Over the course of five epic seasons of the best show on TV, the Mad Men of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce (Holloway?) have entertained us with their sordid, complex lives and shown us that every petty, venal action has an equal and opposite reaction. Just about every character on the show has at one time or another fallen from grace (except for Megan, who has at least two seasons left to tumble), but there are six stand outs for whom sleaze is way of life. The question is, which of these Mad Men is the sleaziest?
The early seasons of Mad Men were more about establishing Don’s psychology and revealing clue by clue the man behind a stolen identity. Don’s early sleaze set the tone for later sleaze, and despite his recent transformation into a decent individual, his original behavior rivals every other character on the show for sheer sleaziness. Don’s central sleaze revolves around his marriage to his first wife, Betty. Though Don lied to her about his identity and committed adultery on too many occasions to name here, he often appears to have a good heart, but does his recent moral turn indemnify him from his sleazy past...?
Betty Draper/Betty Francis
Early episodes of the series painted Betty as a victim of her circumstances but later chapters depict a cool, conniving manipulator who knows which strings to pull to get what she wants. From having a baby to keep her marriage afloat to a revenge bar fling, Betty’s sleaziest moment came when she told her pre-teen daughter about Don’s secret identity to ruin their relationship. So sleazy.
Aside from his long-running affair with Joan Holloway, Roger also cheated on his wife with his own secretary, then went the extra sleazy step of divorcing his wife to marry her. He then cheated on his new wife with a prostitute as well as Joan, again, secretly fathering a child with her in the process. Aside from his selective philandering, Roger is a vengeful office operator known for highjacking clients from other partners, paying out of pocket for work off the books and taking credit for other people’s ideas. In a stroke of extreme sleaze, Roger kept it a secret that the firm had lost their largest account with Lucky Strike. He withheld the information for over a month before faking a phone call in front of the partners where he revealed what had happened.
As Roger’s mistress, Joan’s closet sleaziness could be overlooked as a symptom of the times, an unfortunate condition but one that could be forgiven. Her first real step toward slinging morally bankrupt dirt with the big boys was lying to her husband about the birth of their child, really Roger’s child, while he was in Vietnam. Joan’s sleaziness achieved new heights in Season 5 when she traded her “services” for a partnership in the firm.
Architect and founding member of SCDP, Lane Pryce is a relatively new addition to the show and a fairly straight-edge up until the fifth season where he significantly upped his sleaze ante. Lane did cheat on his wife with a Playboy bunny, standard operating procedure for the Mad Men of the day, but the true depths of his sleaziness surface when he begins embezzling money from the company to pay his tax debts back in the UK.
From defiling the nanny next door to taking advantage of his friend’s wife and then scheming his way into dinner with them, Pete Campbell’s sleaze knows no bounds. Whether sleeping with a prostitute or trying to bed a teenage girl in his Driver’s Ed class, Pete’s life is a slippery slope of lies and deceit designed to feed his insatiable ego. His sleaze coup de grace came in Season 5, Episode 11 when he pitched Joan harder than he pitched Jaguar and then proceeded to arrange partners like pieces on a chessboard until he had gotten his way. Sleaziness of the highest order is ultimately what makes Pete the sleaziest of the Mad Men.