The speculation is as flaky as it is fatuous. As Mad Men (Sunday, AMC, 9 p.m.) ends this strange season, there is an ocean of online conjecture about major events unfolding in its final hour. The gist is this: Somebody's gonna die!
Mad Men generates this kind of devotional guesswork. The show's emphasis on subtlety, followed, ever so slowly, by scenes that approach Grand Guignol, leads to an intensity that is a sometimes scholarly and sometimes ridiculous. However, it is all a testament to the seriousness of the series, the sense that a great deal of what happens is meaning laden. Such is the nature of so much of cable-quality drama these days.
Doom is what has hung so heavily over this, its penultimate season: Don Draper's spiral downward into heavy drinking, an intense affair with a neighbour, a touch of sadism inside that, and the air of profound alienation that surrounds him like a fog; the rage and confusion that now reside in that mere child, Sally Draper; the curious emotional estrangement of Megan Draper as she evolves, oblivious to Don's deep well of troubles. Not to mention the slide into middle-age fury by Pete Campbell. If you're looking for pessimism, it's there by the bucketful.
Meanwhile, there is all that speculation that a major character will die in the season finale (creator Mathew Weiner has denied this). Some viewers, critics and bloggers have mounted a campaign to suggest that it will be Megan, specifically in some sort of Sharon Tate-like ending.
They cite the scene in which Megan wore a shirt similar to one worn famously by Roman Polanski's wife, Tate, before she was murdered by Charles Manson's followers. Mad Men's costume designer, Janie Bryant, even acknowledged the homage was deliberate. Others speculate that Pete Campbell will commit suicide. This conjecture exists, in part, because viewers dislike him. Yet others feel that Sally Draper, now smoking and drinking like her father, will out Don as a horrible dad and destroy his marriage to Megan.
Never. Mind. These speculations are silly and undervalue Mad Men as a soap opera with OMG! twists. It is more interesting to ponder the meaning of what's been going on and just speculate a little about the future – the final season next year and what Mad Men says about the changes in the United States from the Mad Men era into the 1970s and beyond.
In this particular arena of analysis, Bob Benson is a key character, a perambulating symbol.
As viewers know, Benson, the blandly handsome, smiling, eager-to-please junior ad man, was revealed to be too good to be true. No "Bob Benson" exists; his résumé is bogus and he's a very charming con man.
One can speculate that Benson is a variation on Don Draper, in that he's a self-created man with a borrowed persona. But here's what I think – Benson is key because he represents the coming 1970s. He embodies the decade with his grin, his anodyne philosophy of finding esteem in his empty personality, his mercurial sexuality and his utter smoothness. He's like the Me Decade in one person, and one can see the Tony Robbins-like positive-thinking philosophy he could take on into the 1980s. He's the future, while all the other male figures on Mad Men seem like dinosaurs.
Maybe, you say. Or maybe not. But this often sour season of Mad Men, one that wobbled at times, ends as an extravagantly rich mine of meaning, suggestion and worth.
Also airing this weekend
Crossing Lines (Sunday, NBC, 9 p.m.) was unavailable for advance review, but looks interesting. It's a European co-production and features cops from several EU countries forced to work together to track down a dastardly killer. William Fichtner is the American actor involved, along with Gabriella Pession (Italy), Moon Dailly (France), Richard Flood (Ireland) and, from Germany, Tom Wlaschiha, who has been on Game of Thrones. Donald Sutherland turns up too, and apparently the series will air on CBC later this year.
Devious Maids (Sunday, Lifetime Canada, 10 p.m.) is new and delicious. A concoction created by Marc Cherry, who did Desperate Housewives, and based on a Spanish-language telenovela, it's Upstairs Downstairs on acid. Consider a rich Beverly Hills wife telling the maid, "If you don't stop screwing my husband, I'm going to have you deported." You get the gist.
And yes, it's all about a group of maids toiling in Beverly Hills, but they are far from victim-stereotypes. As in Desperate Housewives, the core of the show is strong women, sometimes sticking together and sometimes battling each other for power. The all-star ensemble cast includes soap veteran Susan Lucci, who plays a wealthy woman, with Ana Ortiz (Ugly Betty), Dania Ramirez (Entourage), Roselyn Sanchez (Without a Trace), and Judy Reyes (Scrubs). The show is about cleaning up dirt and using dirt on the rich as a weapon. And it's smart fun.
All times ET. Check local listings.