Recap of the first 5 seasons of Mad Men

Read a recap of the first four seasons of Mad Men


Mad Men returns for Season 6 this Sunday night on AMC, and if you’re not watching it, you need to stop whatever stupid thing you’ve been wasting your life on and start. It’s only the best show on television, and I make that bold statement knowing full well that 2 Broke Girls exists.

Need to get caught up? My guess is you don’t have time between now and Sunday night to watch all 52 episodes without risking the loss of major organ function.

This is where I come in.

I’ve recapped the first five seasons of Mad Men. You can thank me by watching good television, you mouth-breather.

Season 1
We meet Don Draper, a Madison Avenue creative genius. He’s handsome and looks the way you imagine your dad did before life crushed him. But Don Draper has a secret past. He stole his identity from another soldier during the Korean War. His real identity is Min Kyun. No, it’s actually Dick Whitman, a man about whom we know nothing.

Draper is married to a babbling mannequin named Betty who gave up modeling to smoke at home and watch a nanny raise her children. Don cheats on Betty repeatedly with 1960s female archetypes. Betty and Don have a son and daughter, one of whom is destined to punch their dad in the face.

The ad agency where Don works is called Sterling Cooper, where on any given day five to ten minutes of actual work gets done. Mostly the creative guys and account managers drink, smoke and philander. I take that back. Some work gets done by the female receptionists, all of whom technology eventually replaces with email. One of the receptionists is Joan, a curvy redhead who uses sex to get a canary from head honcho Roger Sterling. Another receptionist is Peggy, who uses sex to get pregnant by accident.

The man who impregnates Peggy is an account manager named Pete. He’s engaged to the cute girl from Community. Pete is a piece of garbage. Peggy has the baby, which the show’s writers quickly give up for adoption.

Season 2
In this season Don and accounts chief Duck Phillips clash repeatedly over important issues such as whether Duck is a real name. Peggy comes back to work, starts talking to a priest and pulls a semi-Britney with her hair. Pete wants to have an intentional baby with the girl from Community, but she’s having trouble conceiving, even though we know Pete’s boys are mighty. Joan leaves Roger in spite of the canary, and she gets engaged to a half-ass medical student who drunkenly rapes her. She stays with him.

Betty, who is stupid but no dummy, kicks Don out of the house after she learns that he has been sleeping with the wife of a potato-chip pitchman.

In a state of misery, Don goes to California and spends time with the real Don Draper’s wife, who seems very nice. Then he goes to Palm Springs and befriends a bunch of nomads who drink and lay on couches all day doing nothing. (It’s not unlike Sterling Cooper.) Peggy tells Pete about the baby and then rejects his declaration of love—two years too late, girlfriend. There is also some stuff about Duck trying to sell Sterling Cooper, but it’s all very boring. Betty takes Don back, but only after she nails a stranger in a bar.

Season 3
The British have purchased Sterling Cooper. Duck is gone, but a Brit named Lane Pryce who says cute British things like “knackered” is now onboard. Don tries for about 10 minutes to be faithful before nailing his daughter’s schoolteacher. Closeted gay art director Sal rejects the slimy advances of Lucky Strike bigwig Lee, who retaliates by getting Sal fired. Joan quits her job for her worthless rapist fiancée, but she goes back to work when he flunks out of med school and joins the Army.

Betty’s father dies, which gets her horny for a political aide named Henry, whom she starts seeing. A secretary severs a British guy’s foot with a John Deere lawnmower. There is more boring stuff about selling the company again. Don grants Betty a divorce so she can be miserable with someone else. Don and Lane save the company by doing something.


Season 4
That something is starting a new company, which is now Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. Don starts drinking so much even fans who have been watching the show for four seasons are like, “Damn, Don, that’s a lot of drinking. Easy, big fella.” Don’s daughter Sally clashes with her mom and seeks her dad’s love and appears destined for Woodstock in three years. When his fake wife in California dies, Don kind of sobers up and starts a relationship with an age-appropriate research expert named Faye.

Meanwhile Betty and Henry clash because Betty is a child trying to raise children. Peggy notices the 1960s are happening and decides to check out fun things like bad art, pot and Marxism. Joan gets back with Roger. Sadly, no canaries are exchanged. Joan gets pregnant and almost has an abortion, but doesn’t. The agency loses its biggest client, Lucky Strike, which means layoffs and domestic gin. Peggy and Don pull an epic all-nighter that somehow ends without sex.

The season ends with Don flying out to California with his hot receptionist Megan filling in as nanny. Naturally, Don nails her. When one of the children spills something in a restaurant and Megan responds like a normal human being Don proposes to Megan even though he is still seeing Faye.

Season 5
Don has married Megan and they have moved into the most 1960s apartment ever together, where Megan makes the mistake of throwing Don a surprise birthday party. During the party Megan song-bangs Don in front of the company with a sexually charged rendition of “Zou Bisou Bisou,” which is French for “Get Your Hands Out of Your Pockets, Harry Crane.” Don doesn’t like the party. Megan doesn’t like that Don doesn’t like the party. Naturally this leads to hot, angry sex.

Roger takes LSD, decides to get divorced and goes down on gets his whistle blown  by Megan’s mom at a big party. It was quite a season for Roger. No one appreciates Peggy, which leads her back to the only man who ever truly appreciated her, Freddy “Pee Pants” Rumsen, who hires her away to Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce’s biggest rival, leading Don to do this weird thing where Don kisses Peggy’s hand.

Don and Megan, meanwhile, get into an argument about orange sorbet. Don ditches Megan in a hotel parking lot. He kicks down the door to his own home, and they once again make hot angry love.

Joan and her rapey husband split. Pete offers Joan one night with a member of Jaguar’s selection committee in exchange for $50,000. Joan is furious, then demands a stake in the firm. Don tries to stop Joan, but he is too late because no man can stop Joan from sex and Joan becomes a partner and somewhere Sheryl Sandberg is going, “THAT is NOT what I meant by Lean In.” Betty gains a ton of weight, and her snacking sends the stock price of Bugles tumbling. She almost dies of cancer, but unfortunately, she doesn’t. Sally gets her period, so we should all expect a big teen pregnancy story line next season. Lane has a spot of trouble with money and responds by doing the classy British thing and killing himself.

Megan saves the Heinz account and decides that’s as good a time as any to become an actress. Don doesn’t like this idea, but ultimately he signs off on it and then heads to a bar where he is asked by a woman, “Are you alone?” This is what amounts to a cliffhanger in the world of Mad Men–will he or won’t he cheat? We all know he will cheat, but the question is how hot and angrily?

See what you missed?

Joe Donatelli publishes The Humor Columnist. Follow him @joedonatelli.


Author: Joe Donatelli

Joe Donatelli is a writer in Los Angeles. He publishes The Humor Columnist.

  • Kim Prince

    Wow, Joe!  But I don’t remember the canary, and what is a semi-Britney?


  • Great work, Joe. All the essentials of four seasons in a quick and very funny digest. I’m ready for Sunday.

  • Judy — thanks! Kim — it was Season 1 while Joan and Roger were having an affair. Joan made him cover the cage before they, well, you know. The Britney reference is to when Britney Spears cut off all of her hair. Peggy chops a bunch off, but she does not go whole Britney.

  • Wanda

    Ok Joe. Why didn’t you tell us about this 4 years ago? I could have been watching this Peyton Place rerun instead of watching the new Peyton Place, Jerseylicious.

  • Excellent summary! A bold critical choice, Mad Men over 2 Broke Girls…

  • Thanks, Paul. No one can never accuse me of not going out on a limb. Ha ha, Wanda. We all make TV mistakes.

  • This is a good reminder that instead of working today I need to be re-watching the last few episodes of Season 4. 

  • Ha ha. Damn right, Brian.

  • Fantastic recap! I’m eagerly anticipating the premiere tonight to see what happens with the Megan proposal shocker. The ending of season four felt like I’d stepped into an episode of The Twilight Zone. 

  • Jane — I have avoided reading anything about the new season so that I can properly enjoy tonight. Will be on social media blackout until I do. Ha ha. 

  • Don’t you mean it returns for Season 6 ?

  • I just updated it with a recap from Season 5, Ashrut.

  • Stephanie Thurow

    I love this recap. Can’t wait for season 6!

  • Thanks, Stephanie. Same here. I have been patiently sitting in front of my TV for the last three days, anticipating.

  • This is the best MM recap I’ve read today (and I’ve read quite a few in preparation for Sunday!)

  • Thank you, Katie. Really nice of you to say. And very likely true.

  • Zen Cleaning

    Best recap ever …hilarious too!

  • Thanks!