Six Seasons of Mad Men Episode Descriptions By the Numbers (in Charts and Graphs!)

By Kaitlin Thomas

Apr 11, 2014

Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner is a notorious spoiler-phobe. It's now an annual tradition, when sending episode screeners to journalists at the start of a new season, for Weiner to include a list of everything we can't mention in any pre-season coverage. Naturally, the list in and of itself is a spoiler, alerting journalists to developments they can't write about before they even know they might want to write about them.

And by now you're probably familiar with the show's notoriously vague "Next on Mad Men" episode promos, which tell viewers next to nothing about what's ahead. They're so devoid of any context that they've become a running joke among fans, and been lampooned by both Community and The Simpsons to boot:

In one scene someone might pick up a phone before a quick cut to someone yelling "NO!" and then someone else slamming a door. If anything, they're a fun exercise in Editing 101. And of course the official episode synopses aren't much better. Prior to air, the description of last year's Season 6 finale, "In Care Of," was simply: "Don has a problem." Real helpful, right? In contrast, the tease for this Sunday's Season 7 premiere is practically a George R.R. Martin novel: 

Don makes a friend; Joan has drinks with a client; Roger receives a perplexing phone call; Peggy hears new work.

And while it still doesn't tell us much, it HAS inspired us to look back at all of Mad Men's episode descriptions to date, which has yielded some surprising finds. You can take a quick look at the full list here, but here are a couple things I noticed:

1. Weiner's spoiler-phobia can be traced back to the start of Season 2. 
Compared to what we're used to now, the episode descriptions for Season 1 were very wordy, almost to the point that when I looked back at them, I didn't even want to read them anymore. 

Average number of words in a Season 1 episode description: 101.92

Average number words in a Season 6 episode description: Only 19.08!

2. You'd be surprised how many characters and words do or do not appear

"Don" is the name that appears most frequently, obviously, but "Peggy" is a close second. Duck's name appears more often that you'd think, while poor Lane Pryce barely factors in at all, despite being a named partner for a while. Advertising-specific words appear quite often, too—"campaign," "client," "account," and "business" all show up far more often than terms having to do with friends or family, which feels like a pretty accurate description of Don's life.

Want to draw your own conclusions? Peruse the full list of episode descriptions for Seasons 1-6 and share your observations in the comments. And then try your hand at our super-difficult "Spot the Fake Mad Men Synopsis" quiz!

Mad Men Season 7 premieres Sunday, April 13 at 10pm on AMC.

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  • saxyroro Apr 13, 2014

    Mad Men like Weeds, Dexter and now True Blood as well, need to end. Really pushing through to finish these shows.

  • corey1903 May 10, 2014

    mad men need to end? ok i understand dexter should end , but mad men? you must be crazy bro. we're talking about one of the best shows in t history

  • kou_shun_u Apr 13, 2014

    Though I must say I am a fan of the next episode trailers. I for one hate being spoilers but like a tiniest bit of a peak. So Mad Men's trailers are perfect for me. No plot spoiled whatsoever and I can theorize what is to occur.
    What I do hate are trailers that tell me a romance has reached a peak or worse a character death is coming. What is the thrill of watching when you know whats coming? It ruins all the potential build up. Its like reading a book's ending without reading the middle.

    As for episode summaries I guess I prefer somewhere between season 3 and 2's versions. Season 1 is too wordy and after season 3 is too vague. I like to use episode summaries mainly for when I am rewatching episodes and would like to be able to recognize the plot of an episode for viewing. If I have seen the episode and the summary leaves me lost on its identity then that is definitely too vague.

  • danield222 Apr 13, 2014

  • bryanphillippi1 Apr 12, 2014

    I'm surprised "drink" wasn't in large letters on that word-graphic.

  • efonsecajr Apr 11, 2014

    Weird. Correlation between wordy episode synopses coincides with not much going on in plot developments of the latter seasons.

  • Ashok0 Apr 11, 2014

    Yeah... I swear this show had more plot development it its promos that it's actual episodes. :/

  • Rolamb Apr 11, 2014

    Nice fun post!

  • Rolamb Apr 11, 2014

    As usual the video is not visible for us outside the US. This one is.