It’s the beginning of the end. The world is about to welcome in a new decade in AMC’s award-winning show Mad Men. Suitably, with the ’60s coming to a close, so too is the series. But before it does, fans will be given a two part seventh season, the first of which begins tonight and the second of which will air next year.
It will be sad to see the show go. In an era of television that is being recognised as the very best, Mad Men ranks up there with the finest examples. It has consistently managed to raise the bar and introduce storytelling that is unique and unconventional. It has brought to life some of the most complex and fascinating characters we have ever seen on the small screen.
To celebrate tonight’s premiere, we have been re-watching the whole show from beginning to present, reminding ourselves not only of its greatness but just how much the Mad Men universe has transformed since its early days too. Having done so, we have listed our choices for the 12 best Mad Men episodes to date.
12. In Care Of (Season 6, Episode 13)
Mad Men has charted Don Draper’s gradual downfall for six seasons. As those who orbit him change and adapt with the times, Don is seemingly impervious to authentic transformation. There have been moments when it seems Don will finally turn his life around, but time and again he relapses into meaningless sex and copious alcohol.
However, In Care Of sees Donald Draper have a genuine pivotal moment: when he reveals his tragic upbringing at a pitch meeting in front of everyone in the office. It’s a cathartic scene that seemingly allows him to turn a long-awaited corner. When he’s subsequently fired from the agency, it feels like an opportunity for him to finally begin again and prevent from spiralling any further. Emphasised later by the powerful final shot of him and Sally sharing a moment at his childhood home, this is a Don Draper who at long last seems comfortable in his own shoes.
It’s not just Don who is promised an escape in this tremendous season finale either. Both Teddy and Pete are presented new chapters for themselves too. The former begs to go to California feeling his family tear apart due to his love for Peggy; the latter is given freedom with the death of his mother.
11. Mystery Date (Season 5, Episode 4)
The ‘60s had its dark moments, and this episode of Mad Men relishes the unpleasant side of the era. Mystery Date plays out against the backdrop of the student nurse massacre in which eight women were raped and murdered. The horrific event took place in Chicago, but its effects are being felt in New York. Dawn is crashing on Peggy’s sofa because she doesn’t want to take the subway home; Sally is unable to sleep having read the article in her grandmother’s newspaper. It’s an unusually tense hour of Mad Men; one in which the colours seem suitably duller and the production is doused in shadows.
The darkness of the 1960s is represented best in Joan’s story, which makes up most of this episode’s plot, as she’s reunited with her rapist husband Greg who has seen the horrors of the Vietnam war. However, few will forget Don’s nightmarish storyline either as, hallucinating in a fever dream, he murders a former copywriter he once had a sexual relationship with in a very similar scenario to the real-life massacre. Mystery Date shows that something very sinister is at the heart of AMC’s show, and its lead character Don Draper too.
10. The Crash (Season 6, Episode 8)
Mad Men is a show that’s never afraid of being unconventional. However, no episode of Mad Men has been quite as out there as this surreal interlude in the series’ sixth season. With another weekend of work on the Chevy account ahead, the office decides to prepare for the graft by taking a shot of speed. Employing interesting editing and camera technique throughout, the show guides us through this manic weekend, seen mostly through the eyes of Don Draper, as time and events get increasingly confused.
In all of its weirdness, The Crash is one of the most entertaining episodes of Mad Men so far. From Ken Cosgrove’s tap dancing and the office race to Stan Rizzo’s firing squad of stationary, it was full of comic flourishes. It has probably spurred more .gifs than any other episode of Mad Men. But as Don is pulled deeper into the high, it also discloses certain tragic aspects of our hero. There’s the flashback to where his sex addiction began and the reveal that all his work over the weekend wasn’t for Chevy; he was thinking of a strategy to win back his mistress Sylvia.
09. The Beautiful Girls (Season 4, Episode 9)
Mad Men has always been more about the women than the men. The ninth episode of the show’s fourth season is an excellent reminder of that. It puts Mad Men’s ladies front and centre, the spotlight shining brightly on Peggy, Joan, Faye and Sally.
The Beautiful Girls takes places against the backdrop of Don’s elderly secretary Ida’s death, a woman who was generally unknown to those both in and outside of the building’s walls. The episode explores the world that the women of Mad Men have been born into, one that is entirely different to that Ida recognised. It depicts the strides that women had made by 1965, but it also shows the lengths that were still left to go.
A recurring motif in the fourth season was that of doors symbolising divides emotionally and culturally. No image from the season was more powerful than the three main women of Mad Men – Faye, Peggy and Joan – together in the elevator at The Beautiful Girls’ finale as the doors close on them. It suggests that there are amazing new possibilities for women in this world, but it’s still a place where the men unfortunately dominate.