Don Draper Is D.B. Cooper. Just Accept It.
Roger Cormier compiles all the plane references from seven seasons of Mad Men.
In Sunday's series finale of Mad Men, Don Draper will purchase a Northwest Orient Airlines plane ticket as "Dan Cooper." He will hijack the plane and demand and receive $200,000, before parachuting out of the Boeing 727 aircraft somewhere between Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington. As it played out in the real world, he will be referred to as "D.B. Cooper" due to media confusion, which works better anyway as "Don Bert Cooper" or "Don [my late first wife buried in a sweet blue chiffon dress] Betty Cooper" would be a more fitting nom de hijacking for the show. This inevitable ripped-from-an-actual-newspaper-headline ending has been hinted at throughout Mad Men's seven-season run. Pretend to be surprised when all of this goes down. I am not a crackpot (and neither is Lindsey M. Green, who got there first).
Also on the finale: Peggy Olson will create the "Buy The World A Coke" campaign for McCann-Erickson, something the actual creative director at that real ad agency did in 1971. Just look at the prominence of Coca-Cola in the last few episodes. ...You're right, you're right -- one conspiracy theory at a time. Sorry!
Presenting: seven years' worth of completely real plane references from Mad Men. If you can get to the end without believing the D.B. Cooper theory-slash-ironclad prediction, you must have skimmed.
S01E03: "The Marriage Of Figaro"
A plane is heard flying overhead while Don attempts to decipher Sally's playhouse instructions, right before having his first of too many beers of the day. It's almost Pavlovian, with the half-man half-hobo hearing a mode of transportation in motion and having an immediate desire to escape his domestic ennui somehow.
Later, at Sally's party, Henry and Janet Darling -- characters who only appear in this episode -- briefly corner Don.
Henry Darling: We were thinking about you, Don. We saw this thing on TV, it was right in the middle of the news, it was cute. The guy flying with his hat on. Did you do that one?
Janet Darling: It was so cute. I think the man looks exactly like Henry.
Henry: Except not as handsome.
Don: I haven't seen that.
Betty then enters the dining room.
Betty: I'm going to go and lay the kids' food out, but let's not even bother trying to get them to sit.
Francine: I'll co-pilot.
Don will be on the news as a guy flying, when he hijacks that plane. Since Francine is not in earshot of the Darlings' description of the commercial they believe Don made, her saying "co-pilot" instead of "help" is awfully strange. (Right?!)
S01E07: "Red In The Face"
Roger invites himself over to the Drapers' for dinner, where he tells a war story.
Roger: Well, the third day we picked up a dinah circling the convoy, a recon plane. They were mapping us for the Nip suicide submarines up ahead -- kaitens, basically warheads with motors. Made us feel good to know we had such a dedicated enemy.
Betty: That's impossible. Finish your story.
Roger: Well we gave it to them, right at 12 o'clock. He was going away from us but we hit him. I watched him dive into the waves just beyond the horizon. And it was strange because we knew it was over for him, but we didn't see or hear much. The next four hours I took us off-course just to swing by. Looking for a hole in the ocean, I guess. We saw the wreckage. No chute, no body. It's incredible that something that heavy can float. Isn't that something?
"No chute, no body." Just like Dan "D.B." Cooper's body has never been found. Whether he survived his descent remains a mystery to this day.
Jim Hobart of McCann-Erickson has wanted to hire Don since Season 1, and says the following to his "white whale" over the phone: "Do you know the kind of clients we attract? Pan Am, Coca-Cola, Esso. Can you imagine the lifestyle that goes with handling Pan Am? It's a panty-dropper."
A class act from the very beginning, that one. Working with the airline industry is equated with power and class throughout the run of the series, so when Jim mentions it here, Don listens. So do his underlings, because later in the episode, when McCann-Erickson's courtship of Don is rumored around the office, some unsubtle sucking-up commences.
Harry: I have to say, Don, Lucky Strike even in this lawsuit is stronger than ever. It was a brilliant campaign.
Kinsey: Like some supersonic jet flying right over the market.
Pete: I was there. Great work.
"Supersonic jet." Don knows that Harry, Kinsey, and Pete want him to take them with him to McCann, but air travel is still equated, at least subconsciously, with high status. (Pun a little intended.)
S02E01: "For Those Who Think Young"
The staff tries to pitch a Mohawk Airlines campaign to Don. He helps them out.
Don: I get on a plane, I don't care where I'm going. I just want to see the city disappearing behind me.
Peggy: So we could take the clouds out of there and put in a city. The Chrysler Building.
Don: That Indian. It's not about the majestic beauty of the Mohawk Nation. It's about adventure. Could be a pirate. Could be a knight in shining armor. It could be a conquistador getting off of a boat. It's about a fantastical people who are taking you someplace where you've never been.
Don believes heroes travel and have adventures. From the same conversation:
Don: You want to get on a plane to feel alive. You want to get on a plane to see just the hint of a woman's thigh because her skirt is just this much too short.
Stewardess Florence Schnaffer didn't read Dan (D.B.) Cooper's ransom note at first because she believed he was just another horny businessman giving her his phone number. The incident occurred on Wednesday, November 24, 1971, Thanksgiving eve. Cooper could not wait until after the Thanksgiving holiday weekend -- not even the day after, a Friday (long before "Black Friday" was a thing). We know from at least the first-season finale "The Wheel" that Don Draper doesn't always show up for or give much respect to Thanksgiving either.
S02E02: "Flight 1"
Don is the first person Pete goes to when he hears that his father has died in a plane crash, even though they had a tenuous relationship. Duck also spends most of the episode trying to convince Sterling Cooper to go after American Airlines.
Roger: They have any idea what went wrong?
Duck: None. Normal takeoff, perfect weather. The thing just nose-dived, exploded.
Cooper: That's not comforting.
Duck: Shel says they're going to need to make a fresh start.
Roger: Did he say "fresh start"?
Duck: A few times.
Cooper: That is an interesting phone call.
A "fresh start" is something Dick Whitman/Don Draper will at least believe he'll be getting when he jumps out of that plane with $200,000.
Back to the episode: that night in Ossining, Don, Betty, Carlton, and Francine play cards.
Francine: Did you hear about that jetliner?
Betty: Terrible. It's terrible.
Carlton: I was supposed to fly to Cleveland. Now I can't. I have to take the train. Nine hours.
Francine: I love the train. You do, too.
Don hears this and notes that some people might get slightly inconvenienced, but that they will move on with their lives after a fated flight makes news.
S02E11: "The Jet Set"
Don visits Los Angeles!
Viscount Monteforte d'Alsace, a.k.a. Willy: Excuse me. My friends and I have been speculating about you, trying to decide who you are and what you do.
Willy: Are you an actor?
Don: [scoffs] No.
Willy: Are you an astronaut?
Willy: Someone over there would like to meet you -- a young woman -- only if you were none of these things.
Of course, Don is one of the greatest actors of all time, and will become an "astronaut." Willy and his friends kind of nail it.
S03E01: "Out Of Town"
Don and Sal are on a plane.
Shelly the Stewardess: The captain's about to announce our descent into Friendship. Quick refill?
Sal: I don't know, don't you need something to run the plane?
Shelly: And what about you, Mr. Hofstadt?
Don: Excuse me?
Shelly: I took a look at your luggage. You're William Hofstadt.
Don: Uh, Bill. Call me Bill and, uh, this is my associate, Uh, Mr. Fleischmann.
Sal: I've flown a few times, but I've never actually seen a stewardess that game.
Don: [incredulous] Really?
Little does Don realize that, when Betty's brother scribbled his name on one of his suitcases, it would lead to Don's learning an important lesson: pretending to be someone else on an airplane will lead to something good. In this case, the "something" is Don and Swelly Shelly having some fun at The Belvedere. Also, stewardesses will do anything for Don -- like, say, read your ransom note once you ask calmly and politely, like Dan Cooper did.
S03E06: "Guy Walks Into An Advertising Agency"
Cooper: There's no need to panic. Just think of this as the same as any major client visit.
Roger: They're flying across the ocean to have their knobs polished?
Don: Fourth of July. Subtle.
Actually, the British in question arrive on July 3rd, one day before a major holiday -- a day marked by a certain lawnmower/toe incident.
Travel of any kind the day before a holiday doesn't seem to go as intended on Mad Men.
S03E09: "Wee Small Hours"
Don takes a phone call in bed from Conrad Hilton in the middle of the night, Betty and the newborn Gene next to him.
Connie Hilton: America is wherever we look, wherever we're going to be.
Don: That's very good, Connie.
Connie: You're the one who said that to me.
Don: Well, I guess it's not that memorable.
Connie: Write up a proposal for the New York Hiltons as convention spaces. And send it over to me by noon. I'll take it on the plane.
Connie hangs up. Don, to Betty:
Don: Sorry about that.
Betty: It's okay. I don't think the 4 AM feedings are over. [as Gene] I want what I want when I want it, and you don't care what it does for the rest of us. Like someone else I know.
Betty is referring to Conrad, but, you know, also Don. After Don is done travelling America, the series finale will find him not considering Betty's feelings (if she's still alive), or Sally's, or his other kids' when he risks his life.
S04E03: "The Good News"
Anna Draper and Dick Whitman, in Anna's living room, smoking pot.
Don: How'd you sleep?
Anna: I was feeling no pain, as they say. In fact, I don't know if I would've woken up if I hadn't heard that jet fly by. And I thought, "Oh, my God. Dick left already." There's all kinds of aircraft here, you know. If we stay up tonight and we get lucky, we'll see something you'll remember.
Don: If we keep smoking that.
Anna: I've seen UFOs. There was a lot going on during the missile scare, but it was different.
Dick Whitman/Don Draper will be gone forever once he buys that plane ticket, and Dan Cooper will be born. His parachuting from the Northwest plane could be considered a UFO.
S04E07: "The Suitcase"
At a diner -- technically, Peggy's birthday dinner.
Don: What's the most exciting thing about a suitcase?
Peggy: Going somewhere. The Acropolis.
Don: I'd like to go to Greece. I hear all the good cooks stayed there.
Peggy: I'd like to just go on a plane. I've never been.
Don: Is that right?
Peggy: I've heard about it, obviously. I've seen it in the movies. It's an incredible idea, flying.
Don: I remember on the way to Korea they told us how many thousand feet in the air we were. There was some other kid there, more of a yokel than me, even. And he screamed, "Man wasn't meant to fly!"
Peggy: Cooper has no testicles?
Don: ...My Uncle Max said he had a suitcase that was always packed. He said, "A man has to be ready to go at any moment." Jesus. Maybe it's a metaphor.
Peggy: There's something to that idea. I don't know. I can't tell the difference anymore between something that's good and something that's awful.
Don: Well, they're very close. But the best idea always wins and you know it when you see it.
"The Suitcase" is maybe the best episode of the series, the 46th episode out of 92. At its halfway point, series creator Matthew Weiner must have had a conversation with himself: is making Don into D.B. Cooper a good idea or an awful idea? Back in 2010, he decides that if he comes up with a better idea, he'll use it, but until then, flying is an incredible idea, right? (Right?)
S04E09: "The Beautiful Girls"
Roger: Cooper's trying to write an obit, something sharp and sweet.
Joan: Well, Mr. Cooper, shall we say, "Loyal friend, devoted caretaker"?
Roger: Put "quietly in her sleep," of course. What's her profession? Secretary?
Joan: Executive Secretary.
Cooper: She was born in 1898 in a barn. She died on the 37th floor of a skyscraper. She's an astronaut.
Mrs. Blankenship and Don might end up with a lot in common.
S04E12: "Blowing Smoke"
Sally: And then I was floating over town. Standing straight up, not like Superman. Only it wasn't Ossining, it was London. Like Mary Poppins.
Glen Bishop: I fly in some of my dreams. It feels like being in the ocean.
Sally: I just felt like I was going to heaven, except I don't believe in it.
Glen: You don't? Then what happens when you die? Nothing?
Sally: It doesn't really bother me, except for it's forever. When I think about forever, I get upset. Like the Land O' Lakes butter has that Indian girl, sitting, holding a box. And it has a picture of her on it, holding a box. With a picture of her on it, holding a box. Have you ever noticed that?
Glen: I wish you wouldn't have said that.
Dan Cooper floated in the Northwest United States sky with the aid of a parachute, probably standing straight up. When Don Draper dies and Dan Cooper is born, the man born as Dick Whitman will be on his third alias, his third life, always with the same face, like the Land O' Lakes "Indian girl" who exists as three different iterations in one plane of existence. (Pun not intended that time, Scout's honor.)
S05E10: "Christmas Waltz"
Joan berates Meredith, then working the front desk at SCDP, for letting Joan's soon-to-be ex-husband Greg go to her office to hand her divorce papers.
Joan: Why did you let him in?
Meredith: He said he needed to talk to you.
Joan: About what?
Meredith: I don't remember everything everybody says.
Joan: Because you're an idiot!
Meredith: Don't talk to me like that.
Joan: Do you understand having you out here is the same as having no one?
Meredith: He said he knew you. He said it was a surprise.
Joan: A surprise? Well, thank you for that. Here's a surprise!
Don, at this point, has entered to witness Joan throwing a model plane at Meredith.
Joan: Surprise! There's an airplane here to see you!
Meredith: You're not allowed to do that.
You're not allowed to do what "Dan Cooper" did. It will hit Meredith -- Don Draper's final and arguably most competent secretary -- hard when she sees the D.B. Cooper news on television.
(Hard not to notice too that an office building has a clearly visible "666" number outside of the SCDP window when Joan launches her model plane missile at Meredith. That's...interesting.)
S06E01: "The Doorway"
Don's solitary late night drink at the Hawaii Sheraton is interrupted by a soldier on leave.
Private Dinkins: Nah, I got a shitload of combat pay. Let me buy you one. You some kind of astronaut?
Don: I'm in advertising.
Later, Don pitches a campaign to Sheraton execs.
Sheraton Exec: So what happened to him?
Don: He got off the plane, took a deep breath, shed his skin, and jumped off.
Sheraton Exec 2: I assume this is a photograph.
Stan: More color. That water is transparent.
Sheraton Exec 2: Well, I suppose it reminds me a little of the cinema. But mostly I see James Mason -- at the end of that movie walking into the sea.
Sheraton Exec: What is that movie?
Don: I'm not sure I know what you're talking about.
Sheraton Exec 2: He's killing himself. I don't think they show it, but he's going to swim out until he can't swim back.
Don: That may be a personal association for you, but that's not what this means.
Pete: We looked at this. None of us thought of that.
Some viewers will watch the series finale and believe that Don Draper jumping off the plane -- "shedding his skin" -- to become Dan Cooper is suicide, but Pete and everybody else who knows the truth about the man will not think that. It's just a reinvention. He's an expert.
S06E06: "For Immediate Release"
In this episode, Roger sleeps with Northwest Airline stewardess Daisy McCluskey to get inside information on ad execs (also for the sex.)
Don: I was gonna sleep on it, but now I think I'm just gonna shower and go back in.
Megan: I love you like this.
Don: Desperate and scared?
Megan: Fearless. And I want to do whatever I can to make sure you do not fail. Then you can jump from the balcony and fly to work like Superman.
And then Megan goes down on him. The very next scene is Don at the airport looking straight ahead, lost in thought, not hearing a roaring jet engine. Seated next to him at the airport is Roger, the two waiting on a Northwest flight. More positive associations with planes, flying, and specifically Northwest Airlines.
S06E07: "Man With A Plan"
Ted Chaough: We should go up there right away.
Don: It's raining pretty hard. We can wait a couple hours.
Ted: Don't worry about that. Once we're above the clouds, it's sunny as summer.
Ted's plane lifts off. Don is uneasy.
Don: How long have you been doing this?
Ted: Not now. There we go. You can relax now. We're leveled off.
Don: I am relaxed.
Ted: Sometimes when you're flying, you think you're right side up, but you're really upside down.
Ted: Got to watch your instruments. You don't want to take in the wonder of God's majesty?
Don: I like to read on planes. I don't like to talk.
Ted: But you're gonna talk to Henry Lamott. I mean, you're the one that knows him.
Don: Does it matter? No matter what I say, you're the guy who flew us up here in his own plane.
Ted: [smiling] I guess that's true.
A humbling moment for Don Draper. He's going to learn enough about flying to know a thing or two about airplanes by November 24, 1971, like say, if he can jump out of one and survive. No matter what anyone says about Dick Whitman or Don Draper, Dan Cooper will always be the guy that got away with the only unsolved air piracy in American aviation history.
S06E10: "A Tale Of Two Cities"
Don: We don't want to miss our flight. Are we going?
Roger: Right after the partners' meeting.
Jim: This morning I received an envelope addressed to Sterling Gleason and Pryce.
Roger: From who?
Jim: It doesn't matter. They don't know our name because we don't know our name.
Don: Aren't we SCDPCGC?
Cooper: Not officially.
What's in a name anyway? Dick Whitman/Don Draper/Dan "D.B." Cooper have to make their flights.
Megan: He wants to run. You know, to Canada. I suppose I could call my brother-in-law, but I can't do that to Sylvia and Arnold. Can I?
Don: Just leave it alone.
Megan: He's so scared.
Don: He should be. He can't spend the rest of his life on the run.
Megan: I know how you feel, but you don't want him to go to Vietnam.
Don: Megan, it's not our problem.
The next scene takes place at a restaurant near an airport with Ted, Peggy, and Pete, the latter drinking profusely to be less nervous about flying in Ted's plane. The closed captioning claims that the scene begins with plane engines whirring, although it's hard to hear that. Anyway: Don, on the run, and planes. He will spend his life on the run. You got it?
S07E01: "Time Zones"
Don and a former Party Of Five star are on a plane to have a symbolism-off.
Don: What happened to him?
Lee: He was thirsty. He died of thirst. His company sent him to a hospital. I went with him. I was supposed to be part of the cure somehow. And all I did was observe. I thought he was really getting better. Then a doctor told me he'd be dead in a year. All of them would be. I'm gonna close my eyes now.
Don: I keep wondering have I broken the vessel? If you did, what can you do about it? It's done.
Lee: I bet I could make you feel better.
Don: I bet you could.
Lee: There's a car waiting for me. I can give you a lift.
Don: I'm sorry, but I have to get back to work.
We can guess that one level of this conversation is foreshadowing the end of Sterling Cooper and Partners, which will effectively be swallowed up by McCann-Erickson about one year after that point. But it might also be about Don's wanderlust, his thirst for adventure. He can't resist running. Lee is the embodiment of airplanes. She was supposed to be the cure for Don's thirst. Travel, can make him feel better, but Don has to go back to his life. Not anymore. He needs a big score because he's running out of money and he doesn't feel alive.
S07E03: "Field Trip"
Megan: So with a clear head, you got up every day and decided that you didn't want to be with me?
Megan: Mm, I'm not walking out of my own house. So that means you have to leave.
Don: Have you calmed down?
Megan: I'm not kidding around. I want you to call a cab, get on a plane, go home. I don't want you to worry about me anymore.
Don: Stop it.
Megan: It's okay, Don. This is the way it ends. It's going to be so much easier for both of us.
Getting on a plane. This is the way it will end.
On Ted's plane:
Ted: There's more to look at than the ground.
Sunkist Exec 1: Imagine what it's like for the astronauts.
Sunkist Exec 2: They're probably scared.
Ted: Why? Maybe they won't make it. All their problems will be over.
Sunkist Exec 1: You know how to fly this thing?
Ted then turns off his engine to give the Sunkist people something to think about regarding their life choices. Astronaut Don will be thinking the same way: if he dies, his problems will be over. No risk.
Don's dream, as he sleeps next to Tricia the stewardess:
Ted: This is another girl.
Rachel Menken: I'm supposed to tell you you missed your flight.
Don: Thank you. Rachel.
Don: You're not just smooth, you're Wilkinson smooth.
Pete: Back to work.
Don can't get on the plane he is destined to go on yet. He has to work for a little while longer, before Sterling Cooper and Partners is really gone, sticking it out with his work family. Thanks, Pete.
S07E12: "Lost Horizon"
In "Marriage Of Figaro," the third episode of the series, Don hears a plane, and goes to get a beer.
In "Lost Horizon," the third from final episode of the series -- the antepenultimate, for the Dartmouth '56ers out there -- Don sees a plane as Bill Phillips talks about beer, and then drives off to Wisconsin to pretend to work for Miller Beer.
The following are the words that the McCann-Erickson ad man speaks as Don starts to look at the plane:
Bill Phillips: It has to be his brand. And what is his brand? The one he drank in college? The one his dad drank? The one that comes in the best bottle, can, tap? It doesn't matter because that's it and it's not open for discussion.
Don turns his head back to face the conference table.
Bill Phillips: Now, you all know that's not true.
Oh, but it is, Bill. It is. Running is Don's brand. Dick Whitman/Don Draper/Dan Cooper is a person, and people don't change. Dick Whitman is a moneymaking chameleon, and he will continue to be one Sunday night, and for all of television eternity.