IT SEEMS LIKE yesterday when Don Draper was in his study, watching slides of his family photos on the Kodak “wheel.” Actually, it seems like a long time ago, and it was: the pilot aired on July 19, 2007, and “The Wheel”—still my choice for the single best episode of a TV show ever—wrapped up the first season that October.
Here’s what we learned from that initial finale: Matthew Weiner can stick the ending. Vince Gilligan set the “best series finale” bar impossibly high last year with Breaking Bad, but if there’s one dude on earth who can Fosbury Flop his way over it, Weiner’s the guy.
We asked a coterie of Weeklings contributors to answer a single question: What do you think will happen in S7, the last season of Mad Men?
Here are the responses:
“This won’t end well.”
I have a habit of saying this to myself whenever I see doomed scenarios unfolding. A guy at a bar loudly ordering tequila shots. One of my cousins getting back together with a dirtbag ex-boyfriend. My wife casually bringing up ObamaCare at Thanksgiving. I’ll sigh and turn to the imaginary camera that I pretend is recording my life. “This won’t end well,” I’ll say. And it never does.
I really want things to work out for Don Draper in the final season of Mad Men. I want him to pull his life together and get out of the city. I want him to write a novel, find a woman and treat her well, and repair the damage he has caused his children. But that’s not what’s going to happen. And, frankly, it shouldn’t. There’s a meanness to Mad Men and its characters, and, of course, a beautiful propensity for spectacular acts of self-destruction. A happy ending would undermine all of that.
Therefore, the show’s creators will spend a great deal of time this season teasing us with glimmers of hope like the ones I’ve listed above. Sigh. But then…
On the very last episode, in the closing minutes, after we’ve all fast-forwarded through the final block of commercials, Don Draper, broken, disheveled, probably drunk, will stand on the ledge of a very tall building. He’ll look into the abyss, hair whipping across his forehead. And he’ll jump.
Mad Men will end with a live-action version of the iconic opening credits we’ve all been watching for years. An adman in a suit will fall to his death. And it will be perfect.
Both Sides, Now
In S6’s penultimate scene, Don Draper and his kids stand in front of that dilapidated Queen Anne on some godforsaken city corner as Judy Collins sings “Both Sides Now.” “This is where I grew up,” he tells Sally, [1. I love Sally Draper. Only Don is a more compelling character. Why don’t we hear more about Kiernan Shipka as a leading lady?] who flashes one of the greatest WTF faces ever captured on camera.
Last year, Don began the painful process of integrating his secret, shameful life with his current, shameless one. In S7, he will finish what he started. Both sides, now! We’ve long known that Don’s life is a lie; even his name is not his own. But his choice of profession is also telling. Advertising is not lying, per se, but it does involve taking creative liberties with the truth. The only way for Don Draper to make peace with Dick Whitman, then, is to quit his job. And that’s how the last episode will end: with Don cashing out and passing the reins to his jaded ex-secretary Peggy Olson—who will absolutely be voting for Reagan in 1980, by the way.
I will also be very surprised if Pete Campbell doesn’t commit murder. He’s at least as homicidal as Frank Underwood, and someone—Bob Benson? Trudy? His counterpart at TWA?—will pay.
We always knew Mad Men would wind up being about California, didn’t we? For all its focus on the super-charged Americana of cosmopolitan New York (big cars and swanky night clubs, pocketbooks, powder rooms, and fancy updos) the West Coast has always called with its sunshine and beaches, its budding 60’s mythology of blondes, bikinis, and Hollywood magic. And Season 7’s promo pics bear this out; their motifs air travel and sunshine.
Don Draper’s been to California in Mad Men’s first six seasons, had his field trips and breakdowns, his come-to-Jesus moments when he’s considered staying and never looking back. Maybe there’s still hope for Don, a chance to dry out and start again in California, that land of perennial second chances.
We saw Don’s beautiful wife #3, Megan, wearing Sharon Tate’s iconic t-shirt near the end of last season. Which isn’t necessarily a good sign for Megan (Tate was murdered by the Manson Family in 1969). Nor does she look particularly happy in the promo pics. Still, she’s an actress so it would seem to fit, her going to California with Don. But will the Drapers’ seemingly perfect life fall apart behind the scenes once again? Of course it will. The interesting thing about Mad Men has never been if things will fall apart, but how.
Late 60’s California is where one version of America died and another was born. It’s Berkley and Frisco, the Doors and Flower Power. But it’s also Manson and Altamont, Nixon and Reagan. It’s freedom and the invariable response to freedom, excess and the reactionary backlash against it. California at the end of the 1960’s seemed poised to become the cradle of a new American Golden Age; but that promise died in social unrest and protests against war in a distant land. And why should Mad Men be any different? If we’ve learned anything in Mad Men’s first six seasons it’s that the show is about America. And in the late 60’s America was about California. Until it was about Vietnam…
By the Numbers
1. Last we saw Don, he was showing his kids the dilapidated house in which he grew up; now they understand something of their father’s upbringing, and how different it was to their own, they’ll all become closer — not without some difficulty for Sally, though.
2. While things improve with his kids, if/when Don returns to the SCDP office (after being nudged out with a sabbatical), it won’t be an easy readjustment; he’ll have lost power and respect in the advertising world, and won’t even try to bed another secretary…
3. Which is OK because Megan will have moved to California and become a Hollywood darling. (As for Don’s first ex-wife, Betty will continue wearing pastels, and get her hair done even bigger.)
4. All of which will push Don off the edge (of his prolonged existential crisis that’s been escalating over the course of the series) and fully into despair. There could be a dramatic death, possibly involving a fall/jump from a skyscraper — a fate hinted at by the show’s opening credits, and at various other points (like Don’s near-miss death from the elevator shaft in Season 5).
5. Now that her affair with Ted’s over, Peggy will re-lean in to her career, wear more chequered pantsuits, and have a killer list of clients with which to set up her own company.
6. Pete will wear interesting shirts in California, where he and Ted head up the West Coast office. He’ll hit the beach on weekends, peer at bikini babes from his Ray-Bans. But ultimately he’ll miss New York, and return to win back his wife Alison Brie.
7. Roger, Joan’s baby daddy, will decide he wants to be with her. But because Joan’s way too good for him, instead, she’ll raise her kid with Bob Benson; together, they’ll live like Will and Grace, and it will be wonderful.
Here’s what we know for sure: Roger Sterling will die. He should have died two seasons ago, what with that heart and the constant puffing of Lucky no-filters.
Don’s relationship with Megan will soon combust. In a twist, she’ll dump him and move to Hollywood, doing bit parts on Bewitched for ten years before graduating to Match Game. Don, now bloated and chipping on the side, will grow sideburns and hang around the West Village, selling fake acid to teenagers and reading passages aloud from Mao’s Little Red Book.
Betty will get fat again, thin again, fat again, and eventually smother Henry to death by accidentally rolling over on him while having a bad dream about Sally’s new boyfriend, Stokely Carmichael.
Stan Rizzo will become the drummer for Herman’s Hermits and tour Europe. Peggy leaves Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce and founds a militant woman’s film collective called Sell You Lloyd that boasts Valerie Solanis as an early member. Pete Campbell eats peyote while trying to close the Old El Paso account and undergoes a Castenadan spiritual experience. He transforms into a robed Sonoran mystic who hip couples from L.A. trek out to seek counsel from. Michael Ginsberg is arrested trying to set off a bomb strapped to his chest during a Sandy Koufax no-hitter.
Don will slog through a dissipated 70’s, only to rebound in the 80’s as part of Boy George’s publicity team. It will be his idea for Boy to wear a bed sheet during the “Karma Chameleon” video. Suddenly a hot property, it will be Don’s idea for Thomas Dolby to be “Blinded” instead of “Nonplussed” by Science, ensuring another #1 hit. Having conquered New Wave marketing, Don will overdose on Romilar in his hotel room in 1988 while watching the Bush/Dukakis debate.
Joan and the baby will be the only major characters not to suffer. Joan cannot be hurt. She is impervious and impermeable. Her son will grow up to be Dan Quayle’s press secretary.
This season is going to be all about integrating the past into the present, in the Faulknerian sense that the past isn’t over, it’s not even past. Don is going to stop denying his inner Dick, and be himself moving forward. I think the season ends with him alone, starting over, not as much reinvented as discovering and being his true self. It’s not about his names, it’s about him being OK with who he is, being able to live outside of the shame he’s carried his whole life — the unwanted, abused child of a whore, raised in a brothel, who hated himself so much he became someone else. Don’s finally going to traverse the distance between who he says he is and who he is, between who he wants to be and fears he might be, and figure out, that the other Whitman was right: he contains multitudes. No one suit is quite right for him, and he will keep becoming an amalgamated third. It will all end with him in California again — out of work and single – happy, though, that he gets to be himself for the rest of his life.
I want to believe Peggy is going to wind up a partner in some incarnation of the firm, maybe taking Don’s place. Let’s hope she gets to be happy in her love life, too. A Hollywood ending. Other things that will loom large: Vietnam rages, increasingly Sexual Sally and the glory that is Joan. It’s going to be 1969 on the show — I hope we see glimpses of Chappaquiddick, Altamont, and Sharon Tate’s murder — that singular moment that Didion called the end of the 60’s. What will that last shot that Weiner has alluded to for all these years be? What does the end of Mad Men mark the end of for us as a people? A call to move forward, propelled by the past, perhaps? Maybe, maybe. “…And so we beat on….”
What a Long Strange Trip It Will Be
I’ve heard from an unreliable source (the only kind I rely on) that Matthew Weiner has hired Ryan Murphy to goose things up. With so many complaints about Mad Men’s focus on character development at the expense of plot twists and the random deaths of major characters, Weiner has decided to go out with a psychedelic bang. Clues I picked up during my research “trips” (I choose ‘shrooms for their synapse-repairing health benefits) have enlightened me to the far-out final season at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. Time-bending historical inaccuracies as well as network-crossing plot developments will be prominently featured. In Murphy’s timeline, the death of Elvis, Watergate, the Jonestown incident, and Neil Armstrong’s “giant step for mankind” all happen in the same season.
Everyone is in a panic over the Manson Family murders, the Zodiac Killer and rampant feminism, especially with Joan and Roger in LA setting up the new office. (Never mind that Ted and Pete were already sent there. Continuity be damned!) Peggy and Joan’s new friendship is galvanized when Peggy insists that they both fly back to the safety of New York.
Sally and Glen, having dropped little Bobby off at a screening of The Wild Bunch, take a day trip to Woodstock for the “groovy concert.” It proves to be more than they expected, but the whole thing is a gas and really gets cooking when they unwittingly take psychotropic drugs with their new friends, young Patty Hearst and John Hinckley, Jr. Naturally, Betty has a cow.
Stan, Harry and Ken, at an invite-only party in Harlem, find weird Bob naked, wandering from room-to-room in a feathery mask while a guy in a wild boar suit repeatedly taps one note on a piano in the corner. No one believes Harry when he claims to have followed weird Bob & Dawn into an alcove full of pin-encumbered dolls labeled with the names of everyone at SCDP. As Dawn’s Aunt Marie from New Orleans, Angela Basset’s potentially shark-jumping rendition of “Voodoo Zou Bisou” is reportedly the highlight of the season.
Don will begin a new career in marketing for Sesame Street and Peggy will ruffle some feathers when she takes on Nixon’s television campaign account. (“Get over it, Bert,” Peggy says, “this is business not politics.”) But those are just rumors.
Pete Campbell continues being a douche.
This is The End
In my greatest television fantasy ever—besides a buddy cop sitcom starring Mickey Rourke and Bruno Mars—I imagine the Mad Men series finale as such:
Title: “Apocalypse Now?”
We open with a bird’s eye view of Don lying on a hotel bed. The bedspread is harvest gold and quilted. Don is fully clothed in a business suit. There’s an ashtray on his chest, and he has passed out (fallen asleep? died?) holding a lit cigarette.
We get a close-up of this cigarette as it drops a red-hot ash onto a polyester throw pillow. Because the show is historically accurate, the pillow lacks any sort of flame retardant and immediately bursts into a raging inferno. At that moment, The Doors’ “The End” begins playing. The ceiling fan casts rhythmic shadows on Don’s face that look like those from a war helicopter. Don is unresponsive but appears peaceful. Is that a smirk on his lips? The scene ends with a screenshot of a crackling flames.
Next, we see an image of the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce offices slowly appear behind these flames. Is that because the agency is also burning? Or because it has symbolically gone to hell? Or because it actually IS hell? We’ll never know, but we’ll discuss it for years at dull dinner parties while we drink way more than we planned. We watch as the agency’s sign melts and bubbles in the fire and slowly morphs into a pan of brownies that Betty is removing from the oven.
Betty stares down at the brownies with the bitchy, emotionless look of a former Abercrombie model who now wears Talbots. She eventually eats the entire pan using nothing but her hands, as a fiery montage of all the Mad Men characters ensues: Pete winking at himself in a mirror. Trudy sharpening a butcher knife. Megan in a hospital gown holding a newborn. Roger, with pupils like a great white shark, presenting Joan with a blue Tiffany box. Ken tapping down a city street with a blind man’s cane, Ginsberg losing his virginity, and Bert in drag. As the Doors sing “and all the children are insane,” we see Sally on a stripper pole and that weird kid Glen watching Sally from a dark corner booth. (“Why is HE in the finale?!” half the nation shouts.) Finally, we see a sun-drenched shot of Peggy in a cathedral, on her knees and dressed in nun’s attire, smiling in that weird way people who’ve had a lobotomy do. The last shot is a bird’s eye view of what is left of the harvest gold bedspread in a charred, smoking hotel room. Don is no longer there.
Then the screen goes to black and we see the name MATTHEW WEINER for about ten seconds before Journey’s “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin'” starts blaring and the credits roll.
“WHAT THE FUUUUCKKKKKK?!?!?!?” all of America yells in unison. “YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME!!!!!!”
And then Twitter crashes for like three weeks.