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?