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"Advertising is based on one thing: Happiness. And you know what happiness is? Happiness is the smell of a new car... It's freedom from fear. It's a billboard on the side of the road that screams with reassurance that whatever you're doing is okay... You are okay."
Mad Men is an American period drama involving an advertising firm on Madison Avenue, New York City, during the 1960s. The show explores the changing American landscape through the eyes of the Sterling-Cooper Ad Agency and the world of advertising at the dawn of the decade that would change America forever.
The series, while an ensemble, focuses mainly on Don Draper (Jon Hamm), a charming rogue of an ad executive with major personal problems: mainly the fact that he can't keep his dick in his pants, as well as his Dark and Troubled Past.
As the show progresses through the 1960s, many seasons are tied to milestone events: Season one culminated in the 1960 election of John F Kennedy, season two took place during 1962 and ended with the Cuban Missile Crisis, and season three ran through 1963 and featured the JFK assassination in its penultimate episode. Season four (1964-65) breaks this pattern, though much of it centers around the Vietnam War.
The series was originally pitched to HBO, which turned it down. It ended up on AMC, which has run with the ball as far as Mad Men being to AMC as The Shield is to FX Network. The series has received much critical acclaim and positive press, even though most critics tend to downplay the show's Deconstruction of the entire idea of the innocent, ideal "good old days" of America's past (and up-play Christina Hendricks' considerable advertising assets...)
After Season 4, Matthew Weiner's contract was renewed for a further three seasons.
A character sheet is currently under construction, show it some love.
This series contains examples of:
- Abusive Parents:
- Don's father, physically.
- Betty, emotionally and now physically, having hit Sally for cutting her hair and implying she does it often and it "doesn't do any good".
- Don's frequent lapses when it comes to taking care of his kids is sometimes interpreted as a mild form of emotional neglect; however, his very real goodwill towards them seems to indicate that he just doesn't know how to be a father properly.
- Lane's father, who strikes him with a goddamn cane.
- Adorkable: Abe Drexler in Season 4. He's so cool when he first meets Peggy... then he's reduced to nervous stammering when he's on her turf.
- Age Cut: Done in reverse in "Babylon". Don is flat on his back after tripping and falling on the stairs. We cut to little Dick Whitman in the same position, letting us know we're in a flashback.
- The Alcoholic:
- Duck Phillips, who had been sober until "Maidenform" and proceeds to go spectacularly Off the Wagon.
- Freddy Rumsen, who joined AA and seems to have sobered up.
- Roger Sterling, who can drink the table under the table.
- Although Roger casually reveals to Lane in Season 5 that he only ever drinks about half of any drink he orders when he's out with a client before ordering another
- Don teeters on the edge of this in Season 4.
- Alcohol Is Poison: Averted by Betty and other pregnant women. Accurate for the time period.
- All Just a Dream: In "Mystery Date" Don has one hell of a fever dream in which he strangles an old flame to death and then kicks her body under his bed. It's meant to be symbolic of how he wants to kill the philandering part of himself, but damn, it's chilling.
- All There in the Manual: Each episode has multiple commentaries on the DVDs, which have writers, directors, actors, and even sound guys talking about the decisions they made and what everything means.
- Amazingly Embarrassing Parents: Megan's parents, Dr. and Mrs. Calvet. Dr. Calvet is a leftist--probably Communist--who might have trouble with English (or might just be pretending to as part of his elaborate scheme to prove his utter disdain for American capitalism). Mrs. Calvet is nice, doting on her daughter (to an almost ridiculous degree), but also sucks off Roger Sterling at the American Cancer Society ceremony held for Don. And Sally sees them.
- Ambiguously Evil: Bert Cooper. It is never made clear whether he is willing to follow up on the threats he makes or if he really had his old doctor killed.
- Considering what we find out about said doctor in "The Suitcase" namely, that he surgically removed Bert's testicles accidentally, it wouldn't be surprising if that was the case.
- Ambiguously Gay: Harry Crane gives off vibes of this. On at least two separate occasions he's talked about how a different character is "queer". His crass jokes about what he'd do to Megan reek of Have I Mentioned I Am Heterosexual Today?. And in "Tea Leaves" he talks about how good Charlton Heston looks naked.
- And then there's Joey's reaction to Harry's attempts to befriend him by telling him he could get him on Peyton Place:
Joey: "Everyplace I've worked, there's always some old fairy who comes on to me, but that was the weirdest by far."
Betty: You... people are ugly and crude.
- Joan's doctor husband's last name is Harris, which (like Miller and Siegel) is sometimes but not always a Jewish name; Joan says he's not Jewish, but Roger thinks he "used to be."
- Anachronism Stew: Largely averted on a show where the writers have Shown Their Work, but not always.
- The first episode, "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes", has Don coining the Lucky Strike slogan "it's toasted" in 1960. It actually dates back to 1917.
- Episode 2.8 "A Night to Remember" involved Sterling-Cooper wooing Heineken, and when Don and Betty are having The Sterlings over for dinner, Don points out Betty's choice of beers: a box filled with Heineken bottles... with a logo that was not introduced until 1968, on a type of bottle designed in the 1980s. In 1963, the bottles would have been brown, and the Heineken logo was a red star on a yellow background.
- To be fair, there are other possible explanations (although failure to do research is probably the most likely), among them not being able to get the props and simple Product Placement (who today would recognize that Heineken bottle and logo?)
- The show is generally good at avoiding anachronistic vehicles, but in episode 2.11 "The Jet Set", Joy is driving a 1968 Mercedes-Benz convertible in 1962.
- In several episodes, modern packaging for ink is seen. The characters are also obviously unfamiliar with fountain pen use -- in one scene Don nearly springs the nib. However, the pens themselves are almost all period-accurate; Cross and an independent pen collector donated fountain pens and ballpoints.
- Animated Credits Opening
- Anti-Hero: Arguably the whole cast but Don especially.
- Anvilicious: Paul's Star Trek script, "The Negron Complex," is an in-universe example. According to Harry, it involves aliens called the Negrons oppressed by a race called the Caucasons. The twist is that the Negrons are white.
- Arc Words: This never happened. In Season 4 Don's secretary challenges him with "this actually happened" when he dismisses the issue of them sleeping together as unimportant. It does not go down well.
- Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: "You're fired for costing this company millions of pounds, you're fired for insubordination, you're fired for lack of character!!!"
- Babies Make Everything Better:
- Cruelly but elegantly subverted. Having exiled Don to the couch earlier on, Betty Draper finds out that she's pregnant again at the end of the second season. Their marriage does seem to improve for a while, but eventually things fall apart.
- Subverted by Roger getting Joan pregnant in "Hands and Knees". They're married to other people, Joan isn't willing to leave her husband, Roger isn't willing to acknowledge the child as his. We - and Roger - are lead to believe Joan had an abortion, but we find out in "Tomorrowland" that she's kept it and is passing it off as her husband's.
- Played with with Peggy's pregnancy. First it makes it much easier for her to be taken seriously as a colleague at Sterling-Cooper, because weight gain makes her less attractive. Of course, then, she has the baby... as an unwed 22-year old Catholic who didn't even know she was pregnant.
- Subverted yet again with Pete and Trudy Campbell. Having a child and moving to suburbia seems to sour Pete on his marriage (or maybe marriage in general).
- Backstory: Hoo boy.
- Badass Decay: Don, and not YMMV because Peggy references it in-universe in Season 5 premiere "A Little Kiss".
Peggy: "I don't recognize that man. He's kind and he's patient...It concerns me."
- Badass Grandpa: Robert Pryce. It comes as quite a shock when it happens.
- Badass Israeli: Referenced in an episode where executives of the company try to learn about Israel while considering how to pitch it as a tourist destination. All they can figure out on their own is that the women are attractive and have machine guns. When asked for her opinion on Israelis, a New York Jew can only advise Don Draper not to cross them.
- Bad Bad Acting: The SC crew act out Paul Kinsey's play in the Season 1 finale, "Nixon vs. Kennedy".
- Also, Don and Megan impress the representative for Cool Whip by acting out their pitch for him, so much so that he asks them to do it again for the Head of Dessert. Except that by the time they meet with him, Megan has quit, so Peggy subs in for her. The result is this trope.
- The Barnum: Madison Avenue and the ad industry in general; specific examples would be Roger, Don, and Pete.
- Batman Gambit: Don runs a Kansas City Shuffle against Chaough's firm to get them to make a really high-quality but budget-busting spec ad for Honda (which was against the rules), then resigns the account when asked to meet with the Honda execs, saying that since they had broken their rules, he could not honorably do business with them. Honda decides in the end to remain for the moment at Grey, but allowed SCDP to develop the advertising for their new automotive division.
- The Beard: Sal's wife.
- The Beatles: Sally is a fan. Don gets her Beatles 45s for Christmas 1964 and later gets her tickets to the Aug. 15, 1965 concert at Shea Stadium. Sally promptly starts screaming hysterically in joy.
- In "Lady Lazarus" a client wants SCDP to come up with a jingle with a sound like the Beatles. At the end of the episode Megan gives Don their latest album "Revolver" and tells him to play a certain track. It's the psychedelic song "Tomorrow Never Knows" and it plays over a montage of Megan taking doing exercises in her acting class, Peggy and Stan sharing a joint at work. After listening a while Don abruptly takes the needle off before the song ends and goes to bed. The song continues in the closing credits. In the episode they mention how difficult and expensive it is to acquire a Beatles song. In Real Life Matt Weiner reportedly got Lionsgate to pay $250,000 to use "Tomorrow Never Knows".
- Beatnik: Midge and her circle of friends. Paul Kinsey is kind of a wannabe.
- Berserk Button:
- Peggy hates it when people imply that she became a copywriter by sleeping with Don.
- Don't expect Roger to react rationally around the Japanese.
- Big Applesauce: The show makes frequent use of its setting and NYC's history. Pete Campbell's New York blue blood ancestry gets him an apartment. The destruction of the old Penn Station in 1963 to make way for Madison Square Garden (which opened five years later) is a plot point in an episode, and SCDP moves into offices in the then-new Time-Life Building. Lane Pryce has a New York Mets pennant in his office (the baseball team began play in 1962).
- Big "What?": Lane Pryce upon hearing of the Kennedy assassination.
- Birth-Death Juxtaposition:
- Betty's father, Eugene, dies in one episode; the next, she gives birth to a son. She names him Eugene.
- In 4x11, David Montgomery dies and Pete Campbell's daughter is born.
- Black Bra and Panties: Megan in "A Little Kiss"--to clean house, oddly enough, although it turns into something different.
- Black Comedy:
- On occasion and most definitely in "Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency".
- Anything having to do with Miss Blankenship in "The Beautiful Girls".
- Blackface / Uncle Tomfoolery: Holy Deliberate Values Dissonance Batman, Roger Sterling's singing while in blackface! Pete is shown to disapprove of this as one of his socially conscious, forward-thinking moments, but Don is the only other person who seems bothered by it, and that's almost certainly just because Roger's acting like a moron.
- Blackmail: Pete's intent when he learns about Don's past; of course, this backfires as Bert Cooper makes it clear he doesn't give a damn. Cooper later uses this secret to force Don to sign a contract.
- Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: Betty (blonde), Peggy (brunette), and Joan (redhead). As illustrated by this Rolling Stone cover with Tall, Dark and Handsome Don Draper. "The Beautiful Girls" ends with a shot of Joan (redhead), Peggy (brunette), and Faye (blonde) in the elevator together. It's very symbolic.
- Bloody Hilarious: The lawnmower incident.
- Bondage Is Bad: Don doesn't really get the concept of "Safe, Sane and Consensual" with Bobbi Barrett. In contrast, most of the sex he's shown having that doesn't involve kink is seen as "good".
- Further supported by Don having Candace, the hooker he begins seeing regularly after the divorce, slap him repeatedly in bed. It's depicted as one of Don's darkest and least glamorous sexual encounters.
- Bottle Episode: "The Suitcase," which mostly focuses on Don and Peggy becoming more intimate while pulling an all-nighter to come up with a commercial for Samsonite.
- Break the Cutie: Betty and, initially, Peggy. Sally Draper might get it even worse in season four, though.
- Break the Haughty:
- Joan. See Character Development for the full version, but believe us, she's the preeminent example.
- Pete pretty much gets this when he's fired and rehired in the first season, and spends the rest of the show trying to catch up to where he thought he was.
- Roger in season one, and then periodically throughout the series. In Season 5, he seems to make peace with being the "professor emeritus" of Accounts, and acts as a mentor to junior account exec Cosgrove.
- Season Four did quite a number on Don Draper.
- Season Five does one on Lane Pryce, though it starts with his father's treatment in S4's "Hands and Knees".
- Brick Joke: In "The Chrysanthemum and the Sword", Roger makes an obscure reference to a Dr. Lyle Evans, and Bert promptly tells him to shut up. Two episodes later, we find out that Bert, in the middle of his sexual prime, got his testicles removed in an 'unnecessary' procedure performed by one Dr. Lyle Evans years back.
- Bungled Suicide: In "Commissions and Fees", this is subverted. Although Lane's attempt to use his Jaguar to asphyxiate himself fails, it is revealed at the end of the episode that he successfully hanged himself.
- Bunny Ears Lawyer: Bert Cooper.
- The Bus Came Back / Long Bus Trip:
- Ken Cosgrove rejoined the rest of the team at SCDP midway through Season 4 after being left behind by the mutiny that ends Season 3.
- Smitty Smith resurfaces at a rival ad agency in "The Chrysanthemum and the Sword".
- Rachel Menken popped up in one episode after her affair with Don ended to let the viewers know she got married.
- A drunk-off-his-ass Duck Phillips heckles the Cleo host in "Waldorf Stories" and makes an ass out of himself to Peggy in "The Suitcase".
- Freddy Rumsen (rehabbed and sober) returned to join SCDP two seasons after he was loaded into a taxi and shoved off for being a hopeless drunk.
- Midge, Don's Bohemian lover in the beginning of the first season, shows up in Season Four's "Blowing Smoke" after encountering him outside his office. She's fallen on hard times.
- Nearly two seasons after the SCDP mutineers did not take him along at the end of Season 3, Paul Kinsey pops up in "Christmas Waltz". He's a Hare Krishna and a wannabe writer for Star Trek.
- But Not Too Gay: Sal, the only major gay character (on a show where the straight characters are seen banging each other all the time and in various combinations), is deeply closeted due to the time and place the show is set, so his gay love life mostly consists of resisting the advances of other men.
- But Not Too Black: Averted with the woman Lane dates in "Hands and Knees," who is very dark-skinned.
- Also with Paul's girlfriend in season two, before she dumps him because she has, y'know, self respect.
- Butt Monkey:
- Pete in season 1. Harry Crane most of the time, and Paul Kinsey in Season Three.
- Lane Pryce's bosses at PPL treat him this way in Season 3. He takes his revenge in the season finale.
- Call Back / Continuity Nod : There are numerous subtle touches that make reference to previous events and imagery from previous episodes:
- Pete's gun from "Red in the Face" reappears occasionally throughout the series, as if solely to remind the viewer that he still has it.
- In "A Night to Remember," while searching for evidence of Don's philandering, Betty rummages through his desk and stumbles upon several miscellaneous items - most prominently shown of these are a scrap of paper with his tag line for Right Guard from "Ladies Room" and the Valentine's Day card he got from Sally in "For Those Who Think Young." Additionally, Matt Weiner states in his audio commentary that the camera framing of when Don returns home for the last time is meant to be evocative of the ending of "The Wheel" (the season 1 finale), which is in and of itself a Call Back to the ending of "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" (the pilot episode).
- At one point in "Six Month Leave," Jane presents Don with a bag containing new dress shirts that she bought for him. Attentive viewers will note from the bag that she went shopping at Menken's, alluding to the events of Season 1. Also, Don identifies himself to the bouncer at the casino with the name Tilden Katz - Rachel Menken's husband, who was briefly seen in "The New Girl."
- Word of God states that the scene of Don and the Betty look-alike in "The Jet Set" is meant to be reminiscent of Don seeing Betty coming down the stairs at the hotel in "For Those Who Think Young."
- After getting fired in "Wee Small Hours," Sal is seen leafing through a stack of artwork he's done for Sterling Cooper, all of which comes from previous episodes in the series.
- In "The Suitcase" when Don places his hand on Peggy's. In the pilot she placed her hand on his and he responded angrily "I'm not your boyfriend; I'm your boss."
- In "The Rejected", Allison pointedly says to Don "this actually happened", as a reference to the Arc Words "this never happened".
- In season one's "New Amsterdam," Roger mentions that "more guys have gotten jobs" because of alcoholism than anything else. Don quips "that's how I got in". In season four's "Waldorf Stories", we get to see how Don got his job at Sterling-Cooper - he got Roger drunk enough to forget whether or not he'd really offered Don a job.
- Also in "New Amsterdam," we see Betty read a book with the title "ITALY". Much later, we later learn that she is a fluent Italian speaker.
- Three seasons after Dr. Greg raped her in "The Mountain King", Joan finally acknowledges what happened in "Mystery Date" (see "The Reason You Suck" Speech below).
- In season 1's "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes", Don takes a nap on a couch, time passes by, and he's woken later by secretary Peggy. In season 5's "Far Away Places", Peggy takes a nap on a couch, time passes by, and she's woken later by secretary Dawn.
- "Christmas Waltz" is rife with these, both explicit and implied:
- The woman Don quotes as saying "I like being bad and going home and being good" is season 2's Bobbie Barrett.
- While talking to Joan in the bar, Don makes a reference to Burt Peterson, The Ghost from seasons 1 and 2.
- The bet between Peterson and Freddy Rumsen mentioned by Don might be a reference to Joan's season 1 roommate Carol.
- This episode answers Joan's speculation from season 1's "5G" as to why Don always ignored her - "You scared the shit out of me."
- Megan waiting at home for Don is reminiscent of scenes of Betty in earlier seasons brooding at home alone with a glass of wine while waiting for Don.
- Call Forward: A staple of the show. References are frequently made toward future real-life events.
- In one of the first, there's a discussion of the virtues of one of the 1960 presidential candidates, describing him as a "young, handsome, Navy hero". Most of the audience think they're talking about John F Kennedy -- then it's revealed they're actually discussing Richard Nixon. This being Corporate America, they're all Republicans.
- Roger's daughter has her wedding scheduled for November 23, 1963.
- In "Six Month Leave," Don, Roger and Freddy Rumsen go to a casino, whereupon Freddy notices "the champ" being in attendance. Roger replies, "For another couple of months." The three are forced to leave after Don sucker-punches Jimmy Barrett, knocking him to the floor with a single blow. Upon getting up, Jimmy asks the champ, "Hey Floyd. How'd I do?" The Floyd in question is Floyd Patterson. The irony of this is that the episode takes place in August 1962: Patterson's next two fights, in September 1962 and July 1963, were both brutal first-round knockout losses to Sonny Liston.
- The clueless call forwards to Vietnam are possibly the saddest, for instance with Joan's husband Greg deciding to become an Army surgeon and citing that he'll have job security in years to come, especially if this Vietnam thing is "still going on." Don, writing in his journal, hopes that Vietnam won't become another Korea.
- Joan's speech in "The Summer Man" to Rizzo, Bill, and Joey telling them that when they're over in Vietnam next year, and they're being shot at and dying, they'll beg for someone (i.e. her) to make their lives easier.
- In Season 4 SCDP added Honda cars to their portfolio, a "motorcycle with doors" in 1965 which is now a full-line marque with a high reputation and little dependence on low-profit fleet sales. Contrast that to the agency's "jewel in the crown" Lucky Strike: in 1960 a market leader and one of the best-known brands in the country, in 2010 a ghost brand in a product segment over 80% of the population wants nothing to do with.
- There is a Call Forward Running Gag in Season 2 about Martinson Coffee and their concern that young people aren't going to drink coffee in the future.
- Camp Gay: The party planner at Don's 40th birthday party in Season 5's "A Little Kiss".
- Cannot Keep a Secret: In "Dark Shadows" Roger asks Ginsberg if he can keep a secret and Ginsberg says "Nope." Sure enough, later in the episode he tells Peggy the secret.
- Captain Ersatz: In-universe, the title song and scene from the 1963 film version of Bye Bye Birdie is duplicated, frame for frame, and re-purposed as an ad for diet cola.
Harry: It doesn't make any sense. It looks right, it sounds right, smells right. Something's not right. What is it?
- The Casanova: Don Draper, 'nuff said. His middle name should be this trope. He's so good actually, that he has to make excuses to the point of being apologetic when NOT hitting on a woman (with Peggy for example)
- This video sums it up pretty well.
- Caught with Your Pants Down: Don's ten year old daughter Sally is watching The Man from U.N.C.L.E. when she starts masturbating, without really knowing what it is she's doing, to Ilya Kuryakin at a friend's house while her friend is sleeping on the couch. She gets in trouble when the friend's mother walks in, and when she takes Sally back home her mother yells at her and threatens to cut her fingers off if she does it again - in public or in private. All the while Sally doesn't even know why the adults are mad at her.
- Chained to a Bed: Don does this to Bobbie when she tells him that he has a reputation. No Guy Wants to Be Chased.
- Character Development, some more than others.
- Peggy might be the new poster child. She's gone from a secretary to copywriter with an office when the head of television doesn't even have an office. She went from being cowed by the men in her life to one who can call them out when they're not showing her enough respect (Don) or even shake them down when necessary (Roger). She goes from being nearly pushed to tears over being treated as dessert in 1x02 "Ladies Room" to winning a battle of wills of chauvinist pig Rizzo by stripping down naked in 4x06 "Waldorf Stories" to the aforementioned shakedown in 5x04 "Mystery Date."
- Pete, the Butt Monkey and Jerkass in seasons 1 and 2 to most viewers, has actually started to redeem himself. He's cutting the ties he's gotten with nepotism and actually attempting to earn his job. He's questioning the institutional racism with companies he is dealing with and actually made the new owners pay attention to it. He's still an entitled bully, as shown by his interactions with the black elevator operator, and his borderline rape of his neighbor's Au Pair, but he actually shows guilt afterward and rapidly changes his behavior to his wife to prevent him from being a position to do that again. His actions in the season 3 finale imply that he and Trudy have agreed to adopt, something old Pete, too afraid of his family, would never have done.
- On the business side of things: while he's still a junior partner, as is evidenced by being ordered to resign his father-in-law's Clearasil Account, Pete shows business acumen by turning that into a bigger opportunity for firm. Which leads to Pete calling out Roger on his immaturity re: the Honda people and Lane basically acknowledging that Pete is really doing the brunt of the work in getting and maintaining accounts. Still, Pete seems much more willing to be a team player and earning his way up than he was in the first season.
- And socially, he turns from a naive, ignorant WASP kid in a suit who cheats on his wife into a savvy businessman, a genuine liberal, and a devoted husband.
- However, in season 5 he takes a giant step backward, becoming profoundly unhappy with life with his gorgeous wife and new baby, patronizing hookers, screwing neighborhood housewives, getting his ass beat by Lane Pryce, etc.
- Joan starts off as a Libby-like figure, and becomes much more sympathetic later on when we find out that she's wasted the prime of her life as a mistress for her boss and ended up being raped by her fiance right before their wedding. She later finds out that her "big catch" is an incompetent surgeon who ends up getting unofficially blacklisted from working as a surgeon in New York. He then joins the Army right as the Vietnam War is about to heat up in order to continue pursuing his career dream, even though Joan would be content if he would just become a regular doctor.
- In "Mystery Date" Joan dumps her husband and makes it clear to him that she remembers the rape and that it was a mistake to marry him. It's a huge growth moment for the character.
- The Character Died with Him: Pete Campbell's father died following the death of Christopher Allport, the actor who played the character.
- Characterization Marches On: In Season 1, Paul Kinsey, Harry Crane, and Ken Cosgrove had little personality beyond being sexist friends of Pete.
- Chekhov's Boomerang: Don's desertion/identity switch in Korea.
- Chekhov's Gun:
- You introduce a lawn mower in Act I, be prepared for someone's foot to be mowed over in Act III. Right when he got it in the door.
- Roger Sterling's daughter spent some time planning a date for her wedding. She settled for November 23, 1963.
- Roger's memoirs, dictated to his secretary and spoken into a tape recorder. Sure enough, Don finds the tapes, and boy, are they hilarious.
- Spectacularly in season two, Don's lack of a contract.
- Bert Cooper's offhand comment about Jaguar in "Christmas Waltz"--"They're lemons; they never start!"--takes on new meaning when Lane Pryce tries to kill himself in "Commissions and Fees" via tailpipe exhaust and can't start his new Jaguar.
- Chekhov's Gunman: Megan seemed to be getting a lot of moments onscreen without any actual story for a secretary through most of Season 4 before she became Don's secretary and fiancee.
- Chiaroscuro: The light is always amazingly specific; illumination defines the location (from time of day to which side of a building an office is on), and also artistically defines a character (Don's always hiding in the shadows).
- Cigarette of Anxiety: When Betty finally tells Don that she knows about his secret identity, not only do Don's hands shake when he lights the cigarette, he actually drops the cigarette, and Betty has to do it for him. Given how cool, calm, and confident Don had been portrayed for three years, it came off as a very dramatic moment.
- Cold War:
- Don goes with some of the others to a defense convention and is horror-struck at just what the then-new Polaris missile can do.
- The season two finale, "Meditations in an Emergency", takes place during the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962. Joan wonders about their Civil Defense precautions to have Don tell her there wouldn't be much point. Peggy's priest is seen preparing the church's bomb shelter.
- The FBI men who visit Betty for Don's security clearance interview seem very interested in any potential ties to the Communist party.
- Come Back to Bed, Honey: Don says this to Betty at one point.
- Cool Car: Don's Cadillac Coupe DeVille, Gene's (later Betty's) 1961 Lincoln Continental, Betty's '57 Ford wagon from the first season... practically every outdoor shot is chock-full of Gorgeous Period Cars.
- Don even goes as far as replacing his first Coupe DeVille with a newer one in season 5.
- All of the Jaguars in season five, especially the cherry red one Joan and Don buy in "Christmas Waltz", and the Chekhov's Gun green one Lane's wife buys for him in "Commissions and Fees".
- Crap Saccharine World: 1960s New York.
- Creepy Child: Glen Bishop, who's escalated from crushing on Betty Draper to crushing on Sally Draper to breaking and entering (while sparing Sally's room alone in the Draper home).
- Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Bert Cooper, especially in his verbal smackdown of Pete Campbell in the season one finale.
- Curb Stomp Battle: Robert Pryce takes down Lane with one quick smack across the head with his cane and then steps on his hand to force him to go back to England and deal with his family.
- Daddy's Girl:
- Averted by the main adult women (Betty's relationship with her father Gene is strained; Joan's father appears to have walked out on the family when she was young; and while Peggy's relationship with her mother is not the best, all we know of her father is that he had a heart attack and died in front of Peggy when she was twelve). However, Gene grows rather fond of his granddaughter Sally, encouraging her to make her own way in the world and treating her like an adult (unlike, by implication, her mother), and she is the one most visibly upset by his death.
- Played with somewhat when Betty told her father the she didn't want to discuss the arrangements for his death because she's his "little girl" while she was 9 months pregnant with her 3rd child.
- Played entirely straight with Sally, who loves Don and seems to take after him, and hates Betty. You'd hate your mother too if she hated your best friend and threatened to cut off your fingers.
- Dark and Troubled Past: Don's seemed like the darkest (son of a prostitute, abusive parents, desertion in Korea) - until we met Ginsberg, who was born in a concentration camp.
- A Date with Rosie Palms:
- It's heavily implied in "The Color Blue" that Paul does this with the Jackie & Marilyn artwork while alone late at night in his office.
- Sally gets caught masturbating to Ilya Kuryakin while at a friend's house. Neither the friend's mother nor Betty is pleased.
- This happens twice in "Indian Summer". Betty gets off with a washing machine. Peggy for her part is asked to test a vibrating weight-loss apparatus, which turns out to have other benefits. She discreetly mentions this to her bosses, who realize the hidden potential in marketing it to women.
- Dead Guy, Junior: Eugene Scott Draper, named after his maternal grandfather. Don doesn't much care for the name (having hated the original) and Sally is freaked out (having loved her Grampa Gene and now having to deal with a "replacement" with the same name living in the same room).
- Dead Little Brother: Adam.
- Dead Person Impersonation: Don
- Deadpan Snarker:
Harry: Are you kidding me?
- Don, Peggy, Kinsey, Joan . . . nearly everyone has their moments.
- Death as Comedy: Miss Blankenship
- Death by Childbirth: Don's real mother.
- Defictionalization: Grove/Atlantic published "Sterling's Gold: Wit and Wisdom of an Ad Man", the memoir that Roger wrote during the fourth season.
- Deliberate Values Dissonance: The whole damn point of the show.
- Sterling Cooper finds some random Jewish guy from the mailroom to attend a meeting with a department store owned by a Jewish family, pretending he's a "rising star" in the art department. Then they serve their prospective clients cocktail shrimp (extremely non-kosher).
- At one point, a character loses a foot due to a tragic accident. Aside from the fact that OSHA would've had a field day with the circumstances involved, nearly everybody seems to think it's obvious this means his career, in a desk job, is over because of the new disability.
- Everything involving children:
- Sally running around with a plastic bag over her head. Betty calls her over... and tells her the clothes that were in that bag better not be on the floor, or else.
- Sally is expected to make her father drinks, clean up and make dinner when her brother misbehaves and her parents are having shouting matches, and sneaks drinks at Don's office. She's between six and ten during these scenes.
- Little Dick Whitman gets a sip of moonshine, right before his father dies.
- Trick-or-treating in pitch darkness with mostly black costumes and no flashlights. (Though the show flubbed something that time -- the kids almost certainly would not have had their parents with them back then.)
- Kids are running around the house at Sally's birthday party. One of them breaks a glass after jostling a table. A man grabs him, slaps his face, and reprimands him. Then the boy's father shows up and makes the child apologize to the man who slapped him. The show teased for a moment that he might go Papa Wolf, then subverted it.
- No seatbelts. Bobby and Sally are climbing all over the back seat when Betty crashes the car into a neighbor's yard.
- Sally isn't allowed to go to her grandfather's funeral, because "a graveyard is no place for children." Neither of her parents even really realizes how close she became to Gene when he was living with them.
- Environmental awareness. Or more specifically, the lack thereof: When they have a picnic, it's almost laughable the mess they left behind when they leave. When discussing Pampers brand diapers. "What's best about these? They're disposable!"
- Drunk driving with a crash resulting is penalized only with a fine payable all at once (the driver was under the then-legal limit of 0.15). Repeating this for emphasis - the legal limit was 0.15. A BAC of 0.08 is the highest you will find in any developed country these days.
- When Pete Campbell buys a .22 and proceeds to point it at random people in the office while he and his friends have a good laugh about it. Not to mention the conversation he has with Peggy afterwards.
- All over the place with smoking - in "The Gypsy and The Hobo," a possible client notes that her husband just died at 51 from lung cancer, and the focus immediately shifts to Don, casually lighting a cigarette.
- Peggy's mom all but disowns her after she decides to move in with her boyfriend Abe without marrying him.
- Depraved Homosexual: Lee Garner Jr., unfortunately for Sal.
- Development Gag: In the fourth season opener Harry says he wished the new offices had a second floor so he could jump off of it; Harry was slated to commit suicide at the end of the first season.
- Directed by Cast Member: John Slattery has directed three episodes in the fourth and fifth seasons:
- "The Rejected," which makes for a lovely bit of irony in Slattery's first episode: Roger is repeating Lee Garner's instructions on smoking ads - "No wide angles or low shots, nothing that makes the smoker appear superhuman." - as Slattery frames a smoking Jon Hamm in exactly those kind of shots.
- As well as "Blowing Smoke" and "Signal 30".
- Jon Hamm directed Season 5 episode "Tea Leaves".
- "The Rejected," which makes for a lovely bit of irony in Slattery's first episode: Roger is repeating Lee Garner's instructions on smoking ads - "No wide angles or low shots, nothing that makes the smoker appear superhuman." - as Slattery frames a smoking Jon Hamm in exactly those kind of shots.
- Dirty Old Man: Roger Sterling. Dear God, Roger Sterling.
- Bert Cooper too. The man keeps a print of "Dream of the Fisherman's Wife" on his office wall.
- The Dog Bites Back: Lane Pryce. After being condescended to by his PPL bosses for most of Season 3 and then cast overboard when PPL decides to sell Sterling Cooper, he participates in the season-ending mutiny and helps found Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.
- Door Step Baby: Don.
- Double Standard: The series!
- Downer Ending: While plenty of episodes are downers, Matthew Weiner seems to have an allergy to leaving the agency hanging at the end of the season; the prospects for Sterling Cooper and then SCDP are always looking up with the season finale. This might be his attempt to avert the Tethercat Principle.
- Dream Sequence:
- Betty has a pretty funky one in "The Fog" when she gets drugged up while giving birth.
- And another in "Tea Leaves" during her cancer scare.
- Those are topped by "Mystery Date", wherein Don Draper dreams of murdering an old flame.
- Dress Hits Floor: Happens to Betty a few times in seasons 1 and 2, and in "Waldorf Stories", Joan's mink hits the floor.
- Drink Order: Don will have an Old Fashioned, made with Canadian rye (he keeps a bottle of Canadian Club in his office). Betty seems to like gimlets.
- Roger seems to drink whatever's handy, but ever since he got his super-modern office in Season 4, it seems that there's always a bottle of Smirnoff around. Although as a clear liquor it goes with the white/black/clear decor...ProductPlacement, anyone?
- There's actually a scene in Season One of Roger pouring Smirnoff into a glass of milk.
- In Season 5 Sally orders coffee in a restaurant, prompting Megan's friend to say they won't bring it to her. When they do, Megan suggests she try to order a drink while Sally starts pouring sugar into it.
- Roger seems to drink whatever's handy, but ever since he got his super-modern office in Season 4, it seems that there's always a bottle of Smirnoff around. Although as a clear liquor it goes with the white/black/clear decor...ProductPlacement, anyone?
- Driven to Suicide: Don's brother Adam.
- Lane Pryce.
- Driving a Desk: Don and Megan not really driving through upstate New York in "Far Away Places".
- Drugs Are Bad: Subverted. Kinsey claims to get Artistic Stimulation from "Mary Jane." He never shows it, however; the one time we see him smoking anything (besides cigarettes or his pipe), it's Peggy who gets the idea. She also has a wonderful time.
"My name is Peggy Olsen, and I'd like to smoke some marijuana."
- Peggy smokes up again in "The Rejected", and isn't caught by the police when they raid the party.
- Played entirely straight with Midge, a heroin addict by the time she reappears in Season 4.
- Subverted again when Roger drops acid in "Far Away Places", has an important realization about his life, and is telling Mona in the next episode that LSD is awesome and she has to try it.
- Drunk Driver: Don rolls his car while tooling around with Bobbi Barrett.
- Lois the secretary gets hammered and takes the the John Deere tractor in the office for a spin. It ends with an amputated foot.
- Dysfunction Junction: Where do we start? Every single character on this show is screwed-up.
- Dumb Blonde: Meredith, the new receptionist who started appearing in Season 5.
- Eccentric Millionaire: Bertram Cooper, with his Japanese-themed office and general mild craziness.
- Conrad Hilton, who demands advertising for a hotel on the moon.
- Empty Promise: Don's decision to offer these to Betty after Kennedy was assassinated rather than genuine comfort and emotion catalyzing the dissolution of their marriage.
- Entitled to Have You: Peter Campbell does Type B with a German au pair that his neighbors hired. He goes through some trouble to fix a dress with red wine or some such spilled on it, but it's only after he returns it that she tells him she already has a boyfriend. Her reactions indicate that it was naivety about his intentions rather than an attempt to use him, but he still forces himself on her a bit later. This comes back to bite him when the neighbor finds out.
- Establishing Character Moment: In addition to the examples on the page itself, Dr. Greg Harris's rape of his then-fiancee Joan has colored every scene we've seen with the character since.
- Everybody Smokes: to the point of Lampshade Hanging when the first season's DVD packaging looked like a giant Zippo lighter.
- Gynecologists drinking and smoking while working.
- Even the Girls Want Her: Joan's roommate Carol.
- In season four, Peggy gets hit on by Joyce, a female Life editor at a Warhol-esque art show. Though Peggy blocks the flirtation, she not only handles it very casually, but the two of them go on to be such close friends that Joyce regularly comes to visit the SCDP offices; by season five, they even kiss each other on the cheek as a greeting.
- Executive Meddling: Resulted in a six-month delay to Season Five. Contentious negotiations between AMC and Matthew Weiner eventually led to a deal which included shortening episodes by two minutes, increased product placement, and possibly trimming the cast.
- Exiled to the Couch:
- Betty does this to Don for much of Season 2.
- Harry Crane is exiled in season one after a drunken one-night stand with Hildy (a secretary) after the Election Day office party. His wife forgives him, though.
- Expy: This show is basically if someone took the characters of How to Succeed In Business Without Really Trying and gave them some real dramatic development rather then sticking them in a musical comedy. Say if the boss's affairs were taken seriously, what if the Hello, Nurse! Sexy Secretary had actual Hidden Depths, etc. This is especially highlighted in the casting of Robert Morse, who is best known for playing the lead in How to Succeed....
- Eye Take
- Fauxlosophic Narration: Don's voiceover of his memoirs in "The Summer Man".
- Fauxreigner/ObfuscatingStupidity: Kurt, probably. He seems to play up his foreignness in order to get away with saying subversive things.
- The Fifties: Technically it's The (very early) Sixties, but attitudes haven't shifted yet. Also, the Beatles don't break America until December 1963, with the stateside release of the single "I Want to Hold Your Hand."
- Fingore: In Season 4 Joan gives her own finger a nasty slice while cutting oranges.
- Flash Back: This is how we learn Don's whole backstory.
- In season three, Sterling Cooper successfully woos the city of New York for the Madison Square Garden project, only to be shot down by Putnam, Powell, & Lowe. Because of "a conflict", followed up with a monetary explanation. It turns out that PPL only wanted SC to strip and sell to an American company, and long term plans with MSG would have conflicted. Pryce is also a sacrificial lamb.
Don: Why did you even buy us?
- When the British overseers from Putnam, Powell, & Lowe visit Sterling Cooper in "Guy Walks into an Advertising Agency," Joan suggests to them that they see Oliver! on Broadway while they're in New York. One of the British men replies by calling it "a tragedy with a happy ending," which is certainly an apropos summary of the episode's events.
- In 4x07 "The Suitcase" - even though Don is next to certain that Anna has died, this is foreshadowed extremely well during the episode. First, while Peggy and Don are working on the Samsonite ad, she mentions that "people who have suitcases are going somewhere." Cue Don, in a drunken haze no less, hallucinating Anna walk in with a Samsonite suitcase. Cue one of the biggest Tear Jerkers of the series.
- Forgotten Trope: Betty flying to Reno to get a divorce. The state of Nevada was then considered the easiest option in the U.S. for un-hitching, allowing marriages to dissolve if one spouse became a state "resident" for six weeks.
- Freudian Couch: Played completely straight in Season 1. Don sends Betty for psychoanalysis, and the setup is correct for free association: the couch is set away from the chair the therapist is sitting in, and he freaks out slightly when she sits up and makes eye contact.
- Funny Background Event: Bert Cooper lurking in his own reception area in "The Rejected". In the same episode, Peggy standing on her desk and peering into Don's office above his head as Allison quits.
- Also, in "Beautiful Girls" when Don, Faye and Ken are deciding on an ad campaign with a client as the secretaries try to cart away Ms. Blankenship's dead body.
- An earlier example in "Ladies Room" - Don is discussing the possibility of working on the Nixon campaign with Sterling and Cooper, and through the window to his office you can see a fireball as Cosgrove and some of the other guys in the office set a spray of the deodorant they're playing with aflame.
- Roger casually offering Don a ride home while junior executives brawl in the background in "Shoot".
- Get a Hold of Yourself, Man!: When Roger almost goes Out with a Bang, he's mumbling the name of the one-night-stand he was with, and an overwrought Don slaps him and growls, "Mona! Your wife's name is Mona!"
- The Ghost: Harry Crane's much-hated rival Mitch. Mrs. Blankenship is one for the first three seasons as Cooper's secretary. She then becomes Don's secretary and plays a much-loved recurring role in Season 4. Then she dies, and becomes a literal ghost.
- Girl Watching: When the men of SC watch the secretaries through a one-way mirror in "Babylon" as the secretaries sample lipstick.
- "Glad to Be Alive" Sex / Wall-Bang Her: Roger and Joan in "The Beautiful Girls", after they're mugged by a black man with a gun.
- Gondor Calls for Aid: The assembling of the new Sterling-Cooper-Draper-Pryce team.
- Good Adultery, Bad Adultery: Adultery is all over this show, with different characters treated differently.
- Don's cheating is seen as bad pretty much across the board. His relationships with his mistresses are unsympathetic and Betty is devastated when she finds out.
- Roger's cheating on Mona is pretty terrible - even though very few people disapprove of his relationship with Joan, his affair with Jane is cringeworthy. After marrying Jane he impregnates Joan but fails to rekindle their old relationship.
- Pete only cheats on Trudy three times in the first four seasons, which is such a low tally by the standards of this show that if not for one of them being all-important to the plot we might never have noticed. He's almost doubled that tally in season 5, though.
- Harry cheating on his wife once, under the influence of alcohol and an office party, results in him getting kicked out of the house. They're back together by early the following season, but considering that a year and a half lapsed between "Nixon v. Kennedy" and "The Benefactor," we don't know how long it took for Jennifer to forgive Harry.
- As mentioned above, Joan is married to Greg when she cheats on him with Roger. This is generally portrayed as a good thing, because Greg is an abusive rapist and while Roger may be a jerk, he's been shown to care for her greatly. Then, in Season Five, she divorces Greg, but is still technically married to him when she sleeps with the head of Jaguar to land SCDP the account. The Jaguar guy comes out of it looking terrible, Joan more heartbreaking than "bad".
- Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Treated probably realistically. Betty is all for having one, if unwilling to say so in so many words, when she realizes she's pregnant in the middle of her estrangement from Don, but is discouraged from it by her doctor, who claims that "that option is for young girls," and as a "married woman of means" she should just roll with the punches.
- Joan, who goes so far as to convince Roger that she went through with one (probably because she actually has in the past).
- Gorgeous Period Dress: Too bad they must all reek of cigarette smoke.
- Grande Dame: Mona.
- Henry's mother, Mrs. Francis.
- Alice, Bert Cooper's sister and part owner of Sterling Cooper.
- The Great Depression: When many of the characters grew up and thus the setting of Don's flashbacks to his childhood; he was born in 1926.
- Groin Attack: Apparently, Bert Cooper was on the wrong end of an "unnecessary orchiectomy" (look it up) "at the height of his sexual prime." Well, that certainly explains why he isn't married...
- Happily Married: Savagely subverted, with a host of bad marriages.
- True for a while of Pete and Trudy Campbell, after Pete goes through his Character Development and becomes less of a douchebag. Then not so true in Season 5, when Pete is revealed to be unhappy with domestic life.
- Surprisingly true of Don and Megan Draper in Season 5, although it remains to be seen how long that will last.
- Have a Gay Old Time: "I like the show. Very gay songs."--Betty in "Shoot"
- Held Gaze: This is combined with the Longing Look at the end of "The Rejected." Peggy and Pete lock eyes wistfully as they each follow their separate paths (her with new counterculture friends, him with businessmen in suits). However, you can tell there's always going to be a bit of longing and a "what could have been" vibe between them, even though neither one wants to travel down that path again.
- Hello, Nurse!: Hello, Joan and her two best friends! Though a lot of it has to do with the armor-plated bras, most of the women lead from the front, except Peggy.
- Heroic BSOD: Don's little California adventure, until he's snapped out of it by a visit to Anna.
- Later he has a very realistic and scary panic attack when an ill-advised government contract puts his past in more danger than ever of being discovered.
- Hidden Depths: Crotchety old Miss Blankenship, according to Roger's memoirs, was quite the "Queen of Perversions" in the late 1940s. Naturally, both Don and Peggy find this hilarious.
- Played straight with Joan; while early episodes basically portray her as a woman who is more adept to general office politics of lying for your boss when he cheats on his wife and whoring and boozing with your coworkers, later episodes have shown that Joan was one damn effective secretary/office manager and that without her, the agency routinely falls into utter chaos.
- It was already known that Ken Cosgrove had written and published one story, but Season 5 reveals he's published over 20 science fiction and fantasy stories under a pseudonym, something he's mildly embarrassed about but that both his wife and Peggy seem genuinely impressed by. When Roger finds out, he's less impressed, giving Ken a tongue lashing for dividing his focus
- Hide Your Pregnancy: January Jones was pregnant, but in Season 5 Betty's just gaining weight.
- High Turnover Rate: The job of Don's secretary. Lampshaded in Season 4 when folks at the office guess what will happen to Megan. (They all guess wrong.)
- Historical Domain Character: The real-life hotelier Conrad Hilton is a major supporting character in season 3.
- Hitler Ate Sugar: "All I can get from this story is that Hitler didn't smoke, and I do."--Roger in "Red in the Face"
- Hobos: "The Hobo Code"
- Hoist by His Own Petard / Batman Gambit: Roger sneaks a peak at Pete's calendar so he can go to meetings between Pete and his clients and steal Pete's thunder. When Pete figures it out, he makes a fake appointment on his calendar for very early in the morning in a remote part of New York City.
- Hookers and Blow: When Midge makes her depressing return in Season 4 we learn that she's prostituting herself to feed a heroin habit.
- Hospital Hottie: Don's new neighbor in season four.
- Housewife: Betty Draper. The show spends three seasons deconstructing this trope, as we see seemingly stereotypical 50s housewife Betty dealing with sexual frustration, her husband's infidelity, and boredom.
- I Need a Freaking Drink: And a smoke, too.
- Informed Judaism: For some time the only hint that Jane Siegel Sterling might be Jewish was her maiden name. Then in Season 5 she makes a reference to her father speaking Yiddish, and a couple of episodes later this is made explicit when Roger takes her along for dinner with a Jewish client.
- Word of God indicated that Dr. Faye is supposed to be an assimilated Jew.
- Ignored Epiphany: For Christ's sake, Don, how many times do you have to realize you love and value your wife before it's enough to make you not go right out and sleep with another woman? It's enough to make her want to divorce you.
- Don, how many times does your Martin Guerre past have to be dragged out of you and how many anxiety attacks do you have to have because of it before you take Faye's advice and do something about it legally?
- Ignored Vital News Reports: Pete and Harry miss JFK assassination bulletins because the sound is down on the TV.
- Duck turns one off to have sex with Peggy. It kills the afterglow a little.
- Imagine Spot: Don imagining catching his family at home before they leave for Thanksgiving weekend, at the end of Season 1.
- Important Haircut: Peggy
- Impoverished Patrician: Pete. His mother's family is old New York Dutch Blue Blood stock, and had owned half of Upper Manhattan before 1929. Pete's dad squandered what was left of the family fortune, and thus Pete is resentful, working as a mid-level ad executive, and has to marry Trudy, whose family isn't as old as his but has more money (as her father is a bigshot at Richardson-Vicks). Of course, he eventually comes out better for it (and eventually settles down about Trudy for good...so far, anyway).
- Incredibly Lame Pun: Crossed with Meaningful Name in-universe. Dick Whitman gets his name (unbeknownst to his family) from his mother's fondest wish - cutting off his father's dick and boiling it in hog fat for getting her pregnant.
- Indy Ploy: Typically, Don is very careful and deliberate, but he's proved several times that he can tap dance on quicksand. In the pilot, he comes up with a new (well, in reality extant and successful) campaign for Lucky Strike. At the end of the second season, he takes advantage of the fact that he doesn't have a contract. At the end of the third, he takes advantage of the fact that he does.
- Ironic Echo: When Pete gets his father in law to sign with the agency, Ken is excited and comments that he needs to get married to someone like Pete's wife, who has a powerful executive for a father to get him to do business with the agency. Several years and seasons later, Ken marries the daughter of an important businessman and promptly freaks out when the agency asks if he can get his father-in-law to hire the agency, commenting that he doesn't intend on bringing his family into his work and wanting to keep them seperate.
- It Got Worse: Don was in a downward spiral at the start of season four, breaking his own rules about sleeping with employees and hiring a prostitute to slap him in the face as they have sex. So he goes to California to spend some time with Anna Draper, his safety net and the only person who he feels he can truly be himself around. And then he learns she has terminal cancer.
- It Will Never Catch On: Don says this about Jai Alai. He is right.
- Admiral Television has something of a similar response to the idea of integrated advertising.
- Ivy League for Everyone: Averted. Though Pete went to Dartmouth, Paul to Princeton (on a scholarship), and Ken to Columbia, we also have Peggy, who only went to secretarial school, Don, whose higher education was limited to a few classes at City College of New York, Harry, who went to the University of Wisconsin, and Smitty, who went to the University of Michigan. Academic background is used rather thoughtfully on Mad Men, and in every case serves to reinforce the class and social position of the characters being referenced by their alma mater.
- Jackass Genie: Roger offers Harry one wish after Harry impresses a client. Harry blows it.
- Not quite. Roger is indeed a Jackass ("Done. You're now head of the television department. Which is you."), but Harry plugs away at it and the job grows, and his responsibility and salary and importance grows along with it.
- Jerkass: All the men are either this or the Butt Monkey (or both), but particularly Lee Garner Jr. and Joan's husband.
- Kansas City Shuffle: See Batman Gambit, above.
- Keeping Secrets Sucks: What Don decides after having a panic attack over the possibility that his might be discovered.
- In Season 5 we find out that Don learned a lesson from his problems with Betty and told his new wife about Dick Whitman.
- Kick the Dog: No puppy is safe! Duck almost makes this trope literal.
- Kick the Son of a Bitch: Most of the male leads, but especially Pete. It's hard to feel bad for Pete Campbell a lot of the time, considering his treatment of his wife, his smug egocentric personality, and his patronization of anyone who isn't Don.
- The Korean War: Don served in Korea, and in flashbacks to his time there we learn his big secret.
- Ladykiller in Love: Serial adulterer Don Draper falls hard for Megan at the end of Season 4 and in Season 5 is still devoted to her.
- Law of Inverse Fertility:
- Pete gets Peggy pregnant on the first time, but his wife who wants a baby has trouble conceiving.
- Betty gets pregnant by Don precisely when she doesn't want to.
- Joan gets pregnant by Roger a few weeks too late to be able to pass it off as her husband's, though she's sure going to try.
- Leaning on the Furniture: Roger Sterling. Scenes with Roger, Cooper and Don have a tendency to look like rounds of "Sitting, Standing, Leaning".
- Left the Background Music On: The song that plays at the end of "Lady Lazarus" is actually a record that Don is playing. When he removes it, the song stops, only to start up again when the credits start.
- Life Imitates Art: Many of the period styles from the show have crept back into fashion.
- Literary Allusion Title:
- Locked Out of the Loop: Nobody tells Anna that she's dying.
- The Mafia: Faye Miller's father is apparently a "handsome, two-bit gangster" who knows every restaurant owner in Manhattan.
- Manipulative Bastard: Ted Chaough, the Don Draper of rival ad agency CGC. Claims Don's "got him in his rear-view mirror", engineers a meeting with Don at Benihana and sends Don a bottle of sake claiming victory after Roger sinks SCDP's chances of landing the Honda account.
- Male Gaze: Witnessed many times, and depicted especially nicely (if depressingly) with the storyline about the Patio ad. Peggy, the lone female copywriter, objects to sexualizing women in an ad aimed at women, but gets overruled.
- One of the best examples of deconstructing the Male Gaze is the scene in "Babylon" where Joan bends over very slowly and knowingly in front of mirrored glass, displaying her, ah, assets for all the male execs to see.
- The Man: In "Tea Leaves" Megan notices the squareness of Don's suit and Don says he has to look like this.
- A Man Is Not a Virgin: It seems like the men of Sterling Cooper spend more time on hanky-panky than on advertising.
- Married to the Job: Peggy starts to show hints of this in "The Suitcase," although it really is Mark's fault for bringing along Peggy's hated family.
Joan: I've learned a long time a go not to get all my satisfaction from this job.
- Joan herself is showing signs of this--she freaks out about getting replaced in the Season 5 premiere and is aching to get back to work.
- Match Cut: John Slattery, the director of Season 5 episode "Signal 30", seems to like these. This episode featured a Match Cut with Ken opening a door, cutting to Pete in the same position opening a different door, and an audio Match Cut from a woman tapping her shoes to Pete Campbell's dripping faucet.
- Meaningful Echo/Strange Minds Think Alike: It's constantly happening to Don that someone unwittingly says something that gets right at the heart of whatever's torturing him at the moment.
- Meaningful Name: Don Draper, first and last.
- The Mistress: All of Don's girlfriends before his divorce could be said to be this, except for the also-married Bobbi Barrett. Suzanne, the schoolteacher that he forms a genuine emotional bond with, might be the most typical example of this trope.
- Jane is also this before she becomes Roger's trophy wife.
- Modesty Bedsheet: In "The Grown-Ups" Duck Phillips apparently kept his boxers on for sex with Peggy.
- Mood Whiplash:
- "Guy Walks into an Advertising Agency": Starts out as a farewell party to Joan, who tries her best to disguise her dissatisfaction with leaving Sterling Cooper (people think she's overwhelmed with the goodbyes) when HOLY CRAP WHAT JUST HAPPENED
- In "The Arrangements", after Don takes away the World War I German helmet Gene gave to Bobby, Gene pulls a fan out of his box of memorabilia, opens it, and says, "There was this girl...", followed by a cut to the next scene.
- In Season 5's "Christmas Waltz", the plotline with Harry reuniting with Paul starts out being humorous, what with Paul becoming a member of the Krishnas, only to become more bleak once it becomes clear just how broken Paul has become.
- Morality Pet: Anna Draper to Don.
- Most Writers Are Male: Interesting inversion - seven of the nine writers for the show are women. And women regularly comment on just how honest and well drawn the female characters are on the show. Even if at first glance they fall into well-worn stock characterizations.
- Mr. Fanservice: Go to the nearest woman you can find and ask her what she thinks of Jon Hamm. Just do it.
- Mushroom Samba: Roger and Jane try LSD in "Far Away Places."
- The Mutiny: The formation of SCDP at the end of Season 3.
- My Beloved Smother: Peggy's mother. Also Betty's, who seems to be mostly responsible for Betty's huge complex about physical appearances.
- Joan's mom, though she's more along the lines of simply meddling, since she really seems to want to be there for Joan and has her best interests at heart.
- My God, What Have I Done?: Don, after learning that his brother committed suicide shortly after Don bribed him into leaving him alone. He has another moment at the end of "Commissions and Fees", when he learns that he drove Lane to suicide.
- My Nayme Is: Ted Chaough, pronounced "Shaw".
Roger: "Hey, writers, how many extra vowels is that?"
- Mysterious Past: Don, at first.
- Naked in Mink: In "Dark Shadows" Pete dreams of seeing his one-night-stand Beth (played by Alexis Bledel) like this.
- Name's the Same: From "Tea Leaves" we have Don's newest secretary... Dawn. It becomes a running gag in the office.
- Never Gets Drunk: Don, prior to Season 4.
- No Hero to His Valet: The secretaries are privy to information about their bosses that could easily ruin them in some cases.
- Not So Different: Peggy tries to tell Abe in "The Beautiful Girls" that what blacks go through isn't that different to what she goes through. The comparison falls a little flat, though:
Peggy: Most of the things Negroes can't do, I can't do either . . . the Union Club? They said I couldn't eat dinner there, and that the only way I could even come in was if I was inside a cake.
- Odd Friendship: Joan and Lane Pryce, who run into rough patches initially (in "The Good News"), but who are acknowledged by the junior employees as "basically running" SCDP.
- Further solidified in "A Little Kiss" when Joan breaks down to Lane about missing her job and people thinking that they didn't need her.
- Oh Crap:
- You have to feel for Don when Betty confronts him about the contents of his desk drawer. When someone on this show is shaking badly enough to drop a cigarette, you know they're suffering.
- Season 4's "Hands and Knees" is full of this, from Don's utter panic when he finds out about the background check to Roger's similar panic when he finds out that Lucky Strike, still a huge part of SCDP's business, is moving to another agency.
- Peggy's expression in the Life cereal meeting when she hears Don steal Danny's tagline.
- This is Pete's expression when he sees Peggy and Trudy talking to each other.
- Season 5's "Far Away Places"; when Don is unable to find Megan back at the Howard Johnson, he expects the worst.
- Lane Pryce when Don hands him the cheque with his forged signature.
- Of Course I'm Not a Virgin
- Off the Wagon: Duck, with dire consequences.
- Old New Borrowed and Blue: Jane's gift to Margaret for her wedding. Very much not appreciated.
- One Dialogue, Two Conversations: In "A Little Kiss" Harry thinks that Roger called him into his office to fire him. Roger is actually trying to convince Harry to swap offices with Pete and assumes that Harry already knows about his intent.
- One Steve Limit: Averted with minor characters Judy Hofstadt and Judy Campbell.
- Appears in-universe when the firm is forced to hire a black secretary. The best candidate is named Dawn, and everyone is quite wary about confusing her name and Don's.
- "On the Next...": With a supernatural ability to air random bits while not actually giving the viewer an idea of what's going to happen.
- OOC Is Serious Business: It happens a fair number of times, but the first half of Season 4--Don's downward spiral--includes more than its fair share, culminating in two events in "Waldorf Stories": (1) he actually gets drunk--apparently blackout drunk--and makes a pitch to Quaker Oats that he had previously derided as stupid (it works, forcing him to take on some idiot who shouldn't be at SCDP) and (2) he seduces his secretary Allison, something which he would have frowned upon in earlier seasons from more or less anyone, let alone himself. These together convince him to get his act together, which he starts doing in "The Summer Man"
- Orphaned Punchline: Lampshaded by Roger in "The Wee Hours."
Pete: (walking in) So the hillbilly says, "That's not my finger!"
- The Other Darrin: Four different child actors have played Don's son Bobby.
- Parent with New Paramour: After Betty's mother dies, her father takes up with a new woman, whom Betty determinedly hates.
- Sally Draper does not like Betty's new husband, Henry Francis, or his family. In fairness to Henry, he tries to be kind to Sally and encourages Betty to do the same; it's just that Sally still sees him as a manifestation of Betty's hatred for Don. Curiously, her brother Bobby doesn't seem to have this problem.
- Margaret Sterling hates Jane, who is only two years older than her. Although, considering Jane's onslaught of unwanted showy gifts and borderline-creepy marriage advice, delivered to Margaret right before her own wedding, you can kind of see her point.
- Parental Issues: Hoo boy.
- The Password Is Always Swordfish: In "Six Months Leave", Don, Roger and Freddy Rumsen go to an underground casino. Roger gives the password "Swordfish" to the bouncer at the elevator. Roger has to bribe the bouncer to prove they aren't cops; it turns out the password is actually "Milwaukee".
- Pet the Dog: Several. Pete, however, gets a lot in Season 3 (his startlingly progressive--if business-oriented--positions on race and his enthusiastic Charleston with Trudy, for starters) as a result of Character Development.
- Playboy Bunny: Lane Pryce dates one.
- Plucky Office Girl: Peggy began as one of these.
- Precision F-Strike: Roger delivers one in response to Pete Campbell telling him they've lost a $4 million account.
- "Previously On..."
- Primal Scene: In season 5's "At the Codfish Ball", at the hotel where the award banquet is being held, Sally walks into a room and sees Megan's mom Marie giving Roger a blowjob. They don't see her and she is still stunned when she returns to their table. When she calls Glen up later and he asks how was the city, she answers: "Dirty."
- Product Placement: Pays the bills. Mad Men, being a show about an advertising agency, can do this more gracefully than most other movies/programs.
- Promotion to Opening Titles: Kiernan Shipka, who plays Sally Draper, in Season 4. Jessica Pare, who plays Megan, in Season 5.
- Pun-Based Title
- Put on a Bus: Sal Romano's fate remains unknown after SC fired him in Season 3.
- Quick Nip
- Rage Quit: In "Blowing Smoke", Bert Cooper of all people. He gets over it.
- Also a Crowning Moment of Funny - "Get me my shoes!"
Stan: I didn't think they'd start with him.
- Raging Stiffie: Unapologetic sexist Stan suggests that he and Peggy "get liberated" and take their clothes off during a brainstorming session. Peggy surprises him by taking him up on it, and Stan gets an erection, much to his embarassment.
- Rape Discretion Shot: Joan's Bad Date isn't shown. The camera pulls away and we see what she's seeing: the floor under the sofa.
- Rape as Drama: Joan gets raped by her fiance in Don's office.
- Rashomon Style: "Far Away Places" uses this to show a single day from Peggy, Roger and Don's perspectives.
- Real Life Relative: John Slattery's real life wife Talia Balsam plays Roger's wife Mona. Rather amusingly, their characters get divorced so that he can marry a twentysomething.
- Creepy little Glen Bishop is played by Matt Weiner's son.
- Reality Is Unrealistic: Some viewers found Peggy being pregnant without realizing it at the end of Season 1 to be asinine and completely unrealistic; but 'surprise pregnancies' actually do happen.
- Also, Season 5 opens with African-American protestors getting doused with paper bag water bombs by employees of one of SCDP's competitors, who then march upstairs to complain and catch the pranksters red handed. The scene ends with a protestor remarking "And they call us savages!" Several critics chided the scene, claiming it was ham-handed, especially the final line... only for it to be revealed that that event actually happened exactly how it was depicted, including the infamous line. Most of the critics who initially criticized the scene stuck to their guns, however, saying that the scene was still ham-handed even if it was true.
- A Real Man Is a Killer: "I killed seventeen men in Okinawa!" (Subverted in that the guy who says it is one of the most pathetic on the show.)
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Roger, to Pete Campbell. Also, Don to Pete in the very first episode. Come to think of it, Pete gets this a lot. Pete finally nails Roger with one in "The Chrysanthemum and the Sword".
- Don's tend to be short and sweet, as in "My Old Kentucky Home":
Roger: Yoou know, my mother was right. It's a mistake to be conspicuously happy. Some people don't like it.
- Three seasons after her husband raped her, Joan finally lets him have it in "Mystery Date".
Joan: You’re not a good man, you never were, even before we were married--and you know what I’m talking about.
- Rich in Dollars, Poor In Sense: Lee Garner Jr., who owns Lucky Strike and seems to show up to make everyone at Sterling-Coop's lives miserable. Crosses the Moral Event Horizon in "Wee Small Hours" when he basically ruins Sal's life out of pettiness. His father scolds him for being clueless about how his own product is made.
Roger: If Lee Garner wants three wise men flown in from Jerusalem, he gets it.
- At SCDP's Christmas party, he humiliates Roger and gets friendly with his wife, knowing full well how reliant the agency is on Lucky Strike's account. The next day, Don and Roger refer to him as Hitler.
Don: [in German accent] Did you enjoy the Fuhrer's birthday?
- Right Behind Me: Harry makes sexist comments about Megan to Stan. Megan eventually walks in on them, and Harry ignores Stan's "Hi, Megan!" warning, proceeding to Dig Himself Deeper.
- Right-Hand Hottie: Lane Pryce's Season 3 "right hand" (NOT "secretary"), John Hooker, is one of these even within the universe: as office manager at Sterling Cooper upon its takeover by Putnam, Powell, and Lowe, he replaces Joan...and is thus in charge of the secretarial pool. The secretaries all swoon over his good looks and sexy British accent. Peggy, on the other hand, calls him "Moneypenny."
- The Rolling Stones: In "Tea Leaves" Harry and Don make an ill-advised attempt to get them to record a jingle. Don notes they recorded a Rice Krispie cereal ad three years prior.
- Rule of Drama: As of season 4, all breathing space between the blows seems to have gone out.
- Running Gag: Almost everything about Miss Blankenship, particularly her tendency to buzz "[So-and-so] here to see you" right after that person has entered the room and started talking to Don.
- Harry constantly spoiling people for plot twists in "Peyton Place" .
- In the DVD Commentary tracks, pretty much everyone claims at some point to be the guy jumping in the credits. Including the women.
- Roger has resorted to bribery to solve his problems in the office three times so far in season 5. After the first time, he laments that he should carry less money on his person - the two subsequent bribes see incrementally less cash change hands.
- Jaguars are unreliable and don't start when you need them. That led to Lane Pryce using his second choice of suicide methods.
- Satellite Character/The Generic Guy: Ken Cosgrove seems to exist primarily to act as a foil for other characters. Paul Kinsey and Pete Campbell are jealous of Ken's literary ability, Sal Romano is attracted to Ken, and Ken's refusal to mix SCDP business with his personal life in Season 4 serves to contrast with most of the other account men at SCDP.
- In Season 5, Ken's secret second career as a sci-fi writer and his determination to keep doing it after Roger Sterling tells him to quit give Ken his first real storyline.
- Sci Fi Ghetto: This trope is why Ken is embarrassed to discuss his career as a writer.
- Screw Politeness, I'm a Senior!: Miss Blankenship.
- Secret Keeper: Numerous people for Don, including Pete, Cooper, Betty, and Faye.
- In "Chinese Wall" - and for other secrets a long time beforehand - Joan for Roger.
- Sex God: Bobbi Barrett confirms that the good things she heard about Don are true. Faye calls Don "Mr. Bond" in bed. Betty tells Don in the first season how much she's physically attracted to him.
- Sex Sells: Don describes this expression as over-simplifying things ("people who say that think that monkeys can do this"). Basically, he argues, people want to be the product.
- Sexy Priest: Father Gill. There's even a Subtext of a relationship with Peggy (he's definitely a more liberal priest than the parish is used to). However, Peggy cuts off contact with Father Gill and the whole Church in general in the last episode of the second season.
- Sexy Secretary: JOAN. Also, Jane, Megan, Peggy...all of them, really, probably even Miss "queen of perversions" Blankenship back in the day.
- Sexy Stewardess: One is almost a conquest of Don's in "Out of Town", until a fire alarm interrupts.
- Sexy Walk: Nearly all of the women, even the housewives, but especially Joan. Peggy is a notable semi-exception.
- She's Got Legs: Megan does a sexy song and dance for Don while wearing a very short miniskirt and fishnet stockings at his surprise party.
- Ship Tease: Don kisses Joan square on the mouth when he wins the Clio in "Waldorf Stories."
- Veers right into OT 3 with the shots of Joan holding both Don and Roger's hands before the announcement.
- After Joan gets served with divorce papers in "Christmas Waltz", Don takes her out on the town. They pretend to be married and buy a Jaguar, then go to a bar and talk about their terrible relationships and why they never got together. There is a moment when Don propositions her, and Joan almost accepts, but Don leaves her to return home to Megan.
- Don and Peggy spend one half of "The Suitcase" acting like an old married couple. Actually, there's really no living female body on this show that Don hasn't seemed on a course to bed down with at least once (with the possible exception of Ms. Blankenship).
- Lane kisses Joan after he punches out Pete in "Signal 30".
- In "The Chrysanthemum and the Sword", Sally Draper is watching "The Man from U.N.C.L.E" at a friend's house, and masturbating to Ilya Kuryakin.
- Don describes himself as "a Felix who wants to be an Oscar".
- A post-coital Fay calls Don "Mr. Bond".
- Hm, a Sexy Secretary named Holloway? I wonder where they got that name from...
- In "Out of Town" Don sees a liquor advertisement and jokes about pawning his typewriter to spend all weekend drinking.
- In "A Little Kiss" Don sends his kids off to their mom's house with "Say hi to Morticia and Lurch for me.
- In "Mystery Date" Peggy says she was discovered in the secretarial pool "like Esther Blodgett".
- Sibling Yin-Yang: Open minded free spirit Anna Draper's sister is uptight and conservative.
- Peggy is a modern, liberated career girl, while her sister is a traditional Catholic housewife who resents Peggy for this.
- Sideboob: Megan nestling up to Don in "A Little Kiss" is as close to nudity as Mad Men will get.
- Until Betty gets out of the tub in "Tea Leaves", the very next episode.
- The Sixties: Get their start in Season 4. If you don't believe us, look at the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce logo. Just look at it!
- Shown Their Work: Along with the general period research, the show employs two former real-life ad men to help them create the business deals and ad campaigns.
- Sleep Cute: In "The Suitcase", Don and Peggy falling asleep on each other in Don's office.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Rather firmly in the middle, with the slightest lean towards cynicism: despite the downer endings and shadiness, the characters are too complex for the series to fall anywhere else.
- Sliding Scale of Shiny Versus Gritty: Quite shiny, most of the time. Most of the main characters are either corporate executives or corporate executives' wives, for God's sake! More specifically, Matthew Weiner is interested in using the "visual vocabulary" of the early Sixties, which had the slightest tendency to over-shiny things, but on account of the realistic depiction, it provides a bit of dissonance.
- Slipping a Mickey: Don falls victim to a Outlaw Couple of thieves in a hotel room.
- Slut Shaming: The men are free to romp, so long as they're discreet, and other men don't particularly care, but if a woman steps one toe over the line, she's torn apart. Peggy Olson gets it particularly bad from her family and her priest, for having a baby out of wedlock.
- Somewhat Inverted, in that men's 'romps' tend to be much more destructive to others around them, which often comes back to bite them in the ass, like when Don finds out that he has a reputation as a good, easy lay.
- And surprisingly subverted in "The Other Woman": Joan sleeps with the Jaguar exec to get the account, and neither Lane nor Don approve, but none of the men is shown treating her with any less respect than they had before. Pete actually seems to respect her more.
- Smoking Hot Sex: Fairly frequently; in fact, barely five minutes into the first episode. Duck in particular seems to be fond of the practice.
- Smoking Is Cool: SO damn cool. The dashingly beautiful cast doing it helps a lot on emphasizing this. However, there are also a lot of shots of the characters coughing in the morning, or while smoking, effectively deconstructing the trope.
- Still cool though, no doubt about that.
- Smoky Gentlemen's Club: Who needs one, when you have the leather chairs, fully stocked liquor cabinet and all the cigarettes you can smoke right there in your office?
- The morning after the 1960 election, Bert Cooper refers to having spent the previous evening "in a literal smoke-filled room".
- Smug Snake: Duck Phillips and Pete Campbell. St. John Powell in Season 3 is another example.
- Son of a Whore: Dick Whitman.
- Sophisticated As Hell: Roger Sterling might be the patron saint of this trope.
"I wanna tell you something because you're very dear to me. And I hope you understand it comes from the bottom of my damaged, damaged heart. You are the finest piece of ass I ever had, and I don't care who knows it."
- Stalker with a Crush: Glenn Bishop. First to Betty in seasons one and two, and as of season four to Sally.
- Possibly subverted in that Glen's relationship with Sally ends up being a fairly innocent friendship.
- Standard Fifties Father: Subverted by Don. Recall the first episode: Look at this high-flying, brilliant, hard-drinking, hard-smoking, philandering, single ad--wait a minute, he's married? And has kids? What is this, some kind of twisted Leave It to Beaver? Unlike Mister Cleaver, he is most definitely not a paragon of American virtue, what with the affairs, stolen identity, etc., etc., etc. Oh, and the divorce. Let's not forget he drove his wife to divorce. (Or perhaps she drove herself to it. Whatever).
- In Season 4 Don makes the rather poignant admission that he's uncomfortable around his kids but still misses them when they're not visiting.
- Star-Making Role: For practically everyone on the show since the majority of the cast were unknowns or only known on niche shows before the series launched. The notable exception is Robert Morse, who has been a name for decades.
- Start My Own: Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.
- Stealth Insult: Sally's new therapist tells Betty to call her Dr. Edna, just like the kids do; suggesting she recognizes Betty as immature and childlike.
- Stepford Smiler: In one way or another, just about all the women, although Betty Draper is the name that most immediately springs to mind.
- Joan in all of season 3, especially on her last day at Sterling-Cooper.
- A recurring exception seems to be the women Don tends to cheat on his wife with, perhaps precisely because they aren't an example of this.
- Stepford Suburbia: Played to the hilt, whether it's narrow-minded suburbanites like Betty's friend Francine, Betty and Don's horrible marriage inside their seemingly perfect Ossining home, or the rapid deterioration in Pete and Trudy's marriage after they leave the city for the burbs.
- Stiff Upper Lip: Lane Pryce. He is so imperturbable that he practically deserves a medal for his sheer equanimity.
- The Stoic: Don, to the point that it's startling whenever he does show any emotion.
- Subtext: Deserves special mention because the show doesn't just rely on this, but requires it. The setting actively forbids anyone from saying what they mean. More often than not, conversations and fights are about something else entirely. This is why the show is hailed as genius. This and the humor. And the drama. And the pretty people.
- Suicide Is Painless: Subverted in "Commissions and Fees". The scene where Lane tries to kill himself by stuffing the tailpipe of his Jaguar with a rag and asphyxiating himself is played like this, but then the attempt fails. Lane's actual suicide - by hanging - is played with no music whatsoever, just dialogue and horrified reactions when first Joan, then Pete, and finally Don and Roger, discover his body.
- Surprise Pregnancy: Frequently.
- Sweet and Sour Grapes: Season 3 ends with Pete finally agreeing to adopt. He finally gets Trudy pregnant in Season 4.
- Take That: "I wouldn't have told Roger if I intended it to remain a secret."
- It's George Romney that Henry Francis was talking about, of course, but it can't be a coincidence that in episode "Tea Leaves", airing in the spring of 2012, Henry says "Romney's a clown".
- Megan lambasts Dark Shadows in the episode of that name, which just happened to air the same weekend that the Dark Shadows movie was released.
- Tarot Troubles: Anna gives Don a reading in "The Mountain King".
- Technology Marches On: Lampshaded in the first episode. "It's not like there's some kind of magical machine that makes identical copies out of things."
- Title Drop: Roughly one-third of all episodes have their titles dropped in one way or another. The most prominent example is probably "Shut the Door, Have a Seat."
- Token Minority: In-universe with two different minorities. The sarcastic "equal opportunity employer" ad in Season 5 premiere "A Little Kiss" basically forces lily-white SCDP to integrate, and in "Tea Leaves" Dawn the secretary has been hired as their first black employee. In the same episode, SCDP hires a Jewish copywriter, which Roger thinks makes the business seem more "modern". (In the first season Sterling Cooper had to pluck some random Jewish employee out of the mailroom when meeting with the Jewish owners of Menken's department store.)
- Tomato Surprise: The ending of the very first episode. We've been introduced to Don as a Casanova and office hero, and only when we follow him home do we discover the existence of his wife and two young children.
- Took a Level In Badass:
- Peggy in Season 2, she gets Freddy Rumsen's office (much to Harry's chagrin, "I'm head of television!") then in season 3 she bitches about her "girl" to Joan, much like Don does about his "girl" in season 2. Standing up to Roger's imperiousness at the end of Season 3 continues her arc.
"Peggy, can you get me some coffee?"
- Season 5, Roger tries to get Peggy to come up with an ad campaign on the fly because he forgot to get the dedicated copywriter for his account to do it. Peggy agrees, but only after shaking him down for $400+ (in 1966 money). "The lie costs extra," indeed. She doesn't even take him seriously when he threatens to fire her for not doing it.
- Joan clocking Greg with that vase just made her even more badass.
- Pete Campbell, in "The Chrysanthemum and the Sword", verbally eviscerating Roger for his anti-Japanese prejudice.
- Each season, Betty takes another level.
- Lane Pryce, at the end of season 3. Goes from being PPL's little snitch / bitch to standing up to them and basically hijacking SCDP from under their noses.
- Lane again in "Signal 30" when he beats down Pete for insulting him.
- Too Soon: Deliberately invoked by the third-season Aqua Net campaign whose TV spots would've featured two couples in an open convertible. It had reached the storyboard stage by the JFK assassination.
- Trailers Always Spoil: Very averted. If you can figure out even a single plot point from the "On the next episode of Mad Men" segments, you're a genius. The trailers for the season finales are even more spoiler free, as they consist entirely of footage from previous episodes.
- Trophy Wife: Jane Siegel Sterling is a perfect example. Roger throws away a decades-long marriage to Mona in order to take up with his sexy young secretary. He soon tires of her, and in Season 5 they decide to end the marriage.
- Megan Calvet, the new Mrs. Draper as of Season 5, is a borderline example. The age difference between her and Don, while referenced in the show, is only 14 years, and Megan wants to work with Don in advertising rather than merely look pretty on his arm.
- True Art Is Incomprehensible: An in-universe example. When Cooper hangs a Rothko in his office, the guys worry about what they're supposed to say if he asks them about it.
- Subverted. The real reason Bert Cooper bought it was because he expected the price to double in a year and sell it to make a profit.
- Twin Threesome Fantasy: Roger tries to pull this off with the models for a Doublemint campaign in Season 1. It's creepy and sad, even before it leads to his heart attack.
- Tyrant Takes the Helm:
- Duck. It usually doesn't work out for him.
- Lane Pryce from Putnam, Powell, and Lowe. Though it works for him in the short term, considering he was almost sent to Bombay by his superiors for doing such a good job. Eventually he turns out to be more of a Bait and Switch Tyrant, considering he joins Don, Roger, and Bert to start the new company.
- The Unfavourite: Pete is this to his WASP family.
- Also, Don to his adoptive mother (even before she had a son of her own).
- Further, Sally to Betty.
- Peggy and her sister Anita both feel this way -- Peggy because of the baby and because she's putting her career ahead of finding a husband, and Anita, interestingly, because she feels like Peggy gets away with those things when she couldn't. Mrs. Olson provides enough guilt for everyone to partake.
- In an office version, Peggy thinks of herself this way to Don - everyone else thinks of her as the favorite, because unlike everyone else she actually seems to have Don's respect. This eventually prompts Peggy to leave SCDP for the sake of her career.
- Viewers are Morons: Very much, in-universe; perfectly straightforward advertizing pitches are often rejected on the assumption that potential consumers would be either confused or bored. The series itself is a noteworthy aversion, as one of the most understated and subtle works of fiction currently being produced.
- The Vietnam War: Joan's husband, Dr. Harris joins the Army Medical Corps and is sent to Vietnam at the end of the fourth season. The anti-war protests and various drafts are background moments in season five.
- Visual Pun: After Pete Campbell's father dies, the family's in the parlor, discussing everything but the death. Then his mother finally points out the elephant in the room. An actual pink ceramic elephant on the mantel, that she hates and immediately gives away.
- Vomit Discretion Shot: Don, after a long night of drinking, manages to make it to the SCDP bathroom (with Peggy's help) in "The Suitcase". While the noise is pretty nasty, we don't see anything (thank you stall walls!).
- There's more offscreen upchucking by Don a couple episodes later in "Hands and Knees", though this time it's the result of a pretty intense panic attack when the FBI starts investigating him.
- Vomit Indiscretion Shot: Roger, after having a huge lunch and climbing 23 flights of stairs. Even better when you realize that this was planned by Don as revenge for hitting on Betty.
- In a less direct example, at an office party, Joan mentions she has extra creme de menthe to share. The next morning, Peggy comes in early and looks in a trash can. It's coated with bright green vomit.
- At the end of "A Night to Remember", after Jimmy Barret confronts Don and Betty about Don's affair with his wife, Don and Betty are driving home, both obviously very upset, and Betty nervously upchucks all over the dash of Don's new Coupe DeVille.
- Welcome Episode: In the pilot, Peggy starts her new job at Sterling Cooper.
- "Well Done, Son" Guy: Don to Peggy. Don himself suddenly decides that he's not up for one of these relationships with Connie Hilton after having been made to feel like he did something wrong by not living up to Hilton's weird standards.
- Pete never got this with his own father and desperately seeks it from Don and Duck.
- Wham! Episode:
- "Nixon v. Kennedy," which is when the audience learns the truth about Don's past.
- The season 3 finale when Don, Roger, Bert, and Lane conspire to leave and start their own agency after hearing that Sterling Cooper and Putnam, Powell, & Lowe was bought out by McCann Erickson (a real company, in case you're wondering). They take along Pete, Peggy, and Harry: three of the strongest employees at Sterling Cooper. They also recruit Joan, who directed the entire disemboweling of the offices. The home front also features a helping of wham as the Draper marriage ends.
- "Hands and Knees": Where does one start? Joan finds out she's pregnant with Roger's child. Lucky Strike fires SCDP, costing them over half their business, and Roger has to beg for thirty days to try and salvage what he can. Lane is dating a black girl who works at the Playboy Club and his father beats him with his cane when he finds out. Don is investigated by the FBI due to a potential account with the DOD, Betty lies to the government for him, and he convinces Pete to stop the account before his Martin Guerre past is revealed. Pete takes the fall with the partners, getting royally chewed out for "losing" a 4 million dollar account. And Don has an anxiety attack and tells Faye the truth about himself.
- "The Other Woman", where Joan becomes a partner after engaging in prostitution for the agency, SCDP lands their first car account in Jaguar, and Peggy quits SCDP for Chaough's agency.
- "Commissions and Fees" Lane Pryce kills himself, becoming the first major character to be killed off. Also, Sally gets her period while on a "date" of sorts with Glenn.
- What Could Have Been: John Slattery originally auditioned for the role of Don Draper, but the production team felt he was too old.
- Jon Hamm originally auditioned for Jack Doneghy on 30 Rock. One wonders who they'd have cast as Don without Hamm.
- What Did I Do Last Night?: Don in "Waldorf Stories," after having far too much to drink at the Clios (a Friday afternoon). He idiotically does a pitch to Quaker Oats for Life cereal--that works, but in the worst possible way--heads to the bar with Roger, where he gets more drunk, and ends up taking home a woman (actively looking for him) who had apparently written the jingle for the award-winning cake batter/topping commerical...and wakes up Sunday afternoon with an entirely different woman next to him (a waitress from a nearby diner, apparently--who calls him Dick as she leaves). As things turn out, Peggy has to remind him about what he did at the Life pitch.
- What Exactly Is His Job?: "What do I do here?" says a demoralized Lane to Joan in "Signal 30".
- What Happened to the Mouse?: The show's habit of jumping forward months or years at a time leaves some threads dangling. Viewers still don't know what happened to former regulars Sal Romano or Paul Kinsey.
- What Is Going On?: Don in "The Grown-Ups" when he wanders into the bullpen to find every single telephone ringing and all the secretaries huddled in a corner around a radio. What Is Going On is news of the Kennedy assassination.
- Betty has an epic "What is going on?!?!?" in the same episode after watching Lee Harvey Oswald get murdered on live TV.
- Also, Don and Roger walk in on the entire office huddled around a different radio in season two, to learn that a jet liner just crashed off the coast of Queens (Roger initially assumes they're excited about John Glenn).
- What the Hell, Hero?:
- Allison finally snaps at Don - "I don't say this easily, but you are not a good person!"
- Faye, after she finds out that Don is engaged to Megan: " I hope she knows that you only like beginnings."
- All of the other partners at SCDP at Don after he wrote a letter in the New York Times announcing that SCDP will no longer be working with any tobacco accounts, to the point where Bert quits the company. The letter further comes back to haunt Don in Season 5's "At the Codfish Ball" when he receives an award for it, but simultaneously learns that none of the corporate world's big fish want anything to do with SCDP because of that letter, as it showed Don is willing to publicly backstab even a longtime loyal client if they drop them.
- Bert gives one to Don at the end of "Far Away Places" for constantly ditching work with Megan.
- The rest of the SCDP partners give one to Pete when they learn that he tried to get Joan to engage in prostitution on behalf of the agency.
- When Elders Attack: Lane's dad whacking him across the face with his cane and stepping on his hand.
- Where Were You Last Night?
- White Anglo Saxon Protestant: Much of the cast, but especially Roger Sterling, Pete Campbell and Betty Draper.
- White Shirt of Death: No-one dies in the scene, but the lawnmower thing qualifies.
- World War II: Roger Sterling served in the Navy in World War II, specifically the Pacific. After his heart attack(s), he says that he has spent most of his life "living like [he] was on shore leave" and still retains a deep hatred of the Japanese (as we see in "The Chrysanthemum and the Sword").
- Apparently Michael Ginsburg was born in a concentration camp and lived the first five years of his life in a Swedish orphanage before his father adopted him.
- Wrong Name Outburst: See Get a Hold of Yourself, Man!, above.
- Yellow Peril: Roger Sterling is really anti-Japanese, having failed to grow past his days in the navy in World War II, and deeply insults the Honda representatives.
- You Get Me Coffee: Almost all of the secretaries play it straight, but in the season 3 finale, Peggy subverts it with a "No".
- Your Cheating Heart: Virtually everyone.
- Don cheats on Betty nigh constantly, with, among others: Midge, Rachel, Bobbie, Joy, and Suzanne.
- Pete cheats on Trudy with Peggy, her first day at Sterling-Cooper, and gets her pregnant.
- Roger cheats on Mona with Joan (among many other women), then divorces Mona and marries Jane. It's implied he's sleeping around on her, too.
- Harry cheats on his wife with Hildy, but she apparently forgives him. Eventually.
- While Drinking on Duty is nothing new for Don, actually getting really, really drunk was something we'd never seen him do before