Don and dusted... as Mad Men begins its descent
Eighty-five episodes, 15 Emmys and countless Old Fashioned cocktails later, Mad Men's iconic 'Falling Man' begins his final slow descent this week.
Eight years after it first premiered on US cable network AMC, the last ever episodes of the television series set in a 1960s advertising agency begin on Thursday night.
Just like the title of part two of the seventh and final season of the cult show, now on the cusp of the seventies, creator Matthew Weiner says it truly is 'The End of an Era': "I feel a sense of accomplishment. I really do. I still think it's the only show of its type.
"I feel very lucky that we got to end it when we wanted to and the way we wanted to."
More than 80 actors reportedly tried out for the role of enigmatic advertising genius Don Draper, around whom the show centres.
But it was hitherto-unknown actor Jon Hamm who ultimately donned the classic American suit of one of TV's greatest anti-heroes.
Now, as he prepares to hang up his fedora for good, the 44-year-old told GQ magazine how he sought the advice of Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston, who counselled: "It's hard, man. It's hard to let it go. It'll hit you a couple of different ways at different times."
Bosses have already heeded the example set by Breaking Bad by splitting the final season in two in a bid to boost viewership, as well as giving stars such as Hamm, John Slattery and Elisabeth Moss one last crack at the Emmys in September.
Nonetheless the departing Don Draper admitted it's going to be difficult to wave goodbye to Sterling Cooper & Partners: "The one constant thing I've had in my career is now removed. And that's an eye-opener: Are people still going to take me seriously? Am I just going to do romantic comedies for the rest of my life?
"What's next?" he continued. "And I don't know, you know? I wish I was smug enough to have had a grand plan."
Two bottles of vintage liquor and four glass tumblers were among 50 artefacts from the show donated to the Smithsonian Museum of American History in Washington last week.
In a case of life imitating art, last month it also emerged that the star of the slow-burning series had just completed a 30-day stint in rehab for alcohol addiction.
Eight years of playing the troubled adman took its toll, revealed Hamm: "You're kind of hoping for redemption, and it's not forthcoming.
"To consistently come in and be the bummer was always like, 'Oh, that's not fun'."
His long-term girlfriend, actress and film-maker Jennifer Westfeldt agreed: "I think the darkness of Don has weighed heavily on Jon, despite it being the role of a lifetime and the opportunity that gave him the career of his dreams."
Props, clothing and drawings from the TV phenomenon don't go on display at the Smithsonian until 2018 as part of a planned exhibit on American culture.
In the meantime, Mad Men fans can get up close and personal with Don Draper after a bench with the famous silhouette of the character was installed outside the Time & Life Building in New York last month.
As hype builds ahead of the last ever episode of the show in May, streets signs reading 'Mad Men Avenue' and 'Don Draper Way' have also popped up in the Big Apple, with some restaurants offering special $19.69 lunches.
One trailer released by AMC, however, suggests the swansong could stretch as far as the mid-seventies.
"When I was trying to sell the show, I had an idea that it could end in a certain way," said writer Weiner, previously known for his work on The Sopranos.
"But how it happened? That happened three or four years ago. It was like an aha moment."
Speculation about how the 92nd episode will end when it airs on Sky Atlantic here next month ranges from the death of Draper to Don and protégée Peggy finally hooking up.
Like the rest of the cast, Hamm is sworn to secrecy: "There are two ways to go. Up or down, and we'll see.
"I hope people like it. I don't want to be part of something that people hate, but I don't think anything is 100pc either way."
Despite missing out on the starring role in Gone Girl due to Mad Men, the actor has already started to distance himself from Draper, starring as a sports agent in feel-good Disney flick Million Dollar Arm last year.
The women of Madison Avenue are moving on too. Best known for playing Peggy Olson, Elisabeth Moss is currently earning rave reviews for her role as Heidi Holland in The Heidi Chronicles on Broadway.
January Jones - who shot to fame as Don Draper's ex-wife Betty - has been snapped up by Fox for new TV series Last Man on Earth.
While Christina Hendricks has well and truly left redhead Joan Harris behind by going blonde to become the new face of Clairol's Nice & Easy.
"It's scary," said the 39-year-old, who's set to star in thriller Dark Places alongside Charlize Theron later this year. "But we had a really good run."
So could Mad Men make way for Mad Women?
Although Weiner says he's not planning a spinoff à la Better Call Saul, that hasn't stopped website Bustle from predicting the series finale could end with Peggy and Joan leaving Sterling Cooper & Partners to set up their own firm.
"I am not planning a sequel," insisted Weiner. "That is really the end of it.
"I can't gauge what the feeling's going to be like when it really goes off the air," he added. "You've got to just sit back and be what you are, which is glad to be here, glad to be on peoples' mind and happy that you didn't mess it up."
Mad Men Season 7 Part 2: The End of an Era starts on Sky Atlantic on Thursday, April 9 at 10pm
How will 'Mad Men' end?
Has the ending to Mad Men been under fans' noses all along? Some believe Don Draper is destined to tumble to his demise just like the iconic 'Falling Man' of the opening credits. His holiday reading material in season 6 - Dante's Inferno - only fuelled speculation.
* Eerie similarities between Megan Draper - Don's second wife played by Jessica Paré - and real-life actress Sharon Tate - murdered by Charles Manson in 1969 - have not gone unnoticed among die-hard fans. n
* Another conspiracy theory that's taken off among Draperites is that Dick Whitman turns out to be legendary skyjacker DB Cooper, who hijacked a Boeing 727 before disappearing with a parachute and $200,000 in 1971. A teaser for the final season even shows Draper descending from what looks like a 727.