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Countdown to 'Mad Men': Predicting doom and gloom (and Glen?) for Don Draper & Co.

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Image Credit: AMCThere’s something rotten wafting through the halls of Sterling Cooper Draper Price, and it’s not Mrs. Blakenship’s moldy corpse. I really don’t know what it is, actually, but we’ll all find out Sunday night when the new episode of Mad Men elaborates on the ominous preview that ran at the end of last week’s episode. Among the bits of scenes was one in which Don Draper was on the phone and looking ashen. Is he receiving some troubling news? “I didn’t know anything about this,” he says gravely. Other slices of cryptically out-of-context episode stuff seemed to suggest a workplace crisis (Don telling Pete: “Just find out how far it’s gone”; Roger bemoaning: “This is not happening”) or that some kind of something bad is about to happen in the Mad Men world–and I’m guessing it has nothing to do with Bob Dylan’s rejection of his folk roots and taking up the electric guitar in the summer of ’65. Now, it’s always tricky drawing conclusions from Mad Men previews, which are so defiantly non-illuminating they often play like parodies of episode-ending “Next week on…” teases. Still, last week’s promo for “Hands and Knees” seemed unusually substantial for Mad Men if only for the strong vibe of dread that it intentionally cultivated. What looms? I’ve been obsessed with the question all week, and my theory-making mind has concocted some scenarios. Here are some possibilities, offered with this PSEUDO SPOILER ALERT: While I completely enjoy and defend the activity of storyline prognostication as a legitimate form of expressing fandom, there is an argument to be made that “theories” retroactively become “SPOILERS” if they’re proven to be even kinda-sorta correct. If you prefer to go into the new episode without being tainted by my conjectures–if you wish to be a clean-slate Blankenship, if you will (yes, groan)–skip this. Instead, I might recommend reading Margaret Lyons’ recent interview with Randee Heller, the actress who played the late Mrs. Blankenship, or checking out this awesome painting of Peggy as mother, cradling Don as baby.

Trouble with Lucky Strike?

The early episodes of the season took pains to remind us that Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce is too dependent on the Lucky Strike account for its survival. If the agency’s sugar daddy client decides to put its ad business up for review, Lucky Strike could essentially extinguish the firm. In the current Mad Men year of 1965, Congress passed the Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act; surely such an event would have cause any tobacco marketer to rethink their strategies and consider new options.

THEORY! Lucky Strike hasn’t officially put its account into review—but what Don and co. will learn is that their biggest client has been meeting with other agencies as it considers a possible review. Moreover: Remember last week, Dr. Faye refused to tell Don about the work she was doing with other agencies. I wonder: Is her research company working for another firm on a Lucky Strike pitch?

Trouble with Pryce?

A few episodes ago, there was a conspicuous mention of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce selling itself or merging with another agency to shore up its survival. It seemed to be baseless office gossip at the time, but ever since, I’ve been wondering if there could be a germ of truth to it.

THEORY! Lane Pryce—the resident worrywart when it comes to SCDP’s fiscal situation—has indeed been pursuing a deal to sell or merge the agency and will present an offer to the partners. Or maybe it’s slightly less dramatic. Pryce—homesick for England and wanting to reconcile with his wife—has been quietly hatching a plan to exit the agency without destabilizing it.

Trouble with Sally?

Don’s got plenty of other troubles in his life that could lead to a dispiriting phone call. Last week gave us a full dose of his sad and angry daughter, who just hateshateshates living under the thumb of the Wicked Witch of the Suburbs, Betty. Let us not forget the other storyline that Mad Men introduced in the second episode of the season: The return of creepy Glen, who developed a disturbing romantic fixation with Sally.

THEORY! Betty will catch Sally and Glen in a smoochy clinch (or, knowing Glen, perhaps some kinky act of hair cutting), exposing their illicit love. Much parental freakage ensues. (By the way: Are you following “Creepy Glen” @CreepyGlen on Twitter? I am. Perhaps against my better judgment, but I am.)

Trouble with Duck?

The season’s stand-out episode “The Suitcase” reminded us that Duck Philips, now a big-time drunk, has a vendetta against Don Draper. We saw him sneak into the agency and attempt to trash Don’s office by… uh… “dumping” all over it. Peggy caught him, and anyway, Duck got the wrong office, anyway.

THEORY! Undeterred, Drunken Duck has been making more late-night bathroom visits to the offices of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. That smell wafting through the offices? It’s coming from the liquor closet…

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A VERY BRIEF THEORY ABOUT SALLY DRAPER

In addition to being her own troubled person, Don Draper’s daughter stood as a metaphor for Don Draper’s life arc in last week’s episode. She ran away from a home she hated; went to the big city to reinvent herself and start over; and ultimately fell flat on her face. In the end, she was sent home—as she should have been. I know we were all pulling for Don to keep Sally with him, but this isn’t really what Sally needs. What she needs is for her parents to step up as parents (regardless of where she lives) and continue the work taking place with her shrink to deal with her anger, her yearning, her “issues.” Which is how Sally completes the metaphor for Don. For Don to complete his season 4 bid to become a better, healthier version of himself, he has to deal with what remains of his past, his Dick Whitman past, and he needs to do that by going home. No, I don’t know what that means, really. But it just feels correct to me. He has to go back to Illinois, back to the farm, back to his beginnings and deal with… something. Yes, I know his biological mother and father are dead. But there is that stepmother of his, the one who never let him forget he was a worthless son of a whore. Regardless: There’s something rotting in the state of Illinois—in Don’s past—and he’s got go there and deal.

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For more on Mad Men, you can check out Sally Draper’s Fall TV Preview For 1965. If the new episode, “Hands and Knees,” yields some provocative cultural references, I’ll investigate and post my findings via Twitter @ewdocjensen And make sure you come back Monday for both Ken Tucker’s instant reaction to “Hands and Knees” and Karen Valby’s recap of the episode.

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