If previous seasons are any indication, Sunday night's finale of Mad Men will likely pull the rug out from the audience yet again.
After a tumultuous season that upended the life of Don Draper (Jon Hamm) and the staff of newly formed agency Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, numerous questions are swirling around the fates of the show's numerous characters. Will Don's radical attempt to get new business save the company or doom it? Will Joan (Christina Hendricks) choose to remain with her doomed husband (Sam Page) or create a life with Roger (John Slattery)? Will icy Betty (January Jones) punish Sally (Kiernan Shipka) by moving away?
The Daily Beast spoke to Mad Men creator/executive producer Matthew Weiner to discuss the overall themes of Season 4, the origins of Miss Blankenship (Randee Heller), Don's journal and his journey, Sally Draper, and what the future holds.
The Daily Beast: The season opener asked, "Who is Don Draper?" and then attempted to answer that question, stripping away everything in Don's carefully ordered life. Has he found his way via his latest reinvention?
Matt Weiner: He was on the way to find it as things were stripped away. There was a crisis in the business and we're seeing someone more familiar come out. He's a survivor. That's the way I look at it. Don really looking at himself has been interrupted by this need for the business to survive.
The Daily Beast: Why was it important that he keep a journal and why did he need to rip those entries out to write "Why I'm Quitting Tobacco"?
Weiner: His journal was based on a couple of things. One was that there was a real journal that a friend of my dad's wrote in 1965 that some of that was from and some was from my own attempt to write my thoughts down at that point in my life. He is so alone: losing his family, his recognizable sense of where he was at work, and the loss of Anna (Melinda Page Hamilton), that he was really confronting the fact that there was no reason to really keep this secret anymore… He doesn't want to be that man. He is trying to change. He is trying to have some sense of what his feelings are. It's personal and private and, I thought, quite profound. Then, of course, it gets abandoned, taken out, and thrown away to formulate this piece of strategy to save his business.
Mad Men's Biggest Drunk?
The Daily Beast: If Season 3 was about exploring the way that people respond to change, what were the overarching themes of Season 4?
Weiner: It's the conflict between what I want and what's expected of me. What's expected of me is defined by your marital status, your income status, your profession, the location of where you live. You see someone like Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) finding a passionate relationship with someone who is a believer but maybe not as levelheaded as her. She starts off with a very conventional relationship and keeps trying to find [something deeper]. People are trying to follow what they want to do but it's interfering with all of the structures that are in their world, the expectations that are based on social convention and the choices they make.
• Kara Cutruzzula: Who’s Mad Men’s Biggest Drunk?Joan loves Roger. There's no doubt about it. But she has made a decision to be married to [Greg]. We also see the feelings that have developed for her husband, that she chooses that structure. She denies herself. They have this breakdown and this moment where Blankenship dies and they sleep together and she says, "I'm married." There's that structure there. She's married. It doesn't matter what we want to do. Roger, of course, is always defined as childish, but to me it's about impulses: He is pure id on some levels. To the point where when he comes to a crisis, he ignores it. That's how he deals with losing Lucky Strike. He just forgets about it. He doesn't even want to think about it.
The Daily Beast: The same would seem to hold true with Betty, really.
Weiner: Part of the irony is—and I hope that people understood this from Episode 12 on some level—you can do the right thing and do it for the wrong reasons. You can use the structures of the world to achieve your desires. Don uses this bold statement against tobacco, which comes off as virtuous, because all he wants to do is get back at tobacco and at that company for leaving them and hopefully attract new business and say, we're beyond this, we're bigger than this.
Betty moves, which was the right thing to do. She should have never stayed in that house and done that to her new husband (Christopher Stanley) and put a stress on her marriage like that. But she does it finally because she is angry at her daughter? Really concerned about that boy? Or is she jealous of her relationship?
The Daily Beast: What did you hope to achieve with Sally this season?
Weiner: That episode where Miss Blankenship dies, there was a story about Sally trying to be the perfect woman for her father. She plays house with him and tries to be his girlfriend and his mom and his wife and his daughter. "I'll be good." She tries to be there for him and define him. She's in a world of major confusion… What is her future going to be? I think people would like to assume that she is going to be some radical hippie or something like that. I have my own theories about how that all comes about and hopefully we'll do more [ Mad Men] and I'll explain that.
I just love the fact that I'm getting to see her grow up and these are the conflicts in her life... My attempt is to try and create an honest portrayal of the way a child perceives the world and to take those feelings very seriously in the story and not make her a prop that gets thrown around between the parents… [She] finds a way to cope, because her mother will not tolerate it unless she's the perfect girl. She's being punished. That's why they're moving… The therapist tells her, she learned how to deal with this narcissistic mother… The idea was that was a survival skill.
The Daily Beast: Where did the idea for Miss Blankenship come from?
Weiner: [Executive producer] Maria Jacquemetton has been doing this character for a long time in the room. We called her Miss Blankenship because Robert Morse's character had this secretary, Miss Blankenship, that we used to mention by name and occasionally you'd see an extra with gray hair sitting at a desk… This was based on some woman that Maria had worked with and had many quotable quotes, many of which were in the show. The theory was… Joan was going to get back at Don by giving him this secretary, because he's obviously a tough employer. We figured out how it was going to work with Don and Allison (Alexa Alemanni) breaking this big rule and her letting him have it became, let's give him a professional secretary.
“Joan loves Roger. There's no doubt about it.”
The Daily Beast: Was she intended to serve as a cautionary tale for the women of the office?
Weiner: In Episode 9, where she dies, it was definitely used as a cautionary tale... Much of the season has been about life in the office and Don, as a man with no family, already worked a lot. He loves that office and he uses his work to [avoid life]. Look at New Year's. He went into the office and saw Lane (Jared Harris) and they ended up having an evening of it, but that's where he goes when he has nothing to do and he doesn't want to think about anything.
I just always loved the idea that Don was always this really tough boss and here comes somebody that he can't fire, that he on some level has to respect but who has absolutely zero tolerance for him… She's just beyond it. She doesn't give a crap anymore and that's also a cautionary tale.
The Daily Beast: Last season's finale was a game-changer for Mad Men, between the Drapers' divorce and the end of Sterling Cooper. What do you think viewers' reactions will be to this season ender?
Weiner: I never know… I didn't know how people would respond to it last year. I think it's a very good episode and a very interesting episode and will confound people's expectations. There will be some things they like about it and some things they don't. But last season, I didn't know people were going to like it so much. I liked it. I thought people might say, "Oh come on, what's going to happen to the office? Why are you leaving the office?" I didn't know what they would say. Or they might scream bullshit. You never know.
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.