Mad Men's final season premiered on April 13, 2014. Want to dive in, but haven't watched the first six seasons? Here's what you need to know.
What is Mad Men?
Mad Men is a drama series on the basic cable channel AMC that premiered on July 19, 2007. It was AMC's first original series and was met with immediate critical acclaim. Its first six seasons have an average score of 87 out of 100 on Metacritic, its first four each won the Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series (tying a record set by Hill Street Blues, LA Law, and The West Wing), and its first three won the Golden Globe for Best Television Series — Drama.
The series begins by focusing on employees at the New York advertising firm Sterling Cooper in 1960, and tracks those characters and their families through the decade as they change firms, marry and divorce, and adapt to the sweeping societal changes taking place around them. Season six ended in November 1968; when season seven will pick up is as yet unclear.
Season seven premiered Sunday, April 13th, 2014 at 10pm / 9pm central.
Who is Don Draper?
Mad Men features an ensemble cast, but it's fair to say that Don Draper (Jon Hamm) is the show's main focus. Don began the show as creative director (and, as of episode 11 of season one, a partner) at Sterling Cooper and later became founding partner and creative director at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce and a partner at its successor firm, Sterling Cooper & Partners. He's undisputedly good at his job, with a tendency of knocking client presentations out of the park, but is less good at interacting with clients. While he has genuine affection for a handful of people in his life — such as Peggy Olson and Joan Harris — he can treat his colleagues and subordinates cruelly, even those he cares about like Peggy. He is regarded as extremely handsome by women in the show, and has a reputation as a womanizer.
For the first three seasons, Don was married to Betty Draper (née Hofstadt; January Jones). At the end of the third season, she divorced him and married Henry Francis (Christopher Stanley), an aide to then-New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller. Don and Betty have three children: Sally (Kiernan Shipka), Bobby (variety of actors, now Mason Vale Cotton), and Gene, who was born in the third season. At the end of season four, he proposed to Megan (née Calvet; Jessica Paré), his secretary, whom he married between then and the start of season five and to whom he is still married at the end of season six (though their relationship is in tatters).
Don cheated on both Betty and Megan numerous times, including with Midge Daniels (Rosemarie DeWitt), Rachel Menken (Maggie Siff), Bobbie Barrett (Melinda McGraw), Joy (Laura Ramsey), Shelly (Sunny Mabrey), Suzanne Farrell (Abigail Spencer), and Sylvia Rosen (Linda Cardellini). He also slept with Betty in season six, while married to Megan. When single in season four, he dated Bethany Van Nuys (Anna Camp) and Dr. Faye Miller (Cara Buono), an advertising consultant for Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce; had one-night stands with his secretary Allison (Alexa Allemani), a jingle singer named Alice (Amy Motta) and a waitress named Doris (Becky Wahlstrom); and hired a prostitute named Stacy (Alyson Croft).
What is Don Draper's secret?
Don Draper is not actually Don Draper.
The "Don Draper" of Sterling Cooper & Partners was born Dick Whitman, the child of an Illinois prostitute who died giving birth to him. His father, Archibald, and stepmother, Abigail, were both abusive, Archibald physically and Abigail (primarily) emotionally. Abigail particularly liked to remind Dick that he was a "whore's son." When Dick was ten, a horse kicked Archibald in the face, killing him. Afterwards, Abigail moved him and his half-brother Adam to live with her sister and her brother-in-law, Uncle Mac, who operated a brothel in Hershey, Pennsylvania. There, Dick was raped by Aimee, one of the prostitutes living in the brothel with him; when Abigail heard about this, she beat Dick with a wooden spoon.
Whitman enlisted in the U.S. Army during the Korean War. While fighting in a trench in Korea, he inadvertently dropped his cigarette on a pool of gasoline. The ensuing explosion killed his lieutenant, Donald Draper. Draper's tour of duty in Korea was almost over, so Whitman — eager to get out of the war — switched Draper's dog tags with his own. He is assumed to be Draper by Army officials and is awarded the Purple Heart. He was part of the delegation that delivers "Whitman"'s coffin to what remains of his family, but only Adam recognized him. In season one, Adam (Jay Paulson) tracked down his half-brother, but Dick/Don rejected him after a testy lunch. Adam hanged himself shortly thereafter.
Years after Dick/Don returns from Korea, but prior to the start of season one, the real Don Draper's widow, Anna Draper, tracked down Dick/Don, thinking that he was her husband, and had abandoned her since returning from the war. Dick/Don explained the situation to Anna, and promised to support her financially. The two became close friends, though they divorced amicably when Dick/Don wanted to marry Betty. Don took Anna's death in season four very hard.
Sterling Cooper accounts staffer Pete Campbell discovered Don's past in season one, and revealed it to partner Bert Cooper in the episode "Nixon vs. Kennedy." Cooper dismissed it, saying, "This country was built and run by men with worse stories than whatever you've imagined here." Betty discovered the secret in season three, which, combined with Don's years of infidelity, spurred her to finally divorce him and marry Henry Francis. Betty tried to use to use this knowledge against Don in season five's "Dark Shadows," telling their daughter Sally to add Don's first wife "Anna" to a family tree she's making for school. When Sally asked who Anna is, Betty told her to ask Don's new wife Megan, thinking Megan was unaware of Don's past. But Megan knew about Anna, and realizes that Betty is simply trying to hurt her and Don. Rather than confronting Betty about the disclosure, Don discussed the marriage with Sally, who concluded it's no big deal.
In the sixth season finale, "In Care Of," Don told representatives from Hershey's — as well as fellow Sterling Cooper & Partners partners — that he grew up in a brothel in Pennsylvania, and would dream of attending the school Milton Hershey had established for orphans. He added that eating a Hershey's bar was the only thing that could make him feel like a normal kid, "the only sweet thing in my life." The partners asked Don to take a few months leave, and he brought Sally (who has recently been suspended from boarding school for drinking), Bobby, and Gene to the brothel where he grew up. Season six ends with Don and his children outside the brothel.
The secret is important both in driving the plot — in season four, Don forced Pete to drop a defense contractor as a client because keeping them would entail background checks for Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, potentially exposing Don as a deserter — and in establishing why Don is so effective as an adman. Having successfully invented a whole new identity for himself, Don similarly excels at crafting artificial identities (the sophisticated man who drives a Jaguar, the practical business traveler who uses a Samsonite suitcase) with which to sell products. The show also contrasts Don's identity formation with that of other characters forced to reinvent themselves, like Peggy (who reinvented herself as a copywriter from a secretary), Joan (who transitioned from support staff to a major partner), and Michael Ginsberg (who, like Don, purposefully obscures his past to his colleagues).
Who are Sterling Cooper & Partners?
As of the start of season seven, active partners at Sterling Cooper & Partners include Roger Sterling (John Slattery), Bert Cooper (Robert Morse), Jim Cutler (Harry Hamlin), Ted Chaough (Kevin Rahm), Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks), and Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser). But the firm, in its latest iteration, is very young, and so it's important to understand the firms that evolved into it.
Sterling and Cooper were the name partners in the Sterling Cooper Advertising Agency in seasons one through three. In season two, Sterling Cooper merged with the British advertising firm Putnam, Powell, and Lowe.
Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce
At the end of season three, it appeared that Sterling Cooper's New York competitor McCann Erickson was about to buy Putnam, Powell, and Lowe. Sterling, Cooper, and Draper asked Lane Pryce (Jared Harris), Putnam's main representative in New York, to "fire" them. That would release them from their contracts, enabling them to start a new firm. They offered Pryce a partnership as incentive to agree to the deal.
Pryce agreed, and was subsequently fired by Putnam, and the four established Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce with a number of Sterling Cooper staff members, including Campbell, who is promoted to partner. In season five, Draper discovered that Pryce forged his signature on a check to pay back taxes in the UK, and asked for his resignation. Pryce commited suicide in response.
Sterling Cooper & Partners
In season six, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce lost Jaguar Cars and Vicks Chemical, both major clients, in quick succession. It and another small firm — Cutler, Gleason and Chaough — were both in contention to handle Chevrolet's promotion of its new model, the Chevy Vega, when Draper proposed a merger of the two firms to Chaough, on the grounds that the account required a firm of greater scale. After the merger, the firm was renamed Sterling Cooper & Partners.
Who is Peggy Olson?
Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss) is copy chief for Sterling Cooper & Partners, having risen rapidly over the course of six season from the typing pool at Sterling Cooper to just shy of partner.
Peggy was assigned as Don Draper's secretary upon joining Sterling Cooper. After impressing senior copywriter Freddy Rumsen (Joel Murray) in a focus group for Belle Jolie lipstick, she was enlisted to write copy for the Belle Jolie campaign, and soon after promoted to copywriter, even taking Rumsen's office after he was fired.
In seasons two and three, she felt under-appreciated at Sterling Cooper, and briefly considered joining former Sterling Cooper president Duck Phillips (Mark Moses) at rival firm Grey. She initially rebuffed Don when he approached her about leaving with him to start the new Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, but agreed to come along when Don promised that he would "spend the rest of my life trying to hire you" if she declined.
Her and Don's relationship was tested early in season four when he won a Clio Award for a TV commercial for the floor waxing product Glo-Coat, a commercial based on an idea she had but for which Don received all the accolades. In "The Suitcase," she brought this up while she and Don are working late on an ad campaign for Samsonite luggage, prompting a fight between the two. But they ended up bonding over Don's discovery of the audio dictations Roger Sterling made for his memoirs, Sterling's Gold, and spent the night in the office together (non-romantically), drinking and discussing each other's personal lives.
In season five's "The Other Woman," she was offered a position as copy chief at rival advertising firm Cutler, Gleason & Chaough, and accepted. She was not away from Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce for long, as it merged with Cutler, Gleason & Chaough in "For Immediate Release," after which she became copy chief of the new firm Sterling Cooper & Partners. When Don Draper was forced to take a three-month leave, Peggy got his office.
Peggy slept with Pete Campbell, then an account executive at Sterling Cooper, twice in season one, in the series premiere and in "The Hobo Code." She became pregnant, resulting in a long absence from Sterling Cooper between seasons one and two. Her mother and sister helped her cover up the pregnancy, and she gave the baby up for adoption, with Don telling her, "This never happened. It will shock you how much it never happened." At the end of season two, Pete confessed that he regretted marrying his wife Trudy (a marriage that happened between his two trysts with Peggy), and should have married Peggy. Peggy rejected him, and told him she gave away his baby.
In season three, she had a brief affair with former Sterling Cooper president Duck Phillips. For the first part of season four, she was dating a man named Mark, who dumped her in "The Suitcase" when she stayed late to work with Don rather than attending a surprise birthday dinner he threw for her and her family.
Shortly after breaking up with Mark, Peggy's friend, LIFE Magazine photo editor Joyce Ramsay (Zosia Mamet), invited her to an artsy warehouse party, where she met Joyce's friend, Abe Drexler (Charlie Hofheimer). After a couple false starts, mostly due to Abe's vocal opposition to the advertising industry, they began dating, and moved in together in season five. She bought a place on the Upper West Side in season six, then still a fairly rough neighborhood, and moved there with Abe. After Abe was stabbed — first in the street, then accidentally by Peggy when she checks out a mysterious noise in the apartment with a homemade bayonet — he broke up with her.
Ted Chaough (Kevin Rahm), Peggy's married boss first at Cutler, Gleason, and Chaough and then at Sterling Cooper & Partners, and Peggy share an attraction, kissing in "For Immediate Release" and sleeping together in the sixth season finale, "In Care Of." The very next morning, however, Chaough asked to head up Sterling Cooper & Partners's new office in Los Angeles, to put distance between himself and Peggy and repair his marriage. Peggy was upset both because of the decision itself and because Chaough made it without telling her first.
Peggy is the main vehicle through which the show explores the mass entry of women into positions of greater authority in the workplace during the '60s, and is often the brunt of sexist remarks and actions from her colleagues, clients, and acquaintances. She comes from a traditional Catholic household in Brooklyn, and over the course of the show leaves the church and moves to Manhattan, actions which, within her family, at least take on great symbolic significance as signs she is becoming (much to her mother's consternation) a modern working woman. She is also the show's main point of intersection with the New York counterculture, through Joyce, Abe, and their artist friends.
Who is Roger Sterling?
Roger Sterling Jr. (John Slattery) is the son of Roger Sterling Sr., who founded Sterling Cooper Advertising Agency with Bertram (Bert) Cooper (Robert Morse) in 1923, when Roger Jr. was 13.
Roger joined his father's company after serving as a sailor in the Pacific Front during World War II, and rose to lead it along with Cooper after his father's death. Both Roger Sterlings are heavy drinkers, a habit that contributed to the elder one's death; he suffered his fourth heart attack while driving, crashed, and died.
Roger prides himself on his ability to keep accounts and acquire new ones through personal charm, something he sees as lacking in colleagues like Don Draper. This paid off most recently when Roger, tipped off by a stewardess he was bedding, got himself seated next to a Chevrolet executive on a flight and secured a pitch meeting with the company; by merging with Cutler, Gleason, and Chaough, Sterling Cooper & Partners lands the account. In season four, he self-published his memoirs, titled Sterling's Gold, which becomes a running joke among his colleagues.
Roger was married for years to Mona Sterling (Talia Balsam), with whom he has one daughter, Margaret (Elizabeth Rice). He was hardly faithful, however, most notably engaging in a long on-and-off affair with Sterling Cooper office manager Joan Holloway that continued through most of season one. In season two, he began an affair with Don's secretary, Jane Siegel (Peyton List), and eventually leaves Mona to marry her. This estranged him somewhat from Margaret, as she and Jane are not too different in age.
In season four, Roger and Joan (now married) reconnected, resulting in Joan's pregnancy. After seriously considering terminating it, Joan opted to carry it to term, and passes her new son Kevin off as her husband's. Roger, however, knows he is the biological father. In season five, Roger and Jane took LSD together, and Jane told Roger that she knows the marriage is ending. In the morning, Roger admitted he no longer loved her and left, while Jane was clearly upset and regretful about her comments the night before. Wasting no time, in the very next episode Roger hooked up with Don Draper's mother-in-law, Marie Calvet.
Roger's mother and shoe-shine man both died in the season six premiere, which sent him on something of an depressive spiral, newly reminded of his own mortality. The show uses Roger at many times as a symbol of the past, resistant to changes in the ad business other firms embrace. He sabotaged a potential deal with Honda, on the grounds that he doesn't want to do business with the country he fought in World War II, and is among more racially prejudiced members of the firm, resisting Pete Campbell's urgings to target the African-American market and even performing in blackface in season three. He is witty and chivalrous, treating Joan in particular with genuine care and concern, but can be cruel and brutal to employees and family members, whether by abruptly telling Mona he is divorcing her or by going along with Pete's plan to have Joan sleep with a Jaguar representative to secure them as a client (though he refused to put up his own money to pay Joan as part of the scheme).
Who is Joan Harris?
Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks), maiden name Holloway, begins the show as support staff for Sterling Cooper, but rises quickly to become a full partner by seasons five and six.
Joan was office manager for Sterling Cooper Advertising Agency in seasons one through three. Her main responsibility was managing the company's secretarial pool, and used that (and her close relationship with Roger Sterling) to command outsized authority with senior staff.
In season three she left Sterling Cooper to stay at home with her new husband, surgeon Greg Harris (Sam Page). Due to a surgery mishap, Greg did not receive an expected promotion to Chief of Surgery at his hospital. To make ends meet, Joan took a sales job at the department store Bonwit Teller; Roger later helped her obtain an office job instead. She joined the team again in season three's finale, "Shut the Door. Have a Seat," when the firm's partners were scrambling to form a new agency, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce (SCDP), and needed her knowledge of the office's inner workings to secure Sterling Cooper's account information and client files for the new firm. After assisting in the transition, she became office manager of SCDP.
At the end of season four, Joan was promoted to Director of Agency Operations (though she did not receive a raise to go along with the title bump). In season five, Herb Rennet (Gary Basaraba), head of the Jaguar Dealers Association and one of the people charged with deciding which ad agency Jaguar Cars will hire, told SCDP partner Pete Campbell that he would be more inclined to hire the firm if he were able to sleep with Joan. Pete brought the idea to Joan, who rebuffed him. Pete convinced his fellow partners — aside from Don Draper — to offer Joan $50,000 to agree to sleep with Rennet. Joan counteroffered, asking for a partnership worth 5 percent of the company. The partners agreed, and she went through with the plan to have sex with Rennet. Due to Rennet's support, the company landed the Jaguar account, and Joan emerged a partner.
From the mid-1950s through 1960 (encompassing much of season one), Joan was engaged in an affair with Roger Sterling. It was Roger's purchase of a fur coat for Joan at Heller's that led to him meeting Heller's salesman Don Draper, who would use the meeting to persuade Roger to hire him. Roger and Joan reconnected in season four, resulting in Joan's pregnancy and, eventually, her son Kevin. Joan also dated Sterling Cooper copywriter Paul Kinsey; they broke up before the show starts, and had a testy relationship for the three seasons they work together.
In season two, Joan got engaged to Greg Harris. While initially friendly, in the season finale, "The Mountain King," Greg saw how close Joan and Roger are, and raped Joan in Don Draper's office, telling her to "pretend I'm your boss." They got married regardless, and Joan left Sterling Cooper to stay at home for him. After his surgical mistake, he attempted to switch to psychiatry, but failed. Without telling Joan, he enlisted in the Army. For much of seasons four and five, Greg was either in basic training or serving in Vietnam. When he returned in season five, he revealed that he would be sent back to Vietnam in only ten days. Joan learned from Greg's mother that he actually volunteered to return; the ensuing fight ended with her telling Greg to "leave, and never come back." As of season six, the two are effectively separated, and Joan is raising Kevin with the help of her mother, Gail (Christine Estabrook).
Throughout the show, Joan is used as a contrast to Peggy, someone who tries to work within the limits placed on women in the workplace. As the show goes on, and her relationships with Roger and then Greg fail, she becomes more self-reliant and ambitious, culminating in her partnership. Her and Peggy's relationship remains antagonistic, however, as Joan thinks Peggy is trying to limit Joan's influence in the office, and Peggy generally finds Joan patronizing. Margaret Lyons at Vulture has an excellent rundown of their relationship here.
Who is Pete Campbell?
Pete Campbell is a junior partner at Sterling Cooper & Partners, and has spent the better part of the show nursing resentments against his wife, family and colleagues that came to the fore in season six and are set to continue into season seven.
Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) started the show as an accounts executive at Sterling Cooper Advertising Agency. He became co-head of accounts at the beginning of season three, was named a junior partner at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce upon its formation in the season three finale, and was a partner at Sterling Cooper & Partners as of the end of season six. While he was briefly slated to handle the firm's Chevrolet account from Detroit, he was humiliated in front of GM staff by Sterling Cooper staffer Bob Benson (James Wolk), and opted to head to Los Angeles with fellow partner Ted Chaough instead.
Despite working in accounts, he frequently attempted to do creative work, especially in early seasons, causing tension between him and Don.
Pete is from a WASPy Manhattan family, attending Deerfield Academy and Dartmouth College. At the show's beginning, he was engaged to Trudy Vogel (Alison Brie), marrying her sometime between the first and second episode. They struggled to have children, considering adoption at various points, before Trudy gave birth to their daughter Tamsin in season four's "Chinese Wall." He and Trudy also fought over where to live. After buying a place on the Upper East Side in season one, he, Trudy, and Tamsin moved to suburban Connecticut in season five, which Pete deeply resented. He was forced to take the train to work, as he never learned to drive growing up in New York, and eventually took a driver's education class with high schoolers, which he clearly found humiliating. Throughout the season, he expressed a desire for an apartment in the city, which Trudy opposed.
Pete is frequently unfaithful, cheating on Trudy with, among others, Peggy Olson, prospective Sterling Cooper ad actress Susie (Sarah Wright), his neighbor's German au pair Gudrun (Nina Rausch), the wife of a friend from his train commute Beth Dawes (Alexis Bledel), and his neighbor Brenda (Collette Wolfe). Many viewers perceived his encounter with Gudrun as rape, though Kartheiser has denied that this was the intent of himself or showrunner Matthew Weiner. Pete also visited prostitutes on several occasions while married to Trudy.
The most significant of Pete's extramarital affairs was probably that with Peggy, who had his child and put it up for adoption. He was also clearly attached to Beth Dawes, and got very upset when she underwent electroshock therapy for depression and emerged with no memory of him. Pete accused her husband (and his friend) Howard of trying to "erase her brain." Howard realized Pete has slept with Beth, and the two got into a physical altercation on the train. Pete passed off his injuries to Trudy as the result of him nodding off while driving and getting into an accident. Shocked by his injuries, Trudy agreed to let him have an apartment in Manhattan.
When Trudy discovered Pete's affair with Brenda, the neighbor, in season six, she told him she was aware of his indiscretions, and allowed him the Manhattan apartment so he would keep his infidelities there. Cheating with someone in Connecticut, in her mind, breached that implicit deal. She kicked him out, though she refused to divorce him, as she "refuse(d) to be a failure." The situation worsened when Pete bumped into his father-in-law at a brothel, which resulted both in him losing the business of his father-in-law's firm, Vicks Chemical, and in Trudy declaring their marriage "done."
Who is Betty Francis?
Betty Francis (January Jones) is the wife of Henry Francis, the mother of Sally, Bobby, and Gene Draper, and the ex-wife of Don Draper. As the main non-working woman on the show, she's often used as Mad Men's model of a '50s-style housewife that women like Peggy and Joan (and Don's new wife Megan) are rejecting.
Betty, maiden name Hofstadt, grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs, graduating from nearby Bryn Mawr College in 1954. She modeled briefly in Italy before moving to Manhattan, where she meets and marries Don. By the start of season one, she and Don were living with Sally and Bobby in Ossining, a suburb of New York City. Throughout the show, Betty is primarily a stay-at-home mother, though she made an unsuccessful attempt for a modeling gig in season one.
Betty was in a car crash in the show's second episode, due to her hand suddenly going numb. Doctors surmised the problem is psychological in nature, and she began seeing a psychiatrist, Dr. Wayne, who recounted what she told him to Don. She began to suspect (correctly) that Don was being unfaithful, and in the season one finale discovered that Don and Dr. Wayne have been talking behind her back. She used her next appointment to air her concerns about Don's cheating, knowing they'll get back to Don.
In season two, she befriended a man named Arthur at the horse stables where she rode. Their relationship was heavily flirtatious, in spite of Betty's marriage and Arthur's engagement, and in episode three Arthur confessed his interest in Betty, causing her to change her riding schedule to avoid him, though it's clear she was interested as well. In episode seven, Don's client Jimmy Barrett told Betty that he suspects (correctly) that Don is sleeping with his wife and manager, Bobbie Barrett. Betty clearly believed the accusation, confronting Don about it in the next episode and insisting he sleep on the couch, and then kicking him out of the house, when he denied the affair. In the season finale, she discovered she was pregnant with her and Don's third child. While she considered terminating the pregnancy — and impulsively had sex with a stranger at a bar — she opted to keep it, and invited Don back home.
In season three, her father Gene, growing ill, moved into Betty and Don's home, dying there shortly thereafter. He grew close to Sally, who was upset at Betty and Don's lack of mourning ("Nobody cares that he's really, really, really gone.") When she gave birth the very next episode, she named their new son Gene, after her father.
At a country club party thrown by Roger Sterling, she met Henry Francis, an aide to then-Governor Nelson Rockefeller (R-NY), who is clearly taken with her. She reached out to him again for help in preventing the construction of an unsightly water tank near her local reservoir. He succeeded in delaying the project at a town board of trustees meeting; after the meeting, he and Betty shared a kiss. The two continued to see each other, writing letters, visiting each other, and even setting up a fundraiser for Rockefeller's presidential bid at Betty and Don's house. When she discovered evidence of Don's past life — Dick Whitman and Don Draper's dog tags, Whitman family photos, his divorce decree with Anna Draper — she confronted him with it, and while he comes clean, she ultimately opted to divorce him for Henry.
Betty is a relatively minor character for seasons four through six, living with Henry and periodically clashing with Don over time with Sally, Bobby, and Gene. While she was clearly jealous of Don's new wife Megan in season five, she and Don gradually developed a cordial relationship, culminating in a one-night tryst at Bobby's sleep-away camp in season six which somehow didn't have any negative repercussions. She and Sally have begun clashing more recently as the latter ages, and season six ends with Betty imploring Don to do something to get Sally back on track. "I've done everything I can think to do, everything my own mother did, and it doesn't matter," she said. "The good is not beating the bad."
Who is Megan Draper?
Megan Draper (Jessica Paré) is Don Draper's second wife (third if you count the real Don Draper’s marriage to Anna), a former secretary and then copywriter at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, and, as of the end of season six, a moderately successful TV actress. She is younger, more ambitious, and more willing to challenge Don than his first wife, Betty, but Don still cheats on her and fails to treat her career seriously.
When introduced in season four, Megan was a secretary at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, working first at the front desk and then manning both the front desk and Don's. Upon marrying Don at the end of that season, she was promoted to copywriter. She showed a knack for it, saving the firm's account with Heinz in "At the Codfish Ball." However, she found advertising unfulfilling, and decided to try again to make it as an actress in New York, as she had before meeting Don. After struggling for a period, she landed a national commercial at the end of season five, and in season six she was a cast member on the popular soap opera To Have and To Hold. When Don announced at the end of season six that he wants to move to California, Megan informed her bosses and begins preparing for a career in LA. She was furious when Don reversed himself and decided to stay on the East Coast, as it leaves her without a job.
Megan is French Canadian, having grown up in Montreal. Her father Émile (Ronald Guttman) is a Marxist academic, and while his marriage with her mother Marie (Julia Ormond) is strained, he is generally supportive of his daughter's acting career. Her mother is more skeptical, telling Megan, "Not every little girl gets to do what she wants; the world cannot support that many ballerinas." Her mother has a brief tryst with Roger Sterling in "At the Codfish Ball."
Megan was initially ecstatic to marry Don, but their relationship became strained quickly. Megan was upset when Don failed to appreciate the surprise birthday party she threw for him at the start of season five, and they got into a heated argument when Don made her skip a client presentation she had been hard at work at, making Megan think he didn't respect her as a professional. Don wound up angrily abandoning Megan in a parking lot upstate, and while he did attempt to find her again, she was ultimately forced make her way back to Manhattan herself.
Their relationship was challenged further in season six. Megan had a miscarriage early on, but Don, distracted by his affair with their neighbor, and Megan's friend, Sylvia Rosen, failed to adequately support her through the trauma, or really to be in her life at all for most of the season. He was upset by a love scene Megan filmed for To Have and To Hold, prompting a big fight between them in her dressing room and further straining their marriage.
It is unclear if their marriage is still intact after he cost her her role on To Have and To Hold by flirting with moving to Los Angeles before deciding not to. "I don’t even know why we’re fighting for this anymore. I don’t know what it is," she told him. "We don’t have any kids. You want to be alone with your liquor and your ex-wife and your screwed-up kids. I love them to death. I used to feel pity for them, but now I realize we're all in the same boat."
Are there other, minor characters I should know?
Probably. It's impossible to cover the whole cast, especially characters who the show has stopped following like Paul Kinsey or Salvatore Romano, but here are six still-extant supporting characters you should be aware of:
Ted Chaough (Kevin Rahm) is a partner at Sterling Cooper & Partners, and is heading up their new Los Angeles office as of the end of season six. He previously was a partner in Cutler, Gleason, and Chaough, and spearheaded that firm's merger with Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce in season six. He had previously hired Peggy Olson away from SCDP to be copy chief for CGC in season five, and made her copy chief at the post-merger Sterling Cooper & Partners. He and Peggy also share a romantic attraction, kissing in "For Immediate Release" and having sex in "In Care Of," but Chaough opted to try to repair his marriage by moving to Los Angeles to stay away from Peggy.
Stan Rizzo (Jay R. Ferguson) and Michael Ginsberg (Ben Feldman) are creative personnel at Sterling Cooper & Partners, working under Peggy Olson. They came from the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce side of the merger, and have years of experience working with Peggy there. Stan, the firm's art director, fancies himself a countercultural type, and has a penchant for drinking, doing drugs, and having casual sex. He has a bit of a misogynistic streak, harassing Peggy in particular during the fourth season. Michael is a copywriter, hired by Peggy in season five. He is portrayed as exceptionally gifted, with a dark and acerbic streak to his pitches. He lives with his adoptive father Morris, who adopted him from a Swedish orphanage at five after Michael was born in a Nazi concentration camp. He only reluctantly acknowledged his past to Peggy after telling her he had no family, and then joking that he was a Martian.
Harry Crane (Rich Sommer), a part of Sterling Cooper since season one, became head of the firm's television department, a role he kept at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce and Sterling Cooper & Partners. He is the firm's liaison to Hollywood and the entertainment industry generally, spending considerable time in Los Angeles.
Ken Cosgrove (Aaron Staton) was an accounts executive at Sterling Cooper Advertising Agency, rising to be co-head of accounts with Pete Campbell. He was left behind in the move to Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, but then was hired there midway through season four, working under his former equal Pete Campbell. He briefly ran the Chevrolet account for Sterling Cooper & Partners in season six, before being shot in a hunting accident with GM executives, causing him to return to New York. In his spare time, he is a successful fiction writer, and has had short stories published in The Atlantic and various sci-fi magazines.
Bert Cooper (Robert Morse) is one of the two founding partners of Sterling Cooper Advertising Agency, along with Roger Sterling Sr., and stays with the firm through its transitions to Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce and Sterling Cooper & Partners. He is a devoted fan of Ayn Rand and has an interest in visual art, keeping a print of the Japanese tentacle erotica painting The Dream of the Fisherman's Wife and an original Mark Rothko painting in his office. He was not at all concerned by Pete's revelations about Don's past in season one, but agrees with Sterling Jr. and the rest of the partners that Don had to take time off at the end of season six after his meltdown in front of Hershey's representatives.
Where do things stand as of the end of season six?
Most of the show's main characters — Roger Sterling, Joan Harris, Peggy Olson, Pete Campbell, etc. — are working for Sterling Cooper & Partners. Ted Chaough and Pete are moving to Los Angeles to expand the firm's reach. Olson and Chaough's affair, and Campbell's marriage, are in tatters.
Don Draper is on leave from Sterling Cooper & Partners due to his erratic behavior at a pitch meeting with Hershey's. His relationship with his wife Megan is strained, as he made her quit her job as a soap opera actress on the grounds that he wanted to move to Los Angeles, only to back out of the move at the last minute. He also spent the better part of season six bedding his neighbor Sylvia Rosen (Linda Cardellini), and was caught by his daughter Sally (Kiernan Shipka). Megan and Sylvia are close friends, and while Megan does not know about the affair yet, the potential of her learning could be devastating. Sally has had her own problems, and was suspended from her boarding school in the last episode of season six for drinking. Don ended the season with his three children at the brothel in Pennsylvania where he was raised.
This recap from Slate only covers the first four seasons, but is a good run-through:
Who writes Mad Men?
The showrunner and main creative force behind the show is Matthew Weiner. Weiner began his career writing for comedy shows, including The Naked Truth, Baby Blues, Andy Richter Controls the Universe, In-Laws, and Becker before becoming a writer for the final two seasons of The Sopranos. Weiner wrote some of that show's best later episodes, usually in concert with its showrunner David Chase, including "Soprano Home Movies," "Kennedy and Heidi," and "The Blue Comet."
Other writers over the years have included the husband-and-wife team of André Jacquemetton and Maria Jacquemetton (who wrote ten episodes together, spanning the first six seasons), Robin Veith (who worked on seasons one through three and cowrote season one finale "The Wheel" with Weiner), Kater Gordon (who worked on the second and third season, writing season two's finale, "Meditations on an Emergency"), and Erin Levy (who's worked on the show since the third season, writing that season's finale, "Shut the Door. Have a Seat").
Two notable non-staff contributors are former Buffy the Vampire Slayer writer Marti Noxon (who co-wrote season two's "The Inheritance") and the late Cool Hand Luke / Dog Day Afternoon screenwriter Frank Pierson (who co-wrote season five standout "Signal 30" with Weiner).
I don't have time to catch up. What are five episodes that give me a sense of the show?
We've got you covered. These aren't necessarily the five best episodes of the show, but they're the five that'll get you up to speed with the major plot threads and character backstories you need to understand season seven.
Nixon vs. Kennedy
Set the night of the 1960 election, this season one episode makes heavy use of flashbacks to explain how Don stole his identity from his lieutenant in the Korean war. So much of the show hangs on that deception, and Don's desperate attempts to maintain it, that newbies would do well to see it firsthand.
The Mountain King
Far from the show's best episode (its predecessor, "The Jet Set," is a prime contender for that title) season two's "The Mountain King" is nonetheless a great primer episode for newbies. It, along with "The Good News," is one of two episodes concerned primarily with Don's relationship with Anna Draper, the widow of the man whose identity he stole. It's the first episode in which we see Don as Dick Whitman, letting his mask slip completely, and showing the unique bond he has with Anna in the process.
Shut the Door. Have a Seat
The AV Club's Todd VanDerWerff once noted that the season three finale, in which Roger, Bert, Don, and Lane conspire to start their own firm, freeing themselves from their British owners, plays like an Ocean's Eleven-style heist movie. The pleasure is not in wondering if every bit of the scheme will work out, but in watching as each one does, and marveling at the characters thinking of moves you hadn't even considered. It's one of the most purely fun episodes the show has ever put together, but also includes important developments in Don's relationships with Peggy and Pete — and the complete breakdown of his marriage with Betty.
A candidate for the show's best episode ever, and certainly the most important episode to date about Peggy's relationship with Don. Season four's "The Suitcase" features the two of them staying in the office all night, struggling to put together an ad campaign for the luggage company Samsonite, with Muhammed Ali's fight with Sonny Liston happening in the background. (Trust me, Ali matters here.) It features both their most intense argument (see above) and some of their nicest bonding moments, not least of which is them sneaking into Roger Sterling's office to listen to dictations he made for his horrible, horrible memoirs.
The Other Woman
The most important thing about season five's "The Other Woman" to the rest of the show is that it ended with Joan being made partner, solidifying her place as one of the main players in Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce and, later, Sterling Cooper & Partners. But how she got there — as part of a scheme to win Jaguar Cars's business by prostituting an unwilling Joan to the head of Jaguar's Dealers Association — was a horrible violation, and showed more clearly than just about any other plot point the casual contempt the firm's men routinely show the women they live and work with. To emphasize the point, it's also the episode where Peggy, tired of being disrespected, left the firm.