Weiner discusses the great TV endings — including the one for his former show, "The Sopranos"
"Mad Men" creator Matthew Weiner says people have approached him since the show began to tell him how it should end — and many of them have the same idea.
Maybe we can hazard a guess: Do they suggest someone jumping out a window?
“Yes,” he laughed. “They do. People think it would be just an amazing rhyme to have that in the opening every week — and then in the last episode have it happen.”
Weiner has a different ending in mind, and whatever it is will conclude seven seasons of glasses half-empty, flawed men in flawless suits, and that poor silhouette falling, at the start of each episode, through a Manhattan that will shine on without him.
As "Mad Men" prepares to wrap its penultimate season Sunday, the end weighs heavily on viewers' minds. And with the death of James Gandolfini Wednesday, so do thoughts of "The Sopranos." Weiner was a writer and executive producer on the show under David Chase, whose cut-to-black final scene remains television's most debated.
We spoke to Weiner earlier this month about his favorite TV endings, drugs, and whether "Mad Men" will be his last show.
Tim Molloy: Who are you rooting for at this point? Are you in Don Draper’s corner, or have your allegiances shifted?
Matthew Weiner: My allegiances? I hope it should be clear that I am not in judgment of the characters. Don is the protagonist of the show. He does a lot of unpleasant things, but he also does a lot of good things. This season is kind of about him being in a crisis. Even though I see him doing terrible things, I feel for him. I wish he could stop himself — and he wants to stop himself.
Everything you do in the sixth season carries a lot of weight because it’s the second-to-last one. Are you planting traps and setting things up to pay off next season, or are you just putting it all out on the table?
I’m putting it all on the table for this season. One of the great things about the show is that even though we do a different show every season, the writers and myself are always calling on the history of the show. We hopefully never ignore what has happened. A lot of times, things feel like they’re in reference to something a while ago, and they really are. We always try to keep in mind previous relationships, and something ends up being a setup and you don’t even realize it. But I would say honestly, it is so hard to do 13 episodes of the show. I wish I were smart enough to figure out how to map the whole thing out, but I really go season-by-season.
With so many people saying the show should end with a jump out the window, that must be pretty much the only thing you can’t do.
It never even occurred to me. I’ll be honest with you. Never occurred to me. That jump out the window was always meant to be symbolic and internal. I never meant it literally. I think it’s fascinating, though—I think people think it would be cool. But it hasn’t been an option. And now that we’ve had this conversation, I really can’t do it.
Do people suggest “retirement party” a lot? A flash-forward to a retirement? That seems like one way to go.
No, I haven’t gotten that. I think the whole history of series endings is an interesting study in itself. David Chase made a joke about how "Seinfeld" and "The Sopranos" should have switched endings. "Seinfeld" should have ended in the diner, and "The Sopranos" should have ended with them in jail. It is a momentous and permanent thing, and it’s hard to not have a lot of pressure on it. I sort of figured out what I wanted to do about two seasons ago now, and I’m gonna stick to it. You’ll have to trust me when I get there that I thought of it a long time ago. I didn’t write it down and lock it in a box.
So it’s totally “retirement party.”
Think I can do that better than they did on "Mary Tyler Moore"? But that was different. They all got fired.
What endings have you really admired?
I admired "The Sopranos" ending. I thought it was genius. It was such a great way to leave the rest of the show intact. I thought the "Six Feet Under" ending was very good. I thought that was a great idea. "The Mary Tyler Moore Show." "M*A*S*H" had a pretty great ending. [laughs] The most watched hour of TV ever? I thought "Weeds" had a great ending. It’s a tall order. I haven’t really seen it done badly.
The show is getting more dreamlike, with the mysterious injections and Don’s hallucination on hash. Will it become less real as it goes on?
I know this sounds like a joke, but none of it is real. We’re in 1968, and drugs are becoming a bigger part of the culture. Don smoked dope in [Season 1] and had a flashback in “The Hobo Code” where he went back to his childhood and saw himself in the mirror, and that part of his life is something that we’ve been able to investigate sometimes under inebriation. The B12 shot, that was something that again came from the period. It was something people were doing: that hopped up sense of confidence. It’s film, so you can try to create that experience. My challenge is to make sure that it’s not the camera that’s on drugs, it’s the characters that are on drugs. But it is a moment to kind of find out what’s going on inside them.
One of the great things about Don being on hash in California is that when Megan shows up, we get to find out what’s on his mind. He has a fantasy, a wish for Megan: that she will quit her job, and let him cheat on her, and have a baby.
I’m not advocating drugs at all, because as a writer, and the kind of person I am, my imagination is out of control most of the time anyway.
It's something amazing that you can do with film, to show people how you experience reality, and that it is altered a lot of the time. [It's] a great way to get insight into characters. Don saw Anna Draper's ghost, he was so drunk in "The Suitcase." You know how many people came up to me after that, and said, 'I wasn't drunk, but I knew that my relative or person X had died before I heard that they died, because I saw an apparition of them'? More people have told me that than almost any comment that I've gotten on the show.
That and Joan sleeping with someone to get a promotion are the two things that have most had people from the audience saying, 'Oh my God. I've experienced that.' It's a pretty astounding thing, right? People coming up and telling you they've seen a ghost.
You’re working on a film, "You Are Here." Are you done with television after "Mad Men"?
No, I’m not done with TV. I will do as many different kinds of things as they will allow me to do. The creative satisfaction, the experience I’ve had with this show, I never expect to repeat. But that doesn’t mean I’m done with television by any means. I love television, I love watching television, I love being a part of it. And it’s very different from movies.
I’m also interested in theater. Because I’m a writer and I generate my own material, for me, pushing these different forms is a very exciting thing. You want to keep trying to find ways to express yourself that are all very different from each other.