Three weeks into the penultimate season of AMC's "Mad Men," and I've got a serious case of the "what ifs." Though the pace of the show this season is still very deliberate, it's clear where the season is going to go, and I can't help speculating on where the show is ultimately going to find its endpoint. What is going to become of the Drapers and the employees of Sterling, Cooper, Draper, Pryce, past and present? Permit me, if you will, to make some predictions. Spoilers ahead for all of "Mad Men" that has aired so far.
Don is in a state of certain decline. His performance at work has been suffering, and the Hawaii pitch in the premiere was a bust. There was nothing wrong with his ideas or his taste, but his ability to sell the campaign, to communicate to the clients, was sorely lacking. It seems only a matter of time before he's eclipsed by Ginsburg or someone else. At home, the situation is just as precarious. He's cheating on Megan with a neighbor, a situation we watched blow up in Pete's face in a parallel storyline last week, and he showed he couldn't handle Megan's feigned infidelity this week. Even if Don is never caught, spiritually the marriage is doomed. I expect that he'll lose Megan by the end of this season, and have to face a hard choice about where he wants to go from there next year.
I think he might consider letting go of the Draper name and going back to Dick Whitman. Sure, there would be a lot of consequences, but it would be a symbolic way to kill off Don Draper and all he stands for without actually killing off Don Draper. Or maybe he would move on to a new persona. It would also be in character for Don, trying to start fresh with a blank slate. But does he have the energy to start over again after two failed marriages, in a new age that he's rapidly losing touch with? As the premiere episode made clear, everything is changing around Don, but he's stayed the same through the last six seasons. It's up to him whether he transforms or fades away in the end, and I do hope that Matt Weiner lets us see him make that choice.
What about the rest of the Draper family? It's hard to say where Megan's going. She could just as easily go on to great success as an actress or throw herself off a building upon exiting Don Draper's life. Betty is struggling, but she's shown that she can change, if not for the right reasons, and I expect that she'll continue to metamorphose to a point where she truly puts Don and her old life behind her. She's still kind of a wild card on the show, still childishly vindictive, impulsive, and I'm a little scared of what damage she could unthinkingly do to Henry and the kids, but there's also the sense that she's finally becoming a little more self-aware and mature. Sally, I'm sure is going to become a rebellious teenage flower child, to everyone's horror, and I can't wait.
Then there's Peggy, who struck out on her own last season, and has found a real position of power. However, holding on to the that power is another matter, and this seasons looks like it's going to be a real test of her moral fiber. Ted convinced her to betray Stan's confidence, winning her the Heinz account, and who knows how far down that road she's going to go? I love that Peggy's a go-getter career woman who has been making it work, even hanging on to Abe much longer than I thought she would, but in the long run is she going to regret this? Peggy's big choice is going to be whether she is going to become corrupted and lose herself to the job the way the men have, or if she'll reject that way of doing things and try to navigate a different, more difficult approach. Either option is possible. One thing I wonder about is if she'll ever have any kind of family life - but then Pete Campbell's love child is still out there.
Oh Pete. He's becoming Don Draper, but he's still so bad at it. His maneuverings are clumsy and messy to the point where they're becoming self-destructive. I can't say I didn't see Trudy kicking him to the curb in the cards, but he's not going to get himself out of the relationship so easily, because Trudy's made of much sterner stuff than Betty. There's been an ongoing theory for the past couple of seasons that Pete is going to end up killing himself, and while I can definitely see the possibility, at this point I don't think it's going to happen. He's much more likely to lash out and direct that frustration on others, or get somebody else in more serious trouble, like the poor woman from last week. Professionally he's been doing very well, so I expect he'll still be at the top of the firm at the end of the series, and completely and utterly miserable.
Joan and Roger are next on the list. Despite Joan's partnership, she's doing pretty much the same thing she always has, managing the office and taking the bus to work. However, she's getting more respect outside the office and she's now in a position to go much farther. I find it interesting that we haven't seen Joan anywhere near Roger since the incident. Notably, she wasn't at his mother's funeral. A small, fluffy part of me wants them to end up together, making clever small talk until the end of time. Realistically, I think Joan's the most pragmatic of the group. She'll stick to her job, raise her kid, sock away the money, and be exactly where she started in twenty years, but she'll survive. Roger, after the existential crises he's been having lately, may not.
The firm itself is back on shaky ground after clawing its way back from the brink. All we've seen this year are dissatisfied clients, lost accounts, and vanishing talent. Peggy's gone, and now Harry Crane's threatening to quit. Like Don Draper, I think the firm is headed for the rocks unless it transforms to survive – new management, a changing of the creative guard, or perhaps another takeover.
And Bert Cooper dies fat and happy. The end.