It’s been a full year since the Season 6 premiere of Mad Men aired, so you can be forgiven if you don’t fully remember everything that happened. For such a slow-paced show, the episodes are full of juicy stories and character bits. Affairs, assassinations, deaths, and Bob Benson — it’s hard to keep track. If you didn’t have the time to revisit the entire last season to prepare for Sunday’s premiere, here is a brief refresher course on the important plot points from each episode of Mad Men Season 6.
Episode 601-602: “The Doorway”
At the end of Season 5, the biggest question was whether or not Don Draper would remain faithful to Megan. This season begins with the possibly-happy couple enjoying a Hawaii vacation. Things are going smoothly for most of this two-part episode, but then it’s revealed that Don is sleeping with Sylvia (Linda Cardellini!), the wife of a doctor living in the same building.
There is death all over “The Doorway.” While on vacation, Don has a conversation with a young soldier on rest and relaxation from Vietnam who is about to get married and worries that he may not make it home alive. Don gives away the bride at the wedding. In New York City, Don’s doorman suffers a heart attack and almost dies in front of Don; Roger’s mother dies and a drunk Don throws up during the funeral. Later, Roger’s shoeshine guy dies and he’s sent the kit. Ken Cosgrove questions Pete Campbell, “Is your mother still alive?” and Don pitches an advertisement idea that makes everyone think of suicide. As expected, Don stares out of a window.
Meanwhile, Peggy is working at a new agency (but keeps in touch with Stan) and still living with her super-progressive boyfriend, Abe. Sally is becoming a wonderful sassy smart aleck and Betty is chasing down a teen runaway. The episode also introduces us to Bob Benson (James Wolk, now stuck on The Crazy Ones), the handsome and peculiar accountant who always buys two coffees at a time.
Episode 603: “Collaborators”
An early contender for one of my favorite episodes of the season, “Collaborators” is heavy on the Pete-and-Trudy dramatics. Pete is, as always, cheating on Trudy, but this time it really bites him in the ass. Brenda shows up bloodied at Pete and Trudy’s door, and Trudy tends to her while Pete mostly goes into shock mode, knowing that he’s caught. But Trudy knew; she just wanted him to keep pretending. She bans him from the house.
Herb returns, and Joan isn’t happy (“I had no idea you’d be darkening my doorway”). Neither is Don, who sends Herb away angry. Stan gossips about Heinz with Peggy, opening the door for her to reluctantly swoop in at the behest of her boss, showing shades of her Draper training.
On the home front, Megan confesses that she had a miscarriage to Sylvia, Don’s mistress, who then ends up alone with him at an awkward dinner and has to decide whether or not she wants to carry on the affair. (She continues, of course, because this is Mad Men.) In a Mad Men Flashback, teen Draper watches his mother have sex.
At some point, Pete asks Bob Benson to buy him toilet paper, and it’s great.
Episode 604: “To Have and To Hold”
Ketchup is the word in “To Have and To Hold.” Everything revolves around trying to create a great presentation for Heinz, the most attention ketchup has ever gotten in a television show.
It’s finally time for Dawn to get some much-needed screen time. Her life isn’t as glamorous as her friend thinks — in a clever parallel storyline, neither is Joan’s to her visiting friend — and she is in danger of getting fired after punching out a coworker’s time card. Contrary to what her friend says, Dawn just wants to keep her head down and work quietly.
Megan and Don get mistaken for swingers as a couple fails to pick them up at dinner. Don, still sleeping with Sylvia, likens Megan’s acting to prostitution. Meanwhile, Joan teaches her out-of-towner how to successfully pick up a couple of strangers.
Don fails to impress the Heinz ketchup crew — his pitch seems flat and unoriginal, a lesser copy of his past successes — and walks into Peggy as he’s leaving. Peggy’s pitch, however, kills, and there’s a mixture of pride and resentment in Don.
Episode 605: “The Flood”
The first of the season’s assassinations (though not the first of the series) is Martin Luther King, Jr.’s. It’s a tragic event that presents “The Flood” as almost a self-contained episodes. There is no sex or business talk and barely any references to the much longer arcs. It also brings out the whiteness of the show: everyone’s uncomfortable reactions, the hesitant apologies, and Joan’s hilariously awkward hug with Dawn.
There are some smaller plot events, too. Ginsberg runs out of a date and his father is overly concerned with his (lack of) a love life. Bobby (remember Bobby? I often forget he exists) tears apart his bedroom wall and bonds with his father. Peggy tries to get a better apartment with Abe, but loses the bid.
But, again, “The Flood” is all about the different ways the characters deal with this tragedy. Pete checks in on Trudy, but lashes out at Harry for not caring enough. Don spends the episode drinking and drinking and drinking.
Episode 606: “For Immediate Release”
This is when Mad Men really started to pick up steam, making up for five relatively slow-paced episodes in one short hour. SCDP is about to go public, but an unknowing Don has severed ties with Herb (and thus the Jaguar account), which damages the firm. Roger, however, has gotten them a meeting with Chevrolet.
Pete is slowly getting back on Trudy’s good side but immediately fucks it up when he (and Bob Benson!) runs into his father-in-law after they both have had sex with prostitutes and he angrily tells Trudy, who kicks him out — again.
Don and Ted realize that they’re going to have to partner up if they want to stop competing and losing, so they do — merging to form Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce Cutler Gleason Chaough. Peggy, who has been unhappy with Abe and fantasizing about Ted, discovers she’ll be returning to SCDP’s offices.
Most importantly, though, Pete falls down the stairs and it’s the best thing ever on Mad Men.
Episode 607: “A Man With A Plan”
In the aftermath of the merge, the creative teams are struggling to adapt as they come up with ideas for a pitch. Ted isn’t too happy with Don after he shows up to a meeting late — Don was busy having hotel sex with Sylvia — but Don later fixes the situation with alcohol. Ted fails to match him drink-for-drink. “Nobody can,” Peggy says later as she scolds him for his childish behavior, before adding, “Move forward.”
Joan suddenly gets sick in the office, and Bob Benson is her surprising savior, sneaking her out to the hospital and keeping her company, even later bringing her son a football as a gift, and furthering the “What is Bob’s deal?” mystery. (Joan’s fine; it was an ovarian cyst.)
Sylvia ends things with Don after a nightmare in which he dies in a plane crash and she’s the person who has to comfort Megan.
And then, more death: Robert Kennedy’s assassination. “They’re shooting everybody,” Pete’s mother says, and it certainly feels like it.
Episode 608: “The Crash”
“The Crash” is Season 6’s Trippy Drug Episode, and one where it’s hard to truly decipher what is real and what is fake. The guys are all hopped on some mysterious speed-like drug for a marathon brainstorming session for the Chevy campaign.
Don’s trip is especially strange — every time he coughs, he flashes back back to his childhood, and we learn that Don lost his virginity at the brothel to a prostitute who acted as his nurse when he was sick. It’s the most explicit way the show has expressed how Don conflates sex and comfort.
In the office, Stan gets stabbed with a X-Acto knife, kisses Peggy, shares the news of his cousin’s death, and then has sex with Gleason’s daughter.
Sally is home alone babysitting when a burglar breaks in, posing as Sally’s grandmother. Sally eventually calls the cops and the woman runs off. Later, as the kids, Megan, Betty, and Henry are all there, Don arrives home and passes out.
Also, Ken Cosgrove tapdances for some reason.
Episode 609: “The Better Half”
No one is doing great at their job. The director isn’t as impressed with Megan’s acting as she hoped he would be. Pete, despite his efforts, is deemed insufficient by Duck, who questions Pete’s role at SCDPCGC. Everyone at the agency is starting to worry about Don’s job performance.
“The Better Half” also begins, ends, and confuses some relationships. Abe is stabbed twice, first by a stranger on the street and then accidentally by Peggy; he breaks up with her in the ambulance. Arlene comes on to Megan, twice. Joan may or may not have started dating Bob Benson and waves away Roger’s attempts to be in his son’s life.
Most surprisingly, Betty and Don have a one-night stand. Megan and Don’s marriage has always been on the rocks, and this is the episode that seemingly started the countdown to an explosion.
But all anyone can talk about is Bob’s shorts.
Episode 610: “A Tale of Two Cities”
The Los Angeles episode! Don, Roger, and Harry head across the country to Los Angeles to meet with some clients. While at a party, Don continues his late-in-life drug experimentation and smokes hash. He has visions of dead soldiers and a pregnant, hippie Megan before he’s eventually found face-down in a pool. Maybe cool it with the drugs, Don.
Joan is struggling to find her place in the company, a place where she’s seen first as a woman, second as a secretary, and third as whatever Pete thinks is convenient. She has a lead with Avon cosmetics, but Pete steals it away. Then — surprise! — Joan screws Pete over and takes the lead back. Everyone loves Joan. Well, Peggy isn’t OK with Joan’s secret meeting but still bails Joan out when Pete learns about it.
At the agency, the big conflict is over what to do about the new firm’s mouthful of a name. By the end, they’ve settled on “Sterling Cooper & Partners,” and it’s telling both that Don’s name is absent and that Don doesn’t seem to care about that.
Episode 611: “Favors”
Around the time this episode aired, the Internet was going crazy with Bob Benson theories. This theorizing is one of the best things about Mad Men — sometimes the pacing is so slow that all viewers can do is wildly speculate about characters. No one knew what the hell was up with Bob. A spy? A serial killer? Dating Joan? Who knows! After “Favors,” all everyone could talk about was his little knee-play with Pete.
“Favors” is important for Peggy and Pete’s relationship. They’ve had a rocky few years, for obvious reasons, but here they are just two friends and coworkers getting positively hammered together, discussing Pete’s mother (who is sleeping with her nurse) and Ted (“He’s in love with you, too,” Pete tells Peggy matter-of-factly). He isn’t snarky about Peggy’s success, either, just drunk and somewhat accepting.
Because there aren’t enough traumatic events in Mad Men, Sally catches her father having sex with Sylvia.
Episode 612: “The Quality of Mercy”
Under no circumstances do I want a spinoff of Mad Men, but if one were to happen, it would have to be about Sally’s adventures at boarding school. She invites Glen along on her overnight and then uses him to punch out his friend in order to defend Sally’s honor. It’s manipulative and reminiscent of Betty, and later, on the drive home, Sally and Betty smoke cigarettes and bitch about Don.
There are some other important things happening in this episode: Don is a jackass to Peggy and Ted when he spots them on a date and goes back on his agreement with Ted. Now both Peggy and Sally are upset with Don — he’s rapidly losing everyone.
Ken Cosgrove is accidentally shot in the face, and Pete seizes the opportunity to take over the Chevy account. Pete also finds out the truth about Bob: similar to Don, Bob conned his way into the job. Apparently having learned his lesson, Pete doesn’t take him down, but agrees to keep the secret.
Episode 613: “In Care Of”
Don’s terrible, alcoholic shame spiral is hitting new lows. He is missing meetings, drinking too much (and too much for Don is just ridiculous), fighting ministers, spending time in jail, and thinking about moving to California for the Sunkist campaign. “We were happy there,” he tells Megan. “We could be happy again.”
Pete’s mother fell off a ship! Who saw that coming? What a truly weird event for Mad Men to throw at everyone! She was with Manolo, her lover-slash-nurse, got married and then suddenly disappeared off the ship. Pete confronts Bob and we get what is, hands down, my favorite Pete line delivery on the show:
The rest of the episode is quick. Ted tells Don that he’d like to go to California to get away from Peggy. He also breaks his, like, 12-hour sobriety vow. Don is strangely honest during the Hershey’s pitch (one of the show’s finest scenes) as he tells the story of how the orphan Dick Whitman stole money from johns and was rewarded with a Hershey bar. Sally is suspended for buying beer. Ted ends up getting the California assignment, and Don tells Megan that they aren’t going to California after all. Don is forced to take a “leave of absence” because of his increasingly irrational behavior. “In Care Of” ends on Don and his children staring at the dilapidated brothel he grew up in, hinting that he’s finally ready to start telling the truth.