Pour yourself an icy beverage, put on your fedora and find the remote control (it’s under the sofa) because Mad Men is back on our screens. After an 18 month hiatus, AMC’s Madison Avenue period piece is back with more of the ongoing – and stupendously stylish – lives of Don, Roger, Peggy, Pete, Joan and co, all presented with the kind of elan you’d only find in the boardroom of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. To mark the occasion, Empire has dusted off the box sets and selected, in no particular order, ten Mad Men moments that knocked our dress socks off. Soak ‘em up, then add yours in the usual place.
Smoke Gets In Your Eyes
(Season 1, Ep. 1)
The fateful Lucky Strike account would resurface in two punchy plot lines over later seasons, but the tobacco execs were to be found in the Sterling Cooper boardroom as early as the pilot. And boy, were they unhappy. With the agency’s $25m client inching towards the door and his career on the ropes, Draper (Jon Hamm) showed his stuff. With typical brass, he describes Lucky Strike’s brand problem as “the greatest advertising opportunity since the invention of cereal”, before coining the phrase ‘It’s toasted’ and pouring the doubters a stiff glass of shut-the-hell-up. At this point, and with a boxer’s intro, we meet the Don Draper. We don’t know who he is; just that he’s enigmatic, unscrupulous and a force to be reckoned with.
Guy Walks Into An Ad Agency*
(Season 3, Ep. 6)
The* wazoo moment, arguably in the entire show to date, comes out of the blue, like a moment of David Lynch Grand Guignol amid all the chicness and martinis. When Guy Mackendrick (Jamie Thomas King) flies in with a brief to rationalise Sterling Cooper from his London paymaster, a surprise lawnmower means the only thing to get rationalised is his right leg. With his airs of colonial entitlement and flypaper charm, Mackendrick seemed pretty close to insufferable, although he was never really around long enough for us to find out. It’s a credit to the episode’s writers, Robin Veith and Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner, that his gory fate provoked a tingle of pathos amid some of the blackest comedy to ever grace our screens.
(Season 1, Ep. 9)*
Alfred Hitchcock, the man who gave us Marnie Edgar, would have appreciated the moment when the rapidly fracturing Betty Draper picks up a gun and starts blasting her neighbour’s pigeons out of the sky. It’s either an insight into her fury at being a pawn in her husband’s agency games and her general frustration at suburban life, or how they played Angry Birds in the ‘60s. We’re saying the former.
Shut The Door. Have A Seat
(Season 3, Ep. 13)
Another of the show’s ‘eureka’ moments, Season 3’s day-of-the-long-knives cliffhanger gave the agency’s seniors a chance to flaunt their dramatic chops. Lane Pryce (Jared Harris) was the limey in the limelight, reaching a veritable frenzy of wry detachment as he politicked his way into, and out of, a tight corner. Without his intel, Puttnam, Powell, And Lowe’s plans to divest Sterling Cooper in a brutal deal would probably have consigned Don and pals to adland’s scraphead. As it was, his so-called indiscretion gives Don, Roger and co. an ingenious escape route. The Jerry Maguire route.
(Season 4, Ep. 7)
The don of all Mad Men episodes, The Suitcase matches Buffy’s Once More, With Feeling and West Wing’s Two Cathedrals for sheer small-screen genius. It pitches the show’s ying-and-yang protagonists, Don and Peggy, into a night of wildly fluctuating emotions – and we mean wildly. Frustration becomes anger, anger morphs into brutal honesty, home truths are shared, before a softer side to the pair’s relationship emerges: two people who’ve spent their professional lives learning to swim when sinking would be easier. It crystallises into something truly special over the 45 minutes run-time, but Don’s flash of anger lingers the longest in the mind, not least for providing the season’s best dialogue. “I give you money, you give me ideas!” spits Don. “And you never say thank-you,” returns Peggy. “That’s what the money is for!”
The Beautiful Girls
(Season 4, Ep. 9)
For all its wit and blackly comic touches, moments of pure slapstick in Mad Men are few and far between (Trudy’s astonishing maternity nightdress notwithstanding). Odd, then that one of them should come via the death of Don’s weather-beaten PA, Ida Blankenship (Randee Heller), carted unceremoniously out under an afghan as a meeting chunters on in the foreground. Despite combining the charms of Monsters, Inc.’s Roz with the can-do spirit of a hungover traffic warden, she found a special place in our hearts - at least she did until Roger let slip that she was “a queen of perversion of the highest order” and it suddenly felt a bit icky.
**(Season 1, Ep. 13*)
Before his career, personal life and even his car hit the skips in a flurry of empty one-night stands and even emptier whiskey bottles, Don was busy knocking it out of the park at Sterling Cooper. Season 1 was bookended by hero pitches of varying ethics but equal genius: Lucky Strike got toasted; Kodak ended up melted (even if Don has to exploit his own family to do it). Of course, we know now that Jon Hamm can reduce grown adults to gibbering wrecks from a thousand yards, but in 2007 it was all still new to us. With Draper’s honeyed words and the show’s nicely understated musical cues, we knew that, just like Kodak’s wide-eyed execs, we were being manipulated. We just wanted to it to last as long as possible.
*The Arrangements (Season 3, Ep. 4)*
The worst-kept secret in Mad Men is revealed to Sal Romano’s (Bryan Batt) wife when the art director launches into a full rendition of ‘Bye Bye Birdie'. You can practically see the scales falling from her eyes. Frankly, we’re not sure how she could have failed to notice that her hubbie wasn’t the girl-loving, sports-fixated machismo machine she thought he was, but then this was a more naïve time. After all, Austin Powers thought Liberace was straight.
(Season 4, Ep. 6)*
Arguably the flashback in a show that’s used them regularly – and judiciously - to build character, this glance in the rearview introduced a disorientatingly willing Don to a (still) salty Roger over a fur coat and an armful of martinis. Clearing Don’s drinking prowess dated back to the ‘50s, at least if the chutzpah with which he coaxes a job out of the ad man is anything to go by. This was the moment it all started: with a hungover Roger, and one D. Draper boarding the Madison Avenue elevator for the first time.
Hands And Knees*
(Season 4, Ep. 10)*
Like Guy Mackendrick’s lawnmower mishap and the Draper right hook to Jimmy Bartlett’s chin, Lane Pryce plays victim to one of Mad Men’s relatively rare, but invariably startling moments of violence. The perpetrator was his own father, Robert Pryce, a grumpy old man, who, at a guess, was expelled from the old school for excessive bastardry. At this point he’s unhappy that Lane won't return to his, no-doubt equally bastardous, family in Britain but… well, if what happens next had been in Adam West’s Batman, it would have been accompanied by a massive “THWACK!” blammo. The ferocity of Pryce Sr.'s assault is stunning, so brutally does he connect cane with filial temple. Does he regret it? Does he heck. He proceeds to crunch Lane’s hand, crushing his son – and his fragile sense of independence – underfoot in the process. It’s a visual metaphor that couldn’t have been lost on anyone with knowledge of either clinical psychology or, for that matter, clinical bastards.