Arts & Culture · Film & Television

‘Mad Men’: Does Don Deserve to Die?

mad-men-season7-08Mad Men, the final half-season, airs on AMC.

Be still, my heart! There are only two episodes left of Mad Men.

Like so many other “Maddicts,” I’m facing the end of the series—or, as AMC has put it, “the end of an era”—with conflicted feelings. I can’t wait to see what happens, but each week in this year’s half-a-season finale brings me closer to the end of something I’ve loved for years. The biggest question on all our minds is . . .

What will happen to Don Draper?

There are plenty of theories.

Viewers have predicted his death, citing “clues” from every season. These range from the falling man in the opening credits to Don’s reading The Inferno on vacation in Hawaii. In these final episodes, there are even more. There have been poignant good-bye scenes with the Draper children. Don met (and bedded, naturally) Diana, a mysterious Angel of Death character. The agency, we learned this week, is being absorbed into McCann-Erickson. Don’s made peace with Betty and Peggy. He settled his affairs with Megan—to the tune of one million dollars. And, thanks to his vengeful ex-mother-in-law, he’s living in an empty apartment.

Don’s Realtor warned him that the apartment looked like a sad place. “But there were happy times too,” Don insisted, a bit too emphatically.

Oh, did I mention it’s the penthouse? With a roof deck? And we’re back where we started.

There are definitely those who think Don deserves to die. In fact, the stolen identity he’s lived with for decades is that of a dead man, so in some ways it feels like appropriate, if not overdue, closure. I’ve read more than one post online (invariably by women) volunteering to push him out that high-rise window.

Whether you buy into the “Don Must Die” theory or not, the final seasons have certainly been about loss and leaving. A highlight from last spring’s mid-season finale was Bert Cooper’s musical farewell, singing to Don, with a chorus of office girls, “The best things in life are free.” More recently, Sally left for her teen trip, and still-creepy Glen went off to Vietnam.

The most complex theory is that Don Draper will prove to be a real-life figure named Dan Cooper. In 1971, Cooper skyjacked a plane for a $200,000 ransom. He parachuted out over Oregon. He was never caught, and to this day the FBI’s case remains open. Besides the similarities in the name (and the actual name Cooper’s being used by another character), witnesses described a man of Don’s age and height. Don had military training and might have known how to use a parachute. Before slipping his bomb threat/ransom note to a flight attendant, Cooper ordered a bourbon and soda and smoked a cigarette. Who else drinks and smokes that much?

Wait a minute, I guess that would apply to pretty much all the men on the show and most of the women too.

Regardless—and, what’s perhaps most important—we know that Don—or, more accurately, Dick Whitman—understands the benefits of starting over as someone else.

I’m in the “let Don live” camp myself. Over the past several years, Don has been the anti-hero’s anti-hero. Yet he’s somehow also (and often) the moral compass of the show. He doesn’t deserve a happy ending, but I can’t help but wish for one for him.

But, happy or not, I just hope we get the satisfaction of some sort of definitive denouement.

Mad Men is often compared to the saga of another charismatic anti-hero, HBO’s Tony Soprano. After six seasons, The Sopranos, for which Mad Men’s Matt Weiner was a contributing writer, wrapped up with a much talked about non-finish. (Spoiler alert, ladies.) The family sat down for a casual meal in a neighborhood restaurant, where they were gunned down. Or Tony was arrested. Or they ordered burgers and nothing happened whatsoever. The thing was, once Tony, Carmela and their two children settled in to order, the screen simply went black. It seemed as though half the show’s fans were irate about the ambiguous ending and half (including me) loved it.

Start the conversation

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.