morgan ("No More Miss America," August 1968)
H.J. Heinz is the largest manufacturer of ketchup on the planet, so popular that its bottle has been the sauce's genericized trademark for over a century, but that doesn't mean the company is infallible. No company is. Remember the "Blastin' Green" and "Funky Purple" EZ Squirt disaster of '00? Somebody once stood in a room and pitched Heinz crazy-colored ketchup as the future of food, and Heinz listened to them. The squeeze bottle was even specifically designed with a narrow nozzle, all the better to draw pseudoplastic ketchup squiggles likes the ones Don rhapsodizes about to Stan. In a 2001 press release, Heinz's VP of marketing promised purple ketchup's success, claiming "Just look at kids' entertainment, and you'll find everything from purple computers to Harry Potter purple lightning bolts. Purple is a bold, fun color that brings a hint of mystery and magic to kids' condiment creations." Although the novelty sold well initially, Heinz's colored ketchups were quickly considered a huge flop, a failed attempt at forward-thinking rebranding on the level of New Coke or Crystal Pepsi. By 2006 they'd been shelved.
[Previously on Mad Men Power Rankings: Don despoils Lindsay Weir ... Peggy gives the copywriters a meatball sub ... Beards and sideburns ... Betty goes brunette ... Roger's mom really loved him.]
1. Don Draper (Last week: 1)
"That was the deftest self-immolation I've ever seen," Roger told Don after he doused himself in gasoline, lit a match, and gave a vigorous bear hug to Herb Rennet's plan to carjack Jaguar's national ad budget for his local dealership. But as entertainingly flame-engulfed as Don's sabotage was — he did everything to steer the campaign fatally down-market but pitch a buy-one-get-one-free offer for northern New Jersey's most upwardly mobile sanitation engineers — it couldn't hold a flickering Zippo's worth of heat to Draper's torching of his personal life. The situation with Sylvia has gotten so irresponsibly combustible that we're probably just a week away from the two of them stumbling into the Draper living room in a furniture-torching bout of extramarital passion and asking Megan if she wouldn't mind fetching them an asbestos blanket. (You know how Don feels about dirtying up a pristine carpet.)
"Someday someone who loves you / Will make you cry / Though he loves you he'll hurt you / Till you feel you could die / But if he says forgive me / Forgive if you can / For you are his woman / And he is your man" — Vicki Carr ("The Lesson," 1968)
In his 1964 book Understanding Media, Canadian theorist Marshall McLuhan coined the phrase "the medium is the message" — theorizing, roughly, that the way an idea is presented is almost as important as the idea itself. By 1967, McLuhan had incorporated his own theory into the work and released The Medium Is the Massage, a slim, 160-page volume that restated his major points about the effects of mixing media formats by pairing them with attention-grabbing artwork from graphic designer Quentin Fiore. Fiore's style incorporated text and visually arresting images with collage, turning McLuhan's conjectures into slogans, helping the writer along as he suggests that mass media can be used to disperse profound ideas. The book — which practiced what it preached down to the title pun — was a bestseller and became influential in the developing field of media theory. While McLuhan's work briefly fell out of favor in the ’70s, it was critically revived with the arrival of in-home Internet.
You know how the "next week on Mad Men" promos are always hopelessly, comically vague? Well, there's a perfectly good reason: Matthew Weiner wants them like that! (OK, maybe it's not so much a "perfectly good" reason as it is a "reason.") Speaking with CNN, Weiner explained that he doesn't "even want those scenes from next week ... they could put a promotion for some other AMC show in there if they wanted to."
Chris and I tend to agree a lot — always the formula for a successful listening experience! — so this week came as a bit of a surprise. He loved Game of Thrones on Sunday night, I thought it was a little all over the place. I adored Mad Men's Season 6 premiere, he thought it was pokey. I don't know if core disagreements like that make for a good friendship, but they made for a lively discussion! We tore through our inaugural Thrones power rankings (sorry, Joffrey's Tailor: you did not make the top 10!) and ripped into the idea that Theon has to hang around — in this case literally — just because he's still alive in the books. Wandering from Westeros to the East Side of Manhattan, we had a ton to say about Don Draper's wonderfully weird vacation in Hawaii and the specter of death that seemed to travel back home with him. I don't care what Chris says about things being draggy or on the nose — that wonderful phone call between Stan and Peggy reminded me of the good old days, when my fellow Philadelphian and I could laugh about Big Sean and focus on the good times.
Mad Men returns for a sixth season this weekend on AMC, and even those of us who haven't seen a frame of the two-hour premiere are nonetheless ready to talk our heads off about what for years now has been a top contender for Best Show on Television. Join us as we relive some of our favorite moments from the past five seasons, in all their bourbon-pounding, chain-smoking, lawnmower-crashing, existential-crisis-having glory. (Obviously, a multitude of spoilers after the jump — you've been warned.)