season finales

10 Theories About What Might Happen in Mad Men’s Mid-Season Finale

Jon Hamm as Don Draper and John Slattery as Roger Sterling - Mad Men _ Season 7, Episode 6- Photo Credit: Justina Mintz/AMC
Jenny Wade as Amy and Jon Hamm as Don Draper - Mad Men _ Season 7, Episode 5 - Photo Credit: Justina Mintz/AMC Photo: Justina Mintz/AMC

This year’s last Mad Men episode — the finale of season seven, part one — airs Sunday night on AMC. In the days leading up to that momentous Memorial Day weekend event, Mad Men fans will do what they always do on such occasions: spend ludicrous amounts of time speculating about what will happen in that pseudo-finale, even though they know all their theories will be rendered moot come Sunday at 11:10 p.m. Because … eh, what else are you gonna do?

We at Vulture will help fuel this absurd plot-prediction process by offering a list of 10 theories about what might happen on Sunday’s Mad Men. In order to compile this list, we’ve used all the tools at our disposal. Those tools include:

  • The official AMC promo for the episode, which is chock full of information. (Just kidding: It’s just a bunch of scenes from previous episodes that tell us nothing!)
  • The summary of the episode, called “Waterloo” (uh-oh). It states: “Don is troubled by a letter; Peggy may seek a new future on a risky venture; Roger receives a phone call; Pete and Cutler butt heads.” So it tells us something, and yet, at the same time, also nothing.
  • Random crackpot ideas from the internet.
  • Random crackpot ideas that percolated in our brain after one too many shots of rum from Lou Avery’s office tiki bar.

Now, in no particular order, here’s the list of theories, some of which are credible and some of which are flat-out cuckoo. But let’s be honest: If anyone had told you before the season-six finale that Pete Campbell’s mother would go on a cruise with Manolo and fall off the ship to her death, would you have believed it?

Theory 1: Don gets a letter that says the Department of Defense is investigating him for posing as Don Draper and deserting his military post.

As the helpful DVR description of “Waterloo” notes, Don will be “troubled by a letter,” a statement that sparked a flashback to the season-four episode “Hands and Knees,” when DOD officials questioned Betty as part of a background check on Don. (“Do you have any reason to believe Mr. Draper isn’t who he says he is?” one of the G-Men asked.)

That background check happened because Pete had finally landed North American Aviation as a client, and also because Megan, then Don’s secretary, unwittingly filled out a government form on Don’s behalf without sufficiently flailing her arms and screaming so Don would know he shouldn’t sign it. Pete took a bullet for Don, squashing the $4 million account in order to eliminate the possibility that Don would be investigated. But somewhere, in some government office, that form peppered with Don Draper red flags is still sitting there. Perhaps its information has even been sucked into a database housed in one of those dreadful computers Harry Crane loves so much. And perhaps it could resurface, especially if Betty gets background-checked as part of Henry’s attempt to become New York’s Attorney General. (Betty mentioned Henry might pursue that job in episode three of this season, “Field Trip.”)

Theory 2: The finale will focus in part on the Stonewall Riots, in which Bob Benson will be involved.

Mad Men Redditors have been speculating in various threads about which 1969 events will be featured in upcoming Mad Men episodes. One possibility for this week: the Stonewall Riots, which kick-started the American gay-rights movement.

The police raid of the Stonewall Inn, a Greenwich Village gay bar where patrons fought back against the cops’ intrusion, took place on June 28, 1969. Based on the fact that it was early June in last week’s episode — Peggy noted she had turned 30 two weeks earlier, and we know her birthday is May 25, the night of the Ali/Liston fight in “The Suitcase” — that makes Stonewall a real possibility as a backdrop. The fact that Bill from Chevy got arrested in “The Strategy” for trying to fellate an undercover cop may even have foreshadowed it as a plot point. So perhaps during that summer of ’69 melee, Bob Benson will be among those arrested, revealing his true identity to the wider world and wrecking his future at Buick. That would dovetail nicely with Theory No. 1, in which Don’s identity also threatens to be revealed. (One Reddit commenter has an even better Stonewall idea: “In my dream scenario, Bob and Sal meet at the Stonewall, come out unscathed and AMC produces a sitcom spin off.”)

Theory 3: The ‘Don Is D.B. Cooper Theory’ will come to fruition.

By now, Mad Men obsessives are well aware of the Don/D.B. Cooper theory that has been circulating online for a while. It’s summarized thoroughly in this Medium piece, as well as in this Slate interview with Geoffrey Grey, author of a book about Cooper. (It has also been roundly mocked, which is not an inappropriate reaction.) The gist: Mad Men will end with Don revealing himself to be D.B. Cooper, a well-dressed man who hijacked a Northwest Orient Airlines flight in 1971, then jumped out of the plane and, depending on whom you believe, disappeared or died … but only after smoking a cigarette, drinking a couple of bourbons, and charming some flight attendants first. It’s a tantalizing theory, one bolstered by that purposely vague AMC promo, which shows Don on an airplane and declares, “It’s all up in the air.” The problem is that a D.B. Cooper reveal seems more likely to happen, if it happens at all, in the series finale, not the middle-of-season-seven finale. Or, you know, not at all.

Theory 4: Megan dies.

Show of hands: Who is sick as all hell of hearing rambling dissertations about how Megan Draper is going to die because she once wore Sharon Tate’s T-shirt on a balcony? Wow, that’s a lot of raised hands. (And yes. I know. There are other similarities between Megan and Sharon Tate apart from that white T-shirt with the red star.)

It’s clear that the marriage between Megan and Don is going nowhere. She took the fondue pot in last week’s episode, for God’s sake, which is classic “I am never coming back” behavior. Plus, as many tweeters, Facebookers, and assorted other internet commenters have pointed out, it was hard to ignore the way the camera panned in that closing montage from Megan, on the flight back to L.A., to that flight attendant swishing those black curtains closed. Subtext: It’s curtains for Megan. Which could mean that she’ll die in “Waterloo,” proving the Tate theories correct, especially if the Mad Men timeline fast-forwards to August of ’69, the same month when the model/actress was killed in the Manson Family murders. Or it could simply mean that it’s curtains for Megan’s relationship with Don. Or, or: It could just mean that Phil Abraham, who directed “The Strategy,” thought curtains would make a nice scene-to-scene transition.

Theory 5: Season seven, part one will culminate in a power struggle at SC&P.

There also has been some chatter on Reddit and other corners of the web about the potential for a power struggle among the agency’s partners, especially now that Harry Crane’s joining their ranks. Cutler has clearly been using his wiles to try to stage a coup that would give the Cutler, Gleason & Chaough faction of SC&P the upper hand. Gaining that upper hand seems synonymous with getting rid of Don, for good this time.

How might that be achieved? If Don gets caught violating one of the ultra-strict rules he agreed to obey when he returned to the office. Consider this scenario: “Waterloo” opens with Don and Peggy making their Burger Chef pitch, the beautiful one Peggy came up with about how every table here is the family table. The Burger Chef people love it. Everyone’s happy … except Lou, who didn’t approve that pitch. He accuses Don of “going off-script” during a presentation, which is something he was specifically told he’s not allowed to do. Lou runs to Cutler, screaming grounds for dismissal, and Lou sees a chance to go for the Draper jugular. The other partners — which now include seven people, minus Don — have to decide what to do. (This is the part where the “Pete and Cutler butt heads” portion of the episode summary comes into play.) Pete would be on Don’s side, fully aware that the whole reason Don led the presentation was because Pete insisted on it. Cutler would be anti-Don. But what about Joan, Ted, Cooper, and the newly anointed Harry? Would they fight for Don? We know Roger would, but what if Roger has to miss the important Don-decision-making meeting to deal with a personal matter? Let’s go right to theory six.

Theory 6: Roger has to deal with a family issue.

The “Waterloo” episode description — which is really becoming more informative by the millisecond — says that Roger will receive a phone call, which sounds about as revelatory as announcing, “Roger will brush his teeth.” But come, let’s imagine together what kind of phone call Roger might receive that would be important enough to merit notice in a DVR description of a Mad Men episode. It could be something business-related; maybe Jim Hobart from McCann will give him a ringy-ding so they can continue their vague sauna conversation about Buick. I’m thinking it’s more likely that family will reenter the picture for Roger. Maybe Margaret will call from her hippie commune, finally tearfully begging Daddy to come and get her. Worse: Maybe a health issue will strike Mona, forcing Roger to retrieve Margaret so she can visit her mother in the hospital. In either of these wildly hypothetical scenarios, Roger would be called away from SC&P suddenly, perhaps at a critical moment when Don needs his support more than ever.

Theory 7: The Burger Chef failure/McCann merger theory

This is a variation on theories five and six, proffered by Dustin Rowles at Uproxx, who also sees the potential for conflict within the SC&P family but sees McCann as a potentially key player in the outcome. He suggests that Lou could force Don and Peggy to go with their original, gender-stereotyped Burger Chef ad pitch, which fails with the client and adds fuel to the animosity between Lou/Cutler and Peggy/Don/Roger. That frustration, in turn, could lead Roger to want to team with McCann, the same way that the merger between SCDP and CGC went down. “There’s always the possibility that McCann Erickson becomes McCann Erickson Draper and Sterling in the second half of the final season,” Rowles writes. “Pete and Joan come along in accounts, and Harry presumably stays behind with Cutler, Chaugh [sic], and the goddamn supercomputer.” I don’t know … maybe?

Theory 8: Peggy gets a job offer from Leo Burnett.

So Peggy may “seek a new future on a risky venture,” huh? What more appropriate venture could there be for Peggy than a move to Chicago, to work for the ad agency responsible for the “You’ve come a long way, baby” Virginia Slims campaign?

After having danced happily with Don in last week’s episode, Matthew Weiner and Co. could decide that it’s time to push Peggy out the door again to her next opportunity. She noodled around with some Virginia Slims concepts back in the season-five finale, when she had just joined Cutler, Gleason and Chaough. (“You’re a woman and you smoke,” Ted told Peggy when he tossed her a box of Philip Morris’s then-still-“top-secret” ladies’ cigarettes and asked her to come up with some ideas. “What do you want?” Those words were echoed in last week’s episode when Don said to Peggy: “You can’t tell people that they want. It has to be what you want.”)

When season six resumed, Peggy was mired in a Super Bowl headphone crisis and, presumably, as in real life, Leo Burnett had by then picked up the Virginia Slims business. But now, with Philip Morris still feeling cagey about working with Don, how totally perfect would it be for the tobacco giant, via the Leo Burnett agency, to want to work with Peggy on a brand that’s so female-forward? Extra-extra perfect, considering that Leo Burnett’s Draper Daniels served as partial inspiration for the Don Draper character.

Yeah. I like this plot prediction, which probably won’t turn out to be true. Nevertheless: I like it a lot.

Theory 9: The pregnant Megan/July 3 theory

Let’s say Mad Men leaps ahead time-wise to July. Let’s also say that Don actually does board a plane, though not with plans to hijack it, D.B. Cooper–style. In “Waterloo,” he will fly to L.A. to spend the July 4 weekend with Megan.

During that visit, a few of the moments from Don’s hashish-induced California-party haze in season six will manifest in real life. Megan, now indeed living in L.A., as she told Don during his surreal dream state, will reveal she’s — dum dum DUMM — also pregnant, as she was in Don’s vision. The episode will end with Don gazing at a swimming pool not unlike the one Roger yanked him out of at the same hashish party and contemplating his future on Fourth of July Eve, 1969, the same day that the Rolling Stones’s Brian Jones (remember when Don and Harry failed to attract the attention of the Rolling Stones?) was found dead in a swimming pool.* Cut to the closing credits, and the sound of the Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” which was released as a B-side to “Honky Tonk Woman” in July of 1969.

Theory 10: Don visits Ginsberg in the hospital and they watch the moon landing together.

More fun with 1969 history: the Apollo moon landing also happened in July of 1969, but later in the month. The season-seven half-finale could easily flash to that point, perhaps with Ginsberg, still minus a nip and still hospitalized, but getting better, and Don watching it together after Don pays Michael a visit. There’s something touching about imagining these two secretive, über-creative guys, both so fearful of the future and its mind-altering technology, witnessing a giant step for mankind together.

* This post previously stated the Brian Jones was the drummer for The Rolling Stones.

10 Theories About Mad Men’s Mid-Season Finale