Matthew Weiner’s Thoughts on the End of Mad Men (in His Characters’ Own Words)

By
It's hard to say good-bye. Photo: Justina Mintz/AMC

The best art leaves room for interpretation, and Mad Men is no exception. Coded within the final seven episodes of the series lay any number of passages that illustrate the way creator and showrunner Matthew Weiner feels, not only about the end of the show but about where he’s leaving it at its conclusion.

Season 7, Episode 8, “Severance”
“I’ve got a lot of time to make up for … I’m still young enough to enjoy things. New things, even.” —Ed Baxter, on the prospects of retirement.

Season 7, Episode 11, “Time & Life”
“This is the beginning of something, not the end.” —Don, to the rest of Sterling Cooper and Partners.

Buried beneath the surface of every ending is the promise of a new beginning. This, if nothing else, is something Weiner firmly believes. Were that not evident enough in the largely uplifting ending for each of his characters or from the recurrent theme of resurrection throughout the show’s run, it’s made explicit in the lines from the final season. Even as Don himself didn’t actually believe that life at McCann Erickson would be a new start, it was, despite all worries to the contrary. Moreover, as with Baxter’s quote, an ending is just an opportunity to attempt something new and different, whether that’s the characters or the audience or, hell, the creator.

Season 7, Episode 9, “New Business”
“You think you’re going to begin your life over and do it right, but what if you never get past the beginning again?” —Pete Campbell, fearing that fresh starts are actually traps.

Season 7, Episode 10, “The Forecast”
“We know where we’ve been, we know where we are. Let’s assume that it’s good. But it’s got to get better. It’s supposed to get better.” —Don Draper, theorizing about the future.

However, Weiner understands that the unknown is a scary place. Time and again, his characters worry that starting over is an exercise in futility, the first step of a Sisyphean task from which there is no escape. But the most brilliant aspect of that is revealed during “The Forecast,” when Don is worrying over his “Gettysburg Address” about the future of the company. Not only is the future unclear, but Don isn’t sure the present is all it’s cracked up to be. It’s an observation that, in its own way, is deeply comforting, as it illuminates the idea that the future, and the change sure to accompany it, isn’t necessarily any more frightening a prospect than whatever state we’re living in now. The end of Mad Men brings plenty of uncertainty, sure, but that alone is no reason to fear the end.

Season 7, Episode 9, “New Business”
“You don’t get to stand in judgment of me.” —Marie Calvet defends her choices to her daughter.

“Mine’s the only opinion that matters here.” —Peggy reminds her artist of who calls the shots.

“What career? She’s a consumer! She made her choices.” —Roger on his ex-wife Jane.

Throughout the ninth episode of season seven, Weiner seems to have a lot to say about the relationship between creator and audience and who gets to pass judgment upon whom. It’s not anything that reads as particularly antagonistic, but rather like opinions voiced by a man who’s ready to not have his every creative choice scrutinized by any and every individual with access to a decent-strength internet connection. Mad Men has always had a cheeky relationship with its audience, a built-in consequence of focusing a show around individuals whose entire job is to sell useless product to the poor schmucks at home sitting around the television. These messages hint that Weiner appreciates the opportunity to create but isn’t sorry that the open critiques will be coming to a close.

Season 7, Episode 10, “The Forecast”
“This is supposed to be about my job, not the meaning of life.” “You think those things are unrelated.” —Peggy and Don try to hash out the future.

Season 7, Episode 14, “Person to Person”
“There’s more to life than work.” —Stan Rizzo, trying to convince Peggy to see the bigger picture.

As at peace as Weiner seems about the conclusion of Mad Men and where he leaves his characters, there are still moments like this that stick out, where a character struggles to define himself outside of the constraints of his work. What is a person without her work to define her, to give her purpose to carry into the unknown? These are the moments made more resonant in retrospect with Stan’s gentle admonishment of Peggy in the finale, reminding her that there is more to life than just the job, hinting that it’s something Weiner struggles to remember himself.

Season 7, Episode 14, “Person to Person”
“You get to a point in your life where it’s your last chapter.” —Roger Sterling, to Joan, on leaving an inheritance to their son.

Season 7, Episode 13, “The Milk and Honey Route”
“Sally, I’ve learned to believe people when they tell you it’s over. They don’t want to say it, so it’s usually the truth … It’s not a weakness. It’s been a gift to me. To know when to move on.” —Betty Francis, on how she’s decided not to fight her cancer diagnosis.

In the end, the most resonant of Weiner’s words from the back half of season seven are those that embrace the idea that it is a particularly precious gift to be able to recognize when something has run its course. With Roger and Betty’s words, Weiner extolls the wisdom and appreciation of someone who understands that every story has an end, and Mad Men has reached that point. There’s comfort in accepting that things have run their course, even as dealing with their inevitable end can be painful. Still, in the show’s darkest hour, it offers a glimmer of hope, the offer of home, and the unyielding love and acceptance that goes with it.