There are no minor characters on Mad Men, and this is one of the reasons the AMC series has been so successful. We are just as invested in Sally Draper’s story as we are in Don’s. Peggy, Betty, Joan, Bob Benson, Freddy Rumsen—we’ve been captivated by them all. Still, Sally Draper stands apart from these other characters, and it should be acknowledged that there have been many times when Kiernan Shipka completely stole the show. She speaks her mind, she calls the adults on their stuff, and she’s liberated in a very natural, matter-of-fact way that seems to both embrace and work against the feminist ideals of her time and ours. She’s a complicated girl, and no one understands her but weirdo Glen. (And even he didn’t get it at times.) Even if we don’t fully understand her—and even though we know she might be headed for more therapy by the time Betty, Don, and boarding school are through with her—she’s still one of the best characters on the show, for these and other reasons. As part one of the final season draws to a close, we look back at ten memorable times when Sally Draper absolutely stole the show.
Episode 4.09: “The Beautiful Girls”
A child saying “no” in the wrong place, at the wrong time has driven many-a-parent mad, and this scene completely taps in on the horror. In Season Five, Sally waltzes her way up to her Dad’s office and refuses to leave, even though Betty is on her way and—obviously—furious at the inconvenience and defiance. In the land of Sally Draper-isms, this may not seem like one of her grander moments, but there was something thrilling about watching her matter-of-factly state that she would not be going with Betty, and argue that she had every right to stay with her father. As a child you simply do not believing in doing things contrary to that which you truly want to do. As adults, we lose this defiance and bravery, but Sally encourages us to try out “no” again. This scene also played a big part in the demise of Don and Faye, as Sally clings to Megan—her future step-mother—in the end.
Episode 6.12: “The Quality of Mercy”
We know it’s unhealthy, and we know the kids shouldn’t smoke, but damn Sally looked awesome in this scene. And, betwixt puffs, she waxes poetic on the relationship she has with Don: “My father never gave me anything.” And she’s right, in many ways. It’s one of the reasons she’s decided to go to board school. Earlier in the episode she couldn’t tell her mom the truth, but in this moment—the moment where she can finally smoke with Betty (we all have some equivalent of this)—she lays it all out.
Episode 5.07: “At the Codfish Ball”
Sure, she had to take them off in the end (along with all her big girl make-up) but those boots Megan and Marie Calvet helped her pick out were so hot, it was uncomfortable. Little Sally was growing up before our (and Don’s) eyes, inspiring Megan’s father Emile to share this fantastic misquote in front of everyone: “One day, your daughter will spread her legs and fly away.” Yeah, those go-go boots had to go. Go.
Episode 5.12: “Commissions and Fees”
There comes a time in every young girl’s life, where she skips school to go to a museum with her non-boyfriend and suddenly finds herself “becoming” a woman. She flees the scene (the museum, her father’s home, the city) and takes a twenty-five dollar cab back home to Westchester (yes, twenty-five dollars). It’s a powerful moment because, after watching her rage against her mother in practically every episode, we are reminded that seemingly grown and sassy Sally—even in this moment of physical growth and maturation—is still a child. And when something big happens, no father, or step-mom, or non-boyfriend will do. Sometimes you just have to run home to mommy.
Episode 7.05: “The Runaways”
Betty and Sally have had countless memorable (and cringe-worthy) interactions. When these two get together, daughters the world over think to themselves, “Eh, I guess Mom and I weren’t so bad.” This season Sally accidentally breaks her nose and Betty (being Betty) completely loses it. Sally’s retorts are so simple and vicious; and they carry so much weight. “Where would Mom be without her perfect nose?” and “It’s a nose job, not an abortion,” and then, “Don’t worry about me finding a man. I already have you to keep me line”—these are the reasons we love Sally Draper. She’s the brattiest little budding feminist there ever was.
Those of us born in the late ‘80s can listen to the Beatles, and we can fall in love with The Beatles, but we’ll never really get what The Beatles were all about. In this scene, Sally’s single, earth-shattering scream gives us an idea about this movement that we simply may not have understood before. The Beatles… were kind of a huge deal. Like, leather bound books, big deal. And, like many brilliant Mad Men scenes, this little moment allows us to partake of an era on which many of us missed out.
Episode 7.02: “A Day’s Work”
Last season Sally walked in on her Dad doing very bad things with the downstairs neighbor. This season she becomes one of only a handful of people to really lay into Don in a way that actually has some effect. When she explains to him her deep fear of running into Sylvia Rosen in the building elevator, she paints this incredible picture of the horrifying possibility: “I could have run into that woman. I could be in the elevator, she could get in, and I’d have to stand there, smiling, wanting to vomit while I smell her hairspray.” Her harsh words (followed by more harsh words) inspired Don to be honest with her about himself. When she wishes him a “Happy Valentine’s Day” in the end, and tells him she loves him, the genuine look of surprise on Don’s face is a reflection of the fact that Sally Draper is a tough one to please. And, more than that, she’s almost always disinterested in pleasing others. When someone like that says, “I love you” it means the world.
Episode 5.07: “At the Codfish Ball”
As we all know by now, Sally’s seen far too much in her young life. The night her Dad won that big, fancy award little Sally stumbled upon her “date” (Roger Sterling) having more fun than you’ve ever had at a black tie affair. What she witnessed between Sterling and Megan’s mother Marie later comes up in a conversation with Glen—unbeknownst to him. When asked about the state of New York City, wise-beyond-her-years Sally pretty much nails it: “Dirty.”
Episode 4.05: “The Chrysanthemum and the Sword”
Well, this was awkward. In Season Four we found ourselves bearing witness to something no show on television had prepared us for, this show included. What were we to make of Sally Draper pleasuring herself at a friend’s sleepover in this scene to end all scenes? On the one hand, it sends Betty through the roof, and there’s something deeply satisfying about that. But it was a moment that also made you wonder if you were as open-minded as you once thought. Depending on your reaction to the scene, you may have gotten a glimpse of a more conservative side to yourself, and you may have even identified with Bets for a moment; no parent wants to have this conversation with another parent. But thanks to Sally Draper, many of us were thinking about children and sexuality, and maybe pulling out our old collection of Freud essays as well.
Episode 3.04: “The Arrangements”
Sally’s fury in this scene is a perfect representation of the most difficult aspect of loss. Life, supposedly, goes on. Even on the day when you’ve buried the body of someone who means the world to you— a day when your world stops spinning—the rest of the world will go on. Something about that feels wrong, and Sally spoke for every grieving soul in this great scene following her Grandpa Gene’s death. This scene also aligns her with Thích Qu?ng ??c, the Buddhist monk who performed an act of self-immolation to protest the South Vietnamese government in 1963. David Halberstram—one of the photographers who witnessed the act—later noted that the burning monk “never uttered a sound, his outward composure in sharp contrast to the wailing people around him.” Sally Draper is the inverse of this, wailing in mourning against the outward composure of the adults. And in a way, that wailing is far more appropriate a response than what we see from the adults. It’s almost as if Sally is a reflection of things her mother wishes she could say or do.
And a little child shall lead them.
Shannon M. Houston is Assistant TV Editor at Paste, and a New York-based freelance writer with probably more babies than you. You can follow her on Twitter.