With MAD MEN coming to a series finale sometime in 2015, we’ve got plenty of time to speculate on how it might end. Will it end at 11:59 pm on December 31, 1969? Will there be another “watershed” moment like the passing of Burt Cooper? Or will the characters just go on with their lives, with the ending not really being an ending at all, but just another day that ends with a black frame in the middle of a senten…?
Just for fun I came up with five possible (but not very likely) endings to the final episode of MAD MEN. I say not very likely because I’m going to give the MAD MEN writers more credit than this article anticipates. These are just kind of silly, fun, just-for-the-hell of it ideas. I have a feeling the real finale is going to be incredible. Until then…
Let’s assume that Season 7-B kicks off not long after the final scene of the mid-season finale: SC&P has been purchased by McCann, Cutler is gone, Chaough is back, Buick is the newest big boy in town and things are running smoothly with Don at the creative helm while Roger learns what it’s like to actually lead a group of crazies.
Let’s also assume that although they are now millionaires, Pete and Joan stay on at the agency (seems practical).
1. Life Can Turn on a Dime
The episode starts out with the characters doing their usual bickering, lying, cheating, whining…and collaborating. There’s a huge pitch that will define the future of the agency…maybe IBM, or even NASA. Roger puts the whole thing together and gambles the entire company on this pitch…if they get it, they’re guaranteed 10 years of high-profile, high-income work. If they fail, for some reason or another they will lose Buick, and the company will not only destroy itself, it will cut McCann off at the knees.
Don, along with Peggy, is confident they have nothing to fear. The ideas are great, and they’ve got that cool new computer to help things along. Then, similar to the mid-season finale, death strikes at the last minute. This time it’s Roger, finally succumbing to too much booze and oysters. He has a heart attack on his way to the jet, and without him the deal is off. SC&P, embroiled in whatever scandal has been created, folds like a cheap suit, McCann loses its shirt, and everyone loses their jobs and respect in the industry. The partners are ok, because they’ve raked in all that cash from the sale, but people like Peggy and Harry are stuck with their bills, unable to get work anywhere in NYC because of the “scandal”. Don is also affected by this…he knows he’ll never work in advertising again, so, as he’s done in the past, he packs up, says screw you to every one around him, and reinvents himself.
Fast forward to 1975: Don sitting behind a desk, wearing a leisure suit and sporting long sideburns and a bushy mustache. Behind him is a blown-up cover of a men’s magazine (like, but not quite, Playboy; we can’t see the name). A voice sizzles across an intercom: “Mr. Whitman, there’s a Ms. Olson here to see you about the journalist position.”
He smiles. “Send her in,” he says in typical Don fashion, as the camera pans out to show his office is actually huge, with wall-to-ceiling windows overlooking The Valley, back in CAL.
2. Don Causes Yet Another Suicide – and the meaning of the introduction is revealed
Everyone knows Ted Chaough is not a happy man. Whether it was his involvement with Peggy, a mid-life crisis, or just plain boredom, Ted is ready to check out of advertising for good when he’s manhandled back into it by good ole’ Don Draper.
Wealthy but unhappy, and forced to work with Peggy once again, Ted begins to spiral way down while Don becomes more and more successful, more popular than ever, and the obvious choice as best creative director in the business. He forces Ted to do some dirty work on Buick, and even forces him to go on the pitch…but Ted has had enough. He misses the pitch, causing fires that Don has a hard time putting out. He tries to resume his affair with Peggy and gets caught by his wife; possibly the millions he made on the sale of the agency is squandered in bad investments. Penniless and alone, he goes to Don for help…to release him from the agency with a company loan, maybe the exact same amount Lane needed? But Don refuses…Don needs him to retain Buick, and tells Ted if doesn’t get in gear, he won’t see another penny. This is the “Don doesn’t learn” part of the episode.
Later, Don needs to go to his (Lane’s) old office to get something…sees the METS pennant and is reminded of what he’s done…but it’s too late. He rushes to Chaough’s office, only to find the window open with Ted perched on the edge…before Don can stop him he jumps, with briefcase in hand…down 30 stories. We follow him down, and as he falls the intro music swells and the background turns into the graphics from the introduction. It’s Ted that’s been falling all along, now finally for one last time. Cut to Don sitting in his office, smoking, arm draped over back of sofa, screams and sobs in the background. Cut to black.
3. The Late 1960s-Style Everything Sucks Ending
The final show is filmed very much in the style of “The Midnight Cowboy”. Very gritty, dark, realistic. Lots of outdoor shots of NYC at the time. Trash everywhere. Dirty cabs. Hookers. Grime. Something during the last half of the season has brought Don to a bad part of life and a bad part of town. He’s alone, as he has lost all contact with Megan, his kids, pretty much anyone who ever meant anything to him. He’s walkin’ here…it’s winter, hands stuffed in overcoat pockets, shoulders shrugged up to warm his face. He enters an abandoned building. Ginsburg is there, huddled over a can of Sterno, heating up some soup. He’s dirty, shaking, obviously insane. “I know you. How did you find me?” Ginsburg asks. “A friend of Peggy,” is Don’s only answer. Don tells him he wants to help him. If he wants work, he’ll give him work. If he needs to go to a hospital, Don will pay. He convinces Ginsburg to come with him. He wants to help him…to save him, because there’s no one else in his life that wants his charity.
They go out on the street together; Ginsburg sees an ad for an IBM computer on a bus stop, and hallucinates Don is a robot about to laser him. He screams, pulls a knife, stabs Don in the chest. Don looks surprised and confused, but not angry. As he falls to the ground with the knife (ironically a Korean war-era military knife), he sees a billboard that he designed: Puffy white clouds, a man with a harp, the slogan: “Florsheim Shoes: One Step Closer To Heaven”. Fade to white.
4. The Disappearing Act, Take One
It’s New Year’s Eve, 1970. There are a lot of clocks in the episode, for, you know, symbolism. There is a feeling of some kind of “count down” other than just the obvious. Things are going great for Don, for the agency. Peggy has actually surpassed him in terms of gaining new business and coming up with award-winning ideas. He is proud of her.
At some point he is reminded of Burt’s farewell song, “The Best Things in Life are Free”. Now a multi-millionaire, and knowing he is becoming outdated in this modern world, he decides a major change is needed. He talks with Roger only, tells him to promote Peggy to Creative Director and partner, and says goodbye. Roger is the only one who knows what he is doing.
As the countdown to midnight begins, we see Don meet up with a stranger.
“We got the fifty thousand,” the stranger says. “It’s good to know my wife and kids will be set for life, thanks again.”
“Just two people helping each other,” Don says, and they drive off together in the Cadillac. “Are you sure you want to do this?”
“The cancer will take me in a few months anyway. It’s better for my family this way.”
In a rural area of upstate New York, the stranger swallows a bottle of sleeping pills and downs them with whiskey. After he passes out, Don puts him in the driver’s seat, puts his own wallet in his pocket, soaks him down with the rest of the liquor and pushes the car off the side of a mountain. Flames…and Don Draper is, for all purposes, dead, burned beyond recognition. Don walks along the deserted road until he comes to a roadside diner. He orders a coffee. The waitress asks his name. “Dick,” he says then looks straight at the camera, “Dick Whitman.”
5. The Disappearing Act, Take Two
It’s New Year’s Eve, 1970. There are a lot of clocks in the episode, for, you know, symbolism. There is a feeling of some kind of “count down” other than just the obvious. Things have fallen apart very quickly for Don. Megan decides she wants everything he has, and he is about to lose almost everything in the divorce. He has run out of creative ideas and is being trampled by people who McCann has inserted into the company. Roger has lost all interest, and all control of the company, deciding to live out his days as a playboy. Ted is threatening to sue, because he was harassed into staying on for five years; Don starts drinking again, disgusting Peggy, his only real friend left. On top of that, the agency has become the laughing stock of the industry for attempting to push Don’s 10-year-old, outdated and lackluster ad campaigns, as opposed to using the more modern and interesting campaigns that Peggy and Ted wanted to use.
Don knows it’s over. The agency is about to crash and burn. His talents are outdated, no matter how hard he tries. He is farther than ever from his kids, and he’s about to hand over millions to Megan, who has become vindictive and mean.
Then Megan (you’re going to love this) is murdered while at a party in an actress’ house in LA (Had to throw that in), by what appears to be a hippy cult that includes Roger’s daughter Margaret, and Dick Whitman’s niece, Stephanie. When caught, Margaret (AKA Marigold) starts rambling in a heroin-induced rant that Don and her father told them to carry out the murders. Don is momentarily implicated, and it looks like he may be arrested at any moment.
He’s had enough. On his lunch hour he goes to the bank and withdrawals his entire fortune…let’s say, ten million? In cash…puts it in a briefcase, gets in his 1969 Cadillac Eldorado, and just takes off. No good byes, no explanations. From the back, we watch the Cadillac driving out of New York, through fields of corn and wheat, over mountains, through California. Then we see the back of an airplane over the Pacific in the same way.
Cut to Don, sitting on the lanai of a beach house in Hawaii, a little older, a little wiser. He is alone, sipping a cocktail and looking out over the ocean. A large carved Tiki stands next to him. Bee Gees music plays faintly in the background. A beautiful young blonde with a deep tan and a very skimpy bikini comes up behind him, hugs him. “I’m going for a swim baby, want to come?” “Maybe later,” he replies, “I’ve got an idea for something.” She laughs. “For a retired millionaire, you sure do spend a lot of time “working” (yes, she uses air quotes). The camera follows her as she runs down to the beach, loses the top and jumps in the ocean, then pans down to Don’s lap, where he has a sketch pad and pencil. On it is a quick sketch of the beach, and a pair of sandals. “Your Jumping Off Point” is scrawled across the top. Suddenly Don jumps up, runs to the water, tosses off his shirt and shoes and jumps in with the beautiful girl. A disco version of “The Best Things In Life Are Free” comes up, and we see Don and his new “Betty” frolicking in the waves as the credits run.
Well, those are a few ways it might end. It might also end with the entire cast doing “I Believe in You” from “How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying”. Who knows. We do know this: However it ends, Mathew Weiner will make sure it’s great.