Why did Don Draper propose to Megan at the end of "Mad Men's" fourth season? Why did the show's creator, Matthew Weiner, spend that season purposefully destroying the successful facade of Madison Avenue's most suave ad man? How much change is Don -- or anyone else -- capable of? Is his Dick Whitman identity as potent a secret as it was in the past?
Weiner discusses all those things and more in Part 2 of an extensive interview with HuffPost TV. Check out Part 1 here, in which Weiner discusses the challenges of "Mad Men" Season 5, and look for the final installment of the interview later this week.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
As a storyteller, when you came to Season 5, was there something new you wanted to try?
Always. It's always like that. It's really what is supposed to happen, and it sort of presents itself. Sometimes I have some genre [ideas]. We did "Seven Twenty Three" [the Season 3 episode which featured Don's unfortunate encounter with hitchhikers, among other things], we did that episode where it was all, like, flashbacks going into each other.
The Season 3 finale was a heist movie.
Yeah, absolutely. I definitely have those things in mind, but I came into this season with a collection of thoughts and concerns. I have conversations with people where they don't even know that I'm working, or I don't even know that I'm working. It becomes what's on my mind. I have a sort of gestation, and it does require the anxiety of knowing that I'm going back to work.
I have to have a deadline. I'm terrible at not having a deadline.
Oh, yeah, yeah. "The writers are coming in two weeks from Monday." I do all of that [procrastination], but I also sort of let my imagination wander and see where I am emotionally and think about where the characters are. I want the show to be different every year. I literally try to find an organic way to tell something that I have not done yet. And sometimes the story is, look, we keep telling the same story. Sometimes that's the story.
But this whole idea of change is a huge part of the show -- this idea of whether we can change and whether the perception that we've changed actually does alter us. "If other people think I'm capable of this, then maybe I am?" -- that sort of thing.
[This is what] I love about people having more column inches on the Internet. That's the thing that really changed about the blogosphere -- people approached the show [seriously] from the very beginning. We were treated very well, and I think part of it was, they realized, "Oh, this show is actually about those kinds of things. This show might do an entire episode [on an idea]," which is what I love about "The Sopranos." [It could be] about jealousy, and "jealousy" is the crappy version of what it's actually doing. It's actually doing a thing about, "Why can't I be happy for another person's success?" Or, "My children’s lives are going forward and their lives are easier than mine -- do I resent them?" It's such an unpleasant thought, but it's an experience, so it requires the audience member to A) Admit that they have those feelings or B) At least acknowledge that that's an interesting story to tell because they like the characters.
I don't care if it's "Spider-Man" or Agatha Christie or "The Sopranos." It can be about something as small as someone gave you too much change. Let's say it's way too much change. You might return it. People say, "Well, I wouldn't do [questionable things]. I'm not Betty Draper: I would never be mad at my kids; I would never resent my children for limiting my life; I'm not a monster." We'll see. It's not fun to look at, you know?
I love the idea that the show is, on some level, forgiving of human foibles. Don is not a great guy, but he is really trying, and at the end of last season, [we saw] the good reasons why he asks [Megan] to marry him. Who knows what's going to happen? But the good reasons are: It's time to settle down; my children need some stability; don't I deserve love; Anna Draper left me a wedding ring; I've been a drunk; I've been philandering; it's no fun when you're single.
I thought Season 4 was so brave. You took apart everything that guy was in Season 1.
I was really worried that the audience would not be able to deal with the fact that I was calling attention to the fact that he was drinking too much. They've always sort of enjoyed it and it's part of the entertainment, but I always thought the negative side was there. Who knows how many things he's done in the show because he's drunk -- sleeping with his secretary and stealing that kid’s idea and all that self-destructive behavior.
I also thought, "What other story am I going to tell?" Can we do a big story about Pete wanting to get the agency away from Don, or do we bring in another Duck every year? I felt like, whatever arrogance there is in it, I wanted to try and tell a story that a lot of people don’t tell. My character was in the place to tell it. [The Season 4 story] -- a man that aged on his own -- believe it or not, is not a popular subject in our culture. I could not find it. I found "Kramer vs. Kramer" and "The Odd Couple." Now, talk about a woman on her own, [that story is out there]. I'm telling you something. I put the greatest minds [on finding stories about a divorced man fending for himself]. I called my professor from college and I said, "Do you know of a book?" And he goes, "Well, Updike" and I'm like, "[Rabbit Angstrom] is not divorced. They're separated."
For Don, it seemed like the challenge was, could he be both Don Draper and Dick Whitman? It seemed like Anna’s death allowed him to have that acceptance. And one of the biggest things I thought about was, it’s not just hard for him to learn to love people in a real way, it's hard for him to be loved.
Yeah, oh my God, yeah. He has this mother problem, and he's looking for a woman to save him, and the women who know him aren't to be trusted, because to know him is to know what's wrong with him.
And so the more intimacy he allows, the more he has to sabotage it.
I'm not saying what's happening with Megan, but I can say that Faye did not get picked partially because she knew his whole story. Once he told her that, I think that the air got let out of the ardor.
There is a purity to the Megan relationship, but then, Don does like the beginnings of things.
I actually wrote a note to myself on a piece of paper in my car -- “You only like the beginnings of things” -- about a month before I had to write that [episode]. I didn't know when it was going to come up and I saved it. It's such an accurate depiction of so many of us. We're all like that.
First day of school every year. Every fall, I was like, "This year, I'm going to do well in school." And just beyond Halloween, I was like, "Wow, here I am again. I had the syllabus three months ago. All I had to do was keep on top of shit. I hate it."
And you know, some people like the endings of things. It's the worst for me. You know when the crew leaves, when I have to say goodbye to people? I am terrible at it. I avoid it. I don't want it. It's like dying to me. So when you're asking me, "When is the show going to end," do I seriously want to think about that?
Do I really? You know it's going to happen. I'm going to be there writing the last episode and I'm going to be clawing at the wall.
Season 9 -- Don goes to outer space.
Yeah, exactly. I'm going to be the guy who's buried alive and there are going to be scratch marks on the inside of the casket.
Your show gets so much praise obviously for the dialogue and things like that, but to me, you've been really meticulous about creating tension and constructing stakes with all the secrets and hidden things. Obviously, Don's Dick Whitman identity, that was a huge secret, but that seems less potent now in terms of his life.
I can introduce a new person who doesn't know [about the Dick Whitman secret], and [Don's] children don't know, but I'm tired of it, on some level. The first season, when we did the episode about his being offered the partnership from when Roger had his heart attack, I kept thinking, "I know one thing: This guy will never put his name on the building because it isn't his name and he will be found out and he lives in terror of that."
After having gone through Anna Draper, the first Mrs. Draper, his divorce, all this stuff with him … I thought, "You know what? He's got to realize on some level that he’s okay." [But] when that North American Aviation thing happened [i.e. Don realized there would be a problem with the security background check], you're like, "There are still limitations." There is no statute of limitations on [that kind of fraud,] believe it or not.
Yeah, but it's less of a problem in terms of his personal life.
It doesn't feel as much of a threat. Now to me, it feels more like, anyone who lives long enough and succeeds lives with their identity. He's got some extra stuff there.
But I do want it to be tense, and I do want there to be a new tension, and that's part of the reason why I jump ahead [when the new season begins]. Because at least I get tension for a couple of [episodes]. That's why I don’t want people to spoil the premiere. I get tension for like at least four or five hours of my 13-hour season, just having people wonder what happened [in the time gap between seasons].