“Mad Men” is one of the greatest television shows of all time. Until recently, the disparity in quality between television and that of feature film was significant. HBO genuinely changed the game with the release of “The Sopranos,” which proved that fully realized character dramas had as much (or more) potential on the small screen than the big one. Audiences were surprised by the level of quality in early HBO shows of the “peak TV” era, including “The Wire,” “Oz,” “Band of Brothers,” and “Six Feet Under.” However, HBO wasn’t the only network that was producing great content during that period. AMC Networks proved they were also committed to great storytelling when they released the first season of Matthew Weiner’s “Mad Men” in 2007. Weiner had been a writer and executive producer on “The Sopranos,” but here, he told the story of a very different type of anti-hero. Don Draper (Jon Hamm) wasn’t a New Jersey crime boss — he was a ruthless advertising executive, whose personal and professional obligations clashed throughout the 1960s.
“Mad Men” is a period drama centered around Don and the employees of Sterling Cooper, an advertising firm on Madison Avenue in Manhattan, New York City. Don is gregarious and sociable when he’s pitching ideas to clients, but he hides his dark past from many people who (claim to) care about him. “Is Don a good person?” is a question that “Mad Men” fans had to ask themselves every week. Even after the series finale, that question remains. Here are 12 of the most unforgettable Don Draper moments from “Mad Men.”
It is very rare for a beloved television show to end with a perfect final episode. A show’s legacy is often determined by whether the showrunners can “stick the landing,” and prove to the loyal viewers that the time they invested in watching the series was all worth it. Shows like “How I Met Your Mother,” “Game of Thrones,” and “Dexter” ended with such disappointing conclusions that it became difficult to recommend them at all.
The “Mad Men” finale, “Person to Person,” was facing high expectations. Not only had “Mad Men” maintained a consistent level of quality throughout its seven seasons, but the final episodes promised to bring the characters into a new decade. The first season wrapped up with the election of the U.S. President John F. Kennedy in the fall of 1960, so it only made sense for the last season to end at the dawn of the 1970s.
“Person to Person” showed how out-of-touch Don had become. His womanizing, mischievous activities now felt like the desperate actions of a man who was clinging to any shred of relevance that he still possessed. Don had isolated himself, and lost contact with his friends and family. But here, in the last scene of “Mad Men,” Don is relaxing on a beach and meditating. The iconic song “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing (In Perfect Harmony)” begins to play. It’s unclear what Don will do next, but it’s heavily implied that he will go on to create the iconic 1971 Coca-Cola “Hilltop” ad. Regardless, in this moment, he has finally accepted his fate — and himself.
Don’s relationship with Peggy Olsen (Elisabeth Moss) is one of the most fascinating dynamics within “Mad Men.” In the first season, Peggy begins her job as Don’s secretary at Sterling Cooper. Although Don doesn’t think much of Peggy initially, she begins to impress him with her creativity and professionalism. Peggy eventually becomes a copywriter — a rare position for a woman in this industry in the ’60s. Even though Don barely acknowledges her efforts, it’s clear that he admires her hard work. Don pushes Peggy to her limits in the same way that he pushes himself; they are much more similar than either of them would ever want to admit.
“The Suitcase” falls within the center of both the fourth season and the series overall. Both Don and Peggy are very stressed, trying to prepare an advertising campaign to present to the suitcase manufacturer Samsonite. However, Don has other things on his mind: he is afraid that he will receive a phone call from the niece of his friend and ex-wife, Anna Draper (Melinda Page Hamilton). She has terminal cancer, and Don does not want to receive the news of her death. Over the course of the evening, Don and Peggy begin to bond. They learn more about each other’s priorities. They even both fall asleep in Don’s office. When Don wakes up and learns that Anna has died, he begins to cry. It’s the first time that he has been completely vulnerable in front of Peggy (or arguably, anyone), and it sets the groundwork for the rest of their relationship in the series.
One of the reasons that “Mad Men” was so successful was the show’s willingness to break from the format of traditional narrative storytelling. “Mad Men” is very realistic in the way that it recreates the historical details of the 1960s; however, there are episodes with extended dream sequences and events that are not supposed to be taken literally. One of the most peculiar moments in the entire run of the series is in the season 2 episode “The Jet Set.” While there is nothing in the episode that could be deemed “unrealistic,” it feels like an extended fantasy.