Sunday, March 18, 2012

13 Favorite Mad Men Episodes: Seasons 1-4

So many great episodes, it's truly hard to pick just 13.

This list features the episodes that stand out to me personally for reasons I point out in my commentary but in essence, every episode of Mad Men during this time will always be a collective masterpiece in television drama writing and history. The writers of Mad Men have crafted characters and stories that do not downplay politically incorrect perspectives, racism, taboos and the unflinching realism of the era. The series is not an idyllic view of the 1960's as some have come to label it and neither is it a complete commentary of the time. It is what some individuals have experienced for both the good and the bad. Mad Men is as real as it gets.


#1: Episode 1, Season 1: "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes"

Commentary: This was, of course, the first episode I watched due to the load of ads and buzz about the show. The second season was about to start and it  happened to be On Demand. Before the new season started, I decided to take a chance to watch the previous one. I didn’t really having any expectations though I was intrigued with the setting and look of the show. And I wasn’t sure where it was going plot wise; it just seemed like a typical "throw-back-to-an-era kind of series"…That is until the episode ended. It was pure genius! I didn't expect such a surprising finish as I watched Don Draper take a ride home. After all that I saw throughout the episode, I knew this show was a step above the rest. 

PLOT: "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" is the first episode of the first season of the American period drama television series Mad Men. It first aired on July 19, 2007 in the United States on AMC. "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" was written by creator Matthew Weiner and directed by Alan Taylor. The episode takes places in March 1960 in New York City, where renowned advertising executive Don Draper (Jon Hamm) struggles to maintain his stock with the cigarette company Lucky Strike. In his personal life, Don is having an affair with Midge (Rosemarie DeWitt), and the viewer doesn't learn about his wife Betty Draper (January Jones) until the end of the episode when he goes to his home in Ossining, New York. Meanwhile, Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss) faces hostility amongst her peers after being hired as Don's secretary. Junior accountant Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) grows fond of Olson, ultimately pursuing a relationship with her.


#2: Episode 8, Season 1, #8: “The Hobo Code”

Commentary: This episode showed the complicated relationship between Don/Dick (as a child) and his family growing up in the Depression Era. It explained, in some ways, how Don/Dick wanted to be so much unlike his father and the varied reasons why he became someone else entirely.

PLOT: As Peggy's ad copy proves to be successful, her relationship with Pete becomes more complicated. Don spends the evening with Midge and her Bohemian friends. An encounter Don had as a boy with a hobo is told in flashbacks. Sal finds himself the object of interest of a female co-worker and a male client.


#3: Episode 10, Season 1: “Long Weekend”

Commentary: This would have to be one of Roger Sterling’s definitive episodes. It was a turning point for the character whose near death experience became the catalyst of major decisions (and episodes) yet to come.

PLOT: Betty is unhappy about spending the Labor Day weekend with her father's new girlfriend. After Sterling Cooper loses the Dr. Scholl's account, Roger attempts to cheer Don up by arranging for a pair of twins to spend the night with them. This results in Roger having a heart attack. Joan goes out for a night out on the town with her roommate, who reveals her secret love for Joan.

#4: Episode 12, Season 1: Nixon vs. Kennedy

Commentary: This episode revealed a great deal about Don/Dick and the events that lead him taking on the identity of Don Draper. The confrontation between Pete and Don was building up to this point. It was a test of their characters to either stand their ground completely or be defeated internally.

PLOT: Sterling Cooper's employees have an all-night office party to watch the 1960 Nixon–Kennedy presidential election results. Pete discovers that Don's real name is Dick Whitman, who officially died in the Korean War. When Don tells Pete that Duck Phillips will become the new head of accounts, Pete tries to use this knowledge to pressure Don into giving him the job. Flashbacks reveal how "Dick Whitman" became "Donald Draper".


#5: Episode 15, Season 2: Flight 1

Commentary: This episode presented the characters with a real tragedy (The crash of American Airlines Flight 1) and how they handle it. Pete’s father was killed in the crash and his reaction is a complicated mess of emotions. This episode also begins the plot outline for an interracial relationship and the civil rights movement.

PLOT: The crash of American Airlines Flight 1 affects several Sterling Cooper employees, most notably Pete, whose father is killed on the flight, and Duck and Don, who try to manage both existing and potential accounts with airline companies. Paul and Joan clash over his relationship with a black woman.


#6: Episode 22, Season 2: Six Month Leave

Commentary: This episode had it all: A tragedy/event in history (The Death of Marilyn Monroe), Conflict in the workplace (Roger leaves his wife for another woman), A firing (Freddy can’t hold his liquor…literally) and a one-sided fight (Don punches a big mouth). It’s a drama, tragedy and comedy all rolled into one!

Plot: Freddy Rumsen's alcoholism results in an embarrassing situation during a pitch meeting with his team, and he is let go from the agency. Roger leaves his wife Mona and takes up with Jane. The death of Marilyn Monroe saddens many of the women in the office.


#7: Episode 24, Season 2: The Jet Set

Commentary: OK. This episode is just weird and yet, brilliant. I swear every time I watched this it seems like I’m watching a episode of Twilight Zone. Its soooo surreal.

PLOT: Don's business trip to Los Angeles takes an unexpected detour when he falls in with a group of wealthy nomads; Peggy attempts to go on a date to a Bob Dylan concert with Kurt before finding out he's a homosexual; and Duck holds a secret meeting to help sell Sterling Cooper to British firm Putnam, Powell & Lowe.


#8: Episode 29, Season 3: “My Old Kentucky Home”

Commentary:  This is the beginning of the end….well, for the end of some things. Roger shows that his irrational decision to marry has made him into being a fool…a fool who sings “My Old Kentucky Home” in black face (WTF?)…..Don and Betty meet two people that would impact their future greatly. And Sally begins her accent to importance as a character.

PLOT: A mandatory overtime session leaves Paul, Smitty, and Peggy trying to stave off late-night boredom with cannabis. Roger's Kentucky Derby party leads to Don striking up a friendship with a folksy guest from another event, while Betty meets political advisor Henry Francis. Meanwhile, Joan and Greg host a dinner party of their own. Sally and Grandpa have a run-in.


#9: Episode: 32, Season 3: “Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency"

Commentary: The British Invasion of Sterling Cooper…and defeat….no pun intended.

PLOT: The agency's British owners visit Sterling Cooper to reassign Pryce to one of their India-based companies over the Independence Day weekend. A replacement for Pryce is introduced to the company. Ken, however, brings a riding lawnmower into the office. During a party to celebrate Joan's departure, a secretary, Lois Sadler, runs over the replacement's foot with the lawnmower, and as a result Pryce's transfer is called off. Meanwhile, after tendering her resignation, Joan finds out that her husband has failed in his career as a surgeon.


#10: Episode 37, Season 3: "The Gypsy and the Hobo"

Commentary: And, finally, Betty confronts Dick Whitman the man posing as Don Draper. Plus Joan’s husband doesn’t know what lies ahead with joining the army in…1963?!?

PLOT: As Don is about to leave with Suzanne, Betty confronts him about his identity theft, forcing him to reveal to her the truth about himself. Meanwhile, Roger meets a former client/lover who wishes to rekindle their affair, but Roger tells her he is happy with Jane. Joan discovers that her husband, after a failed attempt to switch to psychiatry, has joined the Army in order to ensure that he will become a surgeon.


#11: Episode 45, Season 4: “Waldorf Stories”

Commentary: This episode revealed how Don got hired by Roger in the first place. Well, played Mr. Draper, well played indeed…But it also reveals how the roles of the two titans of advertising have had their perspectives and actions reversed…We also get to see actor Jon Hamm being a little bit more comical but only when he as Don Draper is completely drunk…

PLOT: After winning a Clio Award for the Glo-Coat ad, an inebriated Don inadvertently pitches executives from Quaker Oats a slogan for Life cereal that came from Roger's wife's cousin. Peggy secludes herself in a hotel room with the firm's new artistic director Stan Rizzo in order to complete a campaign. Pete is upset when he finds out that his one-time rival Ken Cosgrove will be joining the firm. Roger dictates his memoirs, and his initial encounter with Don is recounted.


#12: Episode 46, Season 4: "The Suitcase"

Commentary: This episode reveals the vulnerability of Don in the end, as the tragic news he tries so hard to avoid finally becomes a reality, and how Peggy happens to be there for him when he needs her the most. Considered by many critics to be one of the best episodes of the series.

PLOT: An impending deadline leaves the firm in disarray, as Don makes Peggy stay late to work on a Samsonite ad, missing a birthday dinner with her boyfriend. That night, Don receives a call from Anna's niece confirming his fears about her health, while an intoxicated Duck visits the SCDP offices in search of Peggy. The second Muhammad Ali vs. Sonny Liston fight serves as the episode's backdrop.


#13: Episode 48, Season 4: "The Beautiful Girls"

Commentary: This episode, I believe, is a spotlight to the women of Mad Men and their relationship to both Don and the company. In my opinion, it is one of the best of the series and gives Don’s daughter Sally conflicts and issues to sort out, resulting in some great acting on her part.

PLOT: Peggy is forced to face some unpleasant facts about a client's discriminatory business practices. Don and Faye's burgeoning relationship is tested when Sally runs away from home and turns up at the office. Roger tries to rekindle his affair with Joan. Miss Blankenship unexpectedly drops dead at her desk.


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