Matthew Weiner spoke to a well-dressed crowd on Sunday at the Granada Theatre in downtown Santa Barbara.
Interviewed by the bewigged Lynda Weinman at an event joint-organized by UCSB Arts and & Lectures and Lynda.com, Weiner discussed the evolution of “Mad Men” from concept to production and touched on some aspects of television theory along the way.
The most interesting part of his conversation was about Don and Betty Draper’s relationship. He talked about the Draper children providing an access point for the show’s viewers into Don and Betty’s world. In retrospect, this seems almost obvious: We’re not supposed to see Don as an equal, we’re supposed to see him as our dad. Throughout the show, and especially the first two seasons, Don has an answer (and a ridiculously on-point improvised speech touching on the heart of the American dream) for everything, including his wife’s accusations he has been less than faithful. And of course, he has, but that’s beside the point, according to Weiner.
“It’s not enough that he’s been unfaithful,” Weiner said. “She has to not love him anymore.”
That we see the show through the children’s eyes — Weiner said he always took care to include the children surreptitiously watching whenever the two fought — makes their split and Don’s subsequent breakdown all the more traumatic. Nobody wants to see their more-than-perfect father come apart at the seams.
Weiner also talked about his treatment of divorce throughout the show.
“Everybody that was divorced [during that time] recognizes [Don’s] apartment,” Weiner said.
Weiner used season four of the show to dissect an early example of what has become quotidian American experience. Although he wanted to have Don join Betty, her new husband and the kids for Thanksgiving dinner, one of his staff shot the idea down as “ridiculous” for that time period. And I think that’s what we love about “Mad Men”: If something or some action would be out of place for the time period, it’s not in the show.
While some people may complain about slight font anachronisms, for the most part the styling and behavior is dead-on. Weiner discussed the wardrobe of the characters, and how it’s suited to fit their personality. Pete Campbell, for example, is dressed younger than the other executives at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce to reflect his youth and junior status. The crew dresses Peggy Olson in styles around a decade out of date, in keeping with her character.
Weiner discussed Peggy and Don’s relationship: They are both strivers who cannot fathom anything beyond doing what they feel they need to in order to get what they want. Both Don and Peggy display a single-minded fascination with furthering their careers that only Don’s alcoholic womanizing and Peggy’s complete social ineptitude can derail. For example, Weiner referenced the first episode when, upon hearing Don lost interest in his last secretary because of her lack of sexuality, Peggy puts the moves on him on the first night. He rebuffs her, but that moment perfectly elucidates her character: She’ll do anything to get where she wants to go. And her dalliance with Pete Campbell explains her even further; she’s not sure what to do to get there.