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On the same night that Mad Men would serve up its final episode of the series’ fifth season, creator Matt Weiner and his AMC cast members gathered at the TV Academy to reminisce about a batch of episodes that touched on themes of love, betrayal, success, indecency and suicide.
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Seated on stage following a screening of the finale episode were Jessica Pare (Megan), January Jones (Betty), Christina Hendricks (Joan), Kiernan Shipka (Sally), John Slattery (Roger), Vincent Kartheiser (Pete) and Weiner. (Elisabeth Moss, Jared Harris and star Jon Hamm were working overseas and thus unable to make it.) The hour-plus coversation ranged in topic from Lane’s disturbing departure to Joan’s controversial decision to Pete’s struggles with success.
Here’s a look at what the Emmy-winning cast shared over the course of the evening:
On the theme of the show’s fifth season: Weiner is asked to sum up the season in a single word, which he begrudgingly does. That word: success. “Success was on my mind,” he tells a packed room of several hundred, noting that very often writers avoid such a theme since it often comes with little conflict. As evidenced by a season packed with affairs, an indecent proposal and a suicide, Weiner and his staff has little trouble mixing in the latter. Still, he adds of Mad Men’s fifth season: “People kept getting what they wanted in different formats.”
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On Lane’s hanging body: Weiner seems surprised with the reactions to Lane’s suicide, particularly considering what a significant role “death” has played over the course of the show’s five seasons. When one audience member suggests seeing Lane’s body hanging on the back of the door was “disturbing,” Weiner lights up. “As a dramatist, the fact that you found it disturbing is very exciting to me,” he says, noting that he felt compelled to show the body so that there were no questions regarding his fate. “I am of the sincerest belief that if we hadn’t seen [Don] taking his body down, nobody would have believed it really happened,” he adds.
On Megan’s addition to the show: Pare has no idea she’d become such a vital piece to the show. Instead, the actress recalls auditioning for the role of Don’s now wife Megan three times. Her first episode entailed one line, “Yes, Joan.” She knew she’d be returning for the show’s fifth season, but has fears that it would be done in “an open casket.” Instead, Weiner made her the star of the season premiere with a song and dance number that she admits had her very “intimidated.” Weiner seems pleased with the character’s trajectory, which has her at work as an actress at the end of the finale. He acknowledges that there was a debate in the writers’ room about whether Megan would be good at her work in advertising. The group ultimately decided it was important for her to excel but then depart for something she was passionate about.
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On Betty’s challenging season: Once the arm candy to Don Draper, Betty spent the show’s fifth season struggling with her weight, her jealousy, her misbehaving daughter and her threat of cancer. But Jones has no complaints. “I loved Betty’s storyline this season. As an actress you have something to work with,” she says, adding: “I was very sympathetic to Betty, which I hadn’t felt in awhile. She was scared.” Weiner adds that the weight gain storyline was a “solution to a problem,” since Jones was many months pregnant during filming and it was too soon for her character to have a child with her new husband.
On Pete’s ongoing affair: Before the show’s fifth season began, Weiner told Kartheiser that his Pete Campbell “would be looking for a mistress” this year. As the actor has come to see it, his character is seeking to feel handsome and desired again, much as he says in the finale. To hear Weiner tell it, the character is uncomfortable with success, and he’s having a lot of it as the firm’s breadwinner. “He really has made it,” explains Weiner, “and I think he really, really wants to change the way he feels.”
On Joan accepting the indecent proposal: Just as Hendricks’ suggested in this week’s Hollywood Reporter cover story, she’s still torn about her character’s decision to sleep with a Jaguar dealer in exchange for partner status at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. Still, she recognizes why Joan –a single mother supporting a child entirely on her own– did what she did, suggesting her character is “such a tiger mother.” Weiner chimes in to voice his surprise with the debate the episode has generated, particularly given Joan’s past decisions: “People who think this is out of character haven’t watched the show,” he says, adding “I don’t think you’d judge her for a second if she were a guy.”
On the Nancy Sinatra song, ‘You Only Live Twice’: Weiner had almost used the Sinatra song at the end of the pilot, and has been waiting ever since for the right time. He selected it to round out the finale episode because, as he sees it, the lyrics say so much about Don and the rest of the cast.
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