[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.
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!
[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.
[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.
[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.
[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.
[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.
[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.)
[Production note: Previously on Mad Men Power Rankings, unless it was the one we skipped: Don has a hot tooth … No one wants Lane Pryce's office for some reason … The Ghost of Adam Whitman drops by for Bring Your Dead Sibling to Work Day … Megan books a commercial … Pete's mistress forgets about him.]
1. Don Draper
"What do I do?" the subject asked the photographer, unsure of how to behave in an office that had been temporarily rearranged to make a better backdrop for a shot, a better reflection of the brain behind the operation.
"Just do what you do," answered the photographer.
"Gimme a minute," said the subject, flicking open the lighter of a drunk soldier he'd helped to marry on a distant beach, which bore the inscription: IN LIFE WE OFTEN HAVE TO DO THINGS THAT JUST ARE NOT OUR BAG.
"What do you want?" asked the subject, now distracted and queasy from a flood of memories of the soldier from that beach, of the solider he once was.