“Mad Men” Finale Theory #1: Going to California
In which the chickens come home to roost.
This is the first of a series of plausible (or not so plausible) “Mad Men” endings as predicted by Maxim editors. The entire article is a spoiler.
In the opening scene dream-sequence of “The Milk and Honey Route,” Don Draper is driving his Cadillac Coupe de Ville on the highway at night listening to Waylon Jennings on the radio. Cop lights flash in his mirror. A state trooper approaches the window and says, “You knew it’d catch up with you eventually.”
Draper’s stolen identity has been hanging over his head since the day he, then Dick Whitman, accidentally killed his commanding officer (Don Draper) in Korea and took on his identity, hoping for a better life. But Draper has always managed to stay one one step ahead of judgment. He has been untouchable, imprisoned by wealth and privilege predicated on a lie.
The assumption has always been that Draper will pay for the many sins of deception, fraudulence, egregious philandering, alcoholism, ad infinitum. But this episode is named “The Milk and Honey Route,” a vague reference to an olde-timey hobo route across the country that went through the very charitable Mormon communities in Utah. It’s the easy way.
In this second-to-last episode of the series, it becomes obvious that our favorite characters aren’t going to get the easy way out—especially not Betty. Someone has to pay the piper for all those cigarettes smoked over the course of six seasons and 90 or so hours of story. Betty is handed a death sentence of terminal cancer, which started in her lungs and spread to her bones. With aggressive treatment, her doctor tells Henry as she listens nearby, she might live a year.
Don, on the other hand, appears to be leaving the pain of being Don back in New York. Last week, he walked out of the executive lunchroom at McCann Erickson and has since been gliding westward through the plains states in his steely-blue Caddy.
But when the car breaks down in Nebraska, Don spends a week in a motel reading The Godfather, among other books, waiting for a part to arrive. He ends up at a drunken VFW findraiser trading war stories, and is encouraged by one tale of cannibalism in the Belgium countryside to confess that he killed his C.O. It is the public confession of what Dick Whitman did to become Don.
At the end of the episode, Draper hands the keys to his Caddy to a young conman along with the admonition, “You’re too young to start off on the wrong foot.” It’s all part of Draper shedding himself of his worldly possessions—everything that defines Don Draper. He’s written a $1 million check to Megan to make her go away, left a $2 million payout on the table back at McCann. He gave away his car. It’s safe to say there isn’t much left in the Draper kitty.
My prediction? Don finally transitions back into Dick, a sort of happy hobo hillbilly, and ends up penniless and blissful, back in sunny California where he has gauzy memories of gimpy Anna Draper and their platonic romance. Maybe he’s a handyman, maybe he fixes cars, maybe he goes back to selling cars. Either way, the last shot has Don Draper as Dick Whitman sitting on a bench alone—perhaps in Santa Monica—staring out at a golden Pacific sunset, a man made whole again after a lifetime spent living a lie. Could it be that Draper will finally find satisfaction disappearing back into the American heartland whence he came? Yep.
Photos by Photo by: Justina Mintz/AMC