Mad Men has been a strange, amusing series, replete with historic moments like JFK’s assassination and the moon landing, full of smoking and daytime drinking, and loads of human foibles, chief among them our ability to compartmentalize (and I’m not just talking about Dick Whitman). Beyond the character arcs and season-long plot points are some meta-analyses of the show that have kept me watching, fascinated. I’ve posted before about how I see Dick/Don as a kind of trans narrative but there are other interesting interpretations of the show, like the limited ranges of success, nay, life, for women in the characters of Betty, Joan, and Peggy (and how they differ from what we know will be the options for Sally), the clash of generations over cultural meaning and production (“What is the Carousel?”), and ultimately, where is meaning itself? That’s the question Dick/Don has been asking at least since he accidentally blew up his commanding officer in Korea, and perhaps since his youth at the brothel after his mother died. While Dick/Don in last night’s penultimate episode seemed to be finally coming to terms with an answer for himself, we the audience are in full-plummet mode as the series finale looms.
I suppose it’s not surprising with so much still swirling around in the MM universe that some viewers have come up with riotously preposterous endings for our friends on Madison Avenue. Including:
Don Draper becomes D.B. Cooper—It’s a theory, just a theory, and when clever viewers watch layered narratives like this one, some of them are bound to come up with inventive stories about jumping [sic] off points from the finale. See what I did there? Funny, right? Anyway, this theory is that Dick Whitman, trading as Don Draper, takes up another false identity and becomes the dapper airplane hijacker from 1971 November who made off with $200,000 and was never found. (Of course, most of the money also never turned up, but The Theory doesn’t concern itself with what became of D.B. Cooper, just who he was.) There are lots of clues, because there are always lots of clues—well, just enough, anyway—to support conspiracy theories like these. Don looks like D.B. in his aviation sunglasses. He’s hit the road and is heading west. He was framed in a shot reminiscent of North by Northwest, and hey, the plane D.B. hijacked was a Northwest Airlines jet. Don has also looked up into the sky at a plane. Seriously. It’s not exactly iron-clad evidence (even if it is a little fun).
Don Draper has been dead all this time—First of all, this has been done before, at least twice (on St. Elsewhere and Lost), and both times the critics and audience cried out in actual pain at the absolute asinine wrap-up to complex shows about human relationships. I don’t think Matthew Weiner is that lazy or uninventive. This is the team that came up with the indoor lawnmower accident, after all.
But more to the point, if Dick Whitman dies in Korea, he can’t know about JKF’s death, or Dr. Martin Luther King’s 1968 speech, or any of the exacting time-period details so carefully laid out for us in seven seasons. His vision would be anachronistic, like in Jacob’s Ladder, or timeless. So no, he hasn’t been corporeally dead for twenty-plus years, even if he’s been psychically dead for a while.
Megan Draper gets killed by the Manson family—Weiner himself has come out publicly and said no, this doesn’t happen. (Much as some of us would like for her to be Sharon Tate, ahem.) It’s too tentative to say look, she wore a shirt that we’ve seen Sharon wear. Megan is going to wear the fashions of Hollywood, so honestly, this theory is not only ridiculous but uninteresting and weak.
Don dies—Well, we have watched him falling through the air before each and every episode. I give this theory a bit of support, if only because Dick/Don has been looking for freedom his whole life, and there’s a twisted way in which his newfound rootlessness is the impetus for letting everything go. But 90 percent of me disagrees because a person indebted to ending it all doesn’t check in with his daughter. He’s still searching in the second-to-last episode, which signals to me that he’ll still be around at the series’s end. Besides, he always lands on his feet at the end of the intro.
Six more days and we’ll have our finale. I can only hope it’s better than the sharp cut to black at the end of The Sopranos. Although I’m pretty sure the writers will leave us with just as many loose ends and characters we are unable to continue witnessing.