There was a winsome, nostalgic air to the final panel at the 2015 Winter TV Critics Association press tour Saturday for Mad Men, the show that writers have uniquely cherished these past seven years. Predictably, the session in Pasadena, Calif., served as a kind of a wake for creative collaboration as well, with Jon Hamm setting aside his sardonic humour to show some real emotion.
“There is no version of this ending that is not super painful for me,” Jon Hamm said. The things they achieved and the times they had together were shared by the assembled cast: Elisabeth Moss, January Jones, Christina Hendricks, John Slattery and Vincent Kartheiser, who, like Hamm, sported a beard that seemed to say “we haven’t shot this show in a long time.”
Reporters knew better than to pry into what would actually happen in the final seven episodes of the acclaimed series that start April 5. But, as wily creator Matthew Weiner pointed out late in the session, “No one asked!” (He wouldn’t have said anyway.) But what can we glean from what they did say about the end?
1. Characters will be the main thing
Focus will be less on the times (they ended the first half of the season last May around the first moon landing in 1969), or on new characters or situations. Instead, it will be intensely focused on resolving stories of the main cast.
The final seven episodes “are so much more concentrated on these characters” Weiner said, looking to his cast. He didn’t want to end things with storylines dangling, he said. “I didn’t want to leave anything on the floor. There was no room for digression.”
2. Accordingly, every episode could serve as a finale
“It was not intentional but worked it out this away,” Weiner said. “But the last seven episodes, each one of them seems like a finale of the show.” It suggests perhaps that each main character’s story could be completed separately in each one, but of course nothing of the sort was revealed.
The actors eagerly devoured their final scripts to see their characters’ fates. “I was definitely surprised,” Moss said, “but as I’ve said before, I’ve been constantly surprised.”
Jones said it was difficult and emotional to take in the last script though she “knew a little bit of what was going to happen.” It made her cry, she admitted, but “the whole last week I was a mess. Everything made me cry. It’s a beautiful story, It’s perfect in its way.”
3. Differing Rhythms
Breaking the final 14 episodes and splitting them over two years meant a change in the show’s rhythm, Weiner said. “With two premieres and two finales, we can take the opportunity to advance the story in a different way” over the final two years.
Even if resolutions for characters and storylines are satisfying, that doesn’t mean everything that happens in them will be positive, Weiner said. “Bad things happening is considered a good experience in entertainment. You all know this.”
4. Promotional music choices
Mad Men is scrupulous about using period-appropriate work in its episodes, reprising wonderful little ditties like “Zou Bisou Bisou,” which Jessica Pare performed in the fifth season premiere. They are allowed wider perimeters for promos, apparently. In two final season promos screened for critics Saturday, a longer one used the musical intro of Florence + the Machine’s “Dog Days are Over” from 2009. It used a lot of scenes from past seasons (naturally, not hinting a frame of the final seven episodes), as did a sweetly nostalgic shorter clip that showed the cast growing up, particularly Kiernan Shipka’s Sally Draper as she grew over the years. The song for that clip was a little more period-appropriate—but not quite.
“Times of Your Life” by Paul Anka became a Top 10 hit in 1976, though it started life a year earlier as a jingle for a Kodak commercial. Its sentiments, which begin with the lyrics “Good morning yesterday..” were well suited for the nostalgia of families taking pictures, and it was well-suited for “Mad Men” in terms of sentiment crafted from the Madison Avenue that gave the series its name.
It’s not expected to be part of the actual season.
5. Mad Men going forward
Weiner agreed he had no control about what would happen with the property after the episodes stop, though when the idea of spinoffs came up, Kartheiser, who was mum for most of the session, piped up with the panel’s best joke: Better Call Pete! he piped, suggesting further life for his character Pete Campbell in the same way another AMC show, Better Call Saul, extends the life of Breaking Bad.
There are no plans for spin-offs or other kind of cashing in, Weiner said. “I don’t see the show participating in a Mad Men cruise.” Though immediately after he said that, the rest of the cast thought it was a brilliant idea. “We have to do that!” Hendricks said, as the rest all raised hands to volunteer.
For now, though it’s just the show for which it’s anchors away.
Any Mad Men predictions? Chime in with theories.
The final seven episodes of Mad Men return April 5 at 10 p.m. ET on AMC.