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- Jon Hamm, John Slattery, Elisabeth Moss
Mad Men is not a violent show. Or at least, it’s not physically violent. Most of the great modern TV dramas favor protagonists engaged in violent behavior, with major characters frequently killed off: Think of Breaking Bad or Sons of Anarchy or Homeland, or incredibly popular bloodfests Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead. Mad Men is different. Nobody holds a gun. Nobody breaks the law. The show’s transgressions are mostly mental or emotional: Cuckoldry, thwarted ambition, the encroaching sensation that one is all alone in the universe.
Nevertheless, the show has a history of killing off characters. In fact, every season so far has featured at least one noteworthy death. And, more to the point, each season has raised the stakes a little bit. We barely knew Adam Whitman (half-brother of Don Draper) when he hanged himself back in season 1. Likewise, we’d only met Andrew Campbell (father of Pete) once before he died in an offscreen plane crash in season 2. But Gene Hofstadt (father of Betty) was an eerie presence at the start of the show’s third season; his death was a pivotal turning point for Betty, and his legacy continues lingering in his namesake, little Gene Draper. The season 4 death of Anna Draper (Don’s only friend) in season 4 was the engine that powered one of the best Mad Men episodes ever. And Lane Pryce’s suicide in season 5 was one of the more flat-out shocking plot points in the show’s run, mainly because Mad Men seemed like a show where that kind of thing didn’t happen to main characters.
Lane’s death felt like the precipice of a new dark period for the show. Sure enough, season 6 has been one of the show’s bleakest, with pretty much everyone downward-spiraling in one way or another. There’s a profound feeling of unease running throughout this entire season. Violence and assassination plagues 1968 America. Characters keep talking about the exploding crime rate in New York. The sound of police sirens is deafening — and could be an expansion on those mysterious cops in the season 6 advertisements. The season began with Don reading from the Inferno, the story of a man talking to a whole civilization of dead people. And then there’s the whole Sharon Tate thing. Plus, there’s a long history of TV dramas clearing house before their final season — a history which arguably began with the death of Adriana in the penultimate season of The Sopranos, the show where Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner cut his teeth. Could we be heading toward another major-character fatality? Let’s run down the list of the Mad Men Most Likely Not to See Season 7:
Megan Draper: Even if you don’t subscribe to the Sharon Tate theory, you can’t deny that Megan has become a curious, ethereal presence on the show this season. Whenever she hangs out with Don, she’s often behind him, just out of focus; there’s a reason that the second-most-popular Megan theory is that she’s already dead, Sixth Sense-style. And in a weird way, Megan has come to symbolize many of the forces of change coursing through late-’60s America — she’s half a hippie already, with an expanding interest in ’60s radicalism that runs counter to Don’s conservative cynicism. The one problem with the Megan’s-gonna-die theory: The Sharon Tate thing seems a bit too on the nose. (Paré also seemed to vaguely indicate that she’ll be back for season 7, although trusting a Mad Men cast member is like trusting an actor in a J.J. Abrams movie.) I’m betting that we’re being set up for a less-fatal Megan departure: A divorce, or maybe even just a move to Los Angeles to support her burgeoning acting career. 5-1
Bob Benson: This season’s biggest running mystery is a smiling fella from Accounts who always buys two cups of coffee. Basically everyone seems to agree that something ain’t quite right about Bob Benson. Maybe it’s because he never stops smiling. Maybe it’s because the last time we saw James Wolk, he was playing a man with several different secret lives. General consensus is that Bob is planning to stage some kind of Accounts takeover — a notion burnished by the apparent alliance Bob is forming with the Cutler/Chaogh coalition. But maybe he’ll pull a Richard Cory surprise suicide. 20-1
Pete Campbell: Things are trending downward for Ol’ Pete. His wife kicked him out. His mother is riddled with dementia. He’s outflanked at work on all sides; Joan essentially tripped and fell into a big new account, while Pete’s only big move lately is losing Vicks. The most recent episode ended with Pete smoking marijuana, looking like a man utterly defeated. What makes Pete’s arc even sadder is that the city he loves — the city he always insisted on living in, even when Trudy begged him to move out to the suburbs — is getting dangerous. Wouldn’t it be ironic if he walks through Central Park one bright moonlit evening and winds up the victim of an old-fashioned Central Park Shooting? 9-1
Roger Sterling: Or maybe Weiner and his writers are going for an even crueler irony. Roll with me on this for a second. Roger is in the midst of a veritable renaissance. After years of irrelevance, he was a key player in landing the Chevy account. That account came his way because he’s currently seeing an attractive young stewardess (played by a former Disney star!), but around the margins, things are looking less good for the author of Sterling’s Gold. He’s not allowed to see his illegitimate son or his legitimate grandson. His mom just died. That short guy punched him in the crotch. Supposedly, Weiner considered killing off Sterling way back in season 1, when he had that heart attack. Could it be that Sterling’s time has finally come? His death would leave Don in a particularly bleak place. But they couldn’t possible get rid of quote-machine John Slattery … could they? 6-1
Bert Cooper: On one hand, he’s really old. On the other hand, he might actually be God. Or the devil? 7-1
Arnold Rosen: The season 6 premiere introduced us to Don’s downstairs neighbor, and over the course of two hours, we came to see the noble doctor as a kind of Bizarro-world duplicate of Don. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that he’s the man Don wants to be: Saving lives, acting morally, not constantly cheating on his wife. We thought the show was introducing us to Don’s new best friend…until it turned out that Don was actually shtupping the guy’s wife. Arnold’s only appeared a couple of times since then … but perhaps the finale will circle back around to him? If Arnold is, symbolically, the man Don wants to be, then how much would it damage his worldview for Arnold to die? 11-1
Betty Francis: Given Betty’s zig-zag character arc this season, her dying might actually be the least crazy plot turn of the season. 15-1
Don Draper: Come on. 1,000,000-1
Peggy Olson: Nooooooooooooo! Infinity-1
Or Maybe It Already Happened: The season kicked off with Roger Sterling’s mama dying offscreen. A couple weeks back, the united firm of Cutler Sterling Gleason Whatever mourned the passing of Frank Gleason, and by “mourned the passing” I mean Stan had meth-sex with Gleason’s loopy daughter. And don’t forget about Megan’s miscarriage: The phantom of that non-pregnancy has hovered menacingly over this season. Could it be that the season, having been so drenched in death, will actually end on an optimistic note? Or are all these rather minor deaths building up to something major?
What do you think, fellow viewers? Is a key cast member going to bite the dust, with a death that symbolizes the chaos of 1968? Or will the season end with everyone happy, like with Peggy and Stan getting married, and Don amicably divorcing Megan to get back together with Rachel Menken, and Sal coming back in a happy fulfilling relationship with Lane Pryce who turns out faked his death and is gay, and everyone agreeing not to drink and smoke so much?
Follow Darren on Twitter: @DarrenFranich.