In honor of Mad Men winning the Best Drama Emmy that Breaking Bad deserved, I figured it was about time that I wrote something about the show and the excellent fourth season it’s enjoying. Like Lost before it, Mad Men’s ensemble cast features plenty of characters with a ton of storylines to dissect, and the best way to do this is with some power rankings. So here we go:
Don’s ex-wife is probably one of the most annoying and disheartening characters that can be found on television. Her appearances on screen are on the verge of sinking to Nikki & Paulo or Johnny Harper depths of annoyance and I am starting to wish that Weiner and company would either bury her alive or have her fall off a cliff. Betty has never been a particularly engaging character, but with so many interesting things going on at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, her storylines are at the expense of others. With her childlike tendencies and bitchiness no longer justifiable (as she has now left Don), I wonder if her time on the show is limited or at least going somewhere.
14) Harry Crane
I guess I was under the impression that with Harry joining the new firm, and with a new level of respect from his television resources, that he would become a more prominent member of the ensemble. This season, however, has given Crane less to do than ever before. Scarcely appearing in episodes, Harry only seems to appear when the writers want to reference some 1960s television shows or throw out a one-liner about California. It’s not that this is a bad thing, but I guess I was expecting more.
13) Henry Francis
Probably the most confusing character of the Mad Men ensemble (I still can’t figure out why he would want to marry somebody as shrill and annoying as Betty), Henry’s perspective hasn’t been quite clear. Sometimes he seems to be agreeing with Don (that they should move out of the house, and that Betty and Sally need therapy), while other times he seems to be just as negative towards Don as Betty is. Not that I want more explanation of him, but a little more consistency might be nice.
12) Bert Cooper
Moving up to the main cast certainly didn’t mean more screentime for this agency patriarch. While I find it hilarious that he’s had entire episodes go by where he’s nothing more than an out-of-focus background character (if present at all), I kind of miss the elusive and terrifying boss-man that he was in Season 1 when he was hardly seen at all, and his presence was awesomely built up.
11) Freddy Rumson
Of all the minor players from past seasons that I expected could come back, Rumson was not one of them. While Paul Kinsey and Sal Romano are still nowhere to be seen, Rumson had an awesome couple episodes this season where he brought an account straight out of an AA meeting. I’m not sure if he’ll be coming back at all, but his scenes with Peggy did offer a great comparison between the two and helped us show how far Peggy has come.
10) Glen Bishop
Speaking of people I didn’t expect to see again, the creepy little kid that walked in on Betty in the bathroom a few seasons ago was back with a vengeance as he terrified the
Francis household and seemingly began flirting with little Sally. Anybody that terrorizes Betty is good in my
book, and Glen has brought some intrigue to all of his appearances in the show
Don’s former secretary has definitely helped to highlight his downfall as his less-than-thought through hook-up with her was one of his lowest points in the season thus far. I loved that she threw a pot at him and was able to actually tell him how pathetic he has become, even if it meant that she’ll probably never appear in the show again.
8) Ken Cosgrove
Seeing as the actor’s name has been in the opening credits all season, it should come as no surprise that Cosgrove is joining the team again and bringing his accounts with him. While I thought, for a moment, that this might create a good amount of drama for him and Pete leading into the second half of the season, Pete definitely put Cosgrove in his place at the end of the last episode and I can’t see the status quo changing any time soon. Although I’d also be surprised if Kenny becomes a compelling character as he moves into the new firm.
This has definitely been Joan’s breakout season in my mind as she’s not only been given more prominence in the office but in the show overall. I think it’s great that she now has some sort of authority position at the new agency. She always seemed to know more than everybody else about how the office and company operated in the first two seasons, and it’s been great to see her sitting at the head of the conference table or instructing the partners on what they should be doing. While many fans seem to think that her husband is on his way to die in Vietnam, I think that would be too simple and unlike Mad Men. He will be leaving though, and will that mean that Joan could start another fling?
6) Sally Draper
While Betty has been one of the most uninteresting characters on the show, it has been awesome to see the effects the divorce has had on young Sally. Whether she’s cutting her hair, talking in secret to Glenn, or masturbating at a sleepover; it has been through Sally’s eyes that we’ve been able to understand the full implications of the Draper marriage collapse. While I hate to watch Betty in any more scenes, the excellent work of the young Kiernan Shipka has created a compelling child character (one that actually is a child) and given the scenes in the suburbs some semblance of a point.
5) Roger Sterling
Sure he hasn’t been prominently featured this season, but when he does appear Mr. Sterling is, well, sterling. From his Lee Garner Jr.-forced turn as Santa to his racist rant against the Japanese executives, Sterling is full of awesome one-liners and great things to say. On a deeper level, however, Sterling is also still the child that Lane describes him as. Unlike Don, Sterling never needed to ask somebody for a break (he inherited the firm, I believe), and never really has to do much work beyond keeping Lucky Strike happy. He’s always entertaining to watch though, and I’d certainly buy his memoirs if and when they are released.
4) Pete Campbell
The former bad boy/nemesis/whiny child of the show has certainly grown up this season as he continues to assert himself towards his colleagues. He got the huge account by asserting himself towards his father-in-law, attained a position of prominence at the firm by asserting himself towards Roger, and now was shown defending his well-earned position by asserting himself towards Cosgrove and Lane. I love seeing the new grown-up Pete work with his peers and love how we have seen him become an adult over the past four seasons of the show.
3) Don Draper
If these rankings were done to judge the life-quality of the characters, Draper would certainly be right near the bottom as this season has featured a Tiger-esque fall from grace (or, as I hear, Vincent Chase). However, drunken, less-than-cool Draper has been far more compelling than any of the other versions of Draper we have seen before. And we have seen many versions of this complex man. There is young Dick Wittman, scared and hopeless. There is early Draper (who we saw selling fur in the last episode), not yet fully confident in his skin, and not really fitting into his suits. There is the older Dick that only appears in California, comfortable and at ease; and there is alpha-dog Season 1 Draper, fully confident, demanding, and badass. It’s all of the sides of the man, however, that make him a supremely compelling character, and one of the biggest reasons this show is so entertaining.
2) Lane Pryce
It was difficult to realize at the end of last season, but I was never exactly sure what Lane did. He was something of a boss in the office, but he was also a blank slate defined by his poor relationship with his superiors more than anything else. Midway through season 4, however, Lane has been given many chances to be seen and flourished. His and Don’s night on the town is probably the best (non-Peggy) moment of the season, and gave the man some much needed background. Since then, we’ve seen that Lane is really the man in charge of the firm, and I’ve grown to love him as great counter-point to Pete and Don.
1) Peggy Olson
Throughout this season, Peggy has emerged as more of a focal point than ever before. While in seasons past the show definitely focused on her career rise, as well as her relationship with Pete and Don; this season has prominently used Peggy to demonstrated the changing times of the 1960s (a job that was previously done with Kinsey). Peggy smokes pot with her friends at parties; she brainstorms for pitches in the nude just to prove a point; and she drives a motorcycle around in circles in empty soundstages. While the other characters might be oblivious or only partially impacted by the changing social norms, Peggy is embracing them and giving the audience a view to the world that these characters are living in. As the times change, so does Peggy, and there was no better way to show this than when she looked back at Pete as she head off to lunch. She and her friends were dressed colorfully and looked happy, while Pete and the others were in black and white business suits. Peggy is the most important and entertaining character this season, and I love that she has been one of the most prominent.