All the Signs That Don Draper Will Die on ‘Mad Men’
Two new theories that ‘Mad Men’ will end with the ad man’s death popped up in Sunday’s season premiere. Add ‘em to the list.
The final season of Mad Men has begun, which means it’s time to obsess over how the final season of Mad Men will end. (We’re not ones to bask in the moment, are we?) Sunday night’s Season 7 premiere unveiled “a new Don Draper.” But ever since the opening credits rolled on Mad Men’s first episode, with that cartoon guy falling through the sky to his certain demise, we’ve wondered: is there going to be a dead Don Draper?
Everyone has a theory on how Mad Men will end, and one of the most popular is that our suave, slick antihero will die. He might not. BUT HE MIGHT! Realizing that we are totally reading tea leaves when there might not even had been tea, here, collected in one place, are all the signs from the seven seasons of Mad Men that Don Draper will die.
Spoiler alert. Duh.
The Angel of Death Is Sidney Prescott
The pleasant surprise of Sunday night’s premiere was a kept-under-wraps guest appearance from Scream and Party of Five star Neve Campbell. Pleasant for everyone but Don, that is! Because maybe, just maybe, Campbell played the angel of death, a portent of what’s in store for Don. (What’s in store is death.)
You see, Campbell played a widow Don meets on the redeye back to New York after visiting Megan in Los Angeles. She reveals to Don that she was in L.A. to scatter her husband’s ashes after his death, apparently, from alcoholism. “He was thirsty,” she says. “He died of thirst.” Her entire tale echoes Don’s narrative: the over-worker who over-indulges. “He worked fast, too,” she says. The part that strikes the most ominous chord, though, is her assertion that even though her husband appeared to have slowed his vices, as Don seems to be doing, it was too, late. “I thought he was really getting better, then a doctor told me he would be dead in a year,” she says. “All of them would be.”
They fall asleep on each other’s shoulders, and he eventually rebuffs her invitation to go home with her. Is he rejecting her, or rejecting her cautionary tale—unable to derail his destiny? He then opens the plane window, which has been closed the entire flight, as she leaves the frame, as if she was just a manifestation of his conscience, an entity he routinely ignores, all along.
The Airplane Imagery
Does Don Draper die in a plane crash? All of the airplane imagery in the Season 7 premiere hints to that, at least according to one theory.
We first see Don shaving in an airplane lavatory. He tells possible Angel of Death Neve Campbell, “I fly a lot.” When he’s at Megan’s house in L.A., he’s watching Frank Carpra’s 1937 Lost Horizon, about plane crash survivors who end up in Shangri-La—significant, considering Don’s constant search for paradise. Then, when Megan asks him what he’s watching, he lies and says nothing. Outside of the premiere, too, there is an abundance of airplane imagery used in the promo materials for the show’s final season.
The prediction, then, is a poetic death by a plane crash for Don, as the Chicago Sun-Times points out, “30,000 feet in the air, somewhere that’s neither here nor there—in limbo, where he’s lived much of his life.” And remember that opening sequence? A man falling through the air? Who says he jumped out of a building? Maybe he fell out of a plane.
The Ominous Beach Read
Season 6 of Mad Men began with a treasure trove of suggestions that maybe, possibly Don was headed for death. The most blatant foreshadowing was Don’s choice of beach read: Dante’s Inferno, about a man’s tour through Hell, where the suffering befits the sinner. Featuring prominently in an episode called “The Doorway,” many read Don’s choice of book, combined with the episode title, to signify his entry into the nine circles, his sins leading the way.
The Doorman’s Death
The sixth season premiere was notorious for the heavy-handedness of Don’s existential crisis and he’s ever-keen awareness of his own mortality. The most aggressive instance illustrating that theme was the way Don, recently returned from a trip to “paradise” (Hawaii), handles his doorman’s last seconds alive: he badgers the poor guy to know what it’s like to be dead. “Was it like hot, tropical sunshine?” he says. “Did you hear the ocean?” Don knows death is coming, and wants to be reassured that the state of death won’t be the Hell he was reading about.
The Zippo Lighter
This one is also from that Season 6 premiere. (So much death foreshadowing!) While in Hawaii with Megan, Don meets a man, Pfc. Class Dinkins, a serviceman on leave from Vietnam who is drunk at a bar and asks Don to be the best man at his wedding. “Did anyone notice this is the same place?” he says, bringing up the remarkable fact about how similar “paradise” (Hawaii) and Hell (Vietnam) can seem.
There’s this amazing theory that Dinkins represents Don’s earlier life, when he was Dick Whitman and not yet Don Draper, the identity he assumed after the real Don’s death. The catalyst for this theory: Don’s realization later in the episode that he mistakenly took Dinkins’s Zippo lighter. If you remember, when Dick Whitman was in Korea, it was the original Don Draper’s Zippo lighter that set off the gas explosion the burned the original Don beyond recognition, and allowed Dick to take his identity.
The switched Zippo lighter recalls the switched dog tags that led to the current Don Draper’s existence. The lighter is a reminder of the death of the real Don Draper and the death of “Dick Whitman.” It’s a symbol of death.
The Royal Hawaiian Ad
Another from the Season 6 premiere! Don preps an ad for Royal Hawaiian in which a business man’s suit is arranged, abandoned, on the beach with footprints leading into the water. “Hawaii. The jumping off point,” the ad’s copy reads. The client says it makes him think of a man committing suicide. Because it so obviously looks like a man committing suicide. It’s obvious to everyone but Don, who couldn’t see it. Don finally responds: “Maybe he did. And he went to Heaven. Maybe that’s what this feels like.” Foreshadowing.
Yes, oranges. This one is wacky. But fun! There’s a theory that the color orange is used in film and television in order to symbolize death. It stretches back to The Godfather, when everyone who died met their demise with something orange nearby. (Other examples, apparently, include everything from Children of Men to Lost to Point Break to Family Guy.” In the Season 6 episode “Favors,” Roger Sterling juggles oranges. The partners are fighting for a Sunkist account. ORANGES EVERYWHERE. Not just in that episode, either. There’s the orange sherbet he tried to force Megan to eat the season before, for one. But more than that, orange figures significantly in the design aesthetic of Mad Men, which, apparently means that everyone is going to die. Or at least, maybe, Don.
Vulture did this fun, cheeky little thing a few years ago where they called up an actuary and had them analyze Don’s lifestyle and vital stats in order to predict an actual time of death. Promiscuous, a frequent drunk driver, a man with a high-pressure job, a heavy drinker, a chain smoker: Don’s expiration date is 1985, at best, the actuary estimates, just shy of 60 years old.
The Opening Credits
An ad man leaps from a Manhattan skyscraper, falling to his seeming death. A sign that Don might end the series by committing suicide? Hellllloooooooo.