"Are you alone?"
That was the rather loaded question facing Mad Men's Don Draper (Jon Hamm) as the AMC drama ended its fifth season. Would Don, who had finally given into his wife Megan's desire to be an actress by getting her a job in a shoe commercial, go back to his philandering ways?
Mad Men Finale: Vincent Kartheiser on Lane, Joan and why Pete will never get enough
Season 5 felt almost like a collection of short stories. Did you set out to do that?
Matthew Weiner: No, I didn't. [But] I'm always hoping that people will approach each episode, each week, as something different, and I never want them to know what's coming. I'm not playing a game with them, thinking, "Oh, I'm going to zig when you expect me to zag." I'm literally telling a story where I don't want to repeat myself. [Season 5 was] a story that I think was very, very cohesive. It's a story of a second marriage. Don was trying to differentiate himself from this old self — trying on this marriage, having a relationship with this woman that looks like it's great. ... That's what that poster is about: Don was shopping for a domestic life and his fantasy of what that was.
That fantasy eventually came to an end...
Weiner: [Megan is] completely subservient to him at his office and then she finally succeeds at work and rejects what he does. She doesn't like orange sherbet. When she rejects [advertising], you realize how hurt he is. He really tried to do the right thing. ... [But] when you see the face of Don at the end of the last episode, you say, "Oh, that's where that guy's been. I recognize him."
Is that guy back for good? Or was that just a fleeting glimpse?
Weiner: I think it's a fleeting glimpse. I can't tell you where we're going, but I definitely think when you hear that question, "Are you alone?" it's not just, "Are you going to start cheating on this woman?" We've seen how faithful he's been — not just his conscience, when he strangles that old lover in his mind — but also in actuality. When he goes to the whorehouse, you see that he is not interested in other [women].
Was Mad Men's tragedy not as shocking as it could have been?
But that shot on the soundstage seemed pretty clear he was maybe giving up a little.
Weiner: The shot expresses it. He's walking away. I know there's all this theory about me saying, "She's gone," but that's not what I meant to say. He definitely has given up something, the same way he did with Peggy when he decided to give her what she wanted. He's afraid, as with Peggy, that if he helps her that she's just going to move on. She won't need him.
But something about that screen test changes his mind. What was you intention there?
Weiner: That what's great about doing something without words there. My intention was that he would look at it and he would smile. He sees this beautiful woman that he loves and then sees the vulnerability there and thinks that, yeah, he should do this for her.
That obviously isn't going to fix everything.
Weiner: No. Then I've got no show. [Laughs] If we solve the problems, we're in a lot of trouble. I haven't even thought about what's going to go on from there. All I know is that he probably did the right thing for someone that you love. But it was very hard for him to do. And I think "Are you alone?" is literally an expression of that. Maybe that's him separating from her in a way he doesn't want to when he gives her that job.
Mad Men: What's the cost of doing business?
I would argue that many of the main characters are alone in this finale.
Weiner: That's what I meant by every man for himself. There's plenty for everyone, everyone has what they want on some level, [but we see] that they're insatiable. That's what Don's speech was about. [The Dow Chemical pitch] is the closest thing to "greed is good" that we've ever done on the show. Don is saying, "Why do you need to replace something that's working? Because it's not working enough." [He's saying], "We won't coast because we're insatiable. We cannot be satisfied. No one can be satisfied." Is it the old Don? I think it's the new Don [and] he's just realizing no matter what he has, it's not going to be enough.
Switching gears, were you surprised at the reaction to Joan prostituting herself to land the Jaguar account?
Weiner: We were very proud of the episode, and I thought that the story was told in a very interesting way. We really felt the stakes. I love that the audience was concerned because they care about Joan, but I was surprised that people were questioning whether she would do it. Of course, we stacked the deck against her, but I felt that that was a realistic opportunity for her to secure her future, which looked very, very, precarious. Taking money from Roger is not an option because of everything that comes with it. Her marriage has fallen apart, and also, she has an ambition. And she had a choice not to do it. That's one of the great things about that scene with Pete and Joan. When Pete comes in and proposes this thing to Joan, she just rolls her eyes and says, "How did that come up?" You know it's come up a billion times. I mean, they put her front and center at all times. It's not always actual sex, but it is the promise of her company used as a lure.
I think some viewers didn't believe that Roger (John Slattery) wouldn't even talk to Joan about it.
Weiner: Roger is not a judgmental person and he certainly has no reason to be proprietary over Joan. She has rejected him eight billion times at this point. Is Roger a little cynical at that point? Yeah, but it's up to Joan. As much as we love Roger, he had a chance to be with her. He's had a million chances to be with her. ... I don't want to destroy Joan's character. I don't judge these people. I think it's a very human situation, but it was very high stakes and I feel like, without freaking people out to much, that it is one night. If something that big can be gained, I think a lot of us would think twice about it, especially if we could have done it even more privately than she did.
Have Mad Men fans seen the last of Elisabeth Moss' Peggy?
Should we be worried of an increasing dependence on LSD from Roger?
Weiner: I don't know if I would consider Roger taking LSD a second time a dependence. He certainly wants to go back to a place that he was after he took it. He certainly craves that insight. I don't know that drugs are the answer. They seem to be for him at that moment. He's convinced of it.
I know January Jones was pregnant, but were you pleased with the amount of Betty we saw this year?
Weiner: I could never get enough Betty. We had to really limit that, and that was a problem. But I really want to be that ideal boss that allowed this woman, especially after the delay, to have her baby and come back to work and do as much work as she possibly could. So I wrote her in and we used her as much as she was available, but I could always use more. I think that Betty's a great part of the story and a fascinating character to me.
Along those lines, are you willing to say how much we'll see of Peggy next season? Do you plan on cutting to her at the new agency as you did in the finale?
Weiner: We knew that she was going to leave — that she had to leave —and that we would see the beginning of a new relationship. It's the same thing when Don got divorced from Betty. Some people do leave the show, and I'm not guaranteeing that she will be there or be in that world as much. But when Don divorced Betty, I had all these questions of like, "I guess [January Jones is] off the show," and I was like, "She's raising his children. You don't think that he's going to have any relationship with her ever again?" ... Peggy is part of Don's life.
What did you think of this season of Mad Men?