The Wichita theory: 7 reasons to suspect Pete Campbell will die in the Mad Men finale


You have to hand it to Matthew Weiner. He’s led us on many a wild goose-chase through seven seasons of Mad Men — and most of them have happened in these final seven episodes. Last week we were all over the “DB Cooper” conspiracy theory that leads Don to a third and final (?) alias as the legendary plane hijacker. Earlier in the series, we were ready for Megan Draper to be famously murdered by Charles Manson like Sharon Tate. But now we’re on a new conspiracy theory, and it has to do with Wichita.


Here are all the reasons we believe Pete Campbell is going to die in the Wichita State University football team plane crash of October 1970:


The series finale, airing next Sunday, May 17, is titled “Person to Person.” It should, however, be titled, “Pete’ce of Shit” because that’s what Pete is. Season after season, he has been rapey, crude, impulsive, cowardly, entitled, whiny, and basically the worst.

On the penultimate episode that aired last night, Pete finally spoke with his brother, Bud, about his infidelity to his wife. The scene was comical at first, with Pete’s schlubby bro asserting that he can’t help it if all the ladies find him desirable — but quickly turns into the pair reminiscing about their father, Andrew Campbell, who potentially gave them both the infidelity gene. Pete ultimately seems remorseful, and desperate to mend things with his estranged wife, Trudy.

Watching the scene of Pete begging Trudy to move to Wichita with him felt like far too little too late. The woman has raised their child mostly alone, and early in the episode is reminded of his indiscretions by a neighbor. They’ve simply had too much bad history. It was a bloody breakup, and Pete doesn’t deserve her, so he won’t get her.


Andrew Campbell fell from woman to woman and squandered the majority of young Pete’s inheritance. You might also remember that Andrew Campbell died in a plane crash in season 2 in Jamaica Bay on American Airlines Flight 1. It would appear that the apple doesn’t die fall far from the tree. That same season Duck Phillips pitched AA as potential clients and squandered the presentation. But let’s consider…


Let’s be real, a show with such dynamic characters is bound to have a hard time wrapping up the story lines of each member of the main cast. Megan is now a millionaire. Betty’s imminent doom is lung cancer from all those years of Lucky Strikes. Joan, too pure for this world, cannot escape the rampant sexism of the industry and bails. Peggy (there has to be a better resolution…) will continue to demand respect —

— in environments traditionally toxic for women.

But so far, nothing for Pete. And sure, he might just move to Wichita and never be heard from again, but where’s the fun in that?

*Enter Duck Phillips*

Nobody was left with itching questions about Duck Phillips. He’s a long-forgottten misfit who almost ruined Sterling Cooper multiple times. First, with his American Airlines pitch, and then again (while Don was away) by trying to get PPL to buyout Sterling Cooper.

With no company to squander, it’s now Pete that Duck will attempt to ruin. Duck tells Pete repeatedly that he will have a “private airplane” to use whenever he wants if he takes the offer from Learjet in Wichita, KS. With his finger outstretched skyward, Duck proclaims that it is Pete’s time to “take off and ascend.”

Never does he mention landing.

The last time Duck tried to sell the Sterling Cooper gang on an airline, it crashed. Might history repeat itself?


For the 90th time, PETE IS TRASH. He doesn’t deserve to get a single thing he wants because he’s been horrible to every single character on the show. This snake once professed, “If I’m going to die, I want to die in Manhattan.”

He’s also been extremely vocal about his fear of flight ever since his father’s death. We can’t imagine why Matthew Weiner wouldn’t want to give Pete his just deserts.


Don is away when we get the news that Betty has advanced lung cancer and probably has less than a year to live. The situation mirrors season 2 (THE ONE WITH THE PLANE CRASH). In that season, Don was away for two major revelations: When Duck engaged in shenanigans trying to sell the company and when Betty learned that she was pregnant. Coincidence? Perhaps not. We may have lost all hope of figuring out Don’s path, but these incidents follow a pattern: Duck shows up, Betty gets big medical news, Don isn’t present, A CAMPBELL DIES.


The music the audience hears during the closing credits has been mined for clues over the past seven seasons of Mad Men. Last night it was Buddy Holly’s “Everyday.”

Holly famously died in a tragic plane crash in February of 1959.

Theory: Glen Campbell‘s hit “Wichita Lineman” from 1968 plays during the finale credits. Doesn’t this sound like Don right now?

I am a lineman for the county and I drive the main road
Searchin’ in the sun for another overload
I hear you singin’ in the wire, I can hear you through the whine
And the Wichita Lineman is still on the line
I know I need a small vacation but it don’t look like rain
And if it snows that stretch down south won’t ever stand the strain
And I need you more than want you, and I want you for all time
And the Wichita Lineman is still on the line
And I need you more than want you, and I want you for all time
And the Wichita Lineman is still on the line


In last night’s episode, on a call to Sally at school, Don asks if the weather’s gotten cold yet. Betty is beginning her psychology studies. That’s right, school. just. effing. started. You know what that means: It’s the fall of 1970. The very same season of the tragic Wichita State plane crash.

There were two planes — named Gold and Black, for the team’s colors — carrying Wichita State University football players to Utah for a game. Gold took a detour on a scenic route through the Rockies, and crashed into the mountain. Black followed the flight plan and made it safely to the destination. Why would Pete be on the doomed plane? Because Learjet is based in Wichita, and he might have to entertain clients.

Or: What if he picks up a free-roaming Don Draper?


But don’t forget: There were two planes carrying Wichita players that day. Maybe Pete or Don or both of them end up on the safe flight?? We know Don has been caught gazing at airplanes regularly for a few seasons:

Remember when Rachel Menken-Katz showed up in a scene 5 episodes ago? Here’s what she said:

What will happen to Don? Think about it: Pete. Planes. Wichita. It all makes sense… Right???

More Mad Men conspiracy theories here and here.

Akilah Hughes is a comedian, YouTuber, and staff writer and producer for Fusion’s culture section. You can almost always find her waxing poetic about memes and using too many emojis.

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