When a “Mad Men” season begins with references to Dante’s “Inferno,” you know that at some point Don Draper is going to be put through hell.
In Sunday’s finale, Draper (played by Jon Hamm) was finally called to account for the very bad behavior he had exhibited all year: He was placed on a leave of absence from his job at Sterling Cooper & Partners after he botched a pitch meeting; he pulled out of his plan to move to California, straining his marriage with Megan (Jessica Pare); and his relationship with his daughter, Sally (Kiernan Shipka), never recovered from her discovery of his affair.
With no place to go but up, Draper started to come clean to his children about hiding his identity, a deception echoed in a subplot involving an agency newcomer, Bob Benson (James Wolk).
As always, Draper’s descent – and possible redemption? – is orchestrated by Matthew Weiner, creator and show runner of “Mad Men,” who directed the finale and wrote the episode with Carly Wray. Weiner spoke about the episode and the past season. Here are excerpts.
Q: The finale felt like a comeuppance for Don, though maybe not the one we were expecting.
Basically we started the season saying society is in revolt. Don Draper is in a place where he has been before, and his anxiety has never been worse because he knows he’s been there before. Certain things are conceived as twists – you expect Megan to find out about his affair, and it’s Sally who does. That felt like that would be the worst thing that ever happened to him. His central problem is his childhood and that anxiety of who he is, and he’d be forced to – not necessarily change, but at least the admission of who he is. What a gigantic step for anybody. Most of us never get there.
Q: There were strong hints, going all the way back to the doorman’s heart attack in the season premiere, that Don was going to die.
I wanted you to think Don was the one who was dying. Death can be literal, but death can be a transformation, the death of a condition or a state of things.
As things in America, theoretically, go back to the way they were, with Nixon’s election and every one of these movements for social change being tamped down by the end of 1968, mostly through violence, people turn toward the things that they can change. In the Martin Luther King Jr. episode, a lot of that was about people being driven together by this tragedy instead of being broken apart, and turning to the part that they could control or find joy in.
Q: Is Don’s marriage to Megan over? Has he lost his job at the agency?
No. It’s a leave of absence. It looks bad. But there has to be some punishment for the way he behaved. His marriage to Megan, you’ll have to wait and see where that ends. I loved her showing some backbone and her realization that he is the problem. When he went to California and was on hashish, you saw his fantasy version of her, which was her pregnant and tolerant of his philandering, and quitting her job. He’s beyond old-fashioned.
Q: Where did this season’s subplot about Bob Benson and his rivalry with Pete Campbell come from?
We wanted Pete to have an underling, someone nipping at his heels but who was really good with people. Someone who had a blind affection for Pete, almost an obsession with him. I don’t even think it’s gay. I think he honestly just loves what Pete represents, because Pete has everything that he wants.
Bob has lied about everything, and I loved the idea that Pete would find out and realize there was no point in going against this guy. Because he had lost this battle with Don.
Q: So you’re committed to the idea that the next season of “Mad Men” will be its last?
I am. I don’t know much about it, as a season. But I definitely am committed to that, yes.
Q: Now that the season is over, will you go back and read what was written? The reaction was very polarized.
The desire to be discussed is being satisfied, and that’s what I want. There’s no way to talk about this without being defensive. I would say this: A polarized audience is an involved audience.
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