by Tommy Hough
My wife thinks I’m out of my mind, but I've become convinced the creators of Mad Men are steering the show into some kind of horrible Manson Family encounter for Megan, and quite possibly, Don as well.
Grim stuff, I know, especially considering Megan is of one of Mad Men's persistently nice and more giving characters. But given the show's current 1969 setting – and the knowledge the final season is underway, along with several less-than-subtle hints – I fear the Mad Men writers are concocting a nasty surprise, and even a nasty end for Megan.
People have been speculating for years the series will end with Don's death. This has something to do with Don's apparent cartoon caricature falling from a high-rise through the opening titles, but I've never thought of that as any kind of intended foreshadowing. It's just a metaphor for the show and a clever title sequence, that's all.
More likely, if the end of the series does call for something drastic for Don, he will simply change guises and once again become someone new. He may not be a chameleon, but he is a survivor. Perhaps Don will adopt a new name and become an early investor in Microsoft or a cable TV franchise a la Ted Turner.
Megan, however, due in part to her location, profession, decency and place in the overall story arc, seems headed for trouble.
The Manson Family scenario seems likely to come up with this season spending part of it's time in 1969 Los Angeles, and recent shows have gone to some lengths to point out Megan is living in a canyon community. As was the case before and since the 1960s, these are the kind of communities which attract tight-knit sets of artists, music and film professionals, the wealthy, and yes, predators. From the first episode of the season where Don visits Megan's new digs, it just gave me the creeps.
While Laurel, Topanga, Benedict, Bronson and some of L.A.'s other Cielo Drive-like canyon communities are in the midst of the nation's second-largest city and barely a five-minute drive from some of L.A.'s busiest intersections, they're also semi-remote locales where all-night parties can go unheard – and where cries for help may go unheard into the night.
My Spidey Sense tells me Mad Men is heading in this direction for several reasons.
The show is in the midst of the final season, with Don and Megan slowly growing apart on opposite coasts. At the end of this week's episode Megan is spied flying back to Los Angeles, but she looks relieved instead of wistful, as though there's something else for her to return to instead of just her acting career.
My wife also noted when Don told Megan he was next planning on coming to L.A. that July, Megan said she wanted to see Don somewhere away from New York or L.A. My wife immediately pointed out what Megan was really saying was she didn't want to see Don in L.A. Perhaps she’s hiding something, or someone. Being a thick-headed guy, I missed that one.
Mad Men is known for the occasional, out of the blue shocker. The most famous is the sudden, rather bloody removal of Guy McKendrick's foot in a lawn mower accident in the Sterling Cooper office ("it looks like Iwo Jima out there"). Of course, Peggy accidentally bayonetted her boyfriend last season, but Ginsberg's nipple self-removal is the easily the most recent, and disturbing example of Mad Men creepy shockeroos (the homage to the lip-reading scene in 2001 was a nice foreshadowing of Ginsberg's final departure from sanity).
More specific to a Manson Family-like scenario is Anna Draper's niece Stephanie, whom we last saw pregnant and back in Oakland at the end of The Runaways episode. While I'm not expecting Stephanie to turn into Patricia Krenwinkel or Linda Kasabian, she knows where Megan lives in L.A., knows she lives by herself, and knows money can be obtained there.
According to Stephanie, the father of her child, and therefore, someone she may be continuing a relationship with once the kid arrives, is a man getting out of prison within the month. We don't know what the baby's father was incarcerated for, but he will know soon enough through Stephanie where to go for money in a pinch. Or where to go for something worse.
You'll have to forgive the key grim comparison here, but Megan is also a struggling actress who's had a few minor roles, with a husband able to subsidize her career. Sharon Tate was a struggling actress who had a few minor roles, with a husband able to subsidize her career. Some High Octane Growler fans have noted the evolving resemblance Megan is bearing to the late Sharon Tate beyond the late 60s clothes and make-up. In the case of both the fictional Megan and the very real Sharon Tate, their husbands are/were seldom under the same roof as their wives.
This season has also gone to a few lengths to show how Megan's lifestyle has evolved beyond Don's button-down east coast businessman world, as she understandably immerses herself further into the actor and artist nightlife of L.A., with all the bacchanalian excess and fun we can draw from the era and know of the city. While the guy Megan was dancing with before her three-way with Don and pal Amy may be a colleague or harmless flirt, it demonstrates some of the "artist types" Megan works with or knows socially could've also been in the same circles which crossed paths with Manson. They would've similarly had access or knowledge of Megan's groovy canyon bungalow home.
In real life, it was Byrds producer Terry Melcher that Charles Manson had met through Beach Boy Dennis Wilson, and it was Melcher whom Manson was seeking the night August 8, 1969, when he dispatched his "family" to pay a visit to Melcher's then-former residence on Cielo Drive in Benedict Canyon with Helter Skelter on their minds. While Manson was vaguely aware Melcher no longer lived there, that didn't stop him or his murderous followers from turning it into one of the most horrific and notorious crime scenes of the 20th century.
With a Manson Family-like encounter, Mad Men would complete a kind of cultural span of the 1960s, from a time of presumed order and a respect for law and authority (but also a time of secrets, white male dominance, low glass ceilings, sexism, whispered racism, overt and not-so-overt hostility to gays, etc.), to an era in which the trust and openness of freewheeling hippiedom is shown to be poisonously vulnerable to a manipulative psychopath like Charles Manson, for whom law and order meant nothing.
So why would the Mad Men writers set up Megan for murder? Beyond the approaching end of the series, it may give Don an opportunity to physically save Megan – or perhaps physically fail and be injured in the process. Perhaps Don wouldn't be be there at all when, or if, it happens.
Whatever it may be, should my prediction come to pass, it would be a cruel way to rub out one of the more beloved characters in the series. Granted, there are some fans who've been cool to Megan since the "Zou Bisou Bisou" days, but in the Mad Men storyline Megan often seems to be set up as a foil, and even a sacrificial offering, to the characters more connected to the show's primary storyline of Sterling Cooper and Partners (the firm's apparent name as of the autumn of 1968).
For a while there were those who thought Pete was heading towards a sudden end, then Don, especially during some his notorious drinking bouts. But having seen this show for seven seasons and having an idea of the show's current timeline in relation to the historical events of 1969, I see an episode in which the magnificence of the Apollo 11 landing (i.e. the culmination of the "organized" early 60s buttoned-down and "orderly" white male society through which Don Draper and his colleagues rose) is thrown 180 degrees into the macabre horror of the Manson Family murders, and the terror which gripped the nation for days afterwards.
Mad Men has worked very hard this season to be a bi-coastal show, and time and time again has shown the main character to be ambivalent at best about joining his wife in Los Angeles. At the same time, Megan is living in a part of L.A. and spending time with a crowd, for lack of a better term, which could invite the Manson scenario – or a similar scenario via Stephanie's baby's soon-to-be ex-con father.
With all the attention paid to Los Angeles in this season of Mad Men, along with some inroads into genuine states of madness, I just can't see the writers brushing the impending Manson Family terror of August 1969 into the deep background.
Tommy Hough is a former San Diego broadcast personality, wilderness and parks advocate, California Democratic Party delegate, and the co-founder and former president of San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action. He was the endorsed Democratic candidate for San Diego City Council in District 6 in 2018.