Commentary

The 'Mad Men' Set-Up: How Will We Deal?

“Mad Men” resumes next Sunday, April 5, and the final seven episodes of the series are fittingly called “The End of an Era.” As I mentioned last week in my maudlin musings, I’m obsessed with — but also somehow anxious and fearful about — the finish.

It doesn’t help that after viewing the season opener at a party at the Museum of Modern Art in New York last week, Andy Cohen of Bravo fame told The New York Times that the first episode back is  “dark — a real wrist-slasher.”

Uh-oh. That would fit in with some of the more macabre jokes I got from crowdsourcing the question “How will "Mad Men" end?” on Facebook.

First there were the Durst jokes: two people suggested it ends with Don wearing a hot mike in a cold bathroom, looking in the mirror, and blathering to himself, “What did I do? Why, I killed them all.” That’s the shockeroo ending for the HBO documentary, “The Jinx” — and in real life, what got Bobby Durst arrested for the murder of his friend Susan Berman. Fade to black.

Certainly, Don, the poor orphan boy, had a very different background from the mad real-estate scion. But they were both hugely hurt by their mothers’ early deaths, a profound loss that was probably the root of much of their underlying sadness. Of course, Durst is far more mentally ill than Don, but he also had a propensity for changing identities. In the case of the murder of his neighbor Morris Black, Durst took a woman’s name, claimed he was mute, and wore a wig and a dress. 

High heels don’t seem to be part of Don’s wheelhouse, though.

Another key difference is that Don seems to have a conscience, and feels shame about the messes he creates, which he sometimes self-medicates away with drinking. He did come clean to the agency during the Hershey meeting debacle, and to his kids, even dragging them to see the crumbling House of Ill Repute he grew up in. He tries to make amends, repeatedly, which is very un-Durst like.

How about the D.B. Cooper scenario, which I have written about previously?  It was first suggested in a story on Medium that Don will turn out to be the legendary skyjacker known as D.B. (actually, Dan) Cooper, who in 1971 hijacked a Boeing 727 and jumped out of the rear of the plane somewhere between Seattle and Reno, never to be heard from again. In many accounts, the details of Cooper’s looks, dress, and manner seemed to uncannily match Don’s.

Though I’m attracted to the whole set-up, I doubt that showrunner Matthew Weiner would use something that has already circulated so widely in the culture. By now, there are so many people obsessed with the Dan/Don link that Julia Turner of Slate recently interviewed Geoffrey Gray, whose 2012 book “Skyjack” chronicled Cooper’s disappearance.

Though there are some similarities, Gray maintains that the Cooper guy was a "schlub" — not a debonair type at all. The talk of his natty suit is a little off — turns out that the jumper wore a clip-on tie from J. C. Penney (so not Don!)

But consider this: in the promo photos, it seems that the cast has all adopted '70s wardrobes, and apparently, Roger has even grown an impressive silver 'stache. Not Don, who seems to stick with his '60s duds.

And Gray is sure that the Dan Cooper handle is an alias, taken from the name of a French comic book character who flies airplanes in the Royal Canadian Air Force and jumps out of them. Megan, Don’s soon-to-be-ex-wife (that he was still mooning after) is French-Canadian, from Montreal. Cue the music from “The Twilight Zone.”

I worried last week that the character who opens the window and actually jumps, fulfilling the promise of the credit sequence, is Pete, who also wants to hold on to his ex-wife and seems very lost. Jamie Malanowski, a writer, suggested on my FB post that Pete gets recruited by H. R. “Bob” Haldeman for Nixon’s White House. That sounds just right for Pete: Haldeman got his start at J. Walter Thompson, and ran the agency’s California office before getting involved in Nixon’s campaigns.

The Watergate incident started brewing in 1972 — and Pete’s patrician background and paranoid leanings would make him a perfect employee for that time.  How many historical ends would it tie up for Pete to jump from the Watergate tower?

I’ve always felt that the reason “Mad Men” has such an obsessive following is that the title — with its suggestion of mad drinking and skirt-chasing — belies a dramatic series that is more and more about the changing identities and lives of women. Like Mary Wells, Peggy could always marry an airline exec and start painting the planes (as Wells did in her marketing campaign for Braniff). But Peggy doesn’t really have that Wells-ish zeal and self-belief. I think she’s also sad, and a brooder, like Don.

In many of his interviews this season, Weiner has referred to the movie "The Apartment" as one of the greatest influences in creating "Mad Men."

"The Apartment" actually has a happy ending, with Shirley MacLaine finally loved by a good man, saying to him "Shut up and deal."

Watching the final episodes, we'll just have to play the cards we're dealt.

10 comments about "The 'Mad Men' Set-Up: How Will We Deal?".
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  1. George Parker from Parker Consultants, March 26, 2015 at 6:44 p.m.

    Barbara... What the hell are you going to do when this thing is over? Promise me you won't jump out of the back of a Braniff... Mary would be well pissed.
    Cheers/George "AdScam" Parker

  2. Bruce Dundore from Lazaroff/Dundore, March 26, 2015 at 6:46 p.m.

    I tell you, it's just going to end. He's just going to leave his office, and be forgotten. He's going to realize that after all the crap he's done, the crap he's taken and dished out, the endless hours and intrigues, ruined lives, suicides and divorces, in the end, it's only advertising. And he never really did anything important after all, in his or another man's identity.

  3. Vanessa Coates from American Casino & Entertainment Properties, March 26, 2015 at 7:22 p.m.

    It is great to have Mad Men Blogs to look forward to from you again Barbara. I always look forward to your insight. I am most definitely interested to see how Matt Weiner ends the Mad Men world and I am not sure if I am on the side of wanting it to end happily or not and what is more Mad Men-ish. Here's to the last seven episodes...

  4. Dean Fox from ScreenTwo LLC, March 26, 2015 at 7:24 p.m.

    I have to admire the saturation marketing campaign designed to ensure that everyone knows that Mad Men is coming back and coming to an end. If only the final episodes of Mad Men could match the pure irony and dramatic creativity of "Better Call Saul".

  5. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, March 26, 2015 at 9:21 p.m.

    More mundane is my guess, just as life turns out to be when we outgrow our stagnant usefulness. Sorters, fax machines, answering machines came into the 70's. New stations, even local stations were added, the birth of media fragmentation. By the second half of that decade, even the way we saving and paying bills changed, from credit cards booming, money markets (% went up to 20% for a few moments before the feds came in) and interest rates were through the roof. Clouds were brewing. Mundane.

  6. Jonathan McEwan from MediaPost, March 27, 2015 at 11:26 a.m.

    Can't wait to see where it goes, and moreover to read what you have to say about it. It's a shame it's such a short run. As for the final destination? I vote for darkness before the dawn. I still hold out a hope that Don finds his way somehow. I'd like to cry a few bittersweet tears at the end of all this. As for the '70s, I would not want to live through them again for anything. Avacado green anyone? Dingy mustard yellow? Kill me now. Here's to seven fantastic write ups and comment convos, and one more for the wrap up. I'm going to miss all this when it's over. xo

  7. Thomas Siebert from BENEVOLENT PROPAGANDA, March 27, 2015 at 11:55 a.m.

    If they jump into the 70s, I think it's a mistake. It started in 1960, it should end on New Year's Eve 1969 or maybe the first day of 1970. But to leap forward a couple years would be a mistake, though I'm certainly open to being proved wrong.

  8. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com, March 27, 2015 at 12:28 p.m.

    Tom-- In one of his typically cryptic answers, Weiner gave a hint of a suggestion that it might go up to modern day. I'm sure these 7 also follow the usual course-- very draggy in the middle, and mind blowing genius in the last 10 minutes.

  9. Jim English from The Met Museum, March 28, 2015 at 11:55 a.m.

    When you referenced Twilight Zone I started thinking of the 1960 episode of an overwrought ad exec (James Daly) who finds himself in a pleasant make-believe town far from Madison Avenue. Willoughby. How about a peaceful end for Don in a friendly little village. Thanks Rod Serling. Thanks Barbara.

  10. Rich Brayer from SZL Digital, April 6, 2015 at 7:32 a.m.

    look forward to todays blog

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