Mad Men: Five Essential Episodes
For seven seasons across eight years, audiences have been mesmerised by the sharp-dressing advertising executives in the Madison Avenue offices of Sterling Cooper & Partners. We are of course talking about Mad Men, AMC's hit show set in 1960s New York and headed by the agency's slick creative director, Don Draper.
Over the best part of a decade, Draper has become one television's most iconic characters; creatively brilliant, but deeply troubled and with a penchant for vice. But while Draper may be the undisputed star of Mad Men, the show has also given us a whole cast of brilliant characters that perfectly illustrate the high-pressure, sexist and often cutthroat reality of life inside the advertising industry during the 60s.
Like all good things though, Mad Men had to come to an end eventually and this year saw the final season complete its run before we said goodbye to Draper and co. forever. Don't worry if you missed it though; the final part of Season 7 arrives in stores on Monday (October 19th, you can pre-order it on the right-hand side of the page) and you can relive Mad Men's final episodes in their glory from the comfort of your sofa.
To mark the end of an era , we trawled through all 92 episodes and picked five of the show's most essential moments. It wasn't easy - and not everyone will agree, we're sure – but for us, these are the top five...
(you can also find the trailer for Season 7 below...)
'In Care Of' (Season 6 Episode 12)
Don Draper has made a career out of lying to people, usually to the effect that happiness can be found simply by buying some product or other – hey, this is the advertising business, after all – but one of the things that makes 'In Care Of' such a great episode is that Don, for once, decides to be honest.
Unfortunately for the agency, though, he does this right in the middle of a crucial pitch to Hershey's, the chocolate makers, by sharing with them his personal childhood experience of savouring a chocolate bar given to him by one of the prostitutes in the whorehouse in which he grew up. As if it wasn't enough waking up in a jail cell for drunkenly punching a priest, he's now completely binned the Hershey's account in a rare moment of vulnerability – or, as Roger so eloquently puts it afterwards: “You shit the bed in there!”
But the other memorable thing about this episode comes from Pete, who gets a call from the cruise company telling him that not only has his mother married Manolo, but she is overboard and missing - probably dead – leading to one of the series most oft-quoted lines when Bob asks him how he's doing: “Not great, Bob!”
'Shut The Door, Have A Seat' (Season 3 Episode 13 - finale)
The finale from season 3 is one of our favourites, simply because it's the moment where so much changes. Don's marriage finally collapses when he discovers that betty has flown to Reno with Henry to get a divorce, while he also learns from Conrad Hilton that PPL are selling the agency to McCann, which he's naturally disgusted by (“It's a sausage factory!”).
It's also the first time that Don really tells Peggy how important she is to him, which is the least she deserves after three seasons, while Roger and Don make friends – for real this time – and decide to steal all the files relating to clients they're going to poach. Well, they try to, before realising they need Joan to help them to do this, because they don't know where anything is. Men, eh?
'Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency' (Season 3 Episode 6)
This episode has lots going on, with Don's daughter Sally taking a dislike to her baby brother, as well as the beginning of Don's difficult involvement with hotelier Conrad Hilton. Most of the episode's plot however concerns the surprise visit from PPL, the agency's British owners, who arrive to shake things up and announce that they intend to move Lane to Bombay, replacing him with PPL's rising star, Guy.
However, Guy's appointment doesn't last long as a result of this episode's most memorable moment, namely Lois running over his foot with a lawnmower. The comedy in Mad Men is often a very dark humour, but the sight of everyone splattered with Guy's blood is one of its funniest ever moments, even though we know it shouldn't be.
'Commissions and Fees' (Season 5 Episode 11)
By the time we reached episode 11 in the show's fifth season, the writing had been on the wall for Lane Pryce for some time, with his financial worries becoming increasingly stressful and culminating in his embezzling $7,500 from the agency by forging Don's signature on a cheque in advance of an expected Christmas bonus, only to discover the board has voted that the directors should forego their bonuses after a poor year. To make matters worse, he arrives home to find that his wife has bought a brand new Jaguar.
Despite the fact that Don gives him the option of resigning without disclosing the fraud, Don's pep talk doesn't quite have the desired effect and after a failed attempt to use the new car as a means of suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning, he hangs himself in the office and his body is discovered by Joan the following morning. There aren't too many deaths in Mad Men, but this is a poignant moment and surely one of the show's darkest episodes.
'The Suitcase' (Season 4 Episode 7)
Now, before we even begin with this there are probably people reading that are already boiling with incredulity that we haven't included season 1 finale 'The Wheel' at the top of our list – and we see your point, it's brilliant – but The Suitcase shows both Don and Peggy at their best, and we really go through the whole range of dynamics in their rollercoaster relationship here.
After Don has a creepy vision of Anna holding a Samsonite briefcase, he spends the whole episode avoiding calling Stephanie because he knows that when he does, he will find out that Anna is dead. While the rest of the office leaves to watch the fight between Cassius Clay and Sonny Liston, Don keeps her behind to work on the Samsonite account with him – at least that's what he tells her, but really it's partly a power play and party that he doesn't want to be left alone. They backchat each other, they laugh at Roger's efforts to write a book, Don throws up, they share stories about their childhoods and end up cuddling on the sofa. It's all dialogue, no action, but Matthew Weiner's writing here is as close to televisual perfection as anything you'll ever see.