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'Mad Men' Creator On What's Next For Don Draper

The staff of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce returned to TV on Sunday night. <em>Mad Men</em> is now set in 1966, seven months after the final episode of Season 4.
Frank Ockenfels
The staff of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce returned to TV on Sunday night. Mad Men is now set in 1966, seven months after the final episode of Season 4.

The fourth season of the AMC drama Mad Men ended in a dramatically big way.

Protagonist Don Draper, played by Jon Hamm, seemed happy. So happy, in fact, that he surprised his secretary, Megan, with an engagement ring on a Disneyland vacation with his children. The last shot of the episode showed Megan happily asleep in bed with Don, as he remained awake, staring up at the ceiling, before turning his head and staring out the window.

What did it mean?

On Monday's Fresh Air, series creator Matthew Weiner details his storytelling process. He also talks in depth about the plot and character choices he made last season and in the first episode of Season 5.

"The first episode of each season, in a way, really starts to become the finale of the season before," he tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "And when you get to the end of the season, you will see it all laid out. But it is not clear to you what is going on. What is clear is that there is a new dynamic, people are in different places. ... You'll see that the language is becoming more modern, that people are breaking a lot of the mores, whether they like it or not. And they're changing, so when you go into that dynamic, what you'll see is the setup to a bunch of problems."

Weiner reveals that one of the problems this season will revolve around Don's relationship with Megan, played by Jessica Pare.

"What's wrong with it? All I can say is, 'You know already. You've been told. But it's not what you think,' " he says.

Mad Men has received 15 Emmy awards, including the award for Outstanding Drama Series in each of its first four seasons. Weiner — who is also Mad Men's head writer and an executive producer — was previously a writer for The Sopranos.

Interview Highlights

On the end of Season Four

"I always try not to paint myself into a corner, and when I came in at the beginning of Season Four, I said, 'Don is going to have these two parallel relationships; we're going to bring this character in as a tiny part as a receptionist.' And the actress didn't even know that she's going to end up married to Don Draper. And, of course, I had the chance to pull the plug on this thing at any point during the season, because it's not set in stone, and then when it got there, I thought, 'This turned out great. This is exactly what I wanted.' "

On the character of Don Draper

"Every decision that he makes is filled with ambiguity. You see him at the end of Season Four. The end of every season is, to me, the end of the show. And that shot was a perfect mirror image of the end of the pilot, when you see Don come home, and you see him with his kids and his wife, and you realize that he's married. And you feel his emotional connection to them, and he looks out the window, and what you're getting is someone who's filled with an ambiguous emotion about things being good, maybe. Because in some ways, this man has some deep issues."

On likability

"What I hoped is what I felt, which is when you see somebody falling apart, you can be disgusted or you can actually feel badly for them. Feeling pity for them can be a tough corner to turn, but I don't think about likability. I think about lovability. And Don, at the bottom there, was the most lovable I've ever seen him. He needed love. He is a man who never asks for anything and doesn't know how to. He's a man who keeps such distance that the grains of vulnerability that he expresses are the moments for us to put ourselves into his life."

On power and sex and Megan and Don

"Don's relationship — and [the] women in his life's relationship[s] — between power and sex is very closely linked. And I think it's part of the human experience. I think it's an animal thing. Powerful men in particular seem to want to be controlled sexually. ... I think what you're seeing is that they do have a vibrant sex life, and she is controlling that part of it, and he likes it. And it's the way they fight. And it's kind of her saying to him, 'You want to be this way? Then you can't have this,' and on some level wanting him to realize that he won't get it. And what I love about it, and what I think is fresh, is that this woman is not judged afterward. It's very rare for a woman to express that kind of sexual confidence and control and not be the prostitute, and be somebody's wife and be in a relationship afterward. I'm both sexualizing their relationship and explaining her status in the relationship."

On his son Marten playing Glen Bishop

"He was cast because he was the best person available for the role. I would have never thought of him if he wasn't my son. It was actually someone else's idea, and I was counseled against it from all the complications that could happen from him failing at that job. But he really nailed it, and he's a really good actor. When I asked if he wanted to do this, he wanted to do this. He's now 15. At the time, I remember someone saying to him, 'What's your favorite part about acting?' And he said, 'Eating lunch with my dad.' Who knows if he even understands the difference between this job and other jobs, but it's beautiful to have him there, and I work a lot. He is part of the cast, and the reason I had him do it is because he's good at it. The fact that I identify a lot with Glen was confusing to him."

Copyright 2021 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.