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07.25.10

Mad Men's Slap-Happy Return

Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner talks exclusively to Jace Lacob about Sunday’s Season 4 opener, Don and Betty Draper, the return of Joan, and that slap. Contains major spoilers!

Sunday’s season premiere of AMC’s Mad Men pushed the action ahead by a year, to Thanksgiving 1964, where we found Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce—the new advertising agency created from the ashes of the old Sterling Cooper—already aloft like a phoenix. Even if there is no second floor, or even a conference table.

Don Draper (Jon Hamm) is living a hermit-like existence as a Manhattan bachelor, albeit one with a penchant for call girls who make house calls; meanwhile, Don’s ex-wife, Betty (January Jones), has been living in the house she once shared with Don, and is now married to Henry Francis (Christopher Stanley). Don has been forced to reinvent himself once more, stepping from behind the metaphoric curtain to become the face of his new agency. For a man who has strived to hide his true self, Don must put himself front and center and grapple with some difficult “public relations”—the episode’s title.

The Daily Beast spoke to Mad Men creator/executive producer Matthew Weiner about the aftereffects of the Drapers’ divorce, whether Betty is a terrible mother, Don’s S&M fetish, the triumphant return of Joan (Christina Hendricks), and much more.

The Daily Beast: There is a time jump of about a year between the seasons. Why was it essential to jump that far ahead, and why did you opt to set the beginning of Season 4 during Thanksgiving?

Matthew Weiner: How they’re going to find office space, and how they get on their feet was kind of interesting to me, but not as interesting as saying that they already got on their feet and had this creative success, are in the new offices, and maybe they have over-extended themselves. The most interesting thing about Thanksgiving is what Don’s life is going to be like… Rather than writing about the actual physical transition, I was more interested in how he would live with the transition, because this season is really about who is Don now that he was walked these coordinates? He is not married, he does not have that beautiful house; he’s a father still, but in a very different way. He is single. Those problems were the most interesting to me and the holiday seemed like the first place where you would see how the family is divided.

The Daily Beast: We see two very different sides of Don Draper in the season opener, both in his interviews with the two journalists, and in his time with the hooker. Who knew that Don Draper liked to be slapped around in bed?

Weiner: I don’t know that he’s always liked it. We have a fantasy that Don Draper is a lothario who can go out and get any woman that he wants. We see from the date [with Anna Camp’s Bethany], that the world is different, that he has to put in the time if he wants to have a relationship with her… I think a man like that would turn to a professional. The actual nature of their sex is probably Don just trying to feel something. That he feels that he needs to be punished… This is a guy who, for the first time in his life, probably has complete control, in some level in his mind, and he wants to give it over.

Mad Men: Who Is Don Draper?

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The Daily Beast: Betty and Henry are now married and living in the house that she shared with Don. Why will Betty not let go of that house?

Weiner: I think it’s another control issue… and that’s her house as far as she is concerned. I think it was too much change at once. It happened so fast. I think she wants it the way she wants it.

The Daily Beast: Do you think that Betty is a bad mother, or is she just a product of the time period?

Weiner: I think she is a selfish person. But I think that she is trying to be a good mother, as all mothers are, and you usually find out if you are good or bad when the children grow up and they tell you… I do think that, in her mind, she stayed in that house because she didn’t want to drag the kids away from everything that they know. I think that was for them.

The Daily Beast: Many viewers were afraid that, given Don and Betty’s divorce, Betty would slide into the background, which is not the case in “Public Relations.” Will there be as much focus on Betty as previous seasons?

Weiner: She certainly is not as front and center as she was last season. That story last year was about the dissolution of their marriage, but I was surprised that people thought that she wouldn’t come back. Those are his children, that’s part of his life, and… she’s going to function in that life… The consequences of that divorce are pretty serious. I can’t say that minute-by-minute she is going to be in the show as much as she was last year. But she is a big part of Don’s life.

The Daily Beast: The divorce itself is a great prism through which to view these characters and see the Drapers fall apart.

Weiner: What I think is interesting about “Public Relations,” is that you start to learn a little bit about Henry. I think when you see Henry and his mother, you start to understand how this guy was so impulsive about rescuing Betty. He is obviously used to having a strong woman in his life… But he obviously has his own life. He is divorced himself. He has a grown daughter. Here’s a chance to see the fact that he is doing this for himself and he’s doing it the way he wants to do it.

The Daily Beast: Sterling, Cooper, Draper, Pryce is still, even a year later, very much in its infancy and struggling to find its way amid an increasingly competitive environment. There is no second floor here, but it’s a great illusion that they have created.

Weiner: Right. Don is accepting responsibility for being in charge of that business. But his whole life is not his business. It may be, now that he is single, but we will see how he deals with that.

The Daily Beast: I was extremely happy to see Joan Harris back where she belongs, with an office of her own, in fact. Are we going to see a more empowered Joan this season and what impact does her career have on her marriage to Greg?

Weiner: There’s going to be plenty of Joan this year and everyone should be happy... All I can tell you is that she has a position at the office, and it’s not a binary universe, so she is working there. When we find out how everything is working with her husband, you’ll see what her choices are.

The Daily Beast: There are quite a few new faces in the season opener, including Anna Camp and Matt Long. What can you tell us about Bethany and Joey?

Weiner: Joey is a freelance copywriter who’s working with Peggy. Bethany… I can’t even say if we are going to see her again. What I want to show, and what Anna really brought to it, is how old Don is. I think it’s the first time—even Joy in California somehow, because she was a sexual adventurer, seemed more appropriate—that you really see in that date, how much younger Bethany is than Don. And that for him to have a relationship, to be dating in a civilized world, he cannot behave the way he has. It’s a totally different set of rules… If Don had been married, I think he would have had a shot that night…

We’re going to have a lot of people coming in on the show, and the world will be filled up. The most important thing for people to realize now is that they’re in an in-between place and there is not a great deal of desperation about it, because they are building something. Don’s had some success already, but that doesn’t mean they’re safe.

Xtra Insight: Part One of Season 3 ending

Xtra Insight: Part Two of Season 3 ending

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Jace Lacob is the writer/editor of Televisionary, a website devoted to television news, criticism, and interviews. Jace resides in Los Angeles. He is a contributor to several entertainment Web sites and can be found on Twitter and Facebook.