While he wasn’t physically onstage during Friday night’s PaleyFest panel, Mad Men creator Matt Weiner cast a long shadow over the proceedings—so much so that the only potential spoilers leaked by the stars of the AMC drama were decidedly tongue-in-cheek.
Addressing the obsessive online speculation about the fate of her character, Megan Draper—a T-shirt she wore onscreen in Season 6 had fans making grim associations between her and the doomed actress Sharon Tate—Jessica Paré joked that there was no guarantee that any cast member would make it out alive.
“Maybe we’re all dead, guys!” Paré said, before adding that she has no idea what’s in store for Megan or any other Mad Men mainstay.
Jon Hamm, who plays the brooding cocktail enthusiast Don Draper, suggested that he has pieced together an educated guess as to how the show will end, before reiterating that Weiner keeps his own counsel. “I think some of us know where our characters are going to be, but I don’t think any of us have the scope, tone or vibe of the whole,” Hamm said. “And that’s probably been consistent throughout. … Matt will tell us certain things about what’s going on in the characters’ lives.”
Much of the conversation, which was moderated by TV Guide’s Michael Schneider, had to do with the inevitable end of the Emmy Award-winning period drama. “We’re in some phase of grief at this point and it’s probably denial,” Hamm said. “We are collectively realizing that the end is coming, and there’s nothing you can do to prepare for it.”
Elisabeth Moss (Peggy Olson) echoed Hamm’s sentiment, saying, “It is definitely starting to sink in that we are going to have to say goodbye, not only to our characters, but, you know, this family.” Without missing a beat, Moss joked about distancing herself from her co-workers once the show wraps. “I don’t plan on seeing these people ever again,” she said.
While links to the Season 7 premiere were distributed to media outlets earlier this week, AMC did not screen the episode at PaleyFest. Instead, attendees were presented with the gloomy “In Care Of,” which is where the Mad Men story left off last June.
As much as Don Draper has made a beautiful ruin of his life, submarining his position at the ad agency with his raw Hershey’s pitch while alienating his wife and precocious daughter, Sally, it would be unwise to write him off completely. “The one overriding principle is that Don is a survivor,” Hamm said. “He rises to the challenge.”
Still, as Vincent Kartheiser (Pete Campbell) pointed out, no matter how good Don looks while he’s medicating his existential angst with gin and vermouth, he’s no longer an enviable figure. “Season 1, everyone wanted to be Don Draper,” Kartheiser said. “Slowly, less and less people do.”
In keeping with the elegiac nature of the panel discussion, Robert Morse (Bert Cooper) spoke of the “empty feeling” the cast faces as they reach the end of what has been a seven-year collaboration. “Ending Mad Men is difficult because you’re used to so many years of being together,” Morse said. “Unless we can change his mind, we’re going to miss it. But it’s something that happens in life. You grapple with it, but you go on.”
Or as the 14-year-old Kiernan Shipka, who has grown up in public as Sally Draper, said, “I’ve been on the show longer than I haven’t. To not know what Sally’s going to be up to anymore—that’s kind of sad.”
(The often lugubrious panel discussion could have used a shot of the antic and arch John Slattery, but the actor was a no-show. January Jones also failed to make an appearance.)
A relative newcomer to the series, having joined the cast in Season 4, Paré perhaps offered the most clear-eyed assessment of the inevitable end of Mad Men. “It’s a privilege to be able to tell the end of the story,” she said. “That’s a luxury that not many TV shows get.”
Season 7 of Mad Men kicks off on Sunday, April 13, on AMC. The network will stagger the final run, airing seven episodes this spring before wrapping things up for good in 2015.