Mad Men is universally acclaimed as one of the best shows on television — ever.
Not only does the show’s production quality give it a visual flair like no other, the AMC channel’s hit series deftly weaves in influences from genres outside of traditional serialized drama and integrates historical events from the period in a way that doesn’t feel forced or hackneyed.
Plus, we love it because ad execs are the heroes and the villains.
These are the episodes that cemented Mad Men’s reputation in the history of the small screen.
Besides being the funniest episode of Mad Men, this episode received acclaim for its perfect use of an old screenwriting trope: if you show the gun in the first act, someone better get shot in the third. Only this time the gun was a lawnmower operated by a drunk secretary and the guy getting shot had his foot and a not-insignificant amount of blood sprayed over four Sterling Cooper employees.
While it was hinted that something was going to happen with the lawnmower from the beginning of the episode, the climactic moment of seeing Guy MacKendrick's foot burst onto the screen was an unexpected moment of both humour and gore.
At this point in the series, Roger Sterling was starting to feel a little boring to most viewers. After losing Lucky Strike, he didn't seem to be doing much but frivolously spending money and drinking at the office. Then he dropped acid.
Becoming seemingly 'enlightened,' Roger became one of the few characters on the show to realise that he didn't have to feel trapped in an unhappy marriage. Even after coming to terms with the fact that it was over between Jane and himself, Roger gained an extra bit of pep that made him one of the more fun characters on the show in the latter half of the fifth season.
Whoa. What did the heck did the SCDP team take in this episode? MDMA? Heroine? This episode gave us an interesting and entertaining look at drug use in the '60s, only this time in the context of the uppers that professionals were taking to deal with the stress of the corporate world.
Besides the drug-fuelled antics, seeing young Don's childhood in the brothel gave us an interesting look at the experiences that shaped Don's outlook on sex and life in general. Knowing that he lost his virginity to a prostitute (and that his mother beat him when she found out) explained a lot.
While some saw the dream sequences in this episode as cheesy, 'Mystery Date' was fascinating because we got to see the Mad Men creative team experiment in a different genre: horror. The Richard Speck murders referenced in the episodes were a perfect historical event to illustrate the constant threat of sexual violence that women faced at the time.
To top it off, the writers tied this theme to long-running plots in the show: Don addresses his self-loathing regarding his own infidelity by strangling one of his former lovers to death in a fever-induced dream, while Joan finally confronts her husband for raping her back in the second season.
Here, we see Don's influence on Peggy come to a crisis: the man who inspired her and enabled her to have a career in the first place became the man limiting her rise in advertising. She decides that it's time to move on. And she gets the pay to go with it. You know you also whispered 'you go girl' under your breath.
Then there's the deal Pete makes with Joan: she gets to be a voting partner at the company in exchange for sleeping with a client. Few moments have made viewers' hearts sink more than seeing Don convince Joan not to go through with the deal, then finding out that she had already done the deed.
So many great moments in this episode: the argument between Peggy and Abe that leads to a comparison between the conditions of women and African-Americans in the '60s and their respective movements for civil rights; Roger and Joan getting mugged (and knocking boots) on the sidewalk after Joan discovers that her husband is shipping off to Vietnam; Miss Blankenship's death and the comedic efforts of the SCDP team to get her corpse out of the office without clients noticing; and Megan comforting Sally after Faye failed to do so, foreshadowing the Don's marriage to the former and the end of his relationship with the latter.
Mad Men has always been great at working in historical events from the period, but the episode involving the Cuban Missile Crisis is the cream of the crop. The episode portrays the uncertainty that being on the brink of nuclear war had on people: Betty responds to her husband's infidelity by having an affair of her own, while Father Gill finally confronts Peggy about her pre-marital sex. 'Don't you understand that this could be the end of the world, and you could go to hell?'
To top it off, we got to see Peggy's dramatic reveal to Pete of having had his child only to give it away - immediately after he confesses his love for her. No one knew what to expect after the brief glimpse of Pete alone with his rifle.
Watching the staff of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce come together to form a new agency in secret is the closest we're going to come to seeing the entire cast of Mad Men together in a classic heist movie.
From the manoeuvring around their non-compete clauses in Don, Roger, and Bert's contracts to the secretive stealing of accounts through ethically questionable agreements, the episode feels closer to a film about a well-planned bank robbery than a show about employees of an advertising agency.
There aren't many deaths in Mad Men, making each one have a powerful impact. The single biggest death in the show was the suicide of Lance Pryce in the penultimate episode of the fifth season.
Pryce was always a bit of a sad character: while he did a good enough job running Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, he had neither the pull with the ladies of Roger and Don nor the financial success of Bert Cooper. His relationships were also failures - his family life was always at the brink of failure due to his indiscretions and uprooting his family from England and bringing them to New York. Even his first attempt at suicide is a failure, as his Jaguar fails to start when he tries to kill himself via carbon monoxide poison.
Still, Pryce had some of the best scenes in the series - like his fist fight with Pete in which he put Campbell in his place - and his death came as a shock to many.
The best episode in the series revolving around the relationship between Peggy and Don. The episode contained many parallels to earlier moments in the series: Peggy comforting Don in this in his office felt very much like the reverse situation at the beginning of the second season, while Peggy bursting into tears while looking into the bathroom mirror contrasted sharply with Peggy's stoicism in comparison to the secretary crying and being comforted in the bathroom in the first season.
The final callback is the most touching: in contrast to the first episode, in which Peggy tries to come on to Don by reaching for his hand, Don and Peggy clasp hands in a warm sign of friendship and mutual understanding.
The Kodak Carousel presentation alone near the end of the first season finale had everything we want from an episode of Mad Men. Don's monologue while going through slides of his own family life (which he knows is falling apart) is one of the most touching scenes in the series. Seeing Don simultaneously at the peak of his game and also crushed by his own actions made this scene the benchmark for judging every other big moment in the show: 'Yeah, that was great, but it wasn't quite The Wheel.'
As if the presentation wasn't enough, the episode ends with the big reveal of Peggy's pregnancy - a culmination of hints laid out for an entire season, setting a precedent for the show of having storylines build over significantly longer amounts of time than lesser series.
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