Host Tom Ashbrook asked Weiner about the claustrophobic feeling of season one — the “box” of social restrictions that define those opening episodes — and how he sees that cultural “box” opening up. Weiner pointed out that his characters are moving through historical time, as the stuffy early 1960s give way to a new era:
TOM ASHBROOK: I wanted to ask you about the writing, let’s say, Season One versus Season Two. We’ll come to Season Three. But in Season Two you seem to open up and have a lot more sort of range in the way you approach the narrative and the characters. I wonder if you consciously felt in Season One like, “We’ve got to keep showing ‘the box’” — and how steely and hard and inescapable the “box” of that time was. Did you feel more freedom in Season Two to sort of work the edges of the world that you had described in [season] one?
MATTHEW WEINER: No… I try to do a new story every year, and the story of the first season was about Don’s identity. And it was important to constantly distinguish this personal world and this public world for all of the characters. And then I think the second season was a chance to go a little deeper internally…. And now in the third season you really get to sort of, starting over again.
I have a theme for the season. I always have an idea of what I’m trying to express. In the first season, I had this story not unrelated to Gatsby, as you mentioned, about this man who was living a lie and who was living in this world and what was good about it and what was bad about it. And I wanted it to be funny, and I wanted to see Peggy progress and Peggy succeed but also get fatter and suffer for this as she was being sexualized…. It turned out she was pregnant, which was just a story telling thing, but I had the idea of the stories I wanted to tell.
It’s interesting to hear you say it that way. It’s not deliberate. I’m learning as I go along. I’ve never done a show before. I’ve never written 39 episodes of TV before, and I’ve never been in charge. And I really just try and find my way along. I think that part of the story is that the “box” was different in 1960 than it was… Right now we’re in 1963… It was very, very different.
Weiner went on to explain that the show this fall season will continue to explore the wrenching changes in American life as the country moved deeper into the ’60s:
Season Three to me is about chaos. It’s about how people respond to change. And we’re in a period of great change in 1963, and right now. And I wanted to sort of show that the culture is in a reaction, where some people are just digging in so deep and they’re so terrified. And some people are saying, “Here it comes. Let me have it.”
You can listen to that full exchange here:
And you can listen to his full interview with Tom here.
Weiner joined us when “Mad Men” first started in 2007. It’s worth a listen if you want to learn more about how the idea for the show was initially hatched.