Is Don Draper Going to Die? Reading the Mad Men Tea Leaves.

Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog
March 7 2014 5:16 PM

Is Don Draper Going to Die? Reading the Mad Men Tea Leaves.

Mad Men obsessives, it’s time to don our fringed shawls. The week has brought us tea leaves and chicken bones, in the form of a new teaser trailer and a new poster touting the forthcoming season, which premieres April 13. What can we glean from these portents?



The short answer: Nothing! Creator Matthew Weiner is a detail-obsessed master of misdirection who hates the idea that we viewers might figure out where he is going before he takes us there. So it’s very unlikely that much will be revealed by these coy promos. Still, let’s give it shot.


Poster first: The image above is the work of Milton Glaser, the designer who gave us the “I [Heart] NY” design, among numerous other achievements. The poster, with its lurid hues and prominent glass of wine, conveys a sense of hedonistic oblivion befitting a season that may usher us out of the 1960s. (It recalls promotional posters for events at San Francisco’s Fillmore, so maybe Don really is moving to the West Coast.)

The central figure is a woman—Don seems to be watching her from his classic armchair pose—whose luxuriant hair recalls Glaser’s famous image of Bob Dylan. But here the coiffure is lush and verdant—we see vines, berries, an iris, a parrot tulip—and her brow is bedecked with a laurel wreath. The image of a woman being swallowed by earthy tendrils calls to mind the myth of Apollo and the nymph Daphne. He loved and pursued her; she hated him; and she convinced her dad to turn her into a tree to escape Apollo’s attentions. Chagrined—“’Since you cannot be my wife,’ said he, ‘you shall assuredly be my tree’”—Apollo devotedly tended the tree thereafter, and a circlet of its leaves became the laurel wreath, crown of conquerors and champions. (Of course, if we’re going Greek, the image of a glass of wine calls to mind Dionysus—or, hell, Olivia Pope. Maybe the man in the chair is President Fitz. MAYBE BOBBY GROWS UP TO BE PRESIDENT FITZ!)

So: Perhaps Don no longer seeks the laurels of victory. Or perhaps he dreams of shedding the constraints of his body and all those who desire it. Or perhaps the female figure is Peggy, who shuns the attentions of men in pursuit of her own interests. Or perhaps the figure is just decomposing and sprouting foliage, which means Don—or someone—is going to die.

The teaser video offers even less to work with. It’s about 10 seconds long, and Don descends the steps of a plane, walking into shadow, pulling his hat low on his brow, casting his face into darkness. (Update, 5:31 p.m.: At one point, as this post previously noted, the soundtrack was an unfamiliar version of “Que sera, sera,” but the versions now available include only a prolonged chord sequence and a whooshing aeronautics noise.)

Perhaps this ALSO means Don is going to die. Or perhaps it lends credence to an interesting theory that has emerged: that Don Draper will turn out to be the mysterious hijacker D.B. Cooper. The theory is worth checking out—there are some intriguing parallels to the way Dick Whitman abandoned his identity at the start of the series—but it is almost certainly not true. Matthew Weiner has never been interested in puzzle-piecing his figures into history. He loves to show how history unfolds in the background in ways we do and don’t notice.

I’d bet that plane-centric teaser—Don descends a staircase, just like D.B. Cooper deploying the stairs on his hijacked plane!—is, more than anything else, a red herring intended to stoke analysts who think the show will end with Don buying a one way ticket at the Portland International Airport. Either way, the final season of Mad Men is now boarding.

Julia Turner is the editor in chief of Slate and a regular on Slate's Culture Gabfest podcast.


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