back to top

19 Beautifully Emotional Moments From "Mad Men"

We'll miss you, Mad Men.

Posted on

1. Don's Carousel pitch (Season 1, Episode 13 — "The Wheel")

AMC

This episode was basically one long emotional punch in the gut for both the viewer and for Don. As he faces the prospect of pitching Kodak's new slide projector, he must also contend with news of his brother's suicide. When the pitch actually happens and we see images of Don, Betty, and the kids flood the screen, the pain of nostalgia becomes almost too much to bear. The Carousel may be a time machine, but some things are too irrevocably damaged for it to fix.

2. Peggy gives birth (Season 1, Episode 13 — "The Wheel")

AMC

As if "The Wheel" didn't already destroy your emotions, it's also the episode where Peggy gives birth. The blank look on Peggy's face as the nurse asks if she wants to hold the newborn, coupled with Peggy's refusal to even look at the child, is devastating.

3. Don visits Peggy in the hospital (Season 2, Episode 5 — "The New Girl")

AMC

As if Peggy's scene with her newborn weren't enough, Season 2 flashes back to the aftermath of the birth and Don's visit to see her. When he delivers the unforgettable line, "This never happened. It will shock you how much it never happened," we see Don's entire past reflected in that idea as well. The moment only gains in power as you see Peggy continue to struggle with the moment over the years, unable to completely renounce the painful decisions of the past.

Advertisement

4. Joan is raped (Season 2, Episode 12 — "The Mountain King")

AMC

Seeing Joan's distant stare as her fiancee rapes her is a stunningly tough moment to handle. And perhaps worse is the moment afterward, when Joan emerges from Don's office and must act politely subservient to a fiancee who doesn't realize the awfulness of what he has done and is simply concerned about making a dinner reservation. The pain in Joan's tone of voice as she prepares to leave the office with Greg is palpable.

5. Betty learns about Don's past (Season 3, Episode 11 — "The Gypsy and the Hobo")

AMC

Don and Betty's kitchen confrontation provides the backdrop for this confessional scene in which Don reveals the identity of his family members and discusses his childhood with Betty for the first time. The ghost of Adam continues to haunt Don, and when Betty asks about him, Don finally breaks down as he admits that his failure to accept Adam as family likely drove him to suicide. Betty is stunned, as she tries to figure out how to respond to the distraught husband she just discovered has lied to her their entire lives, and she mostly speaks in short, empty phrases that betray her discomfort with how the tables have turned, so to speak. The moment is awkward, raw, and undeniably emotional.

6. Don asks Peggy to join the new company (Season 3, Episode 13 — "Shut the Door. Have a Seat.")

AMC

No one at Sterling Cooper has ever wanted to work for McCann. They don't in Season 7, and they didn't back in Season 3 when it looked like they would be absorbed there. But despite their distaste for McCann, these are characters who do want to work together. Don's pitch to Peggy is one of many unforgettable turning points in their relationship. When she is sitting there, tears in her eyes, thinking they might not work together any more — "What if I say no? You'll never speak to me again." — it is Don who assures her that they will always be intertwined. "I will spend the rest of my life trying to hire you," he tells her, proving both to Peggy and to viewers that the bond between these two may falter, but it will never break.

7. Don learns of Anna's death (Season 4, Episode 7 — "The Suitcase")

AMC

Anna Draper was perhaps the only woman who ever truly knew Don, so the news of her death hit hard for both him and viewers. Don did what he could to avoid the call, a futile attempt to hold reality at bay, but was ultimately unable to maintain the illusion — and when the shattering truth is finally spoken aloud, all that pent up emotion comes rushing out.

Advertisement

8. Pete tells Don "I have nothing." (Season 5, Episode 4 — "Signal 30")

AMC

It's a brief moment, but it's emotionally compelling. Following his boxing match with Lane, Pete finds himself in an elevator with Don and can't contain his overwhelming sense of disappointment — and not just in the fight, of course. Turning to Don and exclaiming "I have nothing," Pete begins to softly cry as the camera stays on the silent pair for what feels like an excruciatingly long amount of time. For a character often maligned by other characters and viewers alike, Pete is finally allowed to be vulnerable and real.

9. Ginsberg tells Peggy about his birth (Season 5, Episode 5 — "Far Away Places")

AMC

Often considered to be comic relief amongst the more serious characters on Mad Men, Ginsberg's true history is much more heartbreaking than his jovial attitude would belie. He explains to Peggy that he must be a Martian, because the story he has been told — that he was born in a concentration camp, that his mother died there — is "impossible." It's a moment in which Ginsberg isn't sure how much of his facade he wants to drop, but ultimately reveals enough to create a powerful connection between the two characters. And Ginsberg's admission that he hasn't "been able to find any" people like him is a stark reminder that what seems like old history to a modern audience is actually recent, deeply real, and often alienating to a character like Ginsberg.

10. Joan sleeps with Herb (Season 5, Episode 10 — "The Other Woman")

AMC

Joan's agonizing decision to sleep with Herb Rennet in order to help the company secure the Jaguar account is made all the more painful when we see the aftermath. Joan, with tears starting to well, goes out into her apartment to see Don, where she learns that, contrary to her previous belief, not everyone had been on board with what essentially amounted to the men of SCDP prostituting her. When we first see the conversation, we think it's simply a lovely moment between Don and Joan, who don't often get the opportunity to show their genuine affection for each other. But then we discover that the deed had already been done by the time Don reached her, and the emotions start flowing.

11. Peggy leaves SCDP — (Season 5, Episode 10 — "The Other Woman")

AMC

After making the decision to go work for CGC, Peggy goes to tell Don about her choice — resulting in a powerful scene of disappointment, resolve, and ultimately respect. When Peggy croaks "Don't be a stranger" as tears fall, you realize that you're watching one of the truly pivotal moments in the Peggy/Don relationship.

Advertisement

12. Lane's attempted suicide (Season 5, Episode 11 — "Commissions and Fees")

AMC

While Lane's successful suicide later in the episode was difficult to watch, it was Lane's failed attempt earlier on that was more tear-inducing. Lane's solemn stare as he walks to his car, stuffs the pipes, and attempts to poison himself is haunting, a stark and uncompromising look at a broken man. And Lane's realization that the engine won't start, thwarting his plan, represents what Lane sees as another failure in his life, only adding to the emotional weight of the moment.

13. When Roger's shoeshine guy dies (Season 6, Episode 1 — "The Doorway")

AMC

After Roger appears unmoved following the news of his mother's death, you wonder if there's anything that could prompt him to display emotion. And then he learns that the man who used to shine his shoes has died. Opening up the box with the man's shine kit, Roger begins to sob almost immediately. The moment is unexpected, unrestrained, and will definitely cause tears.

14. Sally walks in on Don and Sylvia (Season 6, Episode 10 — "Favors")

AMC

After years of philandering, Don has finally been caught. And by his teenage daughter, no less. Sally's discovery is a heart-stopping moment, but it's Don's mini-breakdown in the elevator as he chases after her that seals the deal. Don must contend with himself as Sally has now seen him, and, as with everything else in his life, he struggles to accept that this is a moment that can't ever be completely reversed.

15. Don shows his kids where he grew up (Season 6, Episode 12 — "In Care Of")

AMC

Though Bobby and Gene are there, too, this scene is really all about Don revealing himself to Sally. After she discovered him with Sylvia, all her illusions about her father were seemingly gone. And so Don chooses to reveal even more of himself in an attempt to demonstrate his love to Sally. When he glances at her, it is a moment somewhere between harshness and tenderness, a look that both begs for forgiveness and conveys fatherly love. It's a turning point for these two, and one that is hard to forget.

Advertisement

16. Peggy and Don dance (Season 7, Episode 6 — "The Strategy")

AMC

The relationship between Peggy and Don is the series' most compelling, and this scene between the two is a perfect summation of what is so wonderful about it. It is raw, it is real, it is conflicted, and it is loving. The light kiss that Don places upon Peggy's head as Frank Sinatra's "My Way" plays in the background is both gentle and beautiful, and resulted in many tears. It's worth watching again and again.

17. Bert Cooper's death (Season 7, Episode 7 — "Waterloo")

AMC

Unlike many of the other moments on this list, which are heart-wrenching through and through, this one caused tears because it was able to hone in on the melancholy space between sadness and whimsy. Watching Bert strut around the office with such panache brought up exactly the nostalgia that Don discussed in "The Wheel;" seeing Bert that one last time brought about pain, yes, but also a twinge of happiness for being able to return to the character for one final moment.

18. Peggy tells Stan about her baby (Season 7, Episode 11 — "Time and Life")

AMC

Many people out there seem to hope that Stan and Peggy will end up in a romantic relationship by the end of the final episode, and after this scene, it's not hard to see why. Stan is one of the closest confidantes Peggy has, someone who has seen her stripped bare both literally and, in this scene, metaphorically. And Stan does not sit in judgment of Peggy. Their relationship is so beautiful because, even though it is often based on sarcasm and mutual teasing, conversations like this illuminate its true depths.

19. Sally reads Betty's letter (Season 7, Episode 13 — "The Milk and Honey Route")

Michael Yarish / AMC

Watching Betty receive her cancer diagnosis was tough. Seeing her try to explain the situation to Sally was tougher. But watching Sally read the letter Betty gave her, intended for after Betty had passed, was heart-destroying. Betty's gotten a lot of flack over the years for what people perceive as her icy style of parenting, but the final section of her goodbye letter — expressing just how much she truly loves Sally — proved how much more complex Betty is than people give her credit for. And for Sally, who has certainly expressed her fair share of disdain toward her mother, to break down the way she does demonstrates that the love is mutual.