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“Mad Men” So Far: Everything You Need to Know

Part of what makes some TV dramas—like Mad Men—great is that they have long, winding plots, extensive back stories, subtle and nuanced character development, and complicated relationships. Unfortunately, these things also make great shows a little daunting to jump into mid-run or mid-season, because the uninitiated viewer is often left wondering exactly what the hell is going on. But complicated or not, just because you haven’t watched Mad Men yet shouldn’t mean that you can’t start now. The best way to get caught up, of course, would be to hunker down with Netflix and a few bottles of wine, but if you don’t have time for that, we’ve put together this handy primer to get you (mostly) up to speed before the new season premieres on March 25. Will Don marry Megan or reconcile with Betty? Will Sally get better, or a whole lot worse? Will Joan reveal the true father of her baby? Will Pete and Ken ever be able to work together? These questions are about to make a whole lot more sense.
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This is Don Draper
This is Betty Draper
This is Peggy Olson
This is Pete Campbell
This is Joan Harris
This is Roger Sterling
This is Sally Draper
This is Ken Cosgrove
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This is Don Draper

Don Draper is a superstar creative director and partner at an ad agency in New York. Despite the fact that he’s a womanizer, an alcoholic, and a colossal asshole to most people, he’s brilliant and is begrudgingly idolized by everyone. In the third season, in the face of an impending corporate buyout and liquidation, Don and the partners at the old Sterling Cooper agency decided to leave and start their own company—Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.

However, Don has a secret, which is that “Don Draper” is not his real name. Don’s real name is Dick Whitman. While serving in the Korean War, he stole the identity of a fallen lieutenant and has been living as him ever since, even financially supporting the real Draper’s wife in California. Keeping this secret has come at the expense of relationships and business opportunities, and he feels as though nobody really knows him. At the end of last season, Don spontaneously proposed to his young secretary, while the fate of his agency is uncertain, due to losing clients and cash. But despite the agency’s precarious operating position, Don took the bold and visionary step of publicly rejecting tobacco ad business, putting the agency at the forefront of the burgeoning anti-smoking movement.

Photo credit: AMC

This is Betty Draper

Betty is Don’s ex-wife. She comes from a privileged family and exemplifies ’60s housewife malaise. She’s a lazy, inattentive mother and a spoiled, immature woman. When she discovered that her husband was not who she thought, she immediately asked for a divorce, although she has done her part to perpetuate his lie in order to preserve her own reputation.

Betty has re-married to a politician, who is discovering how difficult and childish she is. She showed signs of wanting to reconnect with Don before discovering that he was planning to re-marry as well.

Photo credit: AMC

This is Peggy Olson

Peggy started in the steno pool, and when Don noticed that she had a way with words and ideas, was promoted to copywriter. She is the only woman in a non-administrative position at the agency, and often finds it difficult to navigate a male-driven industry. She’s trying to forge an independent identity for herself, breaking away from her traditional Catholic family. She and Don have a complicated but close mentoring relationship, and when he was staffing the new agency, he immediately wanted to bring Peggy.

Photo credit: AMC

This is Pete Campbell

In the beginning of the series, Pete was a junior account executive. When the partners broke off to start Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, he controlled enough business to be brought on at the new company. WASPy, prep-school educated Pete has some sniveling, weasely qualities, but he’s good at his job. Last season, his wife had a baby after years of infertility. When the agency was struggling to stay afloat, Pete used his wife’s pregnancy to strong-arm his father-in-law to bringing his business to the agency. Pete often feels unappreciated by Don and the other partners. He also impregnated Peggy during a brief affair, but did not find out until Peggy had already given up the child and committed to never speaking of it again.

Photo credit: AMC

This is Joan Harris

Joan is the intimidating agency office manager—the men want to sleep with her, and the women are terrified of her. For a long time, Joan was romantically involved with agency owner Roger Sterling, but then married a nice, hapless surgeon. With her husband currently serving in Vietnam, Joan slept with Roger and found herself pregnant. Although Roger offered to give her money for an abortion, Joan decided to keep the baby and pass it off as her husband’s.

Photo credit: AMC

This is Roger Sterling

Original agency part-owner Roger inherited his share of the company from his father, and although he’s good at getting drunk with clients, he doesn’t contribute much else. He is wealthy and married to a former secretary from the firm.

Roger’s main contribution to the new firm was maintaining one old account, Lucky Strike. When his inattention resulted in losing the account, the agency brought on a new account executive, Ken Cosgrove, who had worked at the original Sterling Cooper.

Photo credit: AMC

This is Sally Draper

Sally is Don and Betty’s oldest child and only daughter. She has been getting into trouble lately, partially caused by the friction between her parents. Her mother’s complete disinterest does not help matters, and Sally and Betty do not get along. Sally sees a shrink and wants to come live with Don in the city.

Photo credit: AMC

This is Ken Cosgrove

At the old Sterling Cooper, Ken Cosgrove and Pete Campbell were bitter rivals, and upon the founding of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, he was left behind. His career thrived at other agencies, however, and when the partners needed to bring on a new account executive to generate new business, they hired him back. Ken and Pete have resolved their competition for the time being, and Ken has successfully brought new business to SCDP.

Photo credit: AMC

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