Mad Men cast members and show runner Matthew Weiner were on hand Friday for a PaleyFest panel at Hollywood’s Dolby Theater to set the stage for the series’ seventh and final season. As per usual, not much detail was divulged regarding the upcoming season. The notoriously tight-lipped show runner Matt Weiner ensured that no spoilers or even hints were leaked to the PaleyFest audience before the first half of the seventh and final season, which premieres on AMC network April 13th. In fact, he did not utter a word and allowed his actors to answer questions for him.
The Mad Men panel discussion, which was moderated by TV Guide‘s Michael Schneider, covered a variety of topics such as the cast members’ feelings of impending loss as production on the final seven episodes begins next week, favorite moments over the past eight years, and even ventured into the show’s trademark moments of silence between characters that speak volumes. Most of the cast members and series creator Weiner are slowly coming to grips with the impending conclusion to a show in which they have committed nearly a decade of their lives. Appearing cast members at the event included Jon Hamm (Don Draper), Vincent Kartheiser (Pete Campbell), Christina Hendricks (Joan Harris), Elisabeth Moss (Peggy Olson), and 14 year-old Kiernan Shipka, who was cast in the role of Draper’s daughter Sally at age six.
The Mad Men cast also set the stage for what’s to come in the final season in terms of character development. Hamm hinted at the continuation of his character’s myriad of emotional and marital setbacks that have plagued him over the course of the series. Don has had various personal struggles in his life over the course of Mad Men, including turmoil with his ex-wife, Betty Francis (January Jones), and his kids, yet Draper has always had his work. However, at the conclusion of Season 6, his world has really started to crumble around him. His marriage to Megan is on the rocks, his relationship with his kids is tentative at best, and his partners have placed him on leave, so that one constant in his life–work–is not there. The actor predicted it will be a struggle for Don, but he’s a survivor and feels the character will rise to the challenge.
Three of the actresses that represent the female component of the show, Jessica Paré, who portrays Draper’s former ad firm associate-actress wife, Megan, and Moss, who has guided the career-driven copywriter Peggy, and Hendricks’ Joan, who has evolved from well-endowed secretary to savvy ad firm partner, spoke of how their characters have evolved and their connection to the rise of the 1960’s feminist movement. The show centers around the historical time period when feminism was gaining tremendous momentum in the culture and Megan takes it for granted that she can have everything — a career, a family, and a husband who loves and supports her. For Don’s part, he wants to be that supportive and loving husband and wants her to obtain her dreams. However, navigating the transitional waters will not be easy for the couple. Moss feels her character’s journey has centered on identity and her place in the world. She predicted Peggy will find her way in the end, and most importantly, answer the question that has haunted her character throughout the series–who am I? Hendricks concurs that her character will also find her place and feels she is also discovering her strengths over the course of the series. Ultimately, Hendricks stated that Joan is a protector and nurturer and she is figuring out the best way to take care of her son and to protect her family.
When the Mad Men cast set the stage for what’s to come in the final season, one of the youngest cast members provided a unique perspective on the series’ experience. For 14 year-old Shipka, who has played Sally Draper since the beginning of the series, her time on the show has represented not only a career milestone, but has encompassed her entire adolescence. She noted her sadness at not knowing what Sally will do next and her disbelief with being on the show more than half her life. The overall sentiment that was most frequently expressed by the panel members was a sense of loss not only for the show, but the impending separation of the cast that has become a family. Mad Men will begin airing its final season of 14 episodes–divided into two cycles of seven episodes each–on AMC April 13th, just as the network opted to air the final season of fellow AMC mega-hit Breaking Bad.
By Leigh Haugh