The best five episodes from the first five seasons of "Mad Men":
1. "Marriage of Figaro," Season 1, Episode 3.
This early-series episode begins to shine a light in all of Don's dark corners. Already settled in with a suburban goddess wife and a bohemian mistress, Don goes for a triple by kissing the daughter of a department-store client.
This episode also tips us off that Don isn't really Don, when he is addressed as, and answers to, "Dick."
Don also takes a runner on his daughter Sally's birthday party, going out for cake but then disappearing for hours.
This episode made it clear that our hero was extremely complex, if not an anti-hero, and compelled in a way the series' first two episodes did not.
2. "The Mountain King," Season 2, Episode 12.
Don bails on Pete during a business trip to Los Angeles, hopping a bus to San Pedro and to Anna, the gentle spirit who was married to the real Don Draper.
Jon Hamm loses the slight scowl he wears in New York scenes as Don opens up to Anna. He always opened up to her, as flashback moments of their first meeting show. Anna confronts Don about why he's impersonating her husband, but she likes the guy so much she quickly befriends him.
Don bought Anna a house in California, which suits her, since she represents light.
In New York, things grow gloomier than usual, as "Mad Men" underscores the four steps back for every step forward that women took in the 1960s. Still-green advertising copywriter Peggy wins a big account. Joan's doctor fiancé rapes her on the floor of a Sterling Cooper office, but she later marries him anyway, showing that she lost faith not only in the doctor but perhaps in herself, as well.
3. "Shut the Door, Have a Seat," Season 3, Episode 13.
This episode buzzes with excitement as Don, Roger, business partner Bert Cooper (Robert Morse) and previously underrated Brit Lane Pryce (Jared Harris) connive to get themselves out from under the acquisition of Sterling Cooper by a giant ad company by starting their own agency. All of this happens over a weekend.
Far more lively than most "Mad Men" episodes, this one retains momentum throughout by keeping us wondering how each employee will react when the partners pull him or her aside to reveal the plan.
Harris gets to drop the reserve he previously brought to Lane, who had been viewed as an interloper when his British company merged with Sterling Cooper the year before. Here, he appears to find everything delicious.
4. "The Suitcase," Season 4, Episode 7.
Selfish Don, avoiding a telephone call he believes will confirm that his dearest friend, Anna (Melinda Page Hamilton), is dead, takes advantage of his only other real friend, Peggy. He makes Peggy stay late at the office, missing her birthday dinner, to work on the Samsonite account.
Peggy's OK with it, because her boyfriend invited her mother to her birthday dinner, but she's not OK with Don's constant presumptuousness, and confronts him about it. But the evening turns unexpectedly magical, an after-hours odyssey during which mentor opens up to protégée and a bond gets cemented.
Hamm and Elisabeth Moss, the show's best actors, create something extra special together, and "The Suitcase" offers a feast of these scenes.
5. "The Other Woman," Season 5, Episode 11:
Sneaky Pete frames an indecent proposal that Joan sleep with a whale of a client so ingeniously that Joan and the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce partners do not know they being told half-truths. At least it's easier to blame Pete, because knowing that Joan went through with the act so she could become a partner in the agency is too terrible to comprehend.
Again, the show juxtaposes Joan's heartbreaking personal sacrifices for what she perceives as progress (a doctor husband, a partnership in the firm) with Peggy making actual progress, this time by leaving SCDP for a better offer at a new firm.
Christina Hendricks and Moss each share extraordinary moments with Hamm. Don never agreed to Joan selling herself and tries to stop her, but is too late.
The extended, knowing eye contact between Joan and Don communicates all that was taken from her and also that he never will think less of her for it.
Hamm and Moss amaze in the scene in which Peggy informs Don she's leaving. Peggy acts as a steadying force for Don's turbulence this one last time as Don goes through most of the stages of grief in two minutes.
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