Matthew Weiner Thinks We’re All Too Cynical About That Coke Ad (and Other Things We Learned From His Mad Men Postmortem)

Lighten up, guys! Photo: Amanda Edwards/Getty Images

The series finale of Mad Men aired Sunday night, and the show's creator and showrunner Matthew Weiner joined author A.M. Homes for a postmortem of sorts as part of the LIVE From the NYPL series Wednesday night. Discussing that Coke ad ending was, of course, on the agenda. In fact, it was kind of hard not to think about Coke during the conversation when classic glass bottles of the soda were handed out to attendees upon entering the event. Still, there were plenty more subliminal topics discussed, such as Don Draper's connection to Richard Nixon, the root of Don's depression, and how Joan became the fierce feminist we now know and love.

Spoilers ahead for the series finale of Mad Men.

We're all too cynical about that Coke ad ending.
The series finale of Mad Men ended with Don Draper achieving a moment of peace he had been searching for this whole time, and then using it to come up with perhaps one of the greatest advertising campaigns of all time, Coca-Cola's 1971 "Hilltop" commercial. Many viewed this ending with cynicism — that a man who has gone through everything Don has experienced in life would finally find enlightenment, only to result in him using it to sell some soda. This wasn’t Weiner’s intention. "I'm not saying that advertising's not corny, but I'm saying that people who find that ad corny, they're probably experiencing a lot of life that way, and they're missing out on something," Weiner said. "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."

There's some of Richard Nixon in Don Draper.
Though he might not immediately jump out at you like the many aviation references or the symbolism of California in the series, Richard Nixon is something of a through line in Mad Men as well. Sterling Cooper does some pro-bono work for Nixon's presidential campaign in season one in the hopes that having Nixon in the White House could be good for business. We see those dreams quickly dashed in that episode, but Nixon reemerges victorious as he gives a speech to the nation as president in season seven. Nixon's own reinvention and his tenacious ability to overcome obstacles like poverty are reflected in Don's journey throughout Mad Men. "John F. Kennedy is literally born on third base, and I don't think Don identifies with him. He says it, 'When I see Nixon, I see myself,'" Weiner said. Still, Weiner said his mother hates Nixon, so make of that what you will.

The men of Mad Men experienced an emotional evolution.
Homes remarked that a lot has been made ofthe way Mad Men shows the evolution of the female and African-American experience during the 1960s. But what about the men? They experienced an emotional awakening as well, which we saw erupt in the series finale as Don embraced his fellow group-therapy-session attendee Leonard after his passionate speech about searching for love and not recognizing it when it's given to you. Weiner explained that at the time Mad Men began in 1960, men like Don kept their feelings inside, especially as they felt disillusioned with the perfect postwar suburban lifestyle they were supposed to subscribe to. "Don is just ignoring this stuff, and it keeps bubbling up. And a lot of his, what we would now call self-medication, drunkenness, whatever, womanizing, is to avoid those feelings," Weiner said. By the time Don visits the retreat in 1969, "these guys have had it," Weiner said. "Even if they're not veterans, the alienation that was created by success, political, racial tension, the technology, which I think is happening right now, the isolation. These guys are gonna crack."

Jon Hamm didn't get his Mary Tyler Moore Show ending.
Change is scary, and some people were unhappy about so much newness in the final season of Mad Men, with unfamiliar characters and locations outside of the beloved SC&P Time & Life office. Weiner thought that was a curious thing for people to be upset about, but you know who's really the victim in all this? Poor old Jon Hamm. "It's hard for Jon Hamm too because you want to end like Mary Tyler Moore. You want to end on the set with all of your friends, and he was working with all of these different people," Weiner said. "He said good-bye to most of the main characters about eight or ten weeks before we finished shooting, except for the phone call with Peggy and the stuff with Sally and Betty."

Evan Arnold was the perfect actor to play that refrigerator monologist Leonard.
Leonard, the man who finally got Don to open up, was played by an actor named Evan Arnold, who has appeared on TV shows like The West Wing and Masters of Sex. Though he's been in the biz for years in everyman parts, you probably didn't recognize him on Mad Men. That's what Weiner loved about him from the second he came in to read for the part. "There is a thing that is sometimes spoken about with film where they talk about 'people pop.' You can go out to the street and pick the handsomest man in the world or the most beautiful woman in the world, and bring them in and film them, and you don't even notice them," Weiner said. "And something about Evan, he's played a lot of regular people in his life … and he sits down and we believe it right away that he's invisible, that it's true."

Pete and Betty's final stories were supposed to be in the series finale.
One of the biggest arguments that occurred in the writing room during season seven of Mad Men wasn't about what was going to happen to the characters, but when. Weiner said he originally envisioned saving the scenes where Pete got back with his ex-wife Trudy and Betty received her lung-cancer diagnosis for the final episode of the series. However, Mad Men writer and co-executive producer Semi Chellas convinced him otherwise, for which Weiner is very grateful. "I wanted that all in the finale, and it would've been a mess. Everything would've been like five seconds long," Weiner said. "She's like, 'You'll just have to live with the fact that they know some of the ending already.'"

The fact that Joan turned out to be a single-mom feminist was a surprise.
The more independent and self-assured Joan became, the more fans seemed to love her. However, Joan wasn't supposed to be the fabulous feminist single mom she ended up as by the time Mad Men concluded. Weiner originally thought Joan would go through with the abortion of the child she conceived with Roger Sterling while married to Greg Harris during season four. "We had a big thing, a big turn in the story where I always had her basically missing her last chance to have a child," Weiner said. However, former Mad Men writers and executive producers Andre and Maria Jacquemetton thought that Joan would actually take that opportunity to have a child because it might be her last. Weiner said that this turning point in Joan's story arc surprised him more than any other character's in the series.