Exclusive: Mad Men Creator Discusses the Kennedy Assassination
Before Mad Men's third season, fans wondered when, as in what year, series creator Matthew Weiner would resume the story.
There was reason for the anticipation: In the Season2 finale, Betty (January Jones) revealed to reformed womanizer Don (Jon Hamm) that she was pregnant, and viewers were curious how that would play out. But more significantly, everyone wondered whether or not Weiner would skip over the Nov. 22, 1963, assassination of President John F. Kennedy. After all, Weiner said more than a few times that he didn't think he had anything to add to the historical landmark.
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But Weiner changed his mind. "My attitude about the assassination changed as I got deeper and deeper into the period and after I wrote the first two seasons," he tells TVGuide.com "I thought it was a melodramatic trope the way it had been treated. And after having lived through 9/11, which is a comparable experience, I didn't want to pretend — especially if I was going to continue on in the lives of these characters — like this wouldn't have had an impact on them.
"I thought it was a lie to skip it," Weiner says. "But I did want to show what I think is almost the premise of the show: How we experience history, even something as gigantic as that, is still very personal to what's going on in your life."
That's exactly how Weiner shaped his approach. He put the assassination front-and-center and then allowed each of the characters to face their own truths in the aftermath. Pete (Vincent Kartheiser) realized that he was no longer content to see things the Sterling Cooper way. Roger (John Slattery) could turn only to his former mistress to truly express his emotions about the president's death. And Betty dropped a bombshell on Don when she told him she no longer loved him.
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"I didn't want to join the treatments of [the assassination] that were just a bunch of hand-wringing and genuflecting and horror," Weiner says. "I think they're true; it was an awful, awful experience and I tried to channel that. But I hoped that by seeing the event through the eyes of the characters that there would be an opportunity to learn more about the characters. So that's why I changed my mind about it.
"I hope that people don't resent the fact that I did it," Weiner continues. "I'm very proud of the way we pulled it off. I think it was very true to the show, and I thought it would be cowardly to skip it. So, I decided to face it head-on and see if we could do something more experiential."
The fact that Weiner was able to portray the birth of the Drapers' third child didn't hurt either. "I didn't want to come back up with the baby already born," Weiner says. "I wanted us to see that they had made that decision to have that baby, which held their life together and held their marriage together. And then all the expectation [was] wrapped up in the birth of that baby and it never came to fruition. It was just another baby."
And so, the show heads toward its third-season finale with a new question: Is this finally the end of the Draper marriage? Weiner, notoriously tight-lipped, would say only that the finale episode is representative of the season's theme.
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"I said at the beginning that it was about change, and things did change in the '60s," Weiner says. "But from the beginning of the series, I wanted there to be stakes to the fact that [Don] behaved the way he [did]. That's what you're seeing enacted right now: the irony of the fact that he came clean to Betty and his worst fear was that she wouldn't love him anymore. And there you are."
Mad Men's Season 3 finale airs Sunday at 10/9c on AMC.