On Sunday night, "Mad Men" ended the first half of its final season on a bittersweet note, with the triumph of the Apollo 11 moon landing -- and, to a lesser extent, Peggy's brilliant Burger Chef pitch -- tempered by the death of agency elder Bert Cooper (Robert Morse).
We caught up with series creator Matthew Weiner Monday afternoon to discuss "Waterloo" just as he was sitting down to write the script for the series finale (no pressure or anything) which will air on AMC next year.
The episode ended with a lovely song-and-dance routine from Bert Cooper's ghost. What inspired that?
I came into the season with the idea that Cooper would die, he’s of an advanced age. He would die during the moon landing and it would send the power dynamic at the agency into a tailspin, and Don would see his ghost singing that particular song. I’d heard it on the radio as a kid, it’s a Depression-era song and it offered a chance for Cooper to break out of his character and remind Don there’s more to life than business.
It seems like this cycle of episodes ended on an unusually optimistic note for the series, with Don able to make real change in his life. Would you agree?
This story began with Don eight weeks after the Season 6 finale, the shortest time lapse we’ve done between seasons. He’s lying to Megan, he’s fighting to get back in his business, he knows that he needs to change. He’s alienated Joan, cost her the equivalent of 7 million dollars in today’s money. He’s destroyed his relationship with Peggy by driving a wedge between her and Ted. And he’s been ousted from his own agency. Can Don work his way back up? That’s the story that we tried to tell in seven episodes. The first half of the season was about wanting to change, and deciding to change. Don blowing everything up last year, with Sally walking in on him -- that was the moment of change. The question is, has the guy learned anything? Now he’s paying attention to the work instead of the mechanics of the agency, and finally giving Peggy an opportunity to shine. He was pushing her on the bicycle -- he let go [Sunday] night and watched her ride away.
And with the moon landing and the technology -- whether people are familiar with the period or not, what we were trying to show is this massive change happened and the people who were there were quite aware of it at the time. As much as we gained from technology, there was also something lost. I mean I have my phone in my pocket right now and it’s like 90% of my entertainment. Yes, it was made by people but it was an awesome change in humanity’s importance to itself. That’s all part of the period.
So is Betty realizing that she’s sick of being told to shut up. It was fascinating to me that some people did not remember that it was socially inappropriate for a woman to disagree with her husband in public. She broke a big rule. She’s tired of being told to shut up. Feminism is not even really a part of that era yet.