“The Wheel” (Season 1, Episode 13) A perfect season finale finds Don Draper stressed, professionally and emotionally. Nevertheless, he puts together a pitch for the Kodak Carousel that not only kills (Harry Crane actually leaves the room in tears) but also cements Don’s reputation as a man to be respected and feared. This remains his signature moment.
“My Old Kentucky Home” (Season 3, Episode 3) This entire episode is pure gold: Roger Sterling in horrifying blackface, a tense standoff between Betty Draper’s father and daughter over a stolen $5 bill, Betty meeting her future second husband, Don meeting Conrad Hilton, Joan Harris singing while playing the accordion. It also features one of the series’ best lines: “I’m Peggy Olsen, and I want to smoke some marijuana.”
“A Little Kiss, Part 1” (Season 5, Episode 1) There are many great moments in the best season opener in the show’s history (Harry’s NSFW talk, Pete Campbell sending Roger on bogus appointments and Lane Pryce’s creepy behavior surrounding a lost wallet), but the real gem is Megan Draper’s performance of “Zou Bisou Bisou” while throwing her husband a well-intentioned but ultimately disastrous surprise birthday party. Fans hum that tune in their heads to this day.
“Signal 30” (Season 5, Episode 5) One of the few episodes devoted largely to Pete, the show’s most frustrating character. We learn how absolutely miserable he is, watch him crash and burn trying to flirt with a younger woman and get his ass royally kicked by Lane in an office fistfight. Given how much the spoiled, entitled Pete polarizes viewers, this should have been a satisfying hour of television, but it was actually intensely sad.
“Waterloo” (Season 7, Episode 7) The ultra-eccentric Bert Cooper gets a fitting sendoff, passing away on the day of the 1969 moon landing, only to appear to Don as an apparition performing a song-and-dance version of “The Best Things in Life are Free.” A choked-up Don, who’s managed to salvage his career for the umpteenth time, looks uncertainly into his future … and the show’s.
Mad Men Sundays, 10 p.m., AMC. Premieres April 5.