It is the dumb Internet theory that won’t, well, die: in the sixth season of Mad Men, Megan Draper (played by Jessica Paré), Don’s second wife, wore a T-shirt that was the same T-shirt worn by the late actress Sharon Tate in a 1967 Esquire shoot. This led people to theorize that, like Sharon Tate, who was one of the victims of the Charles Manson murders in 1969, Megan was not long for this world.
But the obsession over the possibility of a tragic end for Megan speaks to something different than just generalized bloodlust. I don’t think that Megan is going to die, despite the fact that the Mad Men team has kept the flame alive with a series of Tate/Manson/slightly ominous and gloomy references, whether it’s Sally reading Rosemary’s Baby or Megan’s new place in the LA canyons, where you can only hear the coyotes.
I think the fact that Megan’s ominous end has taken hold of the audience’s imagination speaks to this: who is Megan Draper as a character? What does she even stand for? The struggle of French-Canadian immigrants in the ’60s? The difficulties of being pretty and smart and charming and marrying rich and having everything you want just come to you? (Peggy wrote that, obviously.) Mad Men is a show that has very well-drawn female characters. Joan, Peggy, Betty, Sally: you can talk about their wants and desires, their struggles for definition against the tides of the times.
For awhile, in the fifth season, Megan made sense. She was a foil to all the other female characters. Don marrying her led to Joan and Peggy’s mutual WTF scene in Joan’s office. Peggy has been completely befuddled by Megan’s charmed life plenty of times. When she was working in the office, her conflicts with Don were organic. Megan’s wacky Canadian family was the engine behind one of the best episodes, “At the Codfish Ball,” in which Sally realizes that the world is “dirty.”
But I would argue that ever since Don walked away from Megan, dressed up like a fairytale princess in a commercial for Butler shoes, she hasn’t had much to do. Part of this was by choice, of course — much of Mad Men Season 6 was devoted to Don’s affair with Sylvia Rosen (Linda Cardellini). Megan was in the dark about that affair, and mostly caught up in her new life as a soap actress. But much of Megan’s foray into acting has been far in the background, seeming like a lark and a whim. Perhaps that’s because, while Mad Men has always been fascinated by Hollywood, movies, and images, it’s mostly ignored the day-to-day grind of Megan’s acting. It’s been an opportunity for ’60s references and not much more.
Season 7 has been even worse for the character. Since Megan moved to Los Angeles to further her career, she’s far away from the action of the show. The only person she’s interacting with is Don. Sterling Cooper & Partners does have an LA office, but Don visiting Megan and SC&P out there wasn’t much of a possibility, for plot reasons. Rumor has it Megan is not doing quite as well in Los Angeles, at least career-wise, but we don’t see her fail. We just see her becoming more petulant when she’s with Don, flailing for attention.
The first half of Season 7 has seemed like a slow-burn break-up between Megan and Don. They’re in a long-distance relationship, and, worryingly, they have little-to-no sexual tension when Don walks through the door in California. (Long-distance relationships with no sex are relationships that are basically over.) They fight over something in nearly every scene they have together, and there’s nothing keeping them tied to each other as a family. Not the world’s saddest threesome. Certainly not any children. The distance between these two characters doesn’t make for good TV, or even entertaining TV. It’s so lacking in stakes or emotional context that it feels like they keep replaying their breakup every week.
If Matthew Weiner were to do it, to have Megan murdered and pregnant and alone, it would be trashy to no end, but it would also give Don some emotions to play, some reason to have feelings for Megan besides the fact that she’s very pretty and talented at things and likes to have the attention of the room. It could give the audience a reason to care about Megan, too, beyond the fact that she’s Don Draper’s second wife. Betty is also very separate from the show’s one true romance (which is the office, of course, and everyone in there), but she is also the mother of Don’s children — and frankly, one of the most interesting female characters on the show, laden with the burden of the ’50s and seething with rage. Between the writing and January Jones, you could write whole separate adventures about what Betty’s day is like.
Megan, on the other hand, is a cipher. She remains a mystery, even three seasons in, and that’s a combination of the writing and Jessica Paré’s flat acting. The mystery was fun in Season 5, but it’s been growing tiresome ever since. We’ll always have “Zou Bisou Bisou,” though, won’t we?