Nearly a week after “Mad Men” aired its 92nd and final episode, creator Matthew Weiner sat down with writer A.M. Homes at the New York Public Library to reflect on the acclaimed AMC drama. It’s the first talk he’s given since the much-discussed “Person to Person,” aired last Sunday.
Below are some highlights from the chat, which is also available for your listening and viewing pleasure.
Matthew Weiner doesn’t like ambiguity for ambiguity’s sake
Without getting too spoiler-y, Weiner discussed “Mad Men’s” final scene, which drew in a lot of inevitable commentary. Throughout its run, “Mad Men” has had some ambiguous moments, but Weiner asserted that everything he has done is with intent. “I do not like people who will not commit to a story, who will not commit to a meaning. It’s just that I believe a lot of meaning, and I think stained glass widows is attest to this, is not verbal.”
Don likes strangers
“I don’t think I realized this until the end of the show,” Weiner stated. “But Don likes strangers.” It’s a funny statement to make, but considering the career he is in, it makes a ton of sense. Weiner continued by explaining how Don likes winning strangers, seducing them. Nevertheless, he followed this up with, “Once you get to know him, he doesn’t like you.” Weiner then went on to explain that this characteristic may be why Don chose to be with Megan instead of Dr. Faye Miller.
In response to the critics who found it unnecessary to introduce new characters in the final season
Weiner joked about this decision, explaining how in the final episodes he had to create a whole new set for McCann Erickson office, which meant hiring new extras. “That’s what this story is about.” He also said how this was difficult for Jon Hamm, who [Spoilers follow] spends the the last couple of episodes of “Mad Men” entirely on his own. “He said goodbye to most of the main characters like eight or ten weeks before we finished shooting.” (Except for the phone call with Peggy and the stuff with Sally and Betty.) “I thought, ‘I want to see Don on his own. I want to see Don out there. I want to do an episode of ‘The Fugitive,’ where Don comes into town and could be anybody. He’s on the run. He’s definitely a fugitive in his life.'”
Weiner wanted to close all the storylines in the final episodes
Although many see Weiner as a sort of control freak who pretty much writes and works on “Mad Men” alone, he spoke about the mistakes that were avoided because of his awesome team. “One of the biggest arguments of the season is that I did not want to end Betty and Pete’s story the week before. I wanted that all in the finale. And it would have been a mess. Everything would have been like five seconds long…” So there’s that. Not a dictator.
Joan wasn’t always going to be a single mom
Upon being asked what surprised him as the show went on, Weiner was quick to speak about Joan. “First of all, if you had asked me when I made the pilot, I didn’t even know Joan was a main character until I met Christina Hendricks.” According to Weiner, he had planned on her getting an abortion and had no idea that she would “end up this single mom, feminist, looking for child care on her own.”
On binge-watching and Netflix
“If I did another TV show — I hope to one day, but if I did something with Netflix, I would try and convince them to let me just roll them out so that there was at least some shared experience.” Homes and Weiner discussed the benefits of having to wait for the episodes. He went on to say, “I love the waiting. I love the marination. I think when you watch an entire season of a show in a day, you will definitely dream about it, but it’s not the same as walking around the whole week saying, ‘God Pete really pissed me off.’ And then by the end of the week saying, ‘God, when he said he had nothing, that really hurt.’ I remember people saying that.”
If there was anything unscripted that made its way into “Mad Men”
Weiner, known to be so meticulous with his writing, first responded with a simple, “No.” He went on to explain, “Occasionally things don’t come out exactly how you wrote them and they’re better, but no. Nothing. It’s not just the way we work.”
On Betty Draper’s ending [Spoilers follow]
When asked when he first realized Betty was going to be diagnosed with cancer in the penultimate episode of the series, Weiner joked, “Well they are all going to die, first of all. People die of cancer in the United States. It’s up there. I knew very early on. Her mother just died in the pilot and I felt that this woman wasn’t going to live long. We loved the idea of her realizing her purpose of life right when she ran out of time. I have to say, to me, despite all the emotions I feel for these people, that moment when she’s in the kitchen and [Henry] is like ‘Why are you going back to school?’ and she’s like “Why was I ever doing it…’ I think there’s a lesson to be learned about the randomness of things and she obviously had some predisposition and some fairly seriously cancer-causing behavior.”
Weiner really loves “Mad Men’s” last scene and doesn’t think the ad is cynical
“I did hear rumblings about people talking about the ads being corny. And it’s a little bit disturbing to me, again back to this sort of cynicism. Again, I’m not saying that advertising is not corny, but I’m saying that the people who find that ad corny are probably experiencing a lot of life that way and are missing out on something. Five years before that black people and white people couldn’t even be in an ad together. The idea that some enlightened state, and not just cooption, might have created something that is very pure,” Weiner said. “Yeah, there’s soda in there with the good feeling, but that ad to me is the best ad ever made. It comes from a very good place, which is a desire to sell Coca Cola probably, but you shouldn’t write everything off.”
Then, to come full circle, he spoke about the ambiguity in “Mad Men”: “The ambiguous relationship we have with advertising is part of the reason I did the show. My main character in the pilot is selling cigarettes and we cheer when he figures out a new way to sell them. He’s not Tony Soprano. He doesn’t kill people, but he kills people. And he’s very clear about what it is.”