Through nearly seven seasons of Mad Men, we’ve come to learn a lot about the cast of the show (here’s 25 things you may not know), but my favorite thing about Mad Men, like Breaking Bad, is trying to dig a little deeper into the belly of Mad Men, to put those English degrees to good use, to dissect the show, to read into motivations, and to develop theories. Mad Men is not as quite as open to theory as Breaking Bad, but there’s plenty of room for interpretation. Matt Weiner makes a lot of literary references, and refers to movies from the time period, and he’ll even occasionally slip in a contemporary inside joke. That is fun, and it makes watching the show all the more enjoyable when there’s something to chew on after the episode.
I’ve collected a lot of the Easter Eggs, callbacks, bits of foreshadowing, etc. on Mad Men over the years, and posted them below. It’s not exhaustive, of course. There’s too much in Mad Men for that, but hopefully, it’s a fun post to read that will increase your appreciation for the show. If anything, stick around until the last entry for a wild theory on the end of Mad Men that I’ve developed using some of the breadcrumbs that Matthew Weiner has dropped over the course of the series.
1. We have seen Pete Campbell’s gun several times during the course of Mad Men, perhaps a literal Chekhov’s Gun, and if there’s one guy in the office likely to go postal, it’s Pete Campbell. My prediction: He uses it to shoot his dementia-riddled mother.
2. Aaron Staton plays Ken Cosgrove, who writes short fiction on the side. One of his short story characters is named Cole. Not so coincidentally, I suspect, Aaron Staton also voices a character named Cole Phelps in the video game L.A. Noire.
3. I’ve written extensively on how I think that Don Draper ultimately wants to kill his identity by the series’ end and once again return to his original identity, Dick Whitman. Here’s another clue: last season, in a fever dream, Don murdered an old girlfriend, which was a metaphor for wanting to kill his own philandering side, i.e., his Don Draper identity. That’s the thought that is buried in his subconscious.
4. It’s worth mentioning, because people often forget it, that Bert Cooper has no balls. Literally. If you missed it, there was an episode in which Roger made an offhand remark about someone named Dr. Lyle Evans in front of Bert Cooper being the worst person in the world for Bert Cooper to work with (we didn’t understand the reference at the time). Two episodes later, we find out that Dr. Evans gave Bert an accidental orchiectomy. He castrated Bert. We still don’t know for sure if he killed the doctor responsible for cutting off his testicles, or if Roger was just joking. And if you’re curious about the effects of an orchiectomy on a grown man, no: It does not change their voice (if you are castrated before puberty, then you become a eunuch because your voice will simply never change).
5. There’s a lot of literary stuff in Mad Men that’s easy to miss, especially if you haven’t read particular authors. One of my favorites, for instance, is that — when they were married — Betty and Don lived in Ossining, NY, home of the author John Cheever, who wrote extensively about suburban malaise in his fiction. In fact, Don and Betty lived on Bullet Park Road, the name of a 1969 Cheever novel. It’s probably no coincidence, either, that the same city is home to the Sing Sing prison, since Betty’s home life in her marriage to Don was like living in a suburban prison.
6. At the end of last season, when Don kissed Peggy’s hand after she quit Sterling Cooper, that was a nice little callback to the pilot episode of Mad Men, when Peggy — who was Don’s secretary at the time — reached out and touched Don’s hand to comfort him. He jerked his hand away: “I’m not your boyfriend. I’m your boss.” That dynamic is still playing out this season.
7. In “The Wheel,” the first season finale of Mad Men, Don has a pitch meeting with the guys from Kodak for their Carousel, a slide projector. His pitch: “This is not a spaceship, it’s a time machine. It goes backwards and forwards, and it takes us to a place where we ache to go again.” Those words could not have been more apt for what Don was thinking in this year’s season premiere when, in a callback to that episode, he was using a projector slideshow to show pictures of his Hawaiian vacation, a place he called paradise.