Mad Men does nothing by accident. I know, I know, tell us something we don’t know, MaryAnn. But seriously, this show loves throwing clues around like candy at a Memorial Day parade. At the start of the series, Peggy went looking for birth control—and lo and behold, by the end of Season 1, she was knocked up. In Season 4, a reporter’s simple question—“Who is Don Draper?”—set the theme for the remainder of the season. All of the nuances and blink-and-you’ll-miss-it details provide great “Aha!” moments later on, especially during re-watches.
But here at TV.com we believe that it’s never too early to start throwing around kooky Mad Men conspiracy theories. From the very beginning, Season 5 has felt off-kilter with all the mass murder headlines, homicidal fever dreams, and as of last week's episode, Sylvia Plath allusions (she was an early confessional poet with a laundry list of suicide attempts). Mad Men has gone dark side, basically. If this were any other show, I’d worry about a loss of direction or a desperate attempt to grab ratings by cranking up the shock factor. But since this is Mad Men, and Mad Men has yet to do me wrong, I’m going to give it the benefit of the doubt.
Not to mention that fact that Matt Weiner has been pretty explicit in the past with regard to his stance on maintaining the quality that Mad Men is so lauded for.
So, my prediction, a prediction that I first entertained around the time of Betty’s cancer scare way back in Episode 3, a prediction that has only grown more insistent on demanding my attention with each new episode, is that someone on Mad Men is going to bite it.
But WHO? Everyone at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce has been a little out there lately, personality wise. Roger has been an uncharacteristically sunny fixture in the office since his little acid trip, and Peggy has been unusually sour. Don has shown an alarmingly violent side both in his dreams and in real life. Sally’s rebellious streak is starting to become more overt. The list goes on, and there’s an ominous cloud of potential disaster hovering over each name.
So let’s take a look at our contenders:
Roger Sterling (John Slattery)
Quite frankly, I thought he was going to have a bad trip and claw his face off during “Far Away Places” and since that didn’t happen, I’ve been holding out for some sort of post-LSD flashback ever since. It could still happen, but of more pressing concern is his sudden cheery demeanor and the fact that he keeps giving his stuff away. Roger has struggled to find a place in the office since Lucky Strike bailed. He’s really not that important to the daily operations at SCDP and most of his attempts to reclaim a sense of relevancy to the company have been met with resistance and disdain. At home, his trophy wife basically resented his existence unless he was handing her a wad of cash, so he divorced her and, in his newly single glow, was really quite amiable about the whole thing. In “Lady Lazarus” he gifted Pete with a set of skis and while he played them off as a client gift that he didn’t want or need, he could have given them to anyone... yet he chose the perpetual thorn in his side, Pete. Pete has always wanted to be the New Don, but really, he’s more aligned to become the New Roger, and Roger knows this. Furthermore, this knowledge has been one of Roger's major sources of angst in his slow descent into unimportance.
Is Roger holding an olive branch out to the man he knows will probably replace him, or is his outlook more grim than that? “Lady Lazarus”—an episode that shared its title with a poem about suicide—showed Roger exhibiting sudden personality shifts, thoughts of inadequacy and unimportance, and the ceremonial giving away of one’s personal belongings, all of which are documented traits of a potentially suicidal individual.
Death Probability: On a scale of 0 to 10, with 10 meaning we've already printed up the death certificate, I’m going to give the esteemed author of Sterling’s Gold a 7. He just throws up a lot of red flags for me, but at the same time, I can’t imagine Mad Men without him.
Beth Dawes (Alexis Bledel)
Beth is a new blip on our radar, the wife of Pete’s insurance-selling commuter pal, and the object of his creepy, obsessive, and entitled affection. She slept with Pete once and, overwhelmed with regret, refused to see him again—only to draw a little heart in the frost on her car window while looking at him longingly. She broadcasts a lot of mixed signals. She’s clearly miserable and often anxious, upset by Pete’s attention and particularly disturbed by the photographs of Earth taken from space by the Lunar Orbiter 1. The fact that she’s the quirky enlightened chick who showed up in the episode with a title inspired by the poem written by the quirky enlightened chick who eventually stuck her head in an oven only serves to feed my little conspiracy gremlins more (and we all know what happens when you feed the gremlins after midnight).
Death Probability: 8. Maybe 9. The Powers that Be are keeping quiet about the length of Bledel’s stay on Mad Men. Considering the title of her debut episode and her character’s overwhelming sadness and aura of unbalance, I pegged her for a goner right away. Pete’s constant pursuit only exacerbates her anxiety and as a character, she’s new enough and currently minor enough that her death would certainly impact Pete’s storyline in a major way, but it wouldn’t alter the beloved fabric of the series as a whole.
Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser)
A cloud of dissatisfaction has been suspended over Pete’s head since the very beginning of the series, but where it has motivated him in the past to plunge into his work—first by adopting a “take no prisoners” mindset, and later by forming a tentative truce with Don before begrudgingly coming to respect him—recently, Pete’s dissatisfaction with his life has resulted in increasingly poor decision-making. It’s like he’s a child acting out, and he KNOWS it.
We haven’t seen much of the wannabe womanizer in Pete since his skeevy coercion of the neighbor’s au pair way back in Season 3, but his recent relocation to the suburbs and the birth of his daughter seem to have done a number on his mindset. On the surface, Pete has everything he ever wanted: a partnership at the firm, financial security of his own making, a beautiful wife, a cute kid, a car, and a house of his very own. Yet he’s MISERABLE. I don’t think we’ve seen him this down in ages.
The womanizing is back and far worse than we’ve seen it before. There was the hooker, then the failed fling with his drivers' ed classmate, and now the star-crossed pursuit of Beth Dawes. He doesn’t seem to like the suburbs or get much satisfaction from his job anymore, and he voiced his own anxiety over the Earth pictures after hooking up with Beth. There have also been quite a few throwaway lines that, when looked at collectively, paint a pretty ominous picture of Pete: In “Signal 30” we learned that he still has the gun from Season 1. In "Lady Lazarus," Beth pointed out that Pete is a terrible driver. And Beth's husband tried to sell Pete life insurance, noting rather enthusiastically that his policies “even cover suicide!”
Death Probability: 7. Pete is on par with Roger when it comes to weird vibes. He’s also managed to thrust himself into some pretty precarious situations, especially when it comes to Beth. She’s unbalanced. Pete’s a little unhinged. And I can’t imagine her husband will take the affair well if he ever discovers it.
Trudy Campbell (Alison Brie)
We haven’t seen much of Trudy this season, but we’ve heard a lot about her. Of particular note is Pete’s description of her after the birth of Tammy. Apparently she’s depressed and overwhelmed and doesn’t really put much effort into her appearance anymore. Yet a few episodes later, at the dinner party where Don fixed the Campbells' sink, Trudy looked great and played the gracious host well.
Death Probability: 4? Let’s go with 4. Pete seemed to be hinting at crippling depression when he talked about her spending the day in her bathrobe, but I think she’s probably just a new mom who hasn’t yet figured out how to balance all of her new responsibilities with her old ones.
Don Draper (Jon Hamm)
Don is not going to die. No way, no how. BUT: He’s been at the center of his own weirdness web and on a smaller level, experiencing the same alienation that Roger has. Don used to be COOL, right? I mean, to us, Don is still The Man, but in his own time period and the little Mad Men version of the '60s that lives in our televisions, Don is kind of old and grumpy. He’s had moments bordering downright pathetic, especially in Season 4. He's slowly becoming irrelevant.
Unlike Roger, who's apparently made peace with youth passing him by, Don is trying to stay on top. After all, it’s essential to Don’s career that he not only understand what is “in,” but also know WHY it’s the hip new thing. And that’s where Don is struggling. He doesn’t get the Beatles or the Rolling Stones. He doesn’t understand how teenagers, young adults, or women think. He wants to. We’ve seen him repeatedly try to learn. But he can’t.
Don’s frustration is starting to show. He strangled an old flame during a fever dream and has lashed out violently at Megan on several occasions. Sure, there was last week's elevator scene, with Don staring at his own mortality (or rather, his lack of immortality) due to a glitch in the door, but he walked away from that. He’s not about to quit.
Death Probability: -6. It’s just not going to happen.
Betty Francis (January Jones)
I’m not entirely convinced that Betty wasn’t lying when she told everyone that her cancer scare was a big false alarm. Betty is a little girl trapped in an adult body and what’s the go-to method for dealing with your problems when they’re really scary and you’re just a kid? Deny, deny, deny.
That said, was it just me or did Betty seem a little disappointed when her sudden weight gain couldn’t be blamed on the big C? We haven’t seen more than a glimpse of Betty since “Tea Leaves,” so whatever she’s up to is largely open to the imagination, but maybe rather than Trudy, it's Betty who is the sad, miserable housewife on this show?
Of course, that’s the Betty standard, isn’t it? Death Probability: 1. Maybe 2. We just don’t have a lot of information to work with here. And why bother killing her off? She’s barely been on the show this season anyway.
Greg Harris (Samuel Page)
Ah, Dr. Rapey himself. Joan kicked him out earlier this season and we all assumed that would be the last of him, what with his decision to return to Vietnam and all. But that’s precisely why he makes the list. He’s in Vietnam. It’s a war zone. He said he’d be fine. Do the math.
Death Probability: I don’t know. Do we even care if he dies? Greg's is not the death we’re looking for.
Megan Draper (Jessica Pare)
We’ve already fretted over an AWOL Megan Draper in “Far Away Places,” when everyone thought she was dead in a ditch somewhere after Don stranded her at a Howard Johnsons and found only a forlorn pair of sunglasses in the parking lot when he finally pulled his head out of his ass and went back for her.
At first glance, even with her seemingly sudden decision to leave her copywriting job at SDCP, Megan is one of the more level-headed ladies on the show. So, she’s survived finding her way home on her own, and she doesn’t appear to have a death wish. By all accounts, Megan should be safe.
But then there are the passionate fights with Don, the most frightening of which was certainly the terrifying chase around their apartment at the end of “Far Away Places” (though the angry sex at the end of “A Little Kiss” was pretty unnerving on its own up until that point). Passion is great and I really do think that Don loves Megan. Most of their issues stem from his frustration over misunderstanding the new culture that seemingly spring up while he was no doubt sleeping off a hangover in the office. But that doesn’t make the violent undertones of their interactions okay.
Death Probability: 5. I don’t think that Mad Men would “go there,” but Don’s homicidal fever dream was so random and out-there that I have to believe it served a purpose other than trolling the audience.
Bert Cooper (Robert Morse)
We basically have to include Burt Cooper purely because he’s the “old guard” at SCDP. He’s rarely around, and when he does show up, it’s usually just to remind everyone that this is HIS company and he doesn’t approve of what’s being done with it. I can totally see him keeling over like Ida Blankenship, just due to old age and natural causes.
Death Probability: 3. Sure, he COULD just keel over like Ida, but what would be the point? Her unceremonious death served as a footnote to the season, a reflection of how far technology and culture had progressed since the 19th century, but ultimately, there was little impact on the bigger picture. Bert deserves better, because he’s awesome. Also, it’ll be really disappointing if all of this build-up just leads to Burt Cooper croaking in the conference room.
Do you think Mad Men is gearing up to kill someone off? And if so, who do you think it will be? Would you put anyone else on this list?