Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Mad Men Death Pool

Death is as much a part of Mad Men as alcohol and infidelity. From Adam Whitman's suicide [1] to Bert Cooper's expiration as men landed on the moon [2], the show has not been bashful about sending characters to the great beyond. [3] As we round the corner and head for home with the final seven episodes beginning to air in three short weeks, let's take a minute and look at the Mad Men "Death Pool."

The Long-Shots

The Draper Children - Bobby and Gene (1000-1); Sally Draper (500-1): Sure, Bobby Draper has been played by multiple child actors and appears to eat up screen time for no other reason than to annoy us, but neither he nor younger brother Gene seem like obvious candidates for an untimely demise. Sally could get killed hitchhiking to Woodstock or Glen Bishop could turn out to be a murderous sociopath (though one would think Betty would be the target of his animus, not Sally), but short of that, I think she will live to experience (and surely roll her eyes at) the 1970s and the years of therapy she has ahead of her.

Harry Crane (250-1): Like cockroaches that will survive a nuclear holocaust, nothing seems to stop Harry Crane. Mergers and acquisitions, the birth of his children, seduction by a hare krishna harlot,  bingeing on hamburgers, and unfortunate sideburns, it all just rolls of Harry's back. 

Ken Cosgrove (250-1): Too anodyne to make waves for so long, when Ken briefly dipped his toe into the deeper waters of upper management, he ended up on the business end of some random GM executive's shotgun pellets. [4] Expect Ken to lay low, or better yet, hang up his spurs and become a full-time writer of weird science-fiction.

Ted Chaough (200-1): Way too nice to die young. 

Jim Cutler (175-1): Roger Sterling without the charm but also without the two prior heart attacks. 

Betty Draper Francis (150-1): Sure, her weight has yo-yo'd a bit of late and she smokes a lot, but life as a housewife has shielded Betty from some of the other obvious indicators of long-term health risk. She could go on another wild goose chase into a shady part of New York City [5] and end up losing more than the proprietary rights to her goulash recipe, but my guess is she is more likely to bury her second husband (more on that later).

Joan Holloway (150-1): Already dodged the greatest risk to an early death - being underneath lecherous Jaguar car dealer Herb Rennet. 

Cannot Be Ruled Out

Freddy Rumsen (125-1): Freddy is just the kind of mid-tier supporting player whose death could be used as an episode jolt.

Megan Draper (100-1): As much as people wanted to buy into the Megan-will-die-because-she-wore-a-Sharon-Tate-t-shirt, I don't see it happening. If she stays in La La Land, her more likely future is on the arm of some rich executive, not the victim of a ritual murder. 

Peggy Olson (80-1): Being a landlord and resident in one of New York's sketchier neighborhoods has not been without danger for Peggy, but it will likely be another few decades before her drinking, smoking, and high stress job catch up with her. 

The Contenders

Henry Francis (30-1): Killing off Henry would be a convenient way to put Betty and Don back together in middle-age, when, in theory, Don's wandering eye and marginal emotional growth might afford the couple a second chance. 

Don Draper (20-1): I have never subscribed to the theory that the show's opening credits are a foreshadowing of Don's suicide. That said, he has not been above allusions to death [6] and carries the guilt of two dead bodies on his conscience [7], but I am sticking to my belief that the credits speak to Don's uncanny ability to pull himself out of the fire in the moment before he is going to splatter all over the sidewalk and appear unperturbed, not a hair out of place, cigarette in hand, and ready for the next challenge. The only reason I have him ranked this high is because he is the main character in the show; however, those who know that Matt Weiner is a devotee of David Chase, should expect an ambiguous, Tony-Soprano-in-the-diner ending, not a Don-clutching-his-chest-and-fading-to-black ending. 

Pete Campbell (10-1): It seemed like Pete was <this close> to doing something untoward to himself while his marriage circled the drain and his paramour Beth Dawes had any memory of him zapped from her brain, [8] but his temporary relocation to California did nothing to salve the emotional wounds Pete suffers from. He is every bit as petulant, whiny, and offensive as ever and at some point, either by his own hand or someone else's, things are not going to end well. 

Roger Sterling: (3-1): Don's Sancho Panza, who almost did not make it through 1960 [9], has rebounded nicely through the sixties, but at some point all that Stoli, nicotine, and unhealthy diet have to catch up to him, right? 

What do you think?

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1. Indian Summer, Season 1, Episode 11. 
2. Waterloo, Season 7, Episode 7.
3. Other notable deaths include Gene Hofstadt (The Arrangements, Season 3, Episode 4), Anna Draper (The Suitcase, Season 4, Episode 7), Ida "The Astronaut" Blankenship (The Beautiful Girls, Season 4, Episode 9), Lane Pryce (Commissions and Fees, Season 5, Episode 12), Mother Sterling (The Doorway Part I, Season 6, Episode 1), and Frank Gleason (The Crash, Season 6, Episode 8). 
4. The Quality of Mercy, Season 6, Episode 12. 
5. The Doorway Part II, Season 6, Episode 2. 
6. See, e.g., commenting on a Saturday night in the suburbs as making him want to "blow his brains out," (Signal 30, Season 5, Episode 5), doodling nooses on a note pad, (To Have and To Hold, Season 6, Episode 4), and using imagery others considered suicidal for a Royal Hawaiian marketing pitch (The Doorway Part II, Season 6, Episode 2). 
7. Don felt responsible for Adam Whitman's death because Don pushed him away. Don felt responsible for Lane Pryce's death because he fired Lane after discovering the Brit had embezzled money from the firm and forged Don's signature on the check that he wrote to steal from the firm.
8. The Phantom, Season 5, Episode 13. 

9. During Season 1, Roger has two heart attacks in close proximity to one another. 


  1. From: Matthew Weiner
    Date: Friday, March 27, 2015 at 9:10 PM
    To: Russell Ziecker
    Subject: RE: Fw: The Scary Lawyer Guy Blog: The Mad Men Death Pool

    That's pretty hilarious and cool. Great to see you too and to share this journey for seven years. Thanks Russell.


    Sent from right behind you.

    -------- Original message --------
    From: Russell Ziecker
    Date: 03/27/2015 8:55 PM (GMT-05:00)
    To: Matt Weiner
    Subject: Fw: The Scary Lawyer Guy Blog: The Mad Men Death Pool

    Pretty interesting. Thought you'd get a kick out of it.

    Great seeing you in your moment the other night. One of many -well deserved. Goes w/o saying i'll miss the show and the people.

    Very happy for you Matt!

  2. Sent you "Death Pool" piece above to friend at Lionsgate. Office LOVED it and in turn sent to Matt....

    Great work and looking forward to your recaps this final season.

    I'm a longtime reader of your blog.


    1. Wow! This is really amazing. I am so humbled. Thank you so much, you made my day!

  3. underneath lecherous Jaguar car dealer Herb Rennet??

    I doubt that prick's prick can reach past that belly.