[WARNING: The following story contains spoilers from the Season 5 premiere of Mad Men. Read at your own risk.]
Don Draper is... happy?
Mad Men's long-delayed and much-anticipated fifth season premiere finds Don (Jon Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Pare) still in the honeymoon phase of their recent marriage. Don's apparent happiness has one drawback, however: He seems less concerned with work than ever before.
"Don is seemingly becoming a little bit disengaged at work," Hamm tells TVGuide.com. "What happens when you have it all? What happens when you're satisfied? Maybe you lose some of that fire."
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But life with Megan isn't all hearts and flowers. Look no further than Don's humiliation when Megan throws him a surprise 40th birthday party, during which she does a sexy song-and-dance better suited for the bedroom than for cocktail hour. So how does the ballad of Don and Megan go? What's up with Roger and Joan's baby (hello, little Kevin!) and why was Lane so obsessed with a photo of another man's wife? We took our burning questions to Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner, who also tells us why Pete (Vincent Kartheiser) and Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) are the ones to watch.
You haven't jumped years between seasons since Season 2. How did you land on picking up the story where you did?
Matthew Weiner: [It was] the baby with Joan, the first six months basically of [Don and Megan's] marriage. It just seemed like far enough in advance. I don't want to skip too much of the story. I'm always looking at how people are related to each other in the hierarchy of the business, and how Don's personal life is interacting with the business and with himself and with his family. And it just seemed like the perfect amount of time.
In Season 3, you deliberately chose 1963 for the Kennedy assassination. Were there any historical advantages this time?
Weiner: I would say the show is not a history lesson, but ... the period we're in, people can look at Wikipedia and they're not going to find anything earth-shattering in the next 12 months. Everything that they think of that happened in the '60s happened between the Kennedy assassination and Woodstock; it's sort of blurred together. And it certainly will be as it's passing in the lives of our characters. It's always about the story in the people's lives, and for me there is a shift that is starting to go on that is actually affecting these characters' lives.
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The show has always touched on the Civil Rights Movement, but the premiere is bookended with scenes about race. Is that going to more of an issue this season than in years past?
Weiner: I would not say that. That event with the guys dropping the bags full of water out on the protesters really happened. It's in the newspaper; the dialogue was taken from The New York Times, and to me it was just a great symbol of how race affects these people. It's being brought into their world and it's still a joke to them. ... I will never diminish the Civil Rights Movement by acting like it was the focal point of white America. It wasn't. It's part of why they struggled so hard, and it's part of why people had to die to get things changed. I'm never going to rewrite history and it's out of respect. I'm not going to say, "Oh, now civil rights is a big deal to these people." It's not. As you can see, this comes into their house and it's totally a practical joke. What I love is, change is happening and they can't do anything about it. They don't even know it, and that's part of the entertainment of the show.
So Don and Megan are married. I was most surprised that Don told Megan about his past as Dick Whitman, since I believed he chose Megan over Faye because she knew less about him.
Weiner: It's shocking. I'm hoping the audience is going to be like, "Oh my God, what's this show going to be about?" ... Yes, it made Faye less attractive to him once he told her who he was, but Faye was saying to him, "Deal with who you are and live as that person." And Megan said, "I don't care who you are." That's why he felt free to tell her that.
Don does seem pretty happy for the most part.
Weiner: I loved that we see that Megan has some power over him. He was craving a different kind of intimacy on new terms. There's a kind of honesty ... and her youthfulness. We can see she's not judgmental. She's shocked by how hard these people are on each other; there's a purity to her. There's probably nothing Don can tell her that's going to change her opinion of him. And that's part of why we see what we think, at this point, is genuine love in his eyes.
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With that happiness, however, Don seems to be disengaged at work.
Weiner: I hope you got that message. He has a sentence where he says, "I don't care about work." And that should be as shocking to you as when she says to him, "Nobody loves Dick Whitman." He's disengaged or maybe his values have been realigned.
On the flip side, Pete and Peggy both seem to still have the fire in their bellies.
Weiner: I can tell you got from the episode what I wanted you to get, which is that Pete is an ambitious person. It's actually said in the episode. And I read someone [else] sort of saying that Peggy has lost her creative mojo. That is insane. [The Heinz beans client] is a frustrating client who needs to be hammered by Don, and Don didn't back her up. Is it because Don is indifferent? Is it because Don doesn't have the energy? Is it because Don doesn't feel like fighting anymore? [Peggy] has her mind in a different place. That's part of the story [this season].
Obviously, it's maybe not the best time for Don to stop caring at work. The business is still trying to stabilize after losing Lucky Strike.
Weiner: Who knows? No, the business is not booming. But there is the fact than Ken said to [Don] in the finale last year that he didn't want to use his wife [to sign a client] because she is his actual life. So maybe Don is actually refocusing his energies. Maybe that's something good. A lot of us would have loved for our parents to have worked less and to have paid more attention to their relationships. It could be good.
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Then there was that sex scene at the end...
Weiner: Was that upsetting for you?
It definitely had a different tone from Don and Megan's previous interactions. (Watch the scene below!)
Weiner: All we know is that they have an intimate relationship. There is some violence in there and it is based on who is running things. I think what we should know is that whatever is holding them together, part of it is the fact that he wants her and she knows how to control him on that level. It was a game on some level because once the tension is broken, they're intimate again. But this is adult sexuality. I put it in there so you can see ... his desire for her and her knowing that. We want Don to be powerful, but maybe Don doesn't want to be powerful. In the end he dominated her, but he was frustrated into doing so.
We see Joan's baby in the premiere, but Joan and Roger don't really get a chance to talk about it. Can you say anything about their dynamic this season?
Weiner: Joan's got her own questions to answer. Joan is a single mom who is heading back to the office, as far as we know. Roger is someone who lost Lucky Strike and is struggling. He's still president of the agency. He's obviously still financially well off. He's pulling money out of his pocket to get things done, but he's using Pete's leads. He doesn't have a secretary. That's not good.
So, you're saying Roger has bigger things to worry about than the baby? Like being even more irrelevant?
Weiner: Roger is disenfranchised, yes.
Check out photos of the Mad Men cast
Lane definitely seems to have some financial problems, and we already know he's not very happy in his marriage. Will we come back to those issues?
Weiner: Sometimes some of this stuff is not related to the season at all. [But] it took an episode to explain where Lane is mentally. We know he lived this fantasy life, we know that he tried to get away from his family. Now we see that he's having some financial problems. He is frustrated in some ways. We see that the company doesn't seem to have any cash, even though they have clients, which is something that happens as businesses grow. I just love when that guy says to him, "You're a real gentleman," and Lane knows that his basest desires are still there.
Talk to me about the surprise party. It allowed you to get some conflict between Don and Megan.
Weiner: The whole show is about having a problem — not not having a problem. And now you're looking at Don and you say, "What is his problem?" Well, you saw what happened in the episode. He was mortified and humiliated to have his personal life shared in the office. And this young, optimistic, loving person thought that was okay. It's basically him saying to her, "Don't you know where I work?" That's where we are.
"Zou Bisou Bisou." WTF?
Weiner: Were you embarrassed when you were watching it at first?
I cringed a little.
Weiner: I could tell. I want you to be uncomfortable. It's not weird. You are just watching something private.
So do you have a theme this season?
Weiner: There is a whole new story and part of this story is two things that have actually come up in our conversation. The theme is every man for himself, and the other one is, when is everything going to get back to normal? There are specific people trying to make things stable.
What did you think of the Mad Men premiere? Watch a clip from the episode. Warning: The clip is sexual in nature. Viewer discretion is advised.