However, speaking with novelist A.M. Homes at the New York Public Library Wednesday night, Weiner came as close to explaining his show's series finale as he is likely to do. (Weiner has said it's the only post-finale interview he will be giving... for now.) "I wanted it to feel that there was a vision and a point to the entire thing," Weiner said at the beginning of the conversation. "I'm so pleased that people enjoyed it and seemed to enjoy it exactly as it was intended. You can't get a 100-percent approval rating, or you've done something dumb."
Indeed, the show's viewership has been torn on the finale, which featured leading man Don Draper (Jon Hamm) spending the entire episode with a group of strangers at a hillside retreat that appears to be Big Sur's Esalen Institute. After having an emotional breakthrough at one of the group therapy sessions, the finale ended with a shot of Don peacefully chanting in the sun with a smile on his face before cutting to the famous "I Want to Buy the World a Coke" ad that was actually produced by McCann Erickson in 1971. The first wave of debate around the ambiguous ending was simple: Did Don create the ad?
"I do not like ambiguity for ambiguity's sake. I do not like people who will not commit to a story, who will not commit to a meaning. ... I have always been able to live with ambiguities," Weiner said. "In the abstract, I did think, why not end this show with the greatest commercial ever made? ...It was nice to have your cake and eat it too, in terms of what is advertising, who is Don and what is that thing? ... The idea that some enlightened state, and not just co-option, might have created something that's very pure — that ad to me is the best ad ever made, and it comes from a very good place."
So while Weiner, rather ambiguously, seems to suggest that Don did create the ad, the larger question seems to be what exactly that means for Don. Some, including Hamm himself, suggest an optimistic end for Don, who simply found some inner peace. "My take is that, the next day, he wakes up in this beautiful place, and has this serene moment of understanding, and realizes who he is," Hamm told The New York Times earlier this week. "And who he is, is an advertising man. And so, this thing comes to him. ... For Don, it represents some kind of understanding and comfort in this incredibly unquiet, uncomfortable life that he has led."
Yet others insist that Don using his newfound enlightenment to create an ad is a cynical note on which to end the series. "I did hear rumblings of people talking about the ad being corny. It's a little bit disturbing to me, that cynicism," Weiner said. "I'm not saying advertising's not corny, but I'm saying that the people who find that ad corny, they're probably experiencing a lot of life that way, and they're missing out on something. Five years before that, black people and white people couldn't even be in an ad together. ... That ad in particular is so much of its time, so beautiful and, and I don't think, [is] as... villainous as the snark of today."
Weiner was more clear and more specific about other aspects of the finale, including the tearful embrace between Don and group member Leonard (Evan Arnold) that led to Don's breakthrough. "I hope the audience would feel either that he was embracing a part of himself, or maybe them, and that they were heard," Weiner said. "I don't want to put it into words more than that. It really wasn't intellectual. ... I liked the idea where he'd come to this place, and it'd be about other people and a moment of recognition."
As such, Weiner admitted it was a tough decision to have Don's story play out so separately from all the other characters in the final episodes. However, he ultimately felt it was true to the character. "This whole last season was the idea that the revolution failed in some way, and it's time to deal with what you can control, which is yourself." Weiner said. "I thought, 'I want to see Don on his own. I want to do an episode of The Fugitivewhere Don comes into town and can be anyone.' ... I didn't realize until the end that Don likes strangers. Don likes winning strangers over. He likes seducing strangers, and that is what advertising is."
As for other aspects of the ending, Weiner said he'd always known Betty (January Jones) would die, but he didn't decide that it would be at the end of the series until the protracted negotiations after Season 4 gave the show a definitive end date. (He said he also thought of the Coke ad at that point.) "I knew very early on. [Betty's] mother had just died in the pilot, and I knew this woman wasn't going to live long," Weiner said. "We loved the idea of her realizing her purpose in life right when she ran out of time."
There were a couple of things over the course of the show that surprised Weiner, however. Although he initially intended to have Joan (Christina Hendricks) go through with the abortion of her illegitimate child with Roger (John Slattery), Hendricks convinced Weiner that Joan wouldn't let this opportunity to have a baby pass. "She said, 'I think Joan is going to be the one. I think Joan is going to be the single mom," Weiner said. "I love the fact that it's not philosophical for her. I'm not demeaning feminism. This woman made a practical decision not to take any sh-- any more."
Similarly, the rom-com happy ending for Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) and Stan (Jay R. Ferguson) was also not always in the cards. Viewers can thank Weiner's writers' room for that glorious piece of fan service. "I didn't know Peggy and Stan would end up together — that had to be proved to me," he said with a laugh.
Although it remains unclear what Weiner will do next, the spoiler-phobic writer said he hopes his next project, even if it ends up at a place like Netflix, would not be binged. "I would try to convince them to let me roll them out so at least there was just some shared experience," Weiner said. "I love the waiting. I love the marination. When you watch an entire season of a show in a day... it's not the same as walking around the whole week, saying, 'God, Pete really pissed me off.' And then at the end of the week, saying, 'When he said he had nothing, that really hurt.' You can reconsider it. And you see it pop up in your life. ... I feel like you should be able to be as specific as you possibly can, and let that sit with people. I loved having the period in between the shows, and it probably is the end of it."