Matthew Weiner is a man known for secrecy. He’s the reason we only get meaningless, second-long clips of next week’s “Mad Men” episodes. He’s why you won’t hear a word about plot until after the season has begun. He’s even the reason many reviews of season premieres are impossible to decipher beyond the impression it left with the writer. While that may sound like a list of complaints, it’s an appreciated accolade all audiences should embrace, especially in the modern era of over-exposure. Weiner took an hour to speak with reporters Monday afternoon, sharing a few secrets — including why he’s so protective of the show’s content — while refusing requests for others. Below are the highlights.
The theme for season seven of “Mad Men” is consequences.
Weiner was asked about the theme for the first half of season seven, and instead of brushing it aside, he willingly gave up some — admittedly general — details. “It’s really a theme for the entire last season, which is about the consequences in life and if change is possible…and the things in your life that you can change or not change. When your needs are met, you start thinking about other things. There’s a real growth over the course of this last season from what are the material concerns of your life to the immaterial concerns of your life. That’s really what the ending of the show is about.”
Breaking up the final season into two segments wasn’t Weiner’s idea, but he’s not against it.
“It was not my idea,” Weiner said after being asked directly about splitting season seven into 7a & 7b. “But there seems to be a problem with saying that without sounding critical of it. Honestly, 92 episodes into the show, anything that sort of breaks up the pattern and gives me a new challenge is very exciting. It’s something new, and I’m not someone who’s afraid of that.”
Weiner also saw the success AMC had with its other iconic program, “Breaking Bad,” and learned from it. “The other thing is that they had success doing this with ‘Breaking Bad,'” Weiner said. “I don’t even know if they did it willingly with ‘Breaking Bad.’ I think they had to because of the schedule, but it was so good for the growth of the show and the way that the ending was received. So I wasn’t going to argue with that.”
Don really does love Megan, and his failure to recommit to her is what season seven is all about.
One reporter proposed a theory that Megan was merely a mother figure to Don, and that’s why she appealed to him. Weiner disagreed, saying, “I think Megan Draper is a classic second wife. Maybe it’s because she’s younger than him or younger than his first wife or he’s in a different place in his life, but he feels he has an opportunity to be seen the way he wants to be seen. The power has shifted as Megan has matured, and the story of season five was about Don’s romantic fantasy being destroyed by her having a will of her own, her own dreams.”
“Don’s concept of what a woman can do for him — and some of that is as a mother figure, some of that is being the best him, some of that is ‘can he be saved?’ — he’s needing that love from his romantic interests. If you look at his affair with Sylvia and how lackadaisical he was about it before she rejected him, you see a guy who has a really hard time with where romance and love fit in his life. I don’t think that woman is a symbol of anything other than a fresh start to him, and it didn’t really turn out that way.
“He recommitted to her in the season finale last year because he had finished with his affair and had hit rock bottom with his drinking and he had to renege on his ‘reproposal to her’ to go to California. It really felt like he was asking her to marry him again, and he didn’t follow through. Are there repercussions for that? Yes. That is the story of the season for me. I think he really loves her and he is for whatever reason — guilt, shame, the desire for love, the desire to restore that love — she is in a slightly powerful position.”
Weiner is “entertained” by the conspiracy theories on the internet, but maybe it’s time to dial it back a bit.
Weiner acknowledged some of the humorous predictions offered up by bloggers and columnists last year a few times during the hour-long conference call, including the popular Sharon Tate/Megan Draper theory. “They’re all derived from the show we are writing, but no one — and I can say very assuredly — no one in the writers’ room anticipates any of this,” Weiner said.
“I’m always working as a storyteller to say, ‘Well, they think this is going to happen, but this is going to happen.’ These particular incidents are so far beyond, sometimes, the tone of our show. Whether it involves time travel or murder, it’s just not what we do on the show. It doesn’t mean we’ll never do it, but the thing with Sharon Tate’s t-shirt? I wasn’t offended by it or anything. I just thought it was interesting that was the idea they drew from it. It does not affect us in the writers’ room.
“When I say I’m entertained [by the theories], I hope people understand that this is not some superiority complex of, ‘Oh, look at how much I fooled them. They’re spinning out of control,’ or something. What this is is me seeing the imagination of the audience with the crumbs. We’re not trying to give them crumbs. We’re telling one story and they take what we say very seriously. And you’re entertained because you didn’t think of it.”
“When I heard people’s theories about Bob Benson last year, I was like, ‘Man, maybe we didn’t work hard enough to make that more interesting,'” the writer joked.
Weiner said 1968 was like “9/11 for an entire year.”
The creator of “Mad Men” was asked if focusing on the late part of the ’60s was more difficult than earlier years, eliciting a carefully considered speech on the historical context surrounding his show. “A lot of the reasons I started the show in 1960 was because it was so much the height of the ’50s, and I felt there was a sort of constricted social environment based on manners that we’ve watched disintegrate and erode throughout the decade. The weirdest thing about getting to the late ’60s is it feels more and more like today. It does not feel even slightly anachronistic. There’s nothing to laugh at by the time you’re in the late ’60s. It’s very similar to right now.
“1968 in particular was the climax for me of the intersection of national and world events and the private lives of the characters. I think that they only poke through occasionally in our lives. Writing a show for right now, you could have someone having a conversation about the Malaysian airlines plane because we’re obsessed with it and you hear it talked about all the time, but we’re at war. There’s an economic issue. None of these other things affect our lives in a conversational way on a daily basis as much as, ‘What’s a good restaurant?’ ‘You can’t believe what my wife just said to me.’ ‘My kids don’t call.’ Those kind of things.
“1968 was a chance, I felt like it was 9/11 for an entire year. Just being inundated with social catastrophe, and I felt like by the end of it [with] Richard Nixon’s election and a return to — obviously the world has changed permanently — but a return to a state of normalcy, it really feels like all the radicalization of that period just retracted all the way through until you get to around my childhood in the 1980s. That’s the weird thing about it. It feels like 1960 is a lot closer to 1980 than 1970.”
Even creators of great television shows watch reality TV and binge on “Downton Abbey.”
Weiner said some of his favorite TV shows are because of his kids. “I’m into ‘Top Chef,’ ‘Chopped,’ and ‘Project Runway.’ And because I have four boys, I’ve seen more ‘Dr. Who’ than most people can imagine. The last time I really had a chunk of time, I binge-watched ‘Downton Abbey. I haven’t seen ‘True Detective’ yet, but I will. I watch ‘Boardwalk’ [Empire]. I watched all of ‘Orange is the New Black.’ I love that show.”
Peggy may have to — nay, get to — make decisions in season seven.
After saying he didn’t want to talk about Peggy’s story “at all,” Weiner did offer up a few notes on his co-lead character. “Peggy’s story is a constant mix between what is good for Peggy as a person and what is good for Peggy’s career, and they have not gone together at all. I think she only knows how to pay attention to her job, and that may become a story for the season.”
Later, Weiner said, “It’s interesting to see that Peggy is still earnest and naive about things, but what a powerful person she’s become in terms of knowing her gifts and making decisions. I think she would say about herself she’s not a political person, but everything she does is pioneering. The story for us was the story of the time last season, in that she didn’t have any decisions to make, and hopefully she’s reaching a point in her life when she’ll actually be able to make some choices.”
Weiner has not finished writing the series. “I have finished writing the first eight scripts which is seven of nine scripts, actually,” he said. “So there are five more to finish just the writing of, just the drafts. Which means we’re still breaking stories for them, but we have a pretty clear road map.”
When asked if he would have changed anything had he known the show would last seven seasons, Weiner said, “I would have quit. It would have [seemed like] an impossible mountain to climb.”
“Looking at the real history, guys like him did great,” Weiner said regarding Roger Sterling.
For more on “Mad Men,” check out Indiewire’s recent coverage of the cast’s Q&A at Paleyfest.