Speaking Monday afternoon by phone, Mad Men creator and showrunner Matthew Weiner confessed that it’s been “challenging” to find the right ending for his acclaimed 1960s Madison Avenue period piece, explicitly comparing the upcoming conclusion of AMC’s flagship drama to the controversial finale of The Sopranos, the previous series Weiner worked on, and implying that some viewers may not be immediately happy with Mad Men’s denouement, either.
“There’s an immediate reaction to it and there’s a long-term reaction to it,” Weiner said. “If people behaved about The Sopranos the way they do now—with the reverence and understanding about what it was—it would have been a lot more pleasant for everybody involved. But there was such an uproar. Now we know that was the perfect ending for that show, and now we know that show is in the pantheon of the greatest shows ever. Did the ending affect that? Yeah. There are good ones and bad ones. As a writer, I want to end the story [of Mad Men] the way I think the story was told.”
With the first half of Mad Men’s final season set to premiere April 13, the famously tight-lipped Weiner divulged new details about what to expect in the episodes ahead. By the end of Season 6, protagonist Don Draper had been suspended indefinitely from his job, estranged from his second wife, Megan, and caught with his pants down by his teenage daughter, Sally. Season 7, Weiner said, will be all about the “consequences” of Don’s actions.
“It’s really a theme that goes for the entire last season,” Weiner explained. “It’s about the consequences in life, and if change is possible ... There’s a real growth over the course of this last season from the material concerns of your life to the immaterial concerns of your life. That’s really what the ending of the show is about.”
Weiner hinted that an event that occurred early on in the series may come back to haunt Don in the final episodes.
“We’re very proud of the fact that as writers we don’t just throw stuff away once it’s happened,” he said. “There is a shadow being cast over this whole season that started not just last season, but the first time we met Don.”
Discussing Don’s relationship with Megan, Weiner revealed that while the two reconciled somewhat at the end of Season 6, Don’s attempts to reconnect with his family may not have their intended effect.
“Is making an effort enough?” Weiner continued. “Announcing to the world that you’ve changed—that changes you. Does it do anything else? ... That to me is one of the most interesting questions that I face in my life, and that everyone faces. You did something bad. You want to be different. You are different. Does anybody else care?”
At the very least, the power dynamic between Megan and Don seems to have shifted, according to Weiner.
“He had to renege on his quote-unquote ‘reproposal’ to her, to ask her to go to California,” Weiner said, referring to the Season 6 finale when Don backed out the Sunkist job in Los Angeles. “He just couldn’t follow through. Are there repercussions for that? Yes. That is the story of the season for me. I think [Don] really loves [Megan], but for whatever reason—guilt, shame, the desire for love, the desire to restore that love—she is in a slightly more powerful position now. Somebody who can bestow forgiveness always has more power than the person who is apologizing.”
As for secretary-turned-copywriter Peggy Olson, who took over Don’s job at the end of Season 6, Weiner said that she is about to confront some painful work-life decisions. “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,” Weiner continued. “I think she only knows how to pay attention to her job. And that may become a story for this season. [Peggy] would probably say she’s not a political person, but everything she does is pioneering. She’s reaching a point in her life where she’s going to have some choices.”
Meanwhile, bon vivant ad exec Roger Sterling, who recently discovered LSD, is “starting to have a bit of an existential crisis,” Weiner said. “Even Roger Sterling is beginning to see a bit of darkness in the repetitive nature of hedonism.”
Still, viewers shouldn't expect huge plot twists in Season 7. In fact, that's why Weiner is so aggressive about spoilers. "Our plots are not told on extremes," he said. "They're happening on a very human scale. On Mad Men, Don forgetting to pick Sally up from school could be a big plot point. I'm afraid if these are told [in advance], the show will be boring."
Admitting that the decision to split the final season of Mad Men in two was “not my idea”—AMC insisted after the strategy worked for Breaking Bad—Weiner nonetheless argued that “92 episodes into the show, anything that breaks up the pattern and gives me a new challenge is very exciting.”
So far, Weiner and his team have written drafts of the first nine scripts (seven of which will air this half-season; the remaining seven will follow next year). Currently, the final five episodes are still being plotted out—but Weiner does “have a clear roadmap for them.”
“The interesting thing about these last 14 episodes is that the main characters have really surfaced to the top, and we’re trying to surface them in the interest of ending the series,” Weiner said. “To get everything where I want it when it’s over has required us to give them some space.”
One positive development during the writing process has been the presence of legendary Chinatown screenwriter Robert Towne, who joined Weiner’s team as a “sage advisor” late last year.
“It’s like running a baseball team and someone says Babe Ruth wants to come one day a week and show people how to hit,” Weiner said. “He makes me work harder because I’m always trying to impress him. All of us are. You also know that if Robert Towne likes what you’re doing, then it’s probably good.”
Even so, Weiner couldn't help but sounding a little sad when discussing the end of a series he's spent the last seven years of his life obsessing over.
“It’s hard for me not to imagine these characters anymore,” he said. “The loss is something I can’t really think about.”