There are some dramas from this new Golden Age of Television that don’t particularly lend themselves to the Best Episodes treatment. I mean, you could probably pick a few episodes of “The Wire” (usually ones where beloved characters die) as stand-outs, but the more intensely serialized shows of this era often have episodes that feel more like parts of a whole than like things that should be judged on their own.
“Mad Men,” on the other hand, has always treated each episode as its own thing. There are continuing storylines involving work and home, but each episode brings with it a specific theme and a way to apply that theme to what’s happening in the lives of Don and whoever its other central characters are. (On rare occasions, like season 4’s “The Beautiful Girls,” Don even winds up a supporting player on his own show.) Matthew Weiner approached each episode as a standalone artistic experience, which in a way makes it much easier for Fienberg and I to choose our favorites.
In another way, of course, this was an absolute bear, because there are just so many spectacular episodes to choose from. We abandoned the idea of trying to pick just 10 almost instantly, but even at 20, there are a lot we left out that one or both of us wishes could be acknowledged. You’ll notice, for instance, that “Waterloo” isn’t on this list, but only because the show has done so many amazing finales that we couldn’t include them all, on top of all the great episodes from earlier in those seasons.
And it’s entirely possible that we may be updating this list in a couple of weeks to include the finale (as it is, we strongly considered both of the most recent episodes). But these are 20 that we loved, and that we felt demonstrated the depth and breadth of “Mad Men” in all its forms. Take a look and then tell us what some of your favorites are.