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Mad Men: Beginning of the End, the End of an Era

April 9, 2015

The first of the final seven Mad Men episodes aired last Sunday at 10/9 p.m. central on AMC. With just six hours remaining, it is the beginning of the end for the show and the characters we have come to know since its premier in 2007. The question on everyone’s mind is, just how exactly will it end?

In recent interviews the head writer and showrunner, Matthew Weiner, has claimed that he knew from the start where the story would end, just not exactly how it was going to get there. Weiner was a writer on the final years of The Sopranos series and had a hand in that memorable finale, so we know that he has some experience in creating a dramatic ending. I’m hoping that the conclusion of Mad Men won’t be as cryptic, but I’m sure that whatever happens it will be the subject of much discussion, criticism and analysis. (David Chase was the head writer and showrunner on The Sopranos, asking Weiner to join his writing team on the strength of his script for the Mad Men pilot.)

Many viewers believe that Don Draper will die in the finale episode. There is no denying that death has been a common theme throughout the series. And the guy (Don) depicted in silhouette in the opening credits is not likely to survive that 30 second free fall. But I’d like to think that having toyed with death in The Sopranos finale, Weiner will choose some other fate for Don. In fact, the real Don Draper is already dead, so why kill him again? And Matthew Weiner makes a point of confounding audience expectations, so I don’t think he will do the obvious thing here.

Don Draper smoking. Photo courtesy and property of AMC.

My bet is that the ending, like the beginning, will have something to do with cigarettes. In the very first episode, S1, Ep1: Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, Don must come up with a way to sell Lucky Strikes in the wake of the 1960 Reader’s Digest report linking cigarettes to cancer. In last week’s episode we overheard President Nixon on the TV announcing his plans to withdraw 150,000 troops from Vietnam, which puts the series timeline at April 20, 1970. That same month Congress passed the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act banning the advertising of cigarettes on television and radio starting on January 2, 1971. Coincidence?

By the way, the last TV commercial for cigarettes was shown at 11:59 p.m. on January 1, 1972 during a break on The Tonight Show. It was a 60-second ad for Virginia Slims. A “You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby” retrospective, from suffragette to woman’s libber (and then, uhm, to lung cancer).

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