Interview: ‘Mad Men’ creator Matthew Weiner previews season 5

PASADENA – “Mad Men” will return on Sunday, March 25 with a two-hour episode that the show’s creator Matthew Weiner called a “movie.” Parts of it are structured like two episodes that will air on the same night, but both hours were directed by “The Suitcase” director Jennifer Getzinger, and Weiner tried to outline it so it would work as one big piece.
That’s a splashy return for a show that’s been off the air since October of 2010, and to get the press ready, AMC brought Weiner and virtually the entire “Mad Men” cast (from Jon Hamm on down to Jay R. Ferguson, who plays sexist art director Stan Rizzo) to press tour Saturday night for a meet-and-greet cocktail party. As always, the actors were on lockdown about what they could say about the new season (Christina Hendricks flinched at the notion of even hinting about what Joan’s maternal side is like), so I eventually went straight to the source and spent a few minutes talking with Weiner and another reporter (whose questions are mixed in with mine) about what season 5 is about in terms of theme, if not plot.
Thematically, what is season 5 about?
It’s hard to boil it down, and I always preface it with that, but the things that were on my mind were a couple of things. One is one that I realized it turned out as we got through it, but it’s really every man for himself. We’ve talked about how life isn’t fair before on the show, but that realization that you really have to deal with your own problems by yourself, and other people are not interested, and that self-interest can be a surprise, especially if you’re trying to be good. And then the other thing is, and it really kept coming up – the line is in the show in episode 3 – is, “When is everything going to get back to normal?”
And it’s not.
Yeah. This is normal. And I feel like that’s the way it is right now. That’s what I feel: we are undergoing such tremendous change. Technological, social, our perception of ourselves as a country, our perception of each other. The country at one time feels like a melting pot and as culturally diverse as ever, and at the same time, I don’t know what period I’m looking to, but I don’t feel like my feet are on the ground. What you realize is, this is the way it is.
When you say “every person for themselves,” in a broader sense, what do you mean by that?
We have a show that is about people’s personal lives and about their jobs. We take that very seriously, and these are very ambitious people. But there’s a certain point where you have to start thinking for yourself, and a lot of behavior you would judge as very negative for yourself, or destructive or whatever – that is the only way to achieve what you want. If you sit there and wait for someone to give you anything in life, there’s a very good chance you won’t get it. That can be a very earth-shattering thing about understanding the world.
You take someone like Don, who we know is trying to be a better person. With the audience, I think that’s part of what they like about him. They see that there is virtue in this man. From the pilot, the fact that he’s talking to the busboy, who’s an African-American man in his 50s, he immediately cuts through everything to say, “Well, this is a human being’s opinion.” You see someone there (in Don) who has a virtue in their trust of other people, and is a bit of a chameleon, and curious and open and all these things you could talk about. Don’s maneuver at the end of last season was really, really selfish. And he may have saved the business, but that’s what I’m talking about. How long does it take to learn that lesson? That’s a big part of the season.