Is Don Draper D.B. Cooper? The Latest 'Mad Men' Theory Casts Don As A Real-Life Hijacker

on July 03 2013 5:05 PM
Don Draper Mad Men
The latest 'Mad Men' theory suggests that Don Draper was drawn from a real-life hijacker, D.B. Cooper. AMC

I know: Enough already with the “Mad Men” theories, especially now that the season six finale has come and gone and we’re all looking ahead to the final season of “Breaking Bad.” But before we turn our attention to Walter White, there’s one prediction about the “Mad Men” season finale that feels too good to be completely untrue.

Lindsay Green of the blog Medium has put forth a “Mad Men” theory that is at once spectacularly dramatic and entirely reasonable, based on what we know about Matthew Weiner, who has suggested that he’s known for a while how the story will end. According to Green’s confident and fetching theory, Don Draper will take on yet another identity before “Mad Men” ends its run -- and this time it will be a person who actually existed: D.B. Cooper, the elusive and dapper Northwest Airlines hijacker who parachuted into oblivion in 1971 with $200,000 tied around his waist.

Green gives some background:

In 1971 one of the most bizarre and fascinating cases of air piracy in American aviation history -- and currently the only unsolved one -- was carried out by a man with an alias, wearing a perfectly pressed dark suit and dark sunglasses, with a cigarette in one hand and a bourbon and soda in the other. No one was killed. No one was hurt. No chaos or terror was caused. It was a hijacking conducted without a known motive, by a wellspoken man who then disappeared and was never identified, found or heard from again. It was as though he never happened.

Green insists that “Mad Men” has been packed with clues about its aviation-themed ending from the start.

There’s always been something in the air with ‘Mad Men,’ quite literally. From Mohawk to American, North American Aviation and Ted’s own little two seater, airlines and aviation are about as prevalent on the show as aliases and fake identities. Even when Joan was upset after being served divorce papers from Dr. Harris, it was a model airplane she grabbed and threw at the unassuming receptionist as Don stood in the doorway. "Mad Men" has been telling us how the story ends from the very beginning. It ends on an airplane.

Indeed, Don Draper has certainly spent plenty of time in the air. Season six alone saw him on an airplane twice: once alongside Roger Sterling on his way to Los Angeles, and once in a turbulent ride upstate with Ted Chaough at the controls. And there was more air travel off-camera: The season six premiere found him on a business trip in Hawaii, compliments of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel account, who thought his ad campaign pitch (“Hawaii, The Jumping Off Point”) was just a shade morbid. As Green points out, season two was also full of air travel references: Pete Campbell’s father's death in the American Airlines Flight 1 crash, the agency’s conflict of interest with the Mohawk and American Airlines account, and “flights to the West Coast where, in Los Angeles, the camera panned on Don’s dark sunglasses each time he put them on,” Green wrote.

She also suggested that season six is a mirror image of the first season -- with Don, Peggy and Joan revisiting the same kind of personal crisis; Pete discovering Bob Benson’s faked identity like he did Don’s, the agency name being again Sterling Cooper and more. But one thing she didn’t point out, which further supports her speculation, is the role of Thanksgiving throughout the series; it's a holiday that has been visited in one way or another in four of the six seasons so far. In keeping with the "mirroring" theme, both the first and sixth seasons ended during Thanksgiving week, with each season finale closing before anyone was seated at the dinner table.

D.B. Cooper (which, incidentally, was not the hijacker’s "real" fake name; he bought a one-way ticket on a midafternoon flight from Portland, Ore., to Seattle, Wash., as Dan Cooper, but the media later confused that name with another man who was quickly dismissed as a suspect) took control of Northwest Airlines Flight on Nov. 24, 1971, the day before Thanksgiving. In addition to his cash demands, he also asked for four parachutes, one that he presumably used to jump from the slow-moving, low-flying plane (another of his conditions), and he is suspected to have died in ravines north of the Columbia River, thought the FBI maintains an open case file and has investigated nearly 10,000 suspects, according to the Seattle Times.

In 1980, according to the same report, a young boy found $5,800 dollars of the money provided to Cooper, but other than that, no material evidence has surfaced and no one witnessed his jump from the plane (which took place at night).

Adding to the intrigue is the apparent murder this past April of Earle Cossey, an expert skydiver who packed the parachutes given to Cooper in 1971. Cossey, who was 71 at the time of his death, was killed by a blow to the head. An investigation revealed no link to his involvement in the Cooper caper. According to an excerpt of Bruce A. Smith’s upcoming book “Sky Thief” published in the Mountain News, Cossey had long maintained that Cooper had chosen an inferior parachute for his jump and likely died. Yet there are others who think he survived, including an FBI agent who told the New York Times in 2011 that a new suspect had emerged, a suspect who had been dead for 10 years. The tip came from a retired law enforcement officer who had information that he did not report until after the possible suspect had died of natural causes. Still, the case remains unsolved.

D.B. Cooper is certainly a fitting historical avatar for Don Draper, and Green’s theory is among the least far-fetched to emerge of late. But if she really is on to something, and news gets to Weiner that someone has cracked the case, would he leave the ending as is or change direction? Weiner certainly likes to stay a step ahead of his viewers, and since season seven hasn’t starting filming yet, there’s still time for a last-minute rewrite. 

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