Don Draper Lets it Bleed

The ad exec tries to reverse his downward spiral as ‘Mad Men’ begins its final season

Jon Hamm and Jessica Paré
Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC
By Jonathan Ringen
Apr 06, 2014

When we last saw Don Draper, it was the end of 1968 and darkness was closing in fast. The Mad Men ad exec’s Clintonian ability to emerge undamaged from alcohol-fueled mayhem, erratic professional behavior and the pressures of living a double life had finally collapsed. His daughter, Sally, caught him having an affair; in the final episode, he revealed during a meeting with a client that he was raised in a brothel, and he was put on indefinite leave by Sterling Cooper & Partners. “He’s essentially unemployed, his marriage is not great, his relationship with his daughter is fraught,” says Jon Hamm, who has played Draper for six unmatched seasons. “He realized it’s time to take serious stock of his life. That’s a pretty good jumping-off point from where we start in Season Seven.”

The first half of Mad Men’s final season begins in the U.S. on April 13th, with the action picking up not long after Draper’s breakdown. When the show ends next year, it will have spanned the entirety of the 1960s – from the optimism of the Kennedy years through the breaking of the counterculture wave with Nixon’s election. But just because Draper’s life is in turmoil, don’t assume that times are passing him by. “The story of the show is not about Don growing out of touch,” says Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner. “I think that society caught up to Don. What I was trying to show about 1968 was that the carnality, the violence, the insecurity, the anxiety ... that’s Don’s wheelhouse.”

Weiner and his team have nine episodes on the page and have filmed the first seven. Those episodes will air this spring, with the final seven appearing in 2015, after a 10-month break. All 14 are being shot at the same time, although the cast was given a brief hiatus after Episode Seven. “Not long enough to grow my hair back, though,” says Vincent Kartheiser, who plays Sterling Cooper partner Pete Campbell, one of several characters who have relocated to L.A. in the new season. “If I don’t have my hair back, I feel like it’s the same season.”

Splitting a show’s final season is a strategy that Mad Men’s network, AMC, first explored with Breaking Bad, to huge ratings. “I did, obviously, pay attention to Breaking Bad,” says Weiner. “But the whole reason we’re splitting the season like this is because it was tremendously successful for the network.”

Still, the move presented interesting opportunities. “I realized that the 10-month gap meant that Episode Seven better have a little bit of a finale to it, and Episode Eight better be a bit of a premiere,” says Weiner, adding that he directed the seventh episode himself. “And honestly, part of me thinks, as a viewer, you know, why not let [the show] go on a little bit longer?”

This is an extract. To read the full story, pick up a copy of Rolling Stone Middle East



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