Five theories about Mad Men

Colin Horgan on who is predicting what about the end of this season

Mad Men, Season 6: What is happening?

Surrounding what has become the darkest season of Mad Men yet are the dark theories about how it might end. Ever since Season 6 opened with a quick shot of a man being resuscitated—followed soon after by Don Draper’s frequent references to death (“How do you get to heaven?” he asked those Sheraton execs after checking out the Royal Hawaiian. “Something terrible has to happen.”)— the Internet’s been abuzz, looking for any and all signs that might hint at another Lane Pryce-like exit from the show, and who’s been marked for such a grim departure.

Of course, perhaps nobody will die literally, and instead we’ll watch the newly named Sterling Cooper & Partners kill itself from the inside (before it dies along with the Chevrolet Vega).

With only three episodes left, here’s a quick rundown of the more interesting of the web theories on the future of Mad Men:

Theory One: Megan Draper is a Sharon Tate stand-in

Megan's T-shirt? 'No coincidence.'

Though most viewers will probably realize that for Mad Men to play out a direct recreation of the Sharon Tate murder (via the Manson Family), a lot about the show would have to change — namely, its setting. But the theory that Megan might be living out a Tate-like existence and, therefore, perhaps tilting toward a Tate-like death all the same, were put together a couple of weeks ago at, where Dustin Rowles spelled out all the similarities. It started with a T-shirt Megan was wearing – white with a red star – that was eerily similar to one Tate wore for an Esquire shoot in 1967. That connection wasn’t a mistake, according to a tweet from one of the designers for Mad Men, who simply said it was “no coincidence!”

In a subsequent interview with Esquire, Jessica Paré (the Canadian-born actress who plays Megan) said she was sure show creator Matt Weiner spoke already to the theory that Megan would be murdered, but nobody seems to know when he did that. Clever distraction ploy or honest mistake? The Tate theory has been strengthened of late by a few things. First, Sally Draper is seen at one point in episode 7 reading Rosemary’s Baby, the film version of which was directed by Roman Polanski, who was married to Tate when she was murdered. Then, in episode 9, when Don is high at a Hollywood Hills party, he has a vision of Megan who tells him she’s pregnant and it’s time for a “second chance.” Tate was eight-and-a-half months pregnant when she was murdered.

In his post, Rowles makes note of the fact that Tate starred in Valley of the Dolls, the film version of Jacqueline Susann’s 1966 breakout novel, but goes no further. Interestingly, Megan has followed a similar path as Anne, one of Susann’s primary characters in the book, who comes to New York City a rather wide-eyed young naif, but eventually lands the spot as the national face of Gillian Cosmetics. After a rough marriage to the man of her dreams (who carries on his own infidelities as they go), she slips into a life of sleeping pill addiction. Perhaps this is a more likely ending for Megan – a dependence on Don morphing into one that’s a bit more clinical.

Theory Two: Betty Draper dies

This one comes from Esquire’s Jen Chaney, and – in keeping with Weiner’s potential for sleight of hand – figures that perhaps Megan is safe but it’s the former Mrs. Draper who’ll be saying goodbye. Chaney hinges her theory on a few things: That Betty and Don have had a (final?) reunion, which she says “seemed to bring closure to that relationship;” that the “second chance” Megan was talking about in Don’s drug fantasy could be a suggestion not just of a new baby, but being a father again to his current children; and that Paré actually suggested in the Esquire interview that there had been a resolution to the Don-Betty story, before then immediately noting “if indeed it is.”

It’s possible, with all the talk of Betty’s new husband, Henry Francis, being out in the violent streets of New York City with the mayor and gearing up to run on his own (not to mention the looming Robert Kennedy assassination) that perhaps Francis will be targeted. Is it crazy to think that, if such a scenario were to unfold, Betty could be caught in the middle? That she might fall victim to manslaughter rather than murder?

Theory three: Bob Benson is up to something

The show’s newest standout is Bob Benson, the ever-smiling helping hand from upstairs, who seems intent on brown-nosing just about everyone at SC&P, most notably Joan and Pete. But what’s Benson’s real story? What’s he doing there? What does he want?

One theory, sprouted on reddit, is that he’s an FBI agent, with the justification being that, since Dow Chemical is client of SC&P, the feds might have sent in a man to keep an eye on things. And remember when Sterling Cooper almost got that account with the Defense Department? At Vulture, Lindsey Weber expands on the possibilities, suggesting he could be anything from Don’s long lost son (was that tryst with the prostitute when Don was a young man produce a child?), to an investigative journalist.

The best writing on Benson has come from Slate, where Paul Ford posited this past week that perhaps Benson is merely a foil. He writes:

“My bet is that the joke is on us, that there is no great reveal. Bob Benson is a way for the writers to show us how, in the world of Mad Men, the very qualities that define a real go-getting American businessman, here, in this office, with these people, look like vile perversion. To propose that Bob Benson is a spy is, frankly, to dance on Dutch Reagan’s grave. If you suspect Bob, you suspect the backbone of American commerce. If you suspect Bob, you suspect opportunity itself.” 

Weiner talked to The Wrap about Benson, but in usual style, didn’t give much away, saying “I’m not going to comment on whether or not he’s a government spy, but James [Wolk] is a great actor, and he is definitely mysterious. And that’s deliberate.”

Theory four: Pete Campbell is going off the deep end

In season 5, everyone was convinced for most of the year that it would be Pete Campbell who might eventually commit suicide, replicating (finally) that image in the introduction montage of a man falling past skyscrapers (assuming, of course, that’s not just a metaphor). In the end, though, it was Lane who hanged himself in his office, and Pete survived to become the bawdy, broody man-child of season 6.

This has been a tough season for Pete (though perhaps somewhat deserved). He’s left his wife after flying a little too close to the sun with all that infidelity stuff (sleeping with a married woman from a nearby home in their quiet suburban neighbourhood, effectively bringing everything right to Trudy’s doorstep), he lost one of his biggest accounts (Vick’s), again, after entertaining some extra-marital sex and running into his father-in-law at the brothel. Now, Joan has usurped his position at the company, he’s been handed the job of being head of new business (“I don’t want that!” he replies) and, finally, abruptly informed by Don that if he didn’t like the firm’s name change “maybe it’s time to get out of the business.” He was also denied when he went looking for Duck Phillips to find him a new job – he seemed too desperate, apparently. And fair enough; he is. We last left him sitting in with creative, smoking a joint and looking altogether like he’d had just about enough.

It’s unlikely Weiner would be so uncouth as to have Pete wander one day with a gun and shoot up the joint, or even jump from a window, but is there a more subtle way Campbell can have his vengeance on SC&P?

Theory five: Michael Ginsberg is schizophrenic

This comes from Flavorwire as an “additional talking point” at the end of Judy Berman’s recap of episode 9. She notes that during his argument with Jim Cutler over Vietnam (wherein he suggests Cutler might be a fascist), he pointed to his head and said “I can’t turn off the transmissions to do harm.” Does that point to him being a schizophrenic? Tough to say, really. It’s still too early for the CIA’s MKUltra program to have been revealed, but certainly by the late 60s there were already plenty of theories around about U.S. government mind-control experiments. There’s every chance he’s simply spouting popular theories, rather than demonstrating a serious mental health issue.

After all, Ginsberg has never necessarily been a calm and collected individual, thrown off easily by the smallest of changes in his immediate surroundings – remember when he went on that date his dad set up for him? And how do we read his breakdown in the office prior to going on a sales pitch to Manischewitz – the one Benson was able to talk him out of? Was that a cry for help from a man with a mental illness, or is Ginsberg just a bag of anxieties, some of which are related to a greater socio-political narrative?

Colin Horgan is a frequent contributor to Maclean’s. 

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