“Mad Men” Finale Theory #5: It’s All About Sally

It’s a bold prediction, but here’s what will happen from start to finish in the last episode of “Mad Men.”

This is the fifth of a series of plausible (or not so plausible) “Mad Men” endings as predicted by Maxim editors. The entire article is a spoiler.

We open to a ringing phone. It’s in Roger Sterling’s office. He puts down his glass. 

“What?” he barks. He thinks someone else is calling, maybe Megan’s mom.

“It’s Sally,” says Sally.

Cut to: Sally.

Sally is calling. Sally, once a petulant child, a rebel, a victim, a witness to misdeeds, and a girl burdened with too much too soon, has in this final hour found her true voice. Sally, of all these people we have known since 2007, has developed into the responsible one—the one who looks around and thinks, “What the fuck is wrong with all you people? “And then, “I will not be any of you people.” She means it. And I think she’ll do it, when she’s older. She’ll be better than them all. But for now, Sally has a message for her father. And she can’t find him. Which is why she’s calling Roger.

This is the theme of the final episode: Sally is calling. Responsibility is calling.

And where’s Don? 

Don feels free.

Sally wants to tell him about Betty’s cancer, of course. This is the last thread connecting Don to the life he’s been shedding for the last few episodes. The job at McCann? No problem; he doesn’t need the money, and his colleagues are on good footing. There’s no woman to leave. No apartment left to sell. And the kids, well, they’ve found a good and stable home with Betty and Henry. Don is only a distraction and an occasional bringer of horrors, like when Sally walked in on him and the downstairs neighbor. No, Don has figured: They’ll be better off without him. They won’t miss him when he’s gone.

But if Betty is dying, the kids will be left with Henry, a man who is not their father. The children will have lost one parent, and they don’t deserve to lose the other—not when he’s perfectly alive and well, and just suffering from an identity crisis. Betty is dying and Don should come home and resume the life he’s been leading. Sally doesn’t realize it—she doesn’t know Don intends to disappear forever, as perhaps Don doesn’t even know it just yet—but this is the implicit message in her phone call. Come home and be a dad, Don. Your time has come.

Anna Draper, the real wife of the real Don Draper, also died of cancer. We know that Don—our Don, Dick Whitman Don—regretted that he couldn’t do more for her, though really, there was nothing for him to do. And now for this new Don Draper, Dick Whitman Don, to also lose a wife to cancer? Now he can do something. Now there is something to do. Come home and be a dad, Don. Your time has come.

Roger has no idea where Don is. He suggests Sally call someone else. And so she will, throughout the episode.

Sally will call Peggy . . . 

. . . who, through Sally’s eyes, we will see for the final time. Peggy is thriving at McCann because she’s given herself over to it entirely. She won’t be handed some big promotion in this episode—that would be corny, and not “Mad Men”’s way—but we can see it coming some day for her. She told Don earlier this season that she wants to be a creative director, and she will be. She’ll be the workaholic Don, never particularly fulfilled by her work, but satisfied that she has a talent for it. Farewell, Peggy. And good luck.

Sally will call Megan . . . 

. . . who is chilling in L.A., looking beautiful and looking for work. She hasn’t blown that $1 million Don gave her; it’s her nest egg, her protection against aging, for a time when her beauty may no longer net her a job. Megan doesn’t know where Don is, of course, and didn’t even know he was driving west. But now, learning this, Megan offers Sally the only thread she can think of: She suggests Sally track down Stephanie. Last we knew, Stephanie—that’s Anna Draper’s niece—was heading to Oakland to meet a drug-dealer boyfriend. If Don’s heading out west, maybe he’ll visit her.

Sally’s on the case. And as she works, we’ll get our final check-ins with some other characters.

Joan is vacationing with her new man; she has money and comfort, but is also enveloped in the support of a rich man who finds her extremely attractive, and you can see in her eyes that she considers it a failure.

Harry is introduced to the media guys at McCann. He’s all swagger. They’re all, who is this chump? You can sense that this isn’t going to work out well for Harry. Good riddance. That guy’s a jerk.

Pete shows up at Trudy’s for his victory lap—he’s here to reclaim his family. But she’s had some time to think it over, and finds the whole thing too embarrassing. He’s called all the shots in this relationship. He acted to its end. Now he’s acting to its revival. No, she says. She loves him. She wishes him well. But she cannot be with him.

Roger, staring out the window. He won’t jump. Nobody is actually falling off a building in this show. It was a metaphor, folks. Always a metaphor.

Ken gets a new eye! Just kidding. We don’t see Ken again.

And finally we see Don, for the first time in this episode. He’s at a diner. A beautiful woman comes over to introduce herself. He smiles, extends his hand, and by way of introduction says, “Dick.” But he’s not interested in her right now; he has another mission. Don Draper is gone, including the womanizing. Nothing left but a pressed suit.

Dick arrives at Stephanie’s. He’s in California now, and expected to surprise her. What does he want? He may not even know, but she seems like a good finale for him—the last person who knows Don Draper, or Dick Whitman, or Dick Whitman Don, who will see him before he departs into yet another life.

But Stephanie has been expecting him, and she’s holding a note: It’s Sally’s phone number. “Your daughter is looking for you,” Stephanie says. “It’s urgent.”

Don doesn’t want to call Sally. He loves her, of course, but he wanted it to be cleaner than this—no final conversation, just a conversation that turned out to be the final one. A conversation that has already happened. That was supposed to be the end. But now Stephanie is here, watching him, and so he must do it.

He calls Sally.

Sally tells him about Betty. She tells him to come home. He understands what this means.

“I will, honey,” he says. “I’ll see you soon.”

He hangs up the phone. He looks out the window. In becoming Don Draper, Dick Whitman was not a man of his word. The new Don Draper was not a man of his word as well. Who is this man now? What is his word worth, especially the one he has just given?

Don thinks on this for a second. He walks out of the house, quickly, past Stephanie, who just looks at him, not understanding. Don gets in his car. He backs out of the driveway.

“Mad Men” is over.

Photos by Michael Yarish / AMC