It’s about to be the end of an era, as the final episodes of Mad Men Season 7 begin to air tonight on AMC.
Despite not being allowed to discuss spoilers at a recent press gathering, Jon Hamm, Christina Hendricks, Kiernan Shipka and January Jones, along with creator Matthew Weiner, still had much to talk about in terms of favorite moments, how they’ve seen their respective characters change (or not) and whether happy endings are something to believe in.
Before you dive into tonight's Mad Men Season 7 Episode 8, check out some of the high points from the final press junket, where Hamm reflected on the impact of the show on his life; and career and Weiner talked about whether the ending was always the ending he had in mind.
A Lesson Learned…Maybe: Hamm said that where we left off in the first half of season seven was very telling in where we’ll go for the final half.
“When last we saw Don, he was watching Bert [who had died] shuffle off this mortal coil…we ended up with [the song] ‘The Best Things in Life Are Free.’ And I think that's very clearly and obviously, it was chosen for a reason. And I think Don, to say that to a person who makes his living in advertising, is pretty clearly a lesson or meant to be a lesson. So big picture, we'll see how that lesson is learned or if it is. That's as cryptic as I can be.”
The Core of Joan: Hendricks said she enjoyed the storylines over the years that had her involved romantically with Roger and then her office relationship with Peggy.
“I always loved the Joan and Roger storyline, seeing what was going to happen between them, and sort of the way that Peggy and Joan bounced between being sort of like hardly being able to tolerate each other to sort of admiring one another and giving each other advice, I always loved that."
She added that she also liked the changes in the character from the beginning to where she is now: “When I started playing her in season one I thought, ‘Oh what a fun, bitchy sassy girl I get to play!’ And I would never call her that now, you know? I think I just enjoyed seeing her go through very real and human things and learn from them and grow from them and become a much wiser character and woman by the end.”
Hendricks also explained that she didn’t think the core of Joan had changed over the years: I think the core of who she is is the same. I think that we just really didn't know who she was in the beginning. It was a reveal each episode, certainly for me as an actress, I didn't know who she was.”
Learning from Sally: One character that has changed much from the start was Sally Draper, who was a young child but grew into a teenager by the end of the series. I asked Shipka if she could whisper any advice to her alter ego, what would it be?
She answered, with a smile on her face: “I think I would ask Sally for advice to be quite honest. I think she’s a pretty cool person. She had some rocky times. But I think that she handled it all with a grace that I never would have. I think she’s kind of amazing, so I would probably be just gushing to her about her instead of the other way around, I’m sure.”
Career Advice: While Hamm didn’t commit to one single story or arc in the history of the show as a favorite, he did talk about arriving in Los Angeles in 1995 and having no clue that he’d ever find himself at this point in an acting career.
“Very few people get to have this experience. And I can only look back on it with gratitude and humility and be very pleased that I made the decision very early on to give myself over to this completely and listen as much as I talked and absorb as much as I put out. And I think that's a pretty good lesson to anybody starting out and getting your feet wet in this career. If you spend your life talking, you're going to miss a lot. So sometimes it's better to listen.”
An Actor Spoiled?:Hamm doesn’t feel spoiled from the Mad Men experience: “I don't feel ruined. There are so many good things out there and so many talented people are getting the opportunity to do really creative, out-of-the-box things. Whether it's on Netflix, which again, if you think about when we started in 2006 we shot the pilot, Netflix was delivered to your mailbox. There was no streaming. It wasn't possible.”
One advantage of the new way in which we’re watching television? "Younger people that would have never – they would have been toiling away in a writers' room for 20 years trying to get their shot to get their pilot on the air somehow, are now getting deals. [House Of Cards creator] Beau Willimon was one of my students when I was a teacher in St. Louis, Missouri. He's running a show! And a great show…so do I feel spoiled? No. I feel excited.”
Betty Draper Francis – A Better Person?: As we’ve seen the Betty character go from unhappy wife of Don Draper to, well, still somewhat unhappy wife of Henry Francis, does Jones see Betty as being a better person by the end of the series?
“I don’t know if she’s a better person, but she is a more evolved person. I think that she’s happier than we’ve ever seen her. I think that she’s grown a lot. I mean, as much as anyone can grow in that amount of time. I think that she’s more emotionally mature. I think she handles things differently. In the first couple seasons you see her when she’s upset she acts out physically only when she’s alone, like shooting the birds or breaking the chair. She kind of explodes on her own.”
Jones further explained: “I think her path has always been the same, she just wants to be happy. She wants to know what that is. She was told that she would be happy if she was a mother and a wife and that would make her happy. And when it didn’t it caused lots of complications. I think she’s smart. I mean, she’s informed.
"She’s the only character we ever see read, at least on the show, read about feminism or anything like that. I think she’s aware of everything. I think she’s just content with the life that she’s chosen. Or she’s trying to be.”
The End…Set In Stone? Weiner admitted to having not stuck with the same ending that we’ll see when the series wraps up.
“I had images in my head sometimes,” he explained, “and I sort of know what I want the resolution of the story to be and it’s part why I’m so spoiler-phobic, because telling somebody what happened on Mad Men, that’s like a sentence.”
He went on to say the challenge of summing up a lot of what happened in the show with just a few words by using an example from early in the series when Don Draper’s identity secret was a driving force in the narrative.
“How it happened is the part that people are, like, ‘No, you don’t understand. Pete said, ‘I know who you are.’ And that’s all that happened, and then Cooper said, ‘Who cares?’ That’s not what it’s like watching that episode. That episode is like, honestly, like being pulled over by the police and dragged into jail. You have a knot in your stomach, and it’s 15 minutes. I don’t know. That’s the way it worked.”
Happy Endings?: Knowing that Weiner wasn’t going to give up details of the end, I asked if he at least believed in happy endings. The series creator said:
“I will quote Don Draper. We’ll say it’s him. ‘Happiness is the moment before you need more happiness.’ I mean, he starts off at the beginning of the show saying happiness is the smell of a new car, and then he ends in season five, I think he said ‘happiness is the moment before you need more happiness.’ It’s the minute you stop and look at whether you’re happy or not, it evaporates.”
Weiner added: “I don’t think it’s my job necessarily to weigh in on that question but I do want to, as an entertainer, to have people walk away with some sense that it was worth spending all your time with them. And I did think, this is not saying it’s good or bad, it could be, look at the end of Breaking Bad, you know? That was very satisfying for the audience. You do think about the beginning of the show and what it would be like for someone to go and watch the show knowing what happens at the end. You do think about that, and you got to commit to it.”
One Word: Asked if she could sum up the final episode with one word and Hendricks simply said: “I guess I would just say beautiful.”
Mad Men airs Sundays at 10/9c on AMC.
Jim Halterman is the West Coast Editor of TV Fanatic and the owner of JimHalterman.com. Follow him on Twitter.