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'Mad Men' conspiracy theory file: Does all of that airplane imagery signal doom for Don Draper?
“Mad Men” launched its seventh and final season Sunday with “Time Zones,” an episode heavily laden with airplane imagery (spoilers ahead).
When we first see Don Draper, he’s shaving in a plane’s lavatory before leggy wife Megan picks him up at the airport.
“I fly a lot,” Don (Jon Hamm) later tells a TWA seat mate, played by guest star Neve Campbell (“Party of Five”). He and the lonely widow share a lengthy scene on a red-eye home to New York.
Back at Megan’s California pad, the TV plays the opening of Frank Capra’s 1937 film “Lost Horizon,” where plane crash survivors find themselves in the earthly paradise of Shangri La, a utopia that Don craves but can’t find in the real world.
Megan (Jessica Pare), who fell asleep on Don’s shoulder, wakes up and asks her husband what he’s watching. Don shuts off the television and acts like it’s nothing.
But we know that nothing is nothing on “Mad Men,” a series that’s spawned more conspiracy theories than the Kennedy assassination.
Creator Matthew Weiner, who wrote Sunday’s premiere, is notoriously deliberate when it comes to crafting the show. His penchant for detail and symbolism are catnip to obsessive fans who read between every line, scrutinize every frame and pick apart the show’s cryptic teasers, which are all about the airport this season.
These drama detectives spew their conjecture on Reddit and Uproxx, arguing that Bob Benson (James Wolk) is really a government spy, Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) is going to be mauled by a bear and Megan’s red star T-shirt means she’s headed for the same cruel fate as Sharon Tate. This last one feels even more plausible after Sunday’s episode, where coyotes’ ominous howls could be heard in Megan’s eerily isolated house in the hills.
In the spirit of wild speculation and over-analysis, I’ll feed the Internet another “Mad Men” theory: Don Draper dies in a plane crash.
For a man who struggles mightily with duality, there would be a certain poetry to Don perishing 30,000 feet in the air, somewhere that’s neither here nor there — in limbo, where he’s lived much of his life. On a more literal note, it squares with the falling man image in the opening credits.
I’m not saying I want Don to end up like Pete Campbell’s dad, who died in season two on disaster-bound American Airlines Flight 1. (That’s a been-there-done-that argument against Don checking out that way.) I’m also willing to admit the 24/7 coverage of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 may have unduly influenced my premonition. But Sunday’s episode left me with an unshakable sense of foreboding inextricably linked to air travel.
A Huffington Post article last year on “Mad Men” conspiracy theories astutely notes that “Weiner has a history of throwing out symbolism mixed with misdirection.” Many fans thought Pete Campbell would kill himself in season five, but it was Lane Pryce (Jared Harris) who ended up committing suicide.
Maybe it’s not Don who’s destined to die in an airliner accident but someone else on the show. A prime candidate is Megan, who’s auditioning for NBC’s short-lived series “Bracken’s World,” a drama about the downsides and disappointment that accompany Hollywood fame and glamour.
Don’s decision not to follow his actress wife to California at the end of season six means she’ll have more reason to travel between coasts. His selfishness could indirectly end up costing Megan her life. Weiner has said repeatedly that this season is about consequences.
The spoiler-averse Weiner also has said he gets a kick out of fans’ conspiracy theories and conjecture, although he and his writers aren’t seeding the scripts with red herrings in order to gin up the internet.
“We have enough trouble using our imaginations for the story we’re actually telling than to sort of play chess with the imagination of the audience,” he told reporters during a phone interview last month.
A reporter brought up the abundance of air travel in this season’s promos and premiere, asking the “Mad Men” showrunner if airplanes had any special significance in the show.
“That’s interesting,” said Weiner, who hadn’t finished writing the final batch of seven episodes that will air next year. “Picking the airport for the promotion … that has nothing to do with the content of the show. But are airplanes more and more important to American culture by the end of the ’60s? Yes. I mean, mobility — cultural, social and physical mobility is a big story. But none of that was on my mind. Not in the front of it, anyway.”