Every week, Todd VanDerWerff will be joined by two of Vox's other writers to discuss the previous episode of Mad Men over the course of that week. Check out the recap for this episode here, and follow the whole discussion here. This week, Todd is joined by education reporter Libby Nelson and foreign policy writer Amanda Taub. Keep checking in all week long for new entries.
Todd VanDerWerff: First of all, Libby, Duck Phillips is an amazing heel, and I will not have you besmirching him. He's the perfect guy to bring Pete Campbell to a life of happiness in Wichita, Kansas, because he's so desperate to be respected (and so very bad at it, too).
But I also wanted to discuss something of great importance. I think I know how Mad Men ends.
Now, obviously, Matthew Weiner is going to outguess all of us. It's a fool's game to predict anything about this show. Everybody knows that. But in talking with Eileen Sutton, a colleague from our Vox Media sister publication Racked who first pointed this out to me, I've come to realize that Mad Men is coming up on a very famous anniversary in advertising history.
Let me explain.
I am of the firm belief that Don is going to head back to New York. Indeed, I suspect he's already decided to head that way again eventually at the end of "The Milk and Honey Route." I am also of the firm belief that he might believe he's done with advertising — and McCann might believe it's done with him — but neither will prove to be true. Just as Don has finally assembled all the pieces of his life into something like a coherent, whole human being, he'll be shattered again, because I think ultimately Weiner's cynicism will win out over his optimism when it comes to his main character.
There's also the matter of Don's children now needing him more than ever in the wake of their mother's death — and the matter of all of that money Don has been giving away all season long. I doubt he's anywhere close to destitute, but his cash flow problems have to be substantial at this point.
So I think Don is going to go back to New York. I think Don is going to go back to McCann. I think he is going to win back his job with a brilliant pitch for a McCann client. I think we're going to think we're on the verge of the Don Draper pitch to end all Don Draper pitches.
Picture it, if you will.
Don walks into the room with the client. Everything is on the line. His career. His family. His future. Everyone leans forward (including us). He smiles, launching into his pitch with something like "I'd like to talk to you about family," and then either the door to the room closes (shutting us out) or the screen fades to black.
And out of the blackness, we begin to hear perhaps the most famous ad of the 1970s.
Eileen first mentioned this idea to me a few weeks ago as where she thought things were headed, and it instantly became my favorite endgame theory, even as I found it implausible for various reasons. (For one thing, Mad Men does its best not to ape actual campaigns.)
But as the weeks have gone on, Eileen's theory (which I have embellished upon above) has stuck with me. It explains the season's obsession with Coca-Cola (which turns up even in this episode, in the form of the broken Coke machine). It explains the season's obsession with connection. And it explains the long, long wait we've had for a vintage Don Draper pitch. (By my count, we haven't gotten one since the sixth-season finale, which was the Hershey's pitch that lost Don his job.) Why shouldn't the last Don Draper pitch ever be one that gives us a famous ad that feels like it came out of a Don Draper pitch?
What I also love about Eileen's idea is that it has a baked-in, awful cynicism to it, laced with a childlike sweetness. That's an ad about world peace and people coming together in harmony — and it's being used to sell soda. It's the ultimate in commodification of powerful ideas by the wheels of commerce, and it's the ultimate in America's blithe belief that if it could just shut out the bad parts — or share a Coke — with the world, everything would be a little bit better.
Now, again, I don't quite expect this to happen. But if you asked me to lay down money on a theory, I'd take Eileen's. It's the only Mad Men ending theory I've heard in the past few years that made me actually want to see some version of it come to life.
What do you guys think? Is this off the wall? And don't let me distract you from the episode at hand!
Read the recap, and come back later today for thoughts from Amanda.