The final season of Mad Men will begin on April 5, and the show's creator, Matthew Weiner, and six of its stars gathered at the Television Critics Association winter press tour to let slip some details on what might happen.
By "details," we mean, "vague thematic hints," because this crew is notoriously skittish about spoilers. Weiner, in fact, has gotten angry with critics for revealing the year in which certain episodes take place. As such, the group didn't share anything definitive. But we're into reading tea leaves here, so let's see what we've got.
1) The final episodes sound appropriately climactic
"The last seven episodes, I would say, each one of them feels like the finale of the show," Weiner said at one point, and the cast members agreed with him. Weiner hastened to add he hadn't designed the episodes that way. It just happened.
This is a common occurrence for final seasons of TV, however. Much was made of how Breaking Bad wrapped up with a bunch of episodes that could have put a button on the whole story of the show back in 2013, and the same could have been said of the final season of The Sopranos. Not coincidentally, Weiner was a writer and producer on that last batch of Sopranos episodes.
2) They're also about how change is impossible
Though many of the characters have gone on huge journeys, evolving from one thing to another, one of the big themes of Mad Men is that this change is largely superficial. Peggy Olson may have gone from a lowly secretary to one of the most important creative minds at the ad agency she works at, but she didn't "change." She simply revealed more of who she really was, thanks to career opportunities given to her by her former boss, Don.
The actress who plays Peggy, Elisabeth Moss, mused on how this theme is woven into the final seven episodes. "People do change, but in a lot of ways they don't," she said of lessons learned from closing out the story.
3) Weiner might draw from the '60s to tell his story, but he's also drawing from right now
Mad Men is of course set in the 1960s, but the characters don't take a guided tour of the decade's historical highlights. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, for instance, plays out in low volume on the radio, in the background of another scene entirely. That exemplifies the show's approach to history.
Weiner says this is by design. Outside of 1968, when history-making events were coming right to every American's door, he said, the characters largely avoid these milestones because that's how most of us experience the history we, ourselves, live through.
However, he said, the world of 1969, where this final season has been set so far, was about turning away from the revolutionary impulses of 1968 back inward, and trying to take stock of the self. He also said that he finds similarities between the world of the show's final season and the world of right now. "At a certain point, everyone's like, 'Enough already. I can't do anything about the world. It's time to turn inward,'" he said.
4) He's also a bit baffled by crazy fan theories
Because Mad Men has so little traditional action and relies mostly on mapping the psychological landscapes of the characters, it's proved fertile ground for online speculation as to what's really going to happen, as commenters attempt to outguess Weiner.
For his part, the writer hesitates to say this method of viewing is "wrong" — "If you're watching the show, you're watching the show right," he said — but he also finds it a bit strange when fans suggest that, say, a character will be murdered because of a T-shirt she wears. "I would not add a person who's not murdered by the Manson family into that murder," he said, adding that that was "the dumbest theory in the world to me."
5) The story is over
Unlike its AMC twin, Breaking Bad, Mad Men will not see a continuation via a spinoff. (Breaking Bad has spun off shady lawyer Saul Goodman into Better Call Saul, which will debut next month.) Christina Hendricks, who plays Joan, says all of the actors have been asked about spinoffs before. But at this point, the show is the show, and that's not going to change.
Unless, of course, Jon Hamm can sell his pitch for "Better Call Pete," which he jokingly proposed, as a gentle dig at Mad Men's friendly rival.