Mad Men is one of the greatest TV shows of all time. But we look at it on a micro-level.
There were seven seasons of Mad Men that covered almost two decades of America. There were thousands of scenes, big and small. But what was the best scene at the center of the show?
I thought about this a lot this week. In quarantine, I've begun digging back through some of the best shows I have ever seen. While it's easy to pick my favorite TV episodes, I thought I'd narrow it down and make it a challenge.
So without further ado...
What's the Best Scene in all of Mad Men?
To get here, I decided to look into some of the best episodes of the series.
I went through the pilot, "Hobo Code," "Maidenform," and "Carousel." I dug deep into every season, really trying to decide which scene summed up the ethos of the show. This is a show about selling happiness to the public while fighting the demons you carry on the inside.
It's a show about Don, Peggy, and the agency fighting for their place on Madison Avenue.
And after all of this, I landed on maybe the best episode of TV all time, and the best episode of Mad Men—season four's “The Suitcase.”
This is the 46th episode of the 92-episode series. Almost directly in the middle. The scene I picked is from the middle of that episode... and it was kind of easy.
I just followed the money.
While I think the best scenes in other TV shows may not necessarily come in the best episodes, I think this show might be the exception to the rule. "The Suitcase" really sums up all of the struggles of the entire series in one hour.
So why is this episode so special?
For the uninitiated, the episode finds Don and Peggy at odds. She wants more credit at work, he wants to crack the uncrackable pitch.
To add more drama, It's Peggy's birthday, and there's an entire restaurant filled with her relatives and boyfriend waiting for her. Don's ex-wife and best friend, Anna Draper, is suffering from cancer, and he's afraid to check in on her. These are great ticking clocks.
Things come to a head when Don makes Peggy work late, she misses her dinner, loses her boyfriend, and confronts him.
That scene is excellent to watch and experience.
But what's really behind this moment?
This raw and intense exchange delivers the bruises both of them are feeling. Don doesn't want to be alone that night and thinks Peggy is the person he can rely on for that, in an almost paternal way. Peggy doesn't want to end up like Don, but she also wants to have a career and his respect.
All of that explodes here, and it defines each character moving forward.
I think this scene is the best in all of Mad Men because it lays the groundwork for Don and Peggy to establish an even deeper bond that continues over the next few years. It also shows us a vulnerable Don, whose life will begin to fall further apart as he looks for the happiness he sells to other people. It shows that Peggy can do the job almost as well as her mentor, and she wants to spread her wings. She's okay bucking a system that's unfair and creating her own. The seed is planted.
Everything about this episode is wonderful, and this scene takes all the emotion and story and lets it blow up and shake out in a way we rarely see on TV in general.
Do you agree that this is the best scene in the series?
Let us know in the comments.
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The absolute pitch black darkness of the Jaguar is simply amazing.
I strongly recommend reading Stanley Cavells The World Viewed. It's a philosophy book disguised as a book about cinema (that's why I read it in the first place). The philosophical dilemma discussed is of course Don's dilemma, and the dilemma of Don is the dilemma of all great cinema.
May 11, 2021 at 4:55PM
Saw your article title, thought for 5 seconds, and decided "That's what the money is for!"
Definitely my favorite scene. Obviously set in the late 60s but I wonder if it was inspired by irritation that Millennials engendered in Boomers and Xers in the workplace at the time it was written.
May 15, 2021 at 10:43PM