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What’s at the end for ‘Mad Men’?

By Meredith Blake
Los Angeles Times
PaleyFest Mad Men
Chris Pizzello - AP
Matthew Weiner, creator and executive producer of the television series "Mad Men."

For “Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner, the reality is beginning to sink in. The series returns to AMC for the first half of its seventh and final season at 10 p.m. April 13, and Weiner is toiling away on Episode 9 – leaving five episodes until the story of elusive ad man Don Draper reaches its conclusion.

“There is a weird psychology to saying, ‘OK, there’s five episodes left, three stories an episode. That’s 15 stories left to tell in the entire show.’ That’s pretty overwhelming,” Weiner said.

In a calculated move by AMC, the final season will be split into halves: seven episodes to air this spring, and seven in 2015. The first batch have been filmed, and production is to begin on the others this month.

Weiner said he didn’t fight the network on splitting the season because he had seen how well this approach worked for “Breaking Bad,” and accepted it as a writing challenge.

“The interesting thing is the show is always kind of structured in halves, whether the audience notices or not,” he said, noting that plot points emerge around the halfway point of a season, such as the lawn mower incident in Season 3, or last year’s merger between Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce and rival agency Cutler, Gleason & Chaough.

The last season of “Mad Men” was set in 1968, with the tumultuous events of that year driving the narrative in a way they hadn’t since the assassination of JFK in Season 3.

This upheaval was reflected in the life of the series’ protagonist, who by season’s end found himself at his lowest point: alienated from his wife, Megan, suspended from his job and caught (literally) with his pants down by his teenage daughter, Sally.

“It was a catastrophic year for the United States and for Don Draper as well,” says Weiner, whose film “You Are Here,” starring Amy Poehler and Zach Galifianakis, is scheduled for release this summer. Though some fans, sick of Don’s selfishness and womanizing, turned on him last season, just as many were encouraged by the finale, in which the protagonist revealed his true identity to his three children.

But just because Don came clean to his family – and appears to have reconciled with his business partners, judging by the publicity images released by AMC – doesn’t mean that he has turned over a new leaf, said Weiner. “I definitely think that affected him, but there are a lot of other consequences that are hanging in the balance. You can say he’s a survivor, he’s going to start over, but what does that mean?”

Weiner is willing to confirm that by the end of the final season, “Mad Men” will have reached the conclusion of the 1960s, meaning the final season will take place in 1969 – another year marked by era-defining events including the Apollo 11 moon landing, Woodstock and the Tate-La Bianca murders. It’s a neat way to wrap up a series that, on one level, has always been about the country’s transformation from the conformity of the Eisenhower era to the chaos and discord of the Vietnam age.

“That was the intention for the show all along,” he said.

Weiner promises the plot of the new season will be “extremely dense” and will be focused on the central characters.

“I wanted to investigate the consequences of actions and how they stick with you, which is kind of a great topic for the end of the show. I also wanted to talk about the material world and the immaterial world,” he said. “The show has always been either an exploration of what’s going on inside of Don or of how Don is interacting with the world. This season I’ve really tried to incorporate both of them.”

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