Matthew Weiner, in his first post-Mad Men finale interview, helped make the last scene a little less ambiguous for fans wondering whether Don wrote the “Buy the World a Coke” ad.
In a Q&A Wednesday with author A.M. Homes at the New York Public Library, which was streamed online, Weiner first revealed why he included the ad at all.
In short: He loves it.
“Why not end the show with the greatest commercial ever made?,” Weiner said.
“I did hear rumblings of people talking about the ad being corny, and it’s a little bit disturbing to me. … I’m not saying that advertising’s not corny. But I’m saying that people who find that ad corny, they’re probably experiencing life that way and are missing out on something.
“[It’s] the idea that some enlightened state, and not just co-option, might have created something that is very pure. And yeah, there’s soda in there with a good feeling. But that ad, to me it’s the best ad ever made. And it comes from a very good place — which is a desire to sell Coca-Cola, probably,” he added with a laugh. “You shouldn’t write everything off. …
“I felt like that ad in particular is so much of its time, so beautiful, and I don’t think it’s as villainous as the snark of today thinks it is.”
So it seems that yes, Don did come up with the ad in his enlightened state.
Weiner also was adamant about Don being on his own and away from the central characters for the last several episodes, and he fought for the budget to film in Big Sur, California, where Don stays at the Esalen Institute.
“He takes to the road and finally comes to terms with the worst shame of his life — taking that man’s name,” Weiner said. “We realize he has no one. He feels there’s not much reason for him to live.
“I liked the idea where he would come to this place and it would be about other people, and a moment of recognition. … I hoped that the audience would feel that he was embracing a part of himself, or maybe them, and that they were heard.”
Weiner knew the series would end with the Coke commercial as early as after Season Four, when he and Lionsgate went head-to-head on contract negotiations before signing a three-season deal. Even earlier than that, he knew Betty would end the show dying of lung cancer.
“I knew very early on,” he said. “Her mother had just died in the pilot. And I thought this woman wasn’t going to live long. And we love the idea of her realizing her purpose in life right when she ran out of time. … I think there’s a lesson to be learned about the randomness of things, and she also has some predispositions and some fairly serious cancer-causing behavior.”
He didn’t plan for everything, though: “I didn’t know Peggy and Stan would end up together,” he said. “That had to be proved to me.” (Actor Jay R. Ferguson gave a nice run-down of the evolution of Stan and Peggy over at Vulture.) And he didn’t imagine Joan ending up as a feminist and single mom.
“I love the fact that it’s not philosophical for her,” he said. “I’m not demeaning the philosophy of feminism; I’m just saying this woman made a practical decision not to take any shit anymore.”
Weiner originally thought Joan would have an abortion when she became pregnant with Kevin; he credits Maria Jacquemetton, producer and writer for the show, with the story of Joan deciding to have Kevin and not tell her husband, Greg, that Roger was really the father. “She said, ‘I think Joan is gonna be the one,’ ” he said. ” ‘I think Joan is gonna be the single mom. There’s a lesson to be told there.’ Lots of people are raised by single moms.”
Weiner said most of what people like about Mad Men has come from the writer’s room, and “so many horrible mistakes have been avoided.” It was writer Semi Chellas, for example, who convinced him not to cram Betty and Pete’s storylines into the finale but air them in the penultimate episode, giving all the plots a bit more room to breathe.
Other tidbits from the Q&A:
— When they set out to cast the role of the “refrigerator man,” Leondard (Evan Arnold), for the finale, Weiner told casting “He’s probably the most important role in the series. I need someone who’s not famous and who can cry.”
— The final tarmac scene for the Campbells was filmed at the Van Nuys Airport. While there, he learned the location also was used for the film Lost Horizons — a movie Don watches in Season Seven’s first episode “Time Zones” that centers around a group of people being taken to Shangri-La. Well done, universe. (Scenes from Casablanca were also filmed there.)
— Yes, the finale was the one and only time we saw Don Draper in blue jeans. Costume designer Janie Bryant was saving the casual wear for a special occasion.
— Weiner is open to doing another TV show, and he hopes it would be released weekly and not all at once. Even if it was on Netflix, he said, he’d ask for a different release model. It isn’t against binge-watching TV shows entirely, but he does value the shared experience of week-to-week viewing. “I love the waiting. I love the marination. I think when you watch an entire season of the show in a day, you will definitely dream about it, but it’s not the same as walking around a whole week thinking ‘God, Pete really pissed me off!’ ”
— Most of the song choices in the series came from him. He even had a Mad Men playlist on his iPod of potential songs to use before Mad Men even existed.
— He defends the Peggy-Stan love connection happening over the phone: “I feel like a lot of the most important things that have ever happened to me in my life have happened over the phone.”
— People may say they appreciate actors who appear not to be acting, he said, but “I think they love it when they see the acting.” Look at who wins awards these days, he said — people who are good at showing how much they are acting, “speechifying” and such. … “The actors on Mad Men behave like real people, and it has not been in style. … But I believe in a more naturalistic style of behavior, and it’s not that showy because I never wanted people to be pulled out of the show.”
— “No”: The short and sweet answer to a question of whether improvised lines made it into the show. This was a by-the-script affair. One exception, though: When Don says “Sweetheart” to one of the secretaries in the Season One’s “The Wheel” as a prompt for her to turn off the lights for the slide presentation, aka the “Nostalgia” speech. Which you should watch again right now:
Sarah Carlson is Television Editor for Pajiba. You can find her on Twitter.