Tony Soprano, Vic Mackey, Jimmy McNulty, Walter White, and Don Draper all meet in a bar. What happens?
Don would have to fall through a time-hole for this to happen, of course. Or possibly, they all meet up in that Irish bar in Hell that Christopher envisioned on The Sopranos – Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan has gone on record to say that he believes in Hell and that Walt goes there when he dies, and Hell hangs over Tony his entire series. Hell is much less explicit on The Shield, with Julian very much believing in it and the Strike Team expressing indifference and irritation with the spiritual the one time it comes up (at least until it gets uncanny), but if you believe in it, Vic is probably going there, although being in an Irish bar for all eternity probably wouldn’t be that bad for Victor Samuel Mackey. Jimmy and Don are the two people who probably wouldn’t end up in Hell – both do enough awful things to keep them out of the Good Place, but I don’t know that either belongs in the same place as Tony, Walt, and Vic. And besides, an Irish bar would be McNulty’s heaven.
(That said, all five men have significant scenes in bars that at minimum imply they go to them all the time, so we have that kind of plausibility going for us)
Once you get past those logistics, the question becomes which version of each character is in that bar. Tony, Vic, and Don are all defined in part by their refusal to change, with Vic being the most resistant, managing to hold back even the pretense of change right up until the second-last episode of The Shield, at which point it all hits him at once. Tony is famous for trying to change, only to backslide, although I believe he does gain a lot of self-awareness. But while Don tries to stay static, the world around him keeps changing and keeps changing him by degrees; bad habits sticking is not the same thing as stasis. Next to these men, Walt is defined by his process of change (“That’s life, isn’t it? It’s the process, it’s growth, then decay, then transformation!”), with each episode pushing him one step further from Mr Chips to Scarface. And McNulty, as much as he has his moments where he triers to change and actually kind of succeeds, has a Don-like rotation between different life circumstances.
Vic would be the most proactive of the characters (naturally); of all these men, he’s the one who could be described as a people person (perhaps the fact that none of the others can be described that way ties into beloved commentor and occasional Solute contributor Ruck Cohlchez‘s frustration with TV critics valuing the intellectual over the emotional). The idea of him walking into a bar alone (at least without being on a mission to find a particular person) is strange, so if he did he’d immediately walk around the room finding people to talk to. One of his most sympathetic attributes to me is his genuine love of Cops; his sense of Getting Results (You Stupid Chief) extends to respecting other cops who Get Results, now matter what their style or approach is. So I imagine he’d be drawn to McNulty like a moth to a flame, and they’d spend all night swapping stories and griping about their respective Stupid Chiefs. Strangely enough, assuming he doesn’t know who he is, I see Vic as getting along famously with Tony as well – both have a powerful sense of what Normal Men do and try to embody it as much as possible, and I see them discussing their families.
At first I thought Walt would resent Don the way he does all other successful, attractive people, but then I really got to thinking. On a fundamental level, Walt and Don really aren’t that different – both marry a very symbolic, image-heavy mentality to a very practical problem-solving process. Both come up with an idea of what Men and Husbands and Fathers are supposed to do, and then they go out and solve the problems Men and Husbands and etc should solve. It’s a visionary zeal and fierce intelligence that makes both men charismatic and cool. But they also play with totally different knowledge bases – Don knows how to make and sell advertising, and Walt knows chemistry – which I think would be a major factor in their relationship. Walt’s journey is driven by the fact that he’s bitter that nobody recognises his intelligence; he feels dominated by everyone else in his life and his particular brand of smarts is totally useless (I feel ya more than ever, buddy). I believe Don would recognise and respect Walt’s intelligence, would not just defer to Walt’s particular expertise but delight in it, and be able to speak his particular language. There’s a joke in the first season of BB where Jesse tries to ‘debrief’ with Walt, and I can totally see Walt and Don getting together to debrief in their own fashion on a regular basis; I can picture Walt turning to Don after his cancer diagnosis, and Don immediately grasping both the symbolic and practical issues Walt was facing and strategising on how to deal with them with him.
The closest thing I can think of as a real conflict is between Don and Vic. Don loves strangers, but only one at a time, and of his choosing; he only ever seems comfortable at a party when it’s work-related and he has a specific task to perform. Vic’s aggressive charm would get on his nerves pretty quickly, and I suspect Vic would get irritated with Don’s cooly distant demeanor. The only thing is, I doubt either of them would escalate their conflict without something else pushing them further; if either of them did, I would see Don doing it if he walked into the bar in a pissy mood more than I do Vic. I also don’t know exactly how Tony and Don would react to each other; we’ve talked on this site before about how Don is a symbol of everything Tony wishes he was, suave and sophisticated but still a man’s man (come to think of it, one of Tony’s flaws is an inability to understand exactly what he wants from his son, but I think what he really wants is AJ to turn into Don). The question is, how would Tony respond to the reality of his fantasy?
A lot of it comes down to how Don responds to Tony, and honestly, I think it would go well. Don’s generally polite with strangers until he can properly evaluate them, and he deals with men like Tony often enough to recognise that Tony’s smarter than the average bear. Tony and Don would also probably end up talking about their family, but in a very different way to Tony/Vic; I think Don would remind Tony a lot of Dr Melfi, strange and mystical, but more able to express it in a way Tony can appreciate, and not just because that’s what Don does for a living. Both men are problem solvers who simply come to their solutions in very different ways, and I think they’d each have an appreciation for the other. Perhaps Tony would be the link between Don and Vic.
Jimmy McNulty is the real wild card in this group. His sense of good poh-lice would draw him to Vic just as much as the other way (it occurs to me that Vic would probably love the phrase ‘poh-lice’), and he’d enjoy Vic’s presence provided he doesn’t know What Vic Did. With everyone else, it’s hard to say. On the one hand, Jimmy is notorious for pissing everybody off all the time; the series begins with him having, like, two friends, and he’s believably someone who is just difficult to get along with on a day-to-day basis; even people who like him tend to have to warm up to him. On the other, I always got the vibe that he genuinely likes the overall concept of people; there’s a spark in his eyes whenever he meets someone strange or interesting, and when someone like Bodie does something that surprises him. When he’s humbled, he has a real low-key charm where that comes to the fore, but it’s also present when he’s simply not got a hair up his ass about something; you can see it as he discovers Kima and Lester’s skills. If nothing in particular is going on in his life, I could see him flying under the radar in this group.