Mad Men returns on April 7! Jace Lacob talks with creator Matthew Weiner about what to expect from Season 6 of the period drama, from a time jump to Don and Megan’s marriage.
Hold on to your period-appropriate hats: AMC’s Mad Men will return for its sixth season on Sunday, April 7 at 9 p.m. with a two-hour premiere, the network announced today. (The Emmy Award–winning drama will settle into its regular time at 10 p.m. ET/PT the following week, with an episode directed by series star Jon Hamm.)
“To be able to continue exploring the stories of these characters for a sixth season is an amazing opportunity,” said series creator and executive producer Matthew Weiner in a statement. “We love mining this world and look forward to bringing the audience stories that we hope will continue to both surprise and entertain them.”
When we last saw Don Draper (Hamm) and his fellow partners at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, they were being tested by marital infidelity, objectification, and suicide, to name but a few of the crucibles Weiner and his writing staff put the characters through in Season 5. But the darkness that enveloped Don at the end of the season may not have dissipated just yet.
The Daily Beast caught up with Matthew Weiner yesterday to shed some light on what lies ahead for Don and Megan (Jessica Paré), newly independent Peggy (Elisabeth Moss), and our other favorites. Below are 10 facts, gleaned from The Daily Beast’s phone interview with Weiner, about Season 6.
This will be the second-to-last season of Mad Men.
Weiner, speaking to The Daily Beast yesterday, confirmed that Season 6 will most definitely be Mad Men’s penultimate season, with the show set to wrap after next season.
“I’m going to confirm that,” said Weiner, who added that having an end date helped shape the overall narrative of Season 6 quite a lot.
“I came in with my plan for the season,” he said. “I was like, ‘I want to save that for the last season, I want to save that; I want to wait on that’ and I was pulled aside by Maria and Andre Jacquemetton, my executive producers, who said, ‘Don’t do that. You’ve never done that before. Let’s just use all the story that we have and we’ll deal with it on the other side of it.’ It really helped. Because I don’t want to change—part of it is superstition and part of it is the only way I know how to do it.”
“I never had the guarantee of even one more season for the first few seasons I did the show. So I would just use all the story I had. And it’s a much better way to do it. It’s much better for the audience. It’s much more satisfying for us than going through some half-measure and wasting 13 episodes on a set-up. For what? For 13 more? I was told by my trusted co-workers that we should do the show the way we’ve always done it. And I think, as usual, I will probably be painted into a corner by the end of the season.”
Yes, Elisabeth Moss is back this season.
Not that there was much doubt about that, no matter how some viewers and members of the press were up in arms about Peggy’s departure last season from Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, in part due to an interview that Jared Harris gave after his character, Lane, exited the show via suicide.
“I think they were worried because I make such a serious commitment to change, on the show,” Weiner said. “I don’t think anybody else has done a permanent divorce like that, or moved people out of their home, or dissolved their businesses or anything. So they were worried. I never said to anyone that Elisabeth was leaving the show. I just said that the character was moving on and you’ll have to watch. That’s what I always say: ‘You’ll have to watch.’ And you know what? If people were angry, God bless them, I’m glad that their emotions are wrapped up in the show. It’s a kind of interest that you can’t pay for…I’m not driven by giving them what they want. I’m driven by entertaining them.”
Elisabeth Moss, meanwhile, told The Daily Beast earlier this month that she wasn’t surprised by the audience reaction, though. “It looks like I left the show,” she said. “It was designed that you think that she quits and then she’s not in [Episode] 12 and then she pops back up in 13…Honestly, the thing that I felt the most was I was extremely flattered that people gave a shit.”
But that doesn’t mean that Don and Peggy will ever reunite, professionally. Nor should we necessarily want them to.
“As an audience, you should have your hopes and your fears and then sit back and see where the story goes,” said Weiner. “This is not [choose] your own adventure. We have a plan and we’re going to tell you a story...Sometimes the hero gets what he wants and sometimes he doesn’t. But if I told you, you wouldn’t enjoy it, believe me.”
The final minutes of last season’s finale (“The Phantom”) contain incredibly important information about Season 6.
At the end of the season, a question is asked of Don, which is “Are you alone?” It’s a telling and loaded query, which is followed by Don entering a darkness as the credits roll. Weiner indicated that these final scenes—a sequence of interlocking scenes depicting Megan as “Beauty” at a commercial shoot, the partners gathered on the new floor of the offices, and Don alone in a bar—are significant.
“He had a pretty dark season,” said Weiner of Don. “He was trying to be happy…I wanted to see him in that domestic world and to take that marriage seriously and that was something we were interested in. What was the second marriage like? Was he going to do it right this time? That said, you have to assume that he’s right where he was at that moment, which is deliberately ambiguous and a bit of a cliffhanger: a man who had really tried on this coat, and really tried to live the fantasy of that relationship being the right relationship. Megan is filled with joy, she’s future-[facing], and she accepts him as he is. She definitely loves him, but she had her own will and that seemed to be hard on him. That told me a lot about Don.”
“So where is he going from there? I don’t know. Is he going to try to repair that relationship? Is going to move on from it? I can’t tell you. I would love for people to just watch the last 10 minutes of Season 5 right before Season 6 starts. I think you’ll have a really incredible experience as we get there.”
There will be a time jump between seasons.
Weiner, however, was coy about just how much time elapses between Season 5 and Season 6. “I am going to skip ahead in time,” he said. “I won’t say how long, but the first two episodes are a movie unto themselves. And they do foreshadow what’s going to happen in the season. They do tell a story of the period and root you where you are in these people’s lives. But a lot has changed when the season opens up. A lot has changed.”
Season 6 will reflect the times we, the viewers, live in.
And, more specifically, the loss of… something, though Weiner isn’t quite ready to talk about the overarching themes of Season 6. Weiner did, however, tease that the upcoming season will reflect our own contemporary society in some surprising ways.
“There’s always the intention to have it have something to do with the world we’re in right now,” Weiner said. “That’s only because I only can write from what I know. And for some reason or another, this season feels particularly related to where I feel that we are right now, as a country and as a society...There’s been a bit of a blow to our self-esteem. None of the economic realities of the ’60s, of any of the years that we’ve done the show, reflect what’s going on right now. It was really a boom time for the economy, for job creation, and American industry. But I think that the social order, the blow to our self-esteem and turning inward as we deal with the loss of something. The loss of our—now I’m being super-vague about it. I’m not prepared to talk about it.”
Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) will not be committing suicide this season.
In fact, the aura of death symbolism swirling around Kartheiser’s Pete last season was entirely unintentional, though Weiner acknowledged that death has been a presence on the show since the beginning—“We’ve started every episode of the last 70 with a guy jumping out a window,” he said—Pete was never going to attempt suicide.
“It was completely unconscious on my part,” said Weiner. “I know the character of Pete very well and I don’t see Peter Campbell as someone who would ever commit suicide. He is very judgmental about mental illness. He eventually said it in Episode 13 that he views it as weak, and that was already written and shot when all of this hubbub started.”
“The show has always relied on death imagery, as does our daily existence. I don’t care if it’s a skull on your skateboard or the little language tics that I kept hearing that were going on in there that I was shocked about. We did have a story about a suicide. It was supposed to be personal, but I never thought it would be Pete and I was shocked that the audience thought that it was. But, you know what? That was kind of invigorating, because I don’t have control over that.”
“The first season of the show when people found out Don Draper had a secret, they all thought it was that he was Jewish. And I kept looking at the episodes and saying, ‘Did I ever say he wasn’t?’ I knew he wasn’t. I knew he was from this Christian evangelical past with this rural poverty, but the audience sees what they want to see…When Don was drawing the noose on his notebook [in Episode 4], yes, I knew Lane was going to hang himself.”
“Pete’s story was that he was switching places with Don, and he had reached an emptiness in that suburban world that was very hard on him and very numbing. It was as much of a midlife crisis as you could have. But his response to it as he explained in that last scene with Alexis Bledel [as Beth] was that he wanted an adventure and he wanted to feel better about himself. But in the end he just realized that there was something really wrong with his life.”
Weiner is, not surprisingly, very much against spoilers, and very good at deflecting questions.
The Daily Beast: I imagine the firm has since expanded to the 38th floor?
Weiner: You know, we’ll see if they got the money for that. It sure looked like it is. I can tell you Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce have had the money for a second floor, but I had to really go through a lot to get it from Lionsgate and AMC. [Laughter.]
The Daily Beast: Is there a set built for Cutler Gleason and Chaough?
Weiner: Can’t tell you.
The Daily Beast: Were there conversations about how much or how little to feature Peggy, given that she’s now somewhat out of the orbit of the firm?
Weiner: Yes, a ton of conversations, but you have to watch.
In fact, he goes to great lengths to protect the show’s storylines from prying eyes. “I shred everything here and I lock the set and other than that, no one’s asked me for a while,” he said. “There’s a thing that happens in this dance that we do, and I hope no one thinks I’m being cute, but, I am so excited for people to see the show and to get some of these questions answered and some of them not answered. Last year, Betty Draper (January Jones) wasn’t in the opening [episode] and people wanted to know what was going on with her. There are things that I do that I think increase people’s anticipation. Not telling you anything is one of them.”
Don’t expect Mad Men to suddenly adopt Netflix’s new programming model—à la House of Cards and Arrested Development—and release all 13 episodes at once.
“I’m kind of old-fashioned,” Weiner said. “I have a TiVo, but I like watching things live…I like entertainment to be an event. I don’t like the phone on, I don’t like the computer going, I don’t like people texting me during it. I’m interested in the Netflix [model] because it’s just so completely new. But my commercial instincts tell me, ‘Why wouldn’t you do it a few at a time, or something, or three in a week or whatever?’ But I am not going to argue with them because they obviously know what they’re doing…I still have a fantasy of everybody watching the show at the same time. Finding out what it is at the same time and then talking about it the next morning. I think there are very few things in our world that we share on that schedule anymore.”
Season 6 may or may not be as divisive as Season 5 was, but it will be just as provocative and thought-provoking.
“What’s great about doing this show is every season is different and you never know what you’re going to get when you watch it,” Weiner said. “The actors will be the same, the characters are consistent, but the period is changing and the world is changing and the story is changing. They have different tones, they have different flavors, different colors, and week to week you don’t know what the show’s going to be. That means that there’s going to be a conversation about it.”