The audience was audibly disappointed at PaleyFest on Tuesday when “Mad Men” showrunner Matthew Weiner announced he would be showing the season-four finale and not a clip from the skein’s upcoming fifth season, as most had hoped.
Series lead Jon Hamm, who plays the mercurial Don Draper, only further teased the audience when discussing his character’s engagement to his secretary last season.
“He got engaged, but he doesn’t necessarily get married,” Hamm told the crowd who cheered with giddy anticipation.
When pressed, Weiner refused to say whether Don would be wearing a wedding ring in season five and deflected the question by pointing to Don’s history of infidelity, telling the crowd that “Don has never worn a wedding ring.”
The decision to keep the long-awaited fifth season (premiering March 25) under wraps was a logical move for the showrunner after a spate of spoilers leaked prior to the season-four premiere and given Weiner’s recent impassioned letter to critics urging discretion this time around.
For his part, Hamm said he bought into the Weiner’s vision for Don in the first season and stopped worrying about his character fate.
“I made a decision a long time ago to trust that this is the man that runs the show,” Hamm said. “I put my trust in his ability to tell a story.”
As the series marches further into the 1960s, many expect civil rights to figure into the plot, similar to the show’s handing of the Cuban missile crisis and the assassination of JFK. Weiner gave his take on the whitewashed world of Don Draper’s Madison Avenue:
“I am not trying to be a revisionist. I am trying to do my best to show segregated New York in the 1960s,” Weiner said. “Civil rights in particular, I want them to experience it like they really did, first through the television and then in their living room.”
A particularly anachronistic moment in season three, when Don’s business partner Roger Sterling sang “My Old Kentucky Home” in blackface, was a point of contention for actor John Slattery, though he pointed to a different scene and reasoned he couldn’t parse his characters sometimes offensive actions.
“You can’t ride the girl in her underwear singing cowboy songs and then say, ‘No, I don’t want to do blackface.’” Slattery said.
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– Hamm still held out hope Don and Betty would reunite, even after his character proposed to his secretary. “Is this some kind of freakout?” he wondered at the time. “Is this going to be a dream sequence where they cut it, and I am in bed with Betty and everyone is in the house the next day?”
– It has become a bit of a game for the writers to give Slattery tongue-twisting lines such as “Do you know what nuts mean to Utz and Utz means to us?” from season two.
– Resident Brit Jared Harris, who plays the penny-pinching Lane Pryce, had a similar trajectory to his character’s pond-hopping story line. “I wanted to come to America for similar reasons. I wanted to find out who I was,” Harris said. “He really embraces America as a place of mobility and I like that story.”
– A school friend gave Weiner a journal his father had written in 1965 while going through a similar personal crisis as Don Draper. Weiner used some of those insights as material for the character.