The critics are mixed as to the quality of season 6 of "Mad Men." But one thing's for certain, it sure is breeding some crazy theories! Here are some of the most compelling ones, ranked from most to least plausible.
The whole season is one big metaphor for Dante's "Inferno"
This was fairly obvious from the season 6 premiere, which opened with Don Draper reading "The Inferno," Dante's masterpiece about traveling into the nine circles of hell. It wasn't rocket science for critics to ask whether we were in Don Draper's hell?
While some have let go of the whole "Inferno" motif, a few close watchers see it popping up again. A Facebook post pointed out 503, the number on Sylvia's hotel room door in the episode "Man with a Plan", adds up to eight (5+0+3=8), the eighth circle of hell being reserved for the seducers.
Ari Ratner, an ardent Dante theorizer, pointed out all the bird imagery in "To Have and to Hold," connecting it to Dante's second circle of hell, whose inhabitants are symbolized as birds. The episode ends with Sylvia telling Don she prays for him to have peace, echoing the lines of Dante's doomed lovers that close out the canto.
"The Inferno" ends with Dante walking away from the devil. Will Don end season 6 by walking away from the firm? Megan? His own life?
The Identity of Bob Benson?
Vulture has a neat round up of all the theories – many from this Reddit thread – circulating about the mysterious Bob Benson, an eager, handsome, young buck who started working in Accounts this season (though most of his colleagues are either annoyed by him or can't remember his name). Among the possibilities being floated around is that he is a spy, a journalist, or somebody's (Don's? Bert's? Roger's?) secret son. TV Asylum also suggests he may be gay (despite his romancing of Joan). Or maybe, he is the guy who is going to kill one of the Drapers (more on that later) – he's got that psychopathic murderer look in his eye.
The Return of Sal
The actor who played Sal – the closeted gay art director who was fired from Sterling Cooper seasons ago – has expressed a desire to return to the show. And Vulture argues early-series characters usually make an appearance in later episodes. Too bad creator Matthew Weiner shot down the idea of a Sal comeback in a profile in the Wall Street Journal. The only way this theory is somewhat plausible, then, is if Benson is gay and can be seen as a replacement for Sal, in that he is a way for the show to cope with changing attitudes towards homosexuality.
Megan Draper will die, a la Sharon Tate
In the episode "The Better Half," Megan wears the same shirt that Sharon Tate – a famed actress who was murdered by Charles Manson in 1969 – wore in a 1967 Esquire photo shoot. The costume designer confirmed to the daughter of the Esquire photographer on Twitter the shirt was not coincidental. Tate-Megan references pop up elsewhere. In episode 8, "The Crash," Sally reads "Rosemary's Baby," which Tate's husband director Roman Polanksi was filming at the time of the Esquire photo shoot. Before the season even started, culture blog Tom + Lorenzo noted Megan had a Sharon Tate look about her in the promotional stills .
To have the season end with Megan's murder would fit in the narrative of the rising crime problem in New York City, from the intruder in the Draper home to the ambulance sirens that can often be heard from the Draper balcony. It would also explain what the cop cars are doing in season 6's promotional poster.
Megan is already dead
Going one step further, super fan Dustin Rowles at Uproxx postulated Megan is already dead, and it is her ghost Don sees in his hash hallucination during the most recent episode. Even though she appears in the previews for the next episode, Rowles points out the possibility here too she could be only in Don's head, and the black and red outfit she wears is symbolic of a violent death.
Don will die
Over at Slate, Seth Stevenson takes the Megan-death theories, and raises it with a prediction that Don will be dead by season's end. He points out the death imagery follows both the Drapers – not just Don. But he doesn't do much to flesh out of the idea, other than arguing that it would appeal to creator Matthew Weiner's style: "How Weinerian would that be? Icing the icon of your show seems like the sort of zagging – a rebellion against TV's established order, if you will – that Weiner can't resist."
If that's the case, then what will season 7 be about? Everyone at Sterling Cooper waxing on about his legacy? (Aside from some clever ads, there really isn't much, when you think about it.) The truth about Don's identity switch? Sally going full throttle into teenage rebellion?
If "Mad Men" could be understood as the life and death of the 1960s, and Don Draper the observer-participant in America's transformation in that period, then his death in season 6 would make season 7 a eulogy for the '60s – not the craziest idea. At least not as crazy as the theory that the whole series is just a story written by Ken Crosgrove.