It feels like the end of an era. Two groundbreaking series that challenged the traditional television model with cinematic visuals, stellar writing, and an unforgettable cast are coming to an end. The Breaking Bad finale airs tomorrow, while the seventh and final season of Mad Men debuts early next year. The ambitious shows about a chemistry teacher turned meth king pin and a 1960’s New York City ad exec with a dark past seem wildly different, but the AMC dramas have more in common than first meets the eye. We take a brief look at a few of their surprising similarities past the break.
Walter White vs. Don Draper
People have been talking about the comparisons between Walter White and Don Draper since the early days of the series — and with good reason. Both men, quiet masterminds who are constantly plotting, are meticulous when it comes to their jobs. They’re also “self-made” men who shed one life for another (Dick Whitman for Don and Walt’s Mr. Chips for Scarface) and quickly rose to the top. In the end, Walt and Don are unable to truly escape themselves. Walt’s murderous alt persona, Heisenberg, steadily takes over, despite his desire to play dad and provide for his family. The broken, neglected boy within Don rears his head when he least expects it, and figures from his past make several unwelcome appearances. The facade of the American dream — Walt’s vision of himself as the devoted family man, and Don’s carefully curated image as the man who has it all — crumbles a little bit more as we edge closer to the end of their stories. In a commercial for AMC (below), Jon Hamm discussed the similarities between the characters: “I think both Walter White and Don Draper find themselves up to their ears in more than they can control. The sad part of it all is that these decisions that set them on this path, they make them with the best intentions.”
Peggy Olson vs. Jesse Pinkman
Peggy and Jesse serve as the foil and moral compass for their troubled mentors/uneasy father figures, despite some major troubles of their own (Jesse’s drug addiction, Peggy’s fight for dignity and equality in the office, the whole Pete Campbell thing that… never happened). Each character is shepherded, but manipulated at every turn. Don seethes with resentment when Peggy jumps ship for a new agency and falls for its ad exec. Walt uses Jesse to save his own hide when Gus has the men in his grip. There are a dozen examples of these antagonistic maneuvers that are repeatedly exacted against Peggy and Jesse, often because they simply know too much — about the man, not the business. The protégés have found their voice over the course of each series. How they make themselves heard once and for all remains to be seen.
Betty Francis/Draper vs. Skyler White
The Internet hatred toward these two complex characters — women pegged as cold and miserable shrews, and who are burdened with making difficult choices as they slowly become detached from a reality they thought they knew — has taken some disturbing turns (see: any number of Facebook pages urging people to root for their deaths). “She’s got a tough job being married to this asshole,” showrunner Vince Gilligan said of Anna Gunn’s character. “I think the people who have these issues with the wives being too bitchy on Breaking Bad are misogynists, plain and simple.” Mad Men Creator Matthew Weiner has defended January Jones’ character: “The question of Betty Draper’s motherhood is very peculiar to me. Because we were all raised by women like this. And I know it’s easy to hate her and think she seems childish and impulsive. We’re all here because of women like that.” Gunn herself responded to the “Skyler White effect” in an op-ed piece for the New York Times, concluding:
“I can’t say that I have enjoyed being the center of the storm of Skyler hate. But in the end, I’m glad that this discussion has happened, that it has taken place in public and that it has illuminated some of the dark and murky corners that we often ignore or pretend aren’t still there in our everyday lives.”
Jr./Flynn vs. Sally Draper
Not afraid to call their crazy parents (or any adult) out on their bullshit.
The meth lab vs. the conference room
This is the War Room for Walt and Don — a place of precise execution and control where each man is a master of his craft. As the series move forward, the cracks of these psychological spaces — reflecting the fission of their characters — start to show. Outsiders move inward. The fly taunted Walt in season three, threatening to contaminate his product, symbolizing his loss of power. Later, we see the operation move deeper underground when Todd and Uncle Jack take over. The meth gets dirty. Meanwhile, at a Sterling Cooper & Partners pitch meeting, Don lets the mask slip and overshares with Hershey execs about his harrowing childhood (“Quality of Care”). Joan discovers she can eavesdrop on her partners through the intercom in her new office. Things can only be contained for so long.
Drug-fueled depression shindig vs. office lawn mower massacre
It’s hard to say who throws a better party.
Saul Goodman vs. Pete Campbell
The cockroach and the weasel, the jester and the fool, sleazy lawyer, Saul Goodman, and conniving Sterling Cooper partner, Pete Campbell, can’t be dismissed as mere comic relief. Each man is dangerous in his own way. Pete’s massive ego and pathological streak has already devastated lives, and Saul knows a lot of guys who know a guy. In many ways, each man has been the smartest character in their series, just a step behind Walt and Don. Saul has been Walt’s voice of reason and seems impervious to the law, while Pete makes calculating moves and has learned when to walk away (as he did with Bob Benson).
The Jaguar account vs. the storage unit o’cash
Money creates more problems.
The Sharon Tate theory vs. the Malcolm in the Middle theory
We love a good conspiracy theory. Luckily Mad Men and Breaking Bad fans are full of them. The personal favorite amongst many concerning the fate of Walter is that he’ll enter the witness protection program, change his name to Hal, marry a woman named Lois, and we’ll learn that Breaking Bad was really a prequel to Cranston’s former series, Malcolm in the Middle. The wildest fan theory about Mad Men last season concerned the potential death of Megan Draper. Jessica Paré’s character wore the same T-shirt that Sharon Tate had on for a 1967 Esquire photo shoot. The actress explained the bizarre costume choice, stating that T-shirts weren’t very popular with women during that time, and the famous Tate photo was a rare workable reference.
Matthew Weiner vs. Vince Gilligan