I’m sure every show nowadays fancies itself a character-driven show, but Mad Men is moreso than most. While things definitely happen, it’s not minute-by-minute plot-driven — the way Breaking Bad was or Game of Thrones is — since there are skips in time between episodes and big jumps in time between seasons. Instead of focusing on what happens, Mad Men is more concerned with who people are at their very cores, versus how they present themselves to the world.
With a mission like that, there’s plenty of opportunity for character moments — little scenes that really get to the heart of each individual in the big cast. Some, of course, are more enjoyable to watch than others. Here are the times I think the show really allowed each character to be at his or her best: each Mad Men character’s finest hour.
Betty gets a lot of flack for her skills as a mother, but she did shoot a neighbor’s pigeons when the neighbor hassled her kids. She also gets points for having a cigarette dangling from her mouth while she did it.
Pete can often be the worst and his marriage to Trudy was rocky, but man can those two do the Charleston. And it’s a lucky thing, because his second-best moment on the show involved him falling down the stairs.
Other characters may think they have Don’s number, but Sally’s really the only one that sees through Don in a way that gets him to change his behavior. Maybe that’s because she’s wise beyond her years, since her finest moments have her fixing a drink for Don as youngster, smoking at such a tender age that Betty had to lock her in a closet, and, my favorite, driving a car with her sibling inside well before she was a teenager.
I used to have dreams of leaving an office the way that Burt Peterson did (i.e., with maximum destruction). Roger gives Peterson the opportunity to make that grand exit twice.
The second Mrs. Sterling doesn’t really get much love, and she’s dispatched with pretty quickly after the marriage, but one of my favorite moments on the show is when she convinced everyone to break into Bert Cooper’s office to see his Rothko, and then dismissed the painting as “smudgy squares.”
Poor Lane. You get the feeling that he never got to live the life he truly wanted to live. But he did get to do something we all wished we could do: punch Pete Campbell in the face. (His second-best moment? Lane Pryce picks a movie.)
Though it’s completely understandable, it’s kind of a shame that Megan didn’t want to stay in advertising. It comes to her more naturally than acting does, as you can see when she single-handedly saves the Heinz account in the middle of dinner.
Did Ken Cosgrove really do this tap-dance routine, or was it part of Don’s altered imagination? Answer: It does not matter.
Let’s face it — everything Glen does is amazing, starting with asking for a lock of Betty’s hair. But he really comes into his own when he grudgingly beats up his own friend for getting fresh with Sally. Sadly, I couldn’t find a video of it that wasn’t 10 minutes long, so instead here’s Glen being sour.
Joan Harris, Peggy Olson, and Don Draper
Don’s the star of the show, so you’d think he’d have a million little fine character moments to choose from. But, the truth is, Don’s at his best when he’s sharing a moment with someone else. Joan can easily be sour and mean, but she’s at 100% charm when she has drinks with Don on Christmas in what’s probably Joan’s best scene. And while Peggy is my favorite one on the entire show, Don is still the one that brings the best out in her. (And, while it doesn’t involve drinking and smoking, Don’s confessional dinner with Sally is one of the greatest scenes in the series.)
Don’t ask me where Harry is. That guy is just the worst.
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