“Mad Men” begins its final stretch of episodes on Sunday night at 10 on AMC, and we asked a handful of TV critics, as well as several TV producers (some of whom have had experience ending their own shows) to predict what might happen when all is said and done for Don Draper and friends. Some took the assignment very seriously. Some opted for the ridiculous. Some fell in between.
Damon Lindelof (Co-creator, “Lost”/”The Leftovers”)
There is a knock on Pete's door. He answers. There's a ten year old child standing there in a suit. “Hello, father…” he says, “I just want you to know that I am going to write a television show one day. And my portrayal of you will NOT be flattering.”
Pete runs his hand through his receding hairline, shaken, but imperious. “What's your name, little boy?”
The bastard son glares at his father, “Matthew.” he says.
Pete nods. Thinks for a moment. “I'm working on a new campaign for Oscar Meyer. Their hot dog division needs something catchy.”
The boy raises an eyebrow, intrigued. He was not expecting this. Pete opens the door, gestures inside. An invitation.
SMASH TO BLACK.
Alan Sepinwall (HitFix)
Once the series escapes the confines of the '60s, we see more frequent and bigger leaps forward in time, giving us glimpses of Joan taking Bob Benson to Studio 54 (and running into Sal), Peggy wearing '80s shoulder pads and presiding over her own shop, Pete and Donald Trump bonding over the unfortunate state of their hair, and finally an elderly Don Draper in a nursing home, being visited by Sally (still played by Kiernan Shipka), finding one more story to tell her about life in the whorehouse.
Daniel Fienberg (HitFix)
Don Draper, facing death due to a mysterious ailment in the early '80s, gathers his children and decides to split his marketing empire into three parts. Sally Draper pouts, but ultimately declares that she loves Don. Bobby Draper (now played by Wes Bentley) trades his piece for a bag of gumdrops. Nobody remembers to invite Eugene and his share is given to Peggy.
Mike Schur (Co-creator, “Parks and Recreation”/”Brooklyn Nine-Nine”)
There's only one way it can end, really, anyway: elegantly, expertly, beautifully, and 10% inscrutably.
Katie Hasty (HitFix)
Joan opens up her own shop with lead creative Peggy. Don scores a new gig post-SC&P literally under Peggy as her office coffee table (it's where he does his best thinking).
Louis Virtel (HitFix)
I'm in the minority here, but I think I'll only love the ending of “Mad Men” if Don is murdered by an old acquaintance we've long forgotten about. Who could it be? Heroin addict Midge isn't a terrible idea. Or Joyce, the randy lesbian played by Zosia Mamet. Or the ultra-earnest priest from season two played by Colin Hanks. (He could murder Don, then end the series covered in blood and playing “Early in the Morning” by Peter, Paul, and Mary on his guitar?) I want Don's demise dark and shocking, and I don't want any Lane Pryce-style foreshadowing to prepare us for it.
Al Jean (Showrunner, “The Simpsons”)
I predict Don will be working for Peggy and AMC will go back to being a movie channel.
Richard Rushfield (HitFix)
After ambling forward at a stately pace for all these seasons, suddenly in the last five minutes of the show, time speeds up. Years pass in the course of a scenes, decades in minutes. And the ghosts of lost plotllines past leap forth from the dead to assert themselves. Pete and Peggy go to reclaim their child so they can begin a life together but find out that in the seasons since they abandoned the baby, he has grown into — Bob Benson! Realizing that the reason he resented Bob so much was because he was his son, Pete pledges to be a new man with his reunited family. Sterling's Gold is discovered by a critic and becomes the biggest literary phenomenon since Norman Mailer. Sally's weird friend grows up to be G. Gordon Liddy. Conrad Hilton walks into the office, embraces Don and names him President of Hilton Hotels Moonbase Division. Paul Kinsey leads a cult in the canyons outside Los Angeles dedicated to the notion that Herman's Hermits album “No Milk Today” foretells the coming civil war out of which his group will arise to take over. When Paul recalls that Megan's middle name is a basque translation for “Brown” he sees at last that she is the siren warned of in the ballad, “Mr. Brown You Have a Lovely Daughter” and plots her slaying to ignite the End of Days. Before the cataclysm ignites however, a Congressional oversight committee finally reads a letter that Don wrote in season one complaining very persuasively in ad pitch from of vote fraud in Chicago. They are bowled over and invalidate the election. Nixon is retroactively declared President of the 1960's. He goes back in time and stomps out the hippie movement before it begins. The Eisenhower era lives forever, and the original Sterling Cooper is restored in all its glory. Bert Cooper returns to lead the team in “Brotherhood of Man” and perform a double wedding for Peggy and Pete and Roger and Joan as the curtain falls.
Alyssa Rosenberg (The Washington Post)
I'm bad at predicting what shows will do in their final stretches, and because of that (and because I like to be surprised), I would be hugely entertained if this is how “Mad Men” ends: Joan, after years of repression, falls in with radical feminists and gets her conscience raised, abandons her corsets, and gets to criticize Peggy for being a moderate member of NOW (Joan and Dawn meet up again protesting for Joan Little's exoneration in 1975). Betty finally tracks down Sally's violinist friend, who has taken up a different kind of strings and is playing in a band. Betty continues to have a vague feeling of ennui, but she's so turned off by the convulsions of the seventies that she ends up making peace with her lot. Sally goes off to college and has a vague feeling that she's missed out on the great era of campus unrest. And Peggy and Don finally become the partners they were always meant to be, hip enough to keep making great advertising, but not swayed enough by the change all around them to finally figure out how how to be happy.
Linda Holmes (NPR)
I don't expect a lot of huge bombshells; that's not my sense of how Weiner is. I do think Don dying is a definite possibility, although I think these writers are more of the “leave him in a state of perpetual ennui blah blah blah” mindset. The show's fascination with Megan — which has always substantially outstripped my own — makes me suspect she'll be back around. (And I think she's in the promo art. Maybe that's cheating.)
What I like about the way we're going into these final episodes is that I'm not waiting for the answers to very many *specific* questions, as we were at this same point in the evolution of “Breaking Bad.” I expect this to be a story that mostly concludes in a way that could have supported more seasons had everyone wanted to do them; I don't expect anything cataclysmic. Now that I have said that, everyone will definitely die of pneumonia simultaneously.
Maureen Ryan (Huffington Post)
Don”t let my hard, brittle exterior fool you, I am a softy who continually and always wants to cry – ideally for good reasons. “Mad Men” has made me cry a number of times – damn you, Elisabeth Moss and Jon Hamm – and if I have any specific hopes for the finale of the show, it”s that I at least get a little misty and/or feel a lump in my throat when the final scene fades to black. The best way for the show to get my tear ducts working would be to send Don off into the sunset with a reasonably good relationship with his daughter, Sally, and with his best friend, Peggy. Don”t make me choose between them (though to twist the knife, the show may do that).
Here”s what I picture in my mind”s eye (and I will fully acknowledge that the show is always 1000 percent more entertaining than my imagination): Perhaps, at the end, Don has been stripped of many of the status markers that he confidently displayed in the show”s pilot. Maybe he”s unmarried, maybe he doesn”t have the nice home or the cool job or the slick haircut. Maybe his sharp suits are looking creased and perhaps he has to make do with the cheaper brands of whiskey. Maybe he”s living in a rooming house in Brooklyn, trying to make ends meet with freelance copy-writing gigs. But if Don has a true friend in Peggy and a sound relationship with Sally – if he”s emotionally connected to people who genuinely know him and care about him – to me, that”s a happy ending for the show. I don”t expect anything thunderously conclusive or even marginally conclusive from that final episode. I expect Don to keep making mistakes after the screen fades to black. But the show ends with me thinking that he can feel love and that he will make a better class of mistakes going forward, I”ll be thrilled with that. The end.
Todd VanDerWerff (Vox)
If there's one thing I'm completely sure of heading into these final seven episodes, it's that Joan Harris and Roger Sterling are end game. Matt Weiner may give characters what they want only rarely, but he is going to give in to his sentimental side on this one. I don't particularly want to see what Joan and Roger being married looks like, but I do want the suggestion of a happily ever after, no matter how improbable.
My other completely serious prediction is that the final scene of the series will be between Don and Sally. The scene before that will be Don and Peggy. Past, future, present.
And I'm also pretty sure that by the end of the show, Sally will turn up as a CIA analyst in the '80s, neatly incorporating “The Americans” into the “Mad Men” universe. Would put money on that one.
Sonia Saraiya (Salon)
Final episode. Peggy discovers she's pregnant. Joan settles in as senior partner of Sterling Cooper and Associates, following Roger's overdue death. She fires Pete.
Final scene. Don drops dead of the heart attack that has been awaiting him ever since our first glimpse of him, writing copy for Lucky Strike cigarettes. Sally finds him. She doesn't cry. She just leans over his body and closes his now-unseeing eyes. “Bye, daddy.”
Mark Lisanti (Grantland)
Don approaches the window of his office and looks down to sidewalk below. He pushes against it; no, it doesn't open. Skyscraper windows never do. He considers a nearby chair. Is it heavy enough to get the job done? Maybe. But maybe not.
He sits back down at his desk. Pours himself a glass of rye. Rolls a piece of paper into his typewriter. We see his words appear, one letter at a time:
MATTHEW WEINER SAYS JUMPING OUT THE WINDOW IS TOO ON THE NOSE. BUT I REALLY WANT TO.
Natasha Vargas Cooper (Author, “Mad Men Unbuttoned”)
As Elvis Presley's “Suspicious Minds” plays, we see a diner scene with Don and the kids eating onion rings. Then: sudden fade to black.
What are your predictions for how “Mad Men” might end?