The Top 10 Mad Men Episodes

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One of the greatest dramas of all time ended this weekend. With every episode of the show having officially aired, we can now definitively come up with our ten favorite episodes. Over the seven seasons the show was on the air, it almost never faltered, so our list ranges from beginning to end. Let us know your favorite episodes in the comments below.


Photo Credit: “The Beautiful Girls” (Season 4, Episode 9)

It’s no secret that many of Mad Men‘s best characters are women. The series is renowned for its focus on strong female presences. This season four episode used all of them to full effect. Sally Draper’s difficult journey to adulthood was just beginning, but she got sympathy from Peggy, Joan, and Faye when they witness this young soul struggling through the tumultuous period as a young woman. Not to be ignored, this was also the episode where Miss Blankenship dies at her desk, which was easily one of the funniest moments in the entire series. (Aired Sept. 19, 2010)


Photo Credit: “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” (Season 1, Episode 1)

Mad Men confidently sparked this new golden age of television with one of the best pilots in TV history. It was clear that this wasn’t going to be a show to change or adapt to audience’s wishes. The series came forward with what it is and never faltered from its goal. This isn’t one of those shows where you go back and watch an almost unrecognizable pilot. If anything, rewatching it now fills you with nostalgia for what started as and continued to be one of the most honest and powerful shows on television. (Aired Jul. 19, 2007)


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8. “The Flood” (Season 6, Episode 5)

The 1960s is rich with history, some of it obviously very tragic. “The Flood” explores the MLK assassination in a way that captures just how significantly the event affected everyone in the country. But throughout this tragedy, Don shares a beautiful moment with his son Bobby. After they watch Planet of the Apes in the movie theater, Bobby as a very compassionate moment with a black usher. Don smiles at his son and later almost breaks down to Megan when he tells her the love he’s supposed to feel for his children finally surfaced in that moment. (Aired Apr. 28, 2013)


Photo Credit: “The Wheel” (Season 1, Episode 13)

“Nostalgia. It’s delicate, but potent. Teddy told me that in Greek, ‘nostalgia’ literally means ‘the pain from an old wound.’ It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone. This device isn’t a spaceship, it’s a time machine. It goes backwards, and forwards. It takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It’s not called the wheel, it’s called the carousel. It let’s us travel the way a child travels: around and around, and back home again, to a place where we know are loved.” There’s a lot more to this episode than Don’s pitch, but I dare you to find a more beautiful piece of dialogue ever uttered on the small screen. Pair it with the ending where Don ends up at home by himself after imaging triumphantly surprising his family and you’ve got pure storytelling magic. (Aired Oct. 18, 2007)


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6. “In Care Of” (Season 6, Episode 13)

Season six’s finale is probably Don Draper’s single biggest episode. After years of lying at work about his true past, he finally opens up about his childhood, in a pitch to Hershey’s no less. But just as he seems ready to finally do right by himself, the other partners cash in on months of questionable behavior and ask him to leave. But Don’s personal journey of redemption doesn’t end there for the episode. He then drives his children to the house he grew up in, sharing a particularly powerful moment with Sally, who is finally getting the honesty from her father that she’s always deserved. (Aired Jun. 23, 2013)


Photo Credit: “Waterloo” (Season 7, Episode 7)

As Mad Men started to head towards its inevitable close, we got this outstanding mid-season finale that covered one of the last major events of the 1960s, the moon landing. But this historic occasion was far from the only thing going on in this episode. Don saves his job, while Peggy finally gains her mentor’s respect with the pitch of her life. Then there’s Bert Cooper’s passing. The man in charge at SC&P gets the perfect sendoff as a dream sequence sees him singing and dancing “The Best Things in Life are Free.” (Aired May 25, 2014)


Photo Credit: “Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency” (Season 3, Episode 6)

Mad Men never shies away from humor. Before one of the most memorable moments of the entire series (you know the one), this episode does a lot of great character work on Joan. She’s of course too proud to admit to her coworkers that her husband won’t be able to provider for her like she thought, which leads to the very sad moment where hey goodbye brings her to tears. But she manages to share a laugh with Don in the hospital, showing that these two will always have a respect for each other. (Aired Sept. 20, 2009)


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3. “The Other Woman” (Season 5, Episode 11)

We were all duped when we saw Don go to Joan’s apartment and tell her it isn’t worth it, only to then show her going threw with it before Don showed up. Joan’s journey through this company has never felt more unrewarding than this moment. The world has been cruel to her and she feels forced to go farther down the rabbit hole to find security. But this episode isn’t just Joan’s story, it’s also Peggy’s. This is where she’s finally had enough of Don’s antics and her subordination and takes another job. Already disappointed by how things turned out with Joan, he does what he can to buy Peggy back, but he can’t. Their goodbye is one of the saddest moments of the series. But Peggy getting that elevator is one of the most rewarding. (Aired May 27, 2012)


Photo Credit: “Shut the Door. Have a Seat.” (Season 3, Episode 13)

Season three’s finale is easily the most exciting episode of Mad Men. To avoid McCann, Roger, Cooper, and Don rally up the rest of the crew to start their own ad agency, a move that would go on to define the later seasons. The show has never been more alive than when the team comes together to start over. There’s a whimsical attitude throughout the episode that makes the whole affair so fun. Of course, it’s not all so light. This is also where the crumbling marriage of Don and Betty finally gives way. In it’s entirety, this episode is a turning point for the series, ushering in the era of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce and Don’s tortured single life. (Aired Nov. 8, 2009)


1. “The Suitcase” (Season 4, Episode 7)

Photo Credit: the core of Mad Men is Don and Peggy’s relationship. This episode spends its entire runtime on these two and forces them to admit how much they need each other. It’s particularly rewarding to see Don finally opening up to his protege in a way that he’s never been able to with even Betty. The result is a showcase of two of the best characters in television history just talking about their lives and working through their issues. At its heart, Mad Men is a character study of both Don and Peggy, so the best episode is the one that represents that the best. (Aired Sept. 5, 2010)


The best of the rest: “The New Girl” (Season 2, Episode 5), “The Jet Set” (Season 2, Episode 11), “The Gypsy and the Hobo” (Season 3, Episode 11), “The Grown-Ups” (Season 3, Episode 12), “Commissions and Fees” (Season 5, Episode 12), “The Crash” (Season 6, Episode 8), “Time & Life” (Season 7, Episode 11), “Lost Horizon” (Season 7, Episode 12), “The Milk and Honey Route” (Season 7, Episode 13), and “Person to Person” (Season 7, Episode 14).


What are your favorites? Tell us in the comments below!


By Matt Dougherty

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