How will Mad Men end?

I’m an obsessive Mad Man fan. I’ve been there from the beginning and very quickly fell in love with the world and the characters Matthew Weiner (and company) has so brilliantly brought to life. In less than a month, we will see the beginning of the end for Mad Men, as AMC starts broadcasting the last season (unfortunately split over two years). What will happen to Don Draper, as well as Peggy, Joan, Roger, and the rest of the cast of characters? The old Chinese proverb “May you live in interesting times” comes to mind as I consider where the show has been ad is heading… and I have a few theories on the latter. Read on…

California bound

The first video clip promoting the new season has Don walking out of an airplane. Here it is:

Where is he going? What is he doing? I think he’s landing in – and moving to – California (a subplot last year dwelt with agencies heading West). After all, he doesn’t have a job at SCDP any more. My theory is that he’s looking to start a new agency. With him in charge. Probably called (simply enough) “Draper.” He’ll need money to do it, so he’ll call on some contacts… Roger, probably, as well as potentially other surprises from his past.

If he does get the backing, who will staff this agency? My theory is he’ll get the band back together… mostly the women. He’ll need Peggy to be his creative director, partially because he can read the tea leaves and sees how big the feminist movement is becoming, but mostly because… well, he needs her. She’s a huge part of his life, and I think he may finally understand that now. And he’ll recruit Joan for similar reasons (I think soon learn that she’ll have ample reasons to leave New York and start fresh in the new season). Other members, like Pete Campbell, may come along for the ride as well… Because Don is a very charismatic man who can sell ice to Eskimos.

If I’m right then, unfortunately, many of the characters we have grown to love will stay with SCDP… and so many of them will not be on the show in its final season. Don’t think that Weiner wouldn’t write off major characters, because he’s done it before. And changing the location to California also has some cost-savings measures – and cutting the number of cast members is a major one. And AMC has a history of aggressive cost-cutting on their shows…

Nixon, Vietnam and the decline of male power

When will the new series take place? I’m thinking it will be 1970 to 1974. The show HAS to end around or just after the events of Watergate, because that ground is too fertile to ignore. That the show will highlight the debate over the Vietnam war is a given if this is the case as well. I can see Nixon’s resignation being a big story point that could be a major part of the show’s end game. His resignation will reflect how the power of men – men like Don Draper – have their limits, and may have had their day.

The show has always had a subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) subtext around how men and women’s roles are changing… in the beginning of the series men worked, and women took care of the house and the kids. By 1970 to 1972 that will be upended by the societal change brought by the Age of Aquarius. Peggy will bring a very loud voice to this. If we don’t see her burning her bra before the series is over, I’ll be surprised.

In fact I’m almost 100% certain that one of the last scenes that we will ever see will be Peggy quitting Draper’s agency, because she will finally reach the point that she realizes that she doesn’t need Don… or any man, for that matter. In a way, I think we will look back and see Mad Men as being as much about Peggy’s journey as it was about Don’s. And, speaking of Don’s journey…

The falling man (AKA Don Draper)

Here’s my big theory: I think that Matthew Weiner is take the “Paradise Lost” route with Don, and the “falling man” in the credits will be revealed to us to be Draper – as Lucifer. No, he’s not going to LITERALLY fall from a skyscraper… he fell from Heaven, to rule in Hell (AKA California). He will be In Charge, which is where he has wanted to be all along… but in the end, that quest for power will leave him empty inside. He will forever be Don Draper… a hollow man who never ever really existed. Empty power, and no one to share it with.

In many ways, I see Don’s journey being very similar to Michael Corleone… When we left Michael at the end of The Godfather, Part II he was dead inside because he gave up everything to save everything. Don will end the same way, smoking a cigarette in an empty room, sitting on his couch with dead eyes and a vacant soul.

And the camera backs away and we see him, in profile, from behind… An image we’ve seen before.

Could I be wrong? Could it have a happy ending? Maybe, but I don’t think so. Mad Men is about manipulation and broken people, and one key subtext is about how we buy moments, things and people to try and make us less broken. There’s no way that it will end with “and they all lived happily ever after.”

Joseph Dickerson is a user experience professional and UX Lead for Microsoft based out of Atlanta, GA. He has implemented processes in user testing, design and ethnographic research and provided design and consulting services for many different projects and organizations.

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