9 Underrated 'Mad Men' Episodes — From "The New Girl" To "Lost Horizon"
Sunday night, Mad Men comes to an end. Just typing that sentence makes me want to reach for a box of tissues. Mad Men is a show like no other. Creator Matthew Weiner delved deep into the heart of the '60s, but it was the very human souls of his flawed characters that kept me and so many other viewers hooked all these years. Through seven seasons, Mad Men never faltered. Each new season brought with it indelible moments — Betty pointing her gun at the sky to take out her neighbor's precious pigeons, Peggy telling Pete about their child, Sally walking in on her father with Sylvia, and every frame of Season 4's "The Suitcase."
Overall, there will be 92 episodes of Mad Men after tonight's finale, and in my opinion, there is not a clunker in the bunch (so far— quick, everyone find some wood to knock on). There are certain episodes that are universally admired though, or at least appreciated for their artistic technique. The aforementioned "The Suitcase" is one of them, "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" (the pilot) is another. Likewise, divisive though it was when it first aired, "The Crash" with its drug-addled SDCP employees is another. Before I have to say goodbye to Mad Men for good, I want to take a moment to tip my proverbial hat to some of the show's best episodes that no one ever seems to talk about enough.
"The Hobo Code," Season 1, Episode 8
"The Hobo Code" marks the true beginning of Peggy's post-secretary journey. She begins her job as a copywriter, and Pete can't stand it. His petulance leads him to tell a happy, independent Peggy, "I don't like you like this." It was a sobering scene that illustrated to Peggy for the first time the kind of resistance she would face for going after her dreams. Add in a superb series of flashbacks to Don's youth, a look at beatnik culture, and a first glimpse at the heartbreak to come for Sal, and "The Hobo Code" becomes a timeless hour.
"Indian Summer," Season 1 Episode 11
I distinctly remember being shocked and impressed when "Indian Summer" first aired due to its frank discussion of female masturbation. At the time, the topic was still taboo on television, but Mad Men devoted an entire hour to the inner desires of women. Peggy figured out why all of the women were so fascinated with an exercise device that did nothing to help them lose weight, while Betty sought satisfaction from fantasies as Don continued to distance himself from home.
"Three Sundays," Season 2, Episode 4
Set on and around Easter, "Three Sundays" is quietly powerful. The subplot involving Peggy, her family, and Father Gil was the first time the show touched on the fact Peggy gave her baby up for adoption after the first finale. Meanwhile, back at the Draper home, Don refused to spank Bobby and ends up becoming physical with Betty when she pushes him to discipline their son. The moment was an uncomfortable reminder of the lack of balance of power between Betty and Don, while also revealing what kind of father Don would and would not be.
"The New Girl," Season 2, Episode 5
Bobbi Barrett is a vastly underrated character, and "The New Girl" was her finest hour. After she and Don got into an accident, they stayed off the grid with Peggy's help. This gave Bobbi time to dispense some much needed advice to Peggy on how to exist in a world dominated by men. "The New Girl" is a sentimental favorite for me if for no other reason than because it marked the last time Peggy called Don, "Mr. Draper."
"Out of Town," Season 3, Episode 1
Oh, Sal. During a business trip, Don discovered Sal's tryst with a bellboy (while Don was busy having a liaison of his own), and Sal immediately goes into panic mode. The show confronted Sal's closeted life head on and the pain Sal went through on a day to day basis was enough to break the hardest of hearts. "Out of Town" also introduced one of Mad Men's best and most tragic characters, Lane Pryce.
"The Fog," Season 3, Episode 5
The birth of baby Gene led Betty to have a dark and bloody nightmare while she was under sedation during labor, and her dream said more about Betty than she could ever have said in her waking hours. "You're a housecat," the ghost of her father says. "You're very important, and you have little to do." The final image of Betty almost sleepwalking toward her new baby— another child she did not entirely want tying her to a life she never imagined for herself —as he cried is still haunting after all these years.
"The Summer Man," Season 4, Episode 8
Is it any wonder the episode after "The Suitcase" would be largely forgotten? The meditative hour took viewers inside Don's thoughts in a way the show had never done before. In many ways, it was the only time we saw Don the way he saw himself thanks to his adventures in journaling. Beyond Don's ruminations on life, "The Summer Man" also boasted one of the great Joan/Peggy stories as Joan faced sexism from the copywriters led by Joey. Peggy's solution was to fire Joey— a move that angered Joan, who believed it sent the wrong message about both of them.
"Mystery Date," Season 5, Episode 5
"Mystery Date" created a nightmarish tableau in which no one can see themselves as they are. With the specter of the Richard Speck murders looming large, Sally is drugged by her step-grandmother, Joan finally lashed out at Greg, Peggy came face to face with her own prejudices, and Don quite literally tried to kill his id. Strange and unsettling, "Mystery Date" is one of Mad Men's darkest hours.
"Lost Horizon," Season 7, Episode 12
Maybe "Lost Horizon" is too close to be considered underrated, but coming so near the end of Mad Men's run, I fear it may one day get lost in the conversation. From its wonderful pairing of Roger (who feels his time in advertising is coming to an end) and Peggy (who feels like hers is just beginning) to Joan's brutal farewell to her career, and Don's impromptu journey into the unknown, "Lost Horizon" would have been a fitting end to Mad Men. If our final images were of Peggy walking into McCann like she owned the place and of Don picking up a hitchhiker and driving away on a wide, open stretch of road, I would have been perfectly satisfied.
Images: AMC (10)