(Hey, did you read the headline? Yes? Okay, then don’t get mad when you read major Mad Men plot points in this article. Thanks.)
Everyone who saw the Mad Men finale has a theory about it. Even series star Jon Hamm has speculated on what he thinks that fateful cliffside meditation session means for Don Draper’s future. But the final authority on the subject is Matthew Weiner, who created the character and wrote the final episode that wrapped up his seven-season journey. But Weiner hasn’t had a lot to say about it—until yesterday, when he talked about it in an interview with novelist A.M. Homes at the New York Public Library.
First things first—Don does go back to McCann-Erickson, and he does create that Coke ad. Weiner says he’s known this for a long time, and told Hamm about it a while ago. He thinks it’s a “beautiful” ad, and that he finds people who read its inclusion cynically “disturbing”:
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…And the idea that someone in an enlightened state might have created something that’s very pure—yeah, there’s soda in there with a good feeling, but that ad to me is the best ad ever made, and it comes from a very good place.
So that’s pretty clear. But, Weiner says, the hug between Don and Leonard—who Weiner calls “probably the most important role in the series”—can be read a couple of ways. “I hope the audience would feel either that he was embracing a part of himself, or maybe them, and that they were heard. I don’t want to put it into words more than that,” he says. He also says that,
I didn’t realize until the end that Don likes strangers. He likes seducing strangers, which is just like advertising…And once he gets to know you, he doesn’t like you. It’s gonna turn once they feel exposed. That’s why he picked Megan over Faye. He just tells Peggy, just move forward—that’s his philosophy in life.
But while Don’s fate—and Betty’s, who Weiner says he knew early on ”wasn’t going to live long…I think there’s a lesson to be learned about the randomness of things”—was clear to Weiner as early as the end of season four, not every character’s arc was mapped out so early. He says that Peggy and Stan ending up together “had to be proved to me,” and that he had consulted Sopranos creator (and his old boss) David Chase about whether Peggy should tell Pete about the baby. “She will have a psychological scar,” Chase told him. Speaking of babies, Weiner also says,
I thought Joan was gonna go through with that abortion. I definitely didn’t think Joan would end up this single-mom feminist, looking for childcare. I love the fact that it’s not philosophical for her. I’m not demeaning the philosophy of feminism, I’m just saying this woman made a practical decision not to take any shit anymore…She biologically loves work.
And for Mad Men fans unsure how to spend their Sunday nights now that the show is over, Weiner says he’s open to working with a streaming service like Netflix in the future, but he has some similarly old-fashioned attitudes about binge watching. “I love the waiting; I love the marination. When you watch an entire season of a show in a day, you will definitely dream about it, but it’s not the same as walking around the whole week, saying, ‘God, Pete really pissed me off,’” he says.