Weiner spent most of Memorial Day in his office writing the final finale
of “Mad Men,” while fans parsed the state of the Sterling Cooper universe
after Sunday’s midseason finale.
He took a few moments
away from focusing on next year’s last seven episodes to discuss some of
the broader themes and plot points from this year’s first half of the
SPOILER ALERT: Stop reading if you haven’t
seen “Mad Men” episode 7, “Waterloo.”
Although the seven
episodes seemed to be over in a blink of an eye, Weiner said he and his writing
team “really tried to tell a whole season’s worth of story.” Now that
“Waterloo” has aired, the truth can be told. The writing team had long planned
for Bert Cooper to die while watching the July 1969 moon landing. And they’ve
been wanting to script a song-and-dance number for the character played by
Broadway vet Robert Morse since the beginning of the show, but felt it was
important for Morse to not break character too soon.
Weiner confirms that
the focus on the mending of the relationship between Don and Peggy was crucial
to allowing both characters to grow this season. And yes, Joan seems
inordinately bitter toward Don, but not without reason.
Variety: What were the most important
character development points in these first seven episodes of the final season?
Within the language of the show this season started with Don and Peggy as far
away as possible from each other. Don was screwing everything up. He was sort
of stuck in limbo about the job and everything that had worked for him in the
past. We wanted to do a story about a guy fighting his way back up in the
company. Don wanted to change but in this situation whether you want to change
is one thing, whether other people can accept that change is another. There are
a lot of people who can’t believe things will possibly work out and how Don can
end up doing the right thing and taking pleasure in the work.
When did you decide to give us that
showstopper of an ending with Bert Cooper’s song and dance number on “The Best
Things in Life Are Free”?
Weiner: The ending is
deeply rooted in the language of the the show. We’ve always had flashbacks and
we’ve tried to take advantage of offering a filmic experience with POV.
Remember at the end of (season one closer) ‘Carousel’ Don goes back to his
empty house and has a very deep fantasy that his family is still there. After
Roger (in ‘Waterloo’) says that the last things he said to Bert were “the words
to some old song,” we wanted to use that to have Don give himself a message
that there were bigger things in life than success and money.
How long have you been planning Bert’s
Weiner: The plan from
the beginning of the season was that Bert would die during the moon landing and
come back and sing that song. I heard it on an old-time radio show. It’s a song
from the Great Depression — you couldn’t get anything more on the nose. I love
what it says … Obviously we wanted to take advantage at some point of who Bobby
Morse is. We’ve been thinking about it for the entire run of the show. For
about 15 years, you could not pick up a paper and not see something about Morse
doing something on stage. He was really part of Camelot, personally and
artistically. We wanted him to break character for a second in Don’s
imagination and give him a message about life and death.
Were you nervous about the reaction to the
Weiner: It was a lot
of work to pull it off in our (production) space and not make it campy. It had
some sentimentality to it. It’s for anyone who has an imagination or is lucky
to have had the experience of seeing someone who wasn’t there. The message from
Bert to Don is that life and death are bigger than money.
What were some of the highlights for you
Weiner: The most
emotional thing in the whole season to me was seeing Peggy and Don working
together again finally (on Burger Chef) and when they said “We got it.” When
you see their mentor relationship come back to life. And then later (in
“Waterloo”) when the partners meeting (about the McCann-Erickson buyout) is
over and Don tells Peggy “I’m going back to work.” He knows that she got Burger
Chef all by herself. It’s exciting to push somebody on a bike and then let go.
He seems gratified by being able to help
her — especially given what’s gone on in his love life?
Weiner: You can’t
give somebody confidence — then it’s not their confidence. Peggy thought she
was a boss before but being the boss is riding to the occassion. Don realized
that for him to pitch (Burger Chef) was of no use to her. I don’t know if it
was a sacrifice on his part but it was certainly a chance to come through. And
part of (Don’s success) was that she came through it in her own way. She did
not do the pitch as Don would have. It’s very satisfying to see people achieve
under high stakes. Don trusts her and she delivers.
You seemed to be commenting a lot about
the nature of television and shared viewing experiences by wrapping this thread
around the moon landing?
Weiner: The irony is
the fact that she’s pitching a commercial about turning off the TV just as
we’ve come through probably the greatest TV moment we’ve ever had.
Why is Joan so angry toward Don? She seems
inordinately bitter towards him.
Weiner: Do you have
any friends who cost you $1 million? Joan slept with the guy from Jaguar, and
then Don impulsively fired Jaguar just as the company was going to go public.
So she did all that for nothing. Then they had to merge with (Cutler, Gleason
and Chaough). To have some lone wolf fueled by alcohol is not good for a
company. Don really did cost her almost the same amount of money she ended up
getting from the (McCann-Erickson) buyout. Christina Hendricks is such a good
actress that you can see Joan is overwhelmed by her new wealth as she walks out
into the bigger office from the partners’ meeting. The audience forgives Don
because we like Don, but if you try to see it from Joan’s point of view you can
understand it. Peggy was the same way. Don essentially forced her to come back
to her old agency (by orchestrating the merger with Cutler Gleason), he ruined
her relationship with her boyfriend, humiliated her in front of clients and
then sent her boyfriend away to California.
By the end of this mini season, the core
characters seem mostly contented, compared to past finales.
there’s some bittersweetness to this, considering that they have sold the
Give us the tiniest glimpse into next
Weiner: I can’t … I
can say that it’s almost finished. I have said from the beginning that a lot of
this season is about the material and the immaterial. So many of their concrete
needs have been met, so now you ask yourself, what’s left?