I admit it. I'm prone to hyperbole (or, as John Boehner would say, "hyper-bowl"). I try to keep myself in check, but nobody wants to read about how something is pretty good or okay. You hear hyperbole so often lately in various places because people want to be heard over the fray, they want their opinion to stand out. But what happens when something is truly deserving of hyperbole? It's a boy-cries-wolf situation.
I ask because I just finished watching the season finale of Mad Men. It's the best episode yet of that show, without a doubt. This isn't exaggeration. It just is. What the episode made me think of, though, is the short list of the best single episodes from any series of dramatic television. A couple that come to mind are two Sopranos episodes, "College" (in which Tony takes Meadow to look at schools and runs into a former snitch) and "University (the one where Ralphie beats the stripper to death). Another is the C.S.I.: episode "Grave Danger", the Tarantino-directed episode in which Nick is buried alive. A lot of people are partial to The Wire's "Final Grades", the final episode of the fourth season -- the most critically-acclaimed season in TV history -- and I also really like "Hamsterdam" from the third season involving Bunny Colvin's drug zone of the same name. Hmm, "Flashes Before Your Eyes" is the episode that saved Lost by beginning to show more of the picture, specifically the introduction of the time travel issue. The list is potentially long and I'm missing a lot.
I bring this up because, in terms of Mad Men, I'd put last season's "The New Girl" on the list and I'd put tonight's season finale, "Shut the Door, Have a Seat" near the top. It was as funny an episode as I can remember. It had more corporate intrigue than any episode has had, including our chance to see Cooper, Sterling, and Draper at work. It was heart-breaking, particularly the scene where Don and Betty tell the kids about their divorce. It was terrifying in its own way; the scene where Don comes home drunk and attacks Betty was so dark (for instance, the amount of Don's face that was in shadow). It was even romantic in its own way ("And if I say no, you'll never talk to me again?" "No... I'll spend my life trying to hire you."). All of this combined to make this episode delightful. Halfway through, I turned to my wife and said aloud, "This episode is so good." It just needed to be said. It was.