Sometime this spring, during the first half of the final season of “Mad Men,” the popular pastime of watching the show — recapping episodes, tripping over spoilers, trading notes on the flawless production design, quibbling about historical details and debating big themes — segued into a parlor game of reading signs of its hero’s almost universally anticipated demise. Maybe the 5 o’clock shadow of mortality was on Don Draper (fig. 1) from the start. Maybe the plummeting graphics of the opening titles implied a literal as well as a moral fall. Maybe the notable deaths in previous seasons (fictional characters like Miss Blankenship, Lane Pryce and Bert Cooper, as well as figures like Marilyn Monroe and Medgar Evers) were premonitions of Don’s own departure. In any case, fans and critics settled in for a vigil. It was not a matter of whether, but of how and when.
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