Commentary

It's 2015 -- Do You Know Where Don Draper Is?

The first week of 2015 has proven surprisingly harsh and even heart-rending. But we have weathered worse; and keep in mind that as January progresses, we are only  an ambiguous number of months away from the return of “Mad Men”!

Yeah, sorry that I can’t be more definitive about the date, but AMC has yet to make a formal announcement, and Matt Weiner is being as cagey as ever. As you might recall, after protracted negotiations, AMC brought the “Breaking Bad” method to stringing out the ending of “Mad Men”: Season 6 was cut in half, leaving seven episodes for “spring 2014” and seven for “spring 2015.’’ Last year’s “spring” meant April, so I suspect this season will begin in April, too.

For the 14 episodes, (which were all shot at the same time last year) Weiner built in two separate story arcs, and last season’s half-closer was so excellent and definitive that it felt like a real finale. Orbiting around the chaos of 1969 and the moon landing, the proto-ending showed Don, now separated from Megan, stepping aside to let Peggy present the Burger Chef pitch; Bert Cooper soft-shoed his way off this mortal coil, and the agency was sold, again, to McCann. We learned that there are all kinds of families, and in a sock-in-the gut to the ad industry, that  “the best things in life are free.”  As always, the final five minutes were sped-up and stunning.

Still, while dreaming of the return, I couldn’t bring myself to accept that this is really it. Finito. I hadn’t even started thinking about how it goes down for Don, when fellow MM obsessive and all-around-industry-deep-thinker Tom Siebert sent me this article.

Even though the piece was written in 2013, the general existential themes of the series (isolation, identity, emptiness) never change (how many ways can you slice existential despair?) And this certainly fits. It posits that in the end Don pulls a D.B. Cooper. In addition to possessing one of the agency monikers (Cooper, B., plus a D) he was the guy who hijacked a 727 in Seattle in 1971, demanded money, parachuted out the back, disappeared  (literally) into thin air, and was never seen again.

Now a cult figure in the Pacific Northwest, Cooper’s description eerily matches that of Draper/Whitman: six feet tall, 180 pounds, with piercing eyes and dark hair. He was nattily dressed in a white shirt, tie, and a suit, well-spoken and polite. As he sat in his seat, drinking Scotch and smoking a cigarette, he calmly handed a note to the stewardess that she threw in her purse, thinking it was his phone number. It said he had a bomb.

That ending in 1971 makes sense on so many counts.

No. 1, all along, Weiner has given us foreshadowing of falling. The show’s opening animation shows a male figure plummeting from an office building — the same downward route that Cooper took off the railing of the plane. Plus the series has been chock-full of allusions to astronauts, (Miss Blankenship’s death), flying and disappearing (Pete Campbell’s mom at sea). 

Season 2 opened with the crash of the American Airlines Flight that killed Pete’s father. Sterling Cooper started with the Mohawk account and traded up to American. The glamour of flying to L.A. was demonstrated repeatedly; after getting to the Coast and donning aviator sunglasses, Don was a different man. And there was that near-death, green-at-the-gills experience when Don and Ted Chaugh flew in Ted’s little propeller plane and Ted cut the engine.

Disappearing is big, too: Remember Don’s private hell on the beach in Hawaii, lying next to his bikinied actress wife? Don loves vanishing; he created an ad that shows a man removing his suit and disappearing into the surf as a travel enticement.

I really can buy into the disappearing part of Don’s potential self-made demise. I really don’t want to see him in a leisure suit in Fort Lauderdale. He’s fantasized about becoming yet another person ever since Anna’s death, when he imagined being a mechanic. 

Would he get married again? He’s done that three times. Or quit or get fired from his job? Been there — think amazing Hershey breakdown. His fake identity has been outed, so he’s free to go back to any name he wants.

Still, Weiner is a sly one, and famously hates to give us any theories that have already surfaced in the media.  Three years ago, he said on a podcast with Jeff Garlin: “I do know how the whole show ends. It came to me in the middle of last season. I always felt like it would be the experience of human life. And human life has a destination. It doesn’t mean Don’s gonna die. What I’m looking for, and how I hope to end the show, is like … It’s 2011. Don Draper would be 84 right now. I want to leave the show in a place where you have an idea of what it meant and how it’s related to you.”

Geez, I really hope not. If it’s going to end with Don at 84, I’d rather seehim suddenly don a Member’s Only jacket in the late 1970s and go into a diner in New Jersey and fiddle with the little jukebox on the table. Cut to black.

Or perhaps wake up in bed next to Tina Fey? Or have the remaining gang do a group hug out the revolving door of the agency? Or, after steaming up the bathroom, he gets out of the shower, and he’s back at the house in Ossining with Betty, having had a fevered dream?

Or maybe it will have a truly meta ending: Don dies in the office after a freak water-cooler explosion. That way, the next day, viewers could gather around the water cooler to discuss the water cooler. Ice? Fire? A nap? A mowed-down ankle? A MacGyveresque machine gun?

While being interviewed by Garlin, Weiner said: “I was 35 when I wrote the ‘Mad Men’ pilot, 42 when I got to make it, and I’ll be 50 when it goes off the air. So that’s what you’re gonna get. … But I just want it to be entertaining, and I want people to remember it fondly and not think it ended in a fart.”

Wow. Not with a whimper, but with a fart. That would be terrible. How do you guys think it will end?

28 comments about "It's 2015 -- Do You Know Where Don Draper Is?".
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  1. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, January 9, 2015 at 8:54 a.m.

    The person as close to Don that I knew in the 70's and beyond albeit not that dramatic, was the owner of a mid-sized agency at which I worked for a while until a major rift and clients I worked on left with the AE's. It was a family and a Phila. legacy at the time. I always knew he was a good and caring person. (And totally related to the Effie Award show. I was handed the award to take home so they could go out to drinking in NY. Then I went station visiting.) Now, the gentleman is still married to his lovely 4th wife for over 25 years in a much more sedated life. But that's reality.

  2. Bob Shiffrar from Lehman Millet, January 9, 2015 at 9:08 a.m.

    It ends in the present day, at the offices of whatever the agency is called now. A young copywriter, reading an email about a death, asks a colleague, "Who's Don Draper?"

  3. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com, January 9, 2015 at 9:10 a.m.

    Good one, Bob!

  4. Susan Patton from Susan Patton, January 9, 2015 at 9:27 a.m.

    “This never happened. It will shock you how much it never happened.” Haunting.

  5. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER, January 9, 2015 at 9:30 a.m.

    I don't like series endings. With the death of Tony Soprano and the real death of James Gandolfini, I still have hopes for the show's return with all the obvious paybacks. Dexter ended so unsatisfactorily that it has to come back; Breaking Bad is now coming back with a prequel of Better Call Saul and hopes hold out that Cranston is still alive in prison plotting a break; Deadwood needs to return as well as The Wire. When Gossage died, someone said: "Well Howard finally got out of advertising." Surely Weiner will come to his senses and realize this is his life .

  6. Thomas Siebert from BENEVOLENT PROPAGANDA, January 9, 2015 at 10:26 a.m.

    Thank you for the shoutout, Barbara! Only caveat I'd add is that in reality, the hijacker who bought the plane ticket purchased it under the name "Don Cooper"; it was originally misreported as D.B. Cooper, one story begat another, and before the truth could put its shoes on, the legend of "D.B. Cooper" had taken hold.


    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/D._B._Cooper

  7. Marke Rubenstein from Skull Communications llc, January 9, 2015 at 10:55 a.m.

    BL I like this theory. However, I have felt from the start that Don is doomed in a more concrete fashion. Don't know if you saw Birdman but I am thinking about an ending more like that. Love your blog.

  8. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com, January 9, 2015 at 11:01 a.m.

    Love the Birdman idea, Marke. For those who haven't seen it, this is a spoiler, so shut your eyes: I heard a theory about Birdman that does compute, if you think about it. That's he's been
    dead the entire time. That's why we see him risen in the beginning, and at the end his daughter brings hims flowers and then he jumps, an act that is repeated in the opening with her bringing him flowers.

  9. Jonathan Hutter from EMHS (Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems), January 9, 2015 at 11:54 a.m.

    So many dark scenarios. We are always teased with the hope that Don acknowledges who he is to people who matter, and therefore becomes more human and more real. If he is to fulfill his potential as a human being, he must be that. Which probably necessitates him leaving this business. That's my hope anyway. I like happy endings. Thankfully it's not true for this business in general. Flinging himself off a building, literally or otherwise would just be so obvious.

  10. Dean Fox from ScreenTwo LLC, January 9, 2015 at 12:36 p.m.

    The long intermissions have left me entirely disengaged from the characters and themes. Too much real life going down, too little continuity. This feels like reading a great 900-page novel, one page a day for 900 days. The prose and imagery are amazing, but I'm always distracted by the effort to remember what happened a year or five ago, and the changes in my life since the last "season". I think they pushed it too far.

  11. David Kleeman from Dubit, January 9, 2015 at 1:30 p.m.

    If they go with Bob's ending, above, after the person asks "Who is Don Draper," an old hand from the agency has to say, "now there's a story," and they end on a reprise of the first scene of the series.

  12. Susan Bolle from self, January 9, 2015 at 8:18 p.m.

    I'm with Jonathan: I also see the arc of Don's character ending in a more self-realized Don, not a suicide or disappearance. Don has been struggling with his identity for 7 seasons, and while 2 seasons ago, I might have thought he would be revealed as the male figure plummeting from the office building, now I see him finally coming to terms with who he is. I see Don as having integrated Dick Whitman, accepting the truth of his childhood and the mistakes of his manhood. His visit to his childhood "home" with his kids was a key scene for me, along with his developing, caring relationship with Sally. Weiner's comment in his interview with Garlin, about his own development from age 35-50 seems to support that too.

  13. Claudia Reilly from none, January 9, 2015 at 9:14 p.m.

    I am so thrilled by your article. What a joy to have your brilliant insights about "Mad Men" back again. I think I like reading your pieces about the show as much as I love the show itself.

    The beginning of the show certainly leads us to believe someone has to fling himself or herself off a building. But maybe the suicide of Lane already did that.

    I love the way I can't predict what will happen next. And I love the way you make us muse about Don's future -- and we gain insight about ourselves when we consider what we WANT Don to do.

    I want Don to leave and assume his own name and stop being Don Draper. But it's not clear to me why I want that.

  14. AC Winters from ACWintersEsq, January 9, 2015 at 9:36 p.m.

    I'm excited that we've started speculating. I love the DB Cooper theory, but I can't imagine Matt Weiner executing something that was in print a few years ago. Also, I have more faith in Don than that. I don't see him becoming a real criminal. I want him to find peace, and walk away from real success. As someone who started my own career at McCann, I'll be interested to see if Don Draper finishes his there. I doubt it. That was always too corporate and too straight-laced for Don.

  15. Dyann Espinosa from IntraStasis, January 10, 2015 at 2:17 a.m.

    We were just talking about Mad Men today, remarking how the characters (just like us) had aged over the years. Also, none of us could really remember the last episodes and who was doing what (or who/m). I don't want to see Don at 84, or at any age. As far as I'm concerned, the thrill is gone and I don't care what happens now. (IMHO, Weiner ruined the excitement and destroyed my interest by the protracted periods of absence from the airwaves.

  16. AC Winters from ACWintersEsq, January 10, 2015 at 11:27 a.m.

    Dylan Espinosa, it was certainly not Matt Weiner's decision to have Mad Men off the air for long periods of time. You can lay that squarely at the feet of AMC. I do think it's a shame that they dragged out this last season a la Breaking Bad, but I think it was done not just to attempt to increase ratings, which worked for AMC's Breaking Bad; but also to allow Mad Men to have its last season free of BB at awards season. As Barbara pointed out, Weiner wrote 2 mini seasons with a definite finale at mid-point. I for one can't wait to see where he takes us to at the end.

  17. brad berger from aim high tips, January 10, 2015 at 1:03 p.m.

    Don Draper died a few seasons ago when the series became belabored. This is often a problem when the cheese goes stale as Barbara so aptly concludes. Some series because of different factors go on for too many seasons. But Mad Men hit the skids a while ago. I kept on watching because I like most guys enjoy the strongest character on the show. She is smart enough not to take any of these guys or Peggy seriously. These people have become one dimensional and therein lies the problem. For a diversion I suggest to the guys the first 2 and present season of Banshee on Cinemax. Full of violence, sex and strange characters. If you start with the present season the one kicker you should know is the guy with the blonde hair Proctor is a lapsed strict religious sect and so is hos female younger cousin who he takes into his world and she is his intern -

  18. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com, January 10, 2015 at 2:28 p.m.

    THIS JUST IN:
    The seventh and final season of the American television drama series Mad Men consists of 14 episodes split into two, seven-episode parts: the first half, titled "The Beginning", began on April 13, 2014, on AMC; the second half, titled "The End of an Era", will premiere on April 5, 2015.

  19. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com, January 10, 2015 at 2:32 p.m.

    I agree with Dean Fox that the lapses are very disengaging for the viewers. We feel disconnnected. I barely remembered some of the characters introduced last season myself. And now we have a date: April 5th! I look forward to more conjecture in the walk up to the premier!

  20. Jim English from The Met Museum, January 10, 2015 at 2:44 p.m.

    Move over J.R. Ewing, how about a "Who Shot Don Draper?" 35 years and 83 million viewers ago. Can you imagine the list of suspects?

  21. Thomas Siebert from BENEVOLENT PROPAGANDA, January 10, 2015 at 7:41 p.m.

    My prediction:


    Betty dies of cancer, Don quits advertising to raise the kids and returns to his given name. Final shot is him introducing himself to one of the kids' teachers, saying "Hi, I'm Dick Whitman."


    Well, a man can dream.

  22. Rob Schwartz from TBWA\CHIAT\DAY, January 11, 2015 at 8:53 a.m.

    Final scene. We open on Don on the Croisette in Cannes. Present day. He's very tan. He sits in one of the blue chairs staring out at the yachts on the horizon. He smokes a cigarette. Beautiful people walk passed him on the way, or returning from the Palais. The infamous mother-daughter, leopard-clad prostitutes stroll by. Don doesn't even blink. He takes a long drag on his Gitanes. He exhales slowly. Smoke gets in his eyes. We hear an accordian and make out the melody of the "The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy)." Camera drifts up and away. Fade to black.

  23. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER, January 11, 2015 at 9:04 a.m.

    There is something to be said for the "early days of television" when a season was 39 episodes and they had an interruption only for summer replacements like Pantomine Quiz.

  24. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, January 11, 2015 at 1:26 p.m.

    ----or the most famous summer replacement show that was turned into a regular season entry----"Mr Peepers".

  25. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER, January 11, 2015 at 10:23 p.m.

    just watched a couple of episodes from early seasons this morning....show much better in early days.....seems to have some originality.......very missing in last few seasons.....one summer replacement in the early 60s was a music show with vic damone....i thought that it may have been the first music video.....but it may have been too early and vic damone's audience may have been a little too old for the video technics of early video tape........

  26. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com, January 13, 2015 at 11:43 a.m.

    Thanks, all. Rob Schwartz-- I've seen that guy on the Croissette. Really, really tan!

  27. Ruth Thomas from Second helping, January 14, 2015 at 7:55 a.m.

    Your image of Don in the leasurely suit or Members only jacket just makes me sad...all of this social media and Internet kills illusions...I prefer remembering dewy eyed Sandra Dee in her early 20s..slim young rockers at Woodstock, Robert Redford as Sundance....I want to be able to remember Don as the dashing icon of a certain time and place...reality doesn't have to creep into every part of my life...heroes or anti hero shave their place...please, I hope they don't bring him to 1988, a drunk with a pot belly, living in Sally's finished basement in Manhasset

  28. Jonathan McEwan from MediaPost, January 29, 2015 at 1:07 p.m.

    On the subject of the D.B. Cooper theory, the first half of the final season was promoted using all the characters coming down the gangway of a jet plane... Another hint?

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