For seven seasons now, Mad Men has delighted us with its portrayal of the everyday workings of Madison Avenue in the 1960s, shining a sumptuously lampshaded light on the drinking, smoking, shagging, sexism and racism of a bygone era. We’ve seen Don Draper go from the toast of the town in a world where the white man is king to being an underling, bossed around by the woman who was once his secretary.
Re-watching the pilot episode with my Mum (anything to wean her off Holby fucking City), I was struck by how no one could have predicted the situation these characters would be in seven seasons later. Mad Men has a reputation for being unpredictable, and showrunner Matthew Weiner is notoriously secretive about what he has in store for Don, Pegs, Bets, Pete, Cooper, Sterling and Joanie.
With the end now in sight, speculation is rife about how the show will end, and I for one am stumped. Perhaps we could take some cues from other famous series finales to predict how Mad Men will finally play out?
(Spoilers below, obviously)
Six Feet Under
What was it? The show about the most miserable funeral-directing family in California.
How it ended: As Claire drives away from all that death to start a new life in New York, we flash forward to discover how each of the main characters die - accompanied by Sia’s ‘Breathe Me’.
Could Mad Men do the same? Certainly. Mad Men has always played around with time and structure, so this kind of ending wouldn’t come from out of the blue, tone-wise. They’re also experts at re-creating the mise en scène of yesteryear, so flashing forward to the 70s, 80s, 90s and present day shouldn’t be too much trouble.
So, how does it end? In a montage set to The Beatles’ ‘The End’, we find out Roger throws himself off of the Empire State building in an LSD-induced haze; Joan is gunned down in her apartment by post-Vietnam PTSD ridden ex-husband Greg; Pete perishes from skin cancer caused by years in the LA sun; Betty falls off the diet wagon, balloons to 350lbs and dies of a heart attack; Don chokes to death on a whiskey bottle cap while hammered; and Peggy dies of a stroke at her desk aged 102, sole surviving partner of SCDP (Sterling Cooper Draper Peggy).
What was it? The saga of conflicted mafia boss Tony Soprano and his dysfunctional family.
How it ended: Tony Soprano goes to a diner with his family, surrounded by various shifty characters who may or may not be about to kill him. Just when we think he’s about to get whacked, we suddenly cut to black. Sopranos fans remain furious about the ambiguity to this day.
Could Mad Men do the same? Maybe. Don has a lot of enemies, and physical violence isn’t unheard of on Mad Men. Also, showrunner Matthew Weiner got his start writing on The Sopranos and there’s a lot of that show’s DNA in this one.
So, how does it end? After swooping in and wrestling the Tampax account away from Peggy by way of an inspired pitch about a Tampon being something beautiful you can truly own, Don is once again elevated to partner status and forces Peggy out of the agency. He goes for a celebratory dinner with Sally, Sally’s boarding school girlfriend, and Megan, who begrudgingly tags along. As they enjoy their meal, we spy Peggy in the background; she gets up to approach Don and we cut to black. Fans are left to furiously determine whether she was going to shoot him in the face or simply make a snotty passive-aggressive remark; the internet implodes.
What was it? the gritty and groundbreaking ‘80s hospital drama.
How it ended: Hospital chief Donald Westphall returns to his office to see his autistic son Tommy staring out of the window at the falling snow; suddenly we cut to an apartment, where Donald is now a construction worker and Tommy is staring at a snowglobe with a replica of the hospital inside, leading us to believe that the whole thing actually took place inside the mind of an autistic boy.
Could Mad Men do the same? I think it would be more surprising if it turned out that Mad Men actually happened exactly as we saw it. Think about all those dream sequences, drug-induced hallucinations and time-jumps backwards and forwards. Definitely sounds like a wild fantasy to me.
So, how does it end? Don pours himself a whiskey and looks out at the falling snow outside his office. We cut to Don as a small child in the 30s, sitting on the porch of the whorehouse where he grew up. He’s looking at a snowglobe given to him by Peggy, who’s now a feisty prostitute, while Betty is now the sour Stepmum that hates him. Turns out the whole show was just the fantasy of a dirt-poor whore-child; fans feel cheated.
What is it? The BBC’s flagship cockney misery-delivery vessel.
How It Ended: By Christ, it’s still on TV?!
Could Mad Men do the same? No. Mad Men should go out on a high and not outstay its welcome.
So, how does it end? Oh, I don’t fucking know. Probably just with Don sitting in his office staring into space, as per.
Follow Thomas on Twitter, @ThomasDearnley