Back in February, Jon Hamm gave an interview ahead of the final seven episodes of Mad Men, and while — predictably — he wouldn’t give any clues as to how the series would wrap up, he did offer this: “I think the whole foundation of the show is in the pilot, for not only for Don, but for Peggy, Joan, Roger, Pete and all of the characters.” I went back and watched the pilot today to see how much we could glean from it, and in the way that Joan, Betty, and Pete’s plotlines have wrapped up, you could see inklings of their fates in the opening episode.
Warning: Spoilers ahead.
Where it concerns Joan, her fate seems most fitting in an ironic sense. Over the course of Mad Men, while Joan certainly put in the work to become a partner, it was her decision to sleep with a sleazy Jaguar dealer that got her promoted to partner. It was also her refusal of the sexual advances of Ferg Donnelly that ended up getting her ousted from McCann Erickson.
The irony to that, of course, is that in the pilot for Mad Men, it was Joan who encouraged Peggy — on her first day as a secretary for Don — to use her sexuality to make her employers happy. Joan outright suggested to Peggy that it’d be in her best interest to sleep with Don, and, in fact, told her to, “Go home, take a paper bag and cut the holes out of it. Look in the mirror and really evaluate your strengths and weakness.” That’s how Joan got ahead: She used her “strengths” to get her promoted, and, in doing so, she couldn’t gain the respect of her male colleagues. Once she held herself out to be a sexual object, she was never able to overcome it, despite the wit, intelligence, and charm she otherwise brought to her position.
But there’s another irony here, in that she also told Peggy that, if she played her cards right (i.e., slept with the right people), “You’ll be out in the country and won’t have to work at all.” That appears to be Joan’s fate: She made all the right moves, and though it’s not what she ultimately wanted, Joan will no longer have to work at all. Her own advice to Peggy bit her in the ass.
Meanwhile, before Alison Brie was cast, this was Trudy:
Pete was set to marry her, but in the pilot episode, Pete tried to sleep with someone at a strip club during his bachelor party but was rejected. However, after completely objectifying and humiliating Peggy on her first day, Pete returned to her apartment that night and basically forced himself on her. Peggy accepted his advances, not because she wanted to, but because that’s what she had been taught to do by Joan (ironically, Joan also set her up with an appointment to get birth control, which she clearly had not used yet).
Pete was a slimeball then, and he remained a slime ball for much of the series. At least, however, he seemed to have learned his lesson. Ken Cosgrove warned Pete that he was about to be married off to Trudy and “dragged out to sea” (an ominous foreshadowing to his mother’s death) and that’s eventually where Pete presumably will end up: Remarried to Trudy. In fact, Don told him that if Pete didn’t straighten up, he’d “die in his office alone as a mid-level executive with only a little bit of hair. Why?” Don continued. “Because no one will like you.”
Pete may very well end up dead in his office with only a little bit of hair, but at least he learned enough to avoid being a mid-level executive and not end up alone (assuming things don’t change for Pete in the finale). Pete basically got all the advice he needed from the pilot episode. It took seven seasons for it to finally sink in.
Finally, we only saw a few seconds of Betty Draper, who appeared late in the episode as a surprise reveal: Given Don’s actions throughout the day — sleeping with Midge Daniels, hitting on Rachel Menken — we never expected that he’d be a family man with a wife and a daughter. However, based on the pilot episode, someone had to die of lung cancer because that’s essentially what the pilot episode was about. Don, after a study revealed that “cigarettes will kill you” had to find a way to advertise Lucky Strike cigarettes without boasting of their health benefits, which had been — up until then — the biggest selling point for tobacco.
It’s a perfect irony that, after figuring out a way to work around the dangerous, lethal side effects of cigarettes, that Don’s ex-wife would succumb to the disease. “Cigarettes aren’t dangerous!” Lee Garner insisted as the entire room burst into coughing fits.
Tobacco is dangerous. The very thing that Don was trying to obfuscate in the pilot killed the mother of his children.
Finally, we may not yet know Roger’s ultimate fate, but I think that Don Draper hit the nail on the head with his assessment of Roger, and how it would become his undoing: “You’re a whore,” Don told him, suggesting that Roger would do anything for more money. Roger being a whore is exactly what cost him his firm.