The sixth season of AMC’s “Mad Men” saw a haggard Don Draper drinking, lying and cheating more than ever. All of this led to the final scene in the season-ender, in which Draper was put on sabbatical from the prized job he has for years used as a crutch to avoid facing the harsher realities of both his own psyche and the outside world.
Series creator and exec producer Matt Weiner says Draper’s emotional journey was the key storytelling element when he mapped out the season.
“We started to embrace the start of the season in a really different way,” Weiner says. “As soon as we realized we could enter the season in Hawaii, we were entering into Don’s state of mind at the time, and a whole new world to be explored.”
Weiner reflects on the similarities between the intensely personal internal struggles faced by Don, and the more external struggles faced by the show’s female and African-American characters. Don wants to define who he is, but struggles while living through a facade. Similarly, both the female and the African-American characters are living a somewhat fictitious version of who they actually are, particularly in the workplace.
There are differences, Weiner acknowledges.
“Don is not facing discrimination,” Weiner says, “but he is certainly trying to figure out who he is supposed to be. I’m always telling a story about the underdog. It’s a story I identify with. Don is incredibly lucky to have what he has, and I think that fits all the characters — whether it’s Sal, Ginsberg or even Betty Draper. Each needs to figure out who they are in a world that is not going to just give them things.”
Keeping the characters’ respective storylines fresh and compelling has not been a challenge for Weiner and his writers, as each season builds upon tenets established by prior seasons.
“This quality of being an underdog, of being an outsider and working your way in, in some way, that’s the secret of success throughout history in America,” Weiner says. “But the question I had to explore is: How do you navigate that into these characters’ lives?
“There are repercussions for (Don’s) actions. We saw this from the other end of things. It may be the best thing that ever happened to him. His creative prowess is not enough to make up for the destructive selfishness of the way he behaved towards the firm, forcing them to merge and then going to war against their partner. No one’s creative genius can outweigh that. … There is a price to pay for all of this.”