Sick of feeling left out on Monday mornings? We’ve decided to help out all of you Mad Men virgins who’ve never watched the show, and don’t care to invest the time in catching up now. Just like Mad Men‘s protagonist, Don Draper, you will be able to hide your true, embarrassing past and assume a more cultured personality after finishing this spoiler-heavy post. Plus, it will help you mingle more comfortably with the cable television-watching elite!
1. You’re going to have to know a little bit about Don, Peggy, Roger, Betty, and Joan.
Don Draper: Our existential protagonist, he comes up with all the best advertising ideas and gets with all of the best women. You should know that there’s a weird connection between him and Peggy (below), but they’ve never dated, kissed, or slept together. It’s more about Don seeing a younger version of himself in her.
Peggy Olson: She started out as Don’s secretary in Season 1 and has gradually worked her way up through a very thick glass ceiling to become a copywriter at the newly-formed Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce advertising agency. She had a baby with a fellow employee, Pete Campbell, that she immediately put up for adoption.
Roger Sterling: Roger was born into riches and owns part of the company because of his father’s hard work. His job is basically to get wasted with clients, and he’s great at it! He performed a minstrel show in blackface during his own Kentucky Derby party, which was uncomfortably received by both guests and TV viewers.
Betty Francis (formerly Draper): Betty is Don’s seriously crazy and emotionally stunted — but beautiful — wife for the first three seasons of the show, but now they’re divorced. They first met back in her modeling days. She isn’t the best of mothers. Your favorite Betty scene should be either the time that she shot her neighbor’s pigeons with a BB gun while smoking, or the time she smashed a chair on the kitchen floor until it was nothing but parts.
Joan Holloway: She’s the voluptuous head of the “girls” in the office who is incredibly smart and attractive, and breaks all the male characters’ (as well as male viewers’) hearts. She was raped by her doctor fiancée in the office once, and later “repaid” him (a season later) by smashing a vase on his head. They’re now married.
2. Know your Don Draper history.
The first three seasons were peppered with Don Draper flashbacks. True fans will be able to spot newbies if you lack at least a basic knowledge of his past. So here are some key points:
- Don’s mom was a prostitute and died during child birth.
- Don’s dad was killed by a horse that kicked him in the face during a storm.
- Don grew up on a farm with his dad’s wife Abigail and a man known as “Uncle Mac” who barely cared for him.
- Don has a brother that wanted to come back into his life during Season 1, but Don told him to go away which caused the brother to kill himself.
- Don’s real name is Dick Whitman (very important that you know this).
- He served in the Korean War, but doesn’t like to talk about it. That’s where he picked up his Don Draper identity.
3. You really miss Salvatore “Sal” Romano and Paul Kinsey.
This is a very safe thing to say, as no fan will disagree with you on this point. Both of these characters were unceremoniously ditched in Season 3, and most viewers are still too caught up in the sadness of it to call you out on why you miss them. Just in case, here are some important facts about each:
Sal – Don’t call him Salvatore unless you’re using his full name. He is married but secretly gay, and only Don Draper, a character named “Duck” Phillips, and the gay son of Lucky Strike’s founder know the truth. Sal was fired after the Lucky Strike guy hit on him, and he refused to put out.
Paul – Paul’s most identifying physical characteristics are his beard and his pipe. He fancies himself a liberal, lives in the poor section of Montclair, New Jersey, and back in Season 2, he traveled with his then girlfriend to Mississippi to register black voters.
4. Be able to point out some time period mistakes that the show has made.
The show tries very hard to be as historically accurate as possible, but sometimes it fails. Nerds across the internet love pointing out these inaccuracies, and many a blog post has been devoted to them. Even Brian Williams gets in on the game! So know at least one mistake and you’re golden. For example: At the end of every episode, the credits are done in Arial which is a much-hated typeface that wasn’t invented until the 1980s. The audacity!
5. Have a favorite secondary character.
Although the aforementioned Sal and Kinsey are gone, there are still plenty of secondary characters for you to love. Name-dropping one of them with a short bit of reasoning will do you wonders. Here, a couple of our favorites, who you’re more than welcome to steal.
Kenneth “Ken” Cosgrove: Apparently is going to be in Season 4 but has yet to show up. If you want to give an educated guess as to where he is, say that he is probably flirting with a secretary somewhere. Or busy at work on his third unpublished novel. Note: one of his short stories was featured in The Atlantic.
Gertrude “Trudy” Campbell: She’s married to Pete Campbell (We’ve referenced Pete multiple times without giving much context. If his name comes up in conversation just be like, “I hate that guy.”) and kind of a pushover, but she has rich parents and has possibly tamed Pete. Be sure to mention that you love that time when she did the Charleston.
Glen Bishop: In the first few seasons, Glen was nothing more than a creepy kid who had a relationship with Betty despite being under the age of ten. This season, he wins her daughter’s heart after trashing the Francis household. It’s a complicated situation, so only go with this choice if you’re talking with casual fans of the show.
Sally Draper: The daughter of Don and Betty, Sally is a smart kid who dislikes living with Betty and her new husband Francis. Everyone loves Sally, so this is certainly your safest bet. Bonus points if you mention that series creator Matthew Weiner modeled her character on himself as a child.