This is Part 2 of our write-up of the amazing Mad Men: The End of an Era panel discussion at Lincoln Center. Part 1 is here.
The next clip was from Babylon (Episode 1.06); still a favorite of the Lipp Sisters (the episode that birthed the phrase “Basket of Kisses”): The scene where we first learn that Roger and Joan are having an affair, as we see them in a hotel room. Both Christina Hendricks and John Slattery selected this one. Matt often speaks of constructing scripts around budget concerns–this scene was an example of that. Six minutes, two actors, one set–this is very rare on television. Matt referred to it as a “play”.
Matt says the script has Joan constantly trying to escape. Christina spoke at length of the little dance of words between this couple: Joan drops a leading line, hoping Roger will follow, he doesn’t, then she retreats or insults, then he entices but she is the one who doesn’t follow. She described them as leaving “Skittles” for one another (after the others giggled their collective Huh??, she corrected it to Reese’s Pieces; referring to E.T.). There’s no honesty here.
Klosterman suggested that Joan is the one in control of her relationship with Roger, but Christina (and the audience, and Matt) strongly disagreed. Christina: “It broke her heart when he fell in love with Jane.” Matt: “Joan is in control of everything. She is not in control of this relationship.” Of Roger, he says, “He didn’t discover until Season 6 that other people have thoughts”. Heh.
Matt then talks about how much he hates exposition. Hates it. So he is always challenging himself to present information without exposition. As a viewer, he enjoys figuring it out; the slow reveal (the sneaking around is your favorite part, Matt?). So he works with lines like, “Are you kidding? This has been the best year of my life.” He says he’s considered it–after all, Shakespeare did it: “Here we two are on this sunny day in downtown Verona…” but it just embarrasses him. He says he rarely uses names in dialogue. People will say to him, “I love the show. I love the guy–the white-haired boss.” “….Roger?” “YES.” People don’t know the names because he does not write them into the scripts. There’s no, “So, ROGER, how are you today, ROGER?” Because, life.
Restrictions based on budget and also on the content rating. Matt pointed out that with no nudity, it was one of the sexiest things he’s ever seen.
Jon Hamm chose the scene from The Suitcase (Episode 4.07) where Don and Peggy sit at the bar and discuss, among other things, the baby she gave up for adoption. Jon loves the obliqueness of the dialogue, pointing out it’s the way people talk in public, alluding to things they don’t want others to overhear–you talk in code. He said it “Showed this incredible mutual respect” between Don and Peggy.
Matt Weiner discussed “bottle episodes,”–practically a 2-person play–written to save money (smaller cast, fewer sets) but invariably they’re expensive. The Suitcase was also a “filler” episode. It was not planned in the seasonal arc, it advanced no major plot points (except ultimately it changed everything). When they decided to do the episode, the writers came up with a list of all the things that had never been discussed between Don and Peggy like, in this scene, why has Don never hit on Peggy? Isn’t Peggy curious about that?
The conversation veered into Season 4 generally, and Don’s long downward spiral of alcoholism. In the previous episode, Don slept with two women, one of whom he didn’t remember, and, to quote Matt Weiner, “takes a Silkwood shower” afterwards. After reading that script, Jon Hamm asked how much lower Don would go, and Matt said, “A little lower.”
Matt then said he is always aware and respectful, as a writer, of what he’s doing to actors. You can’t just have them cry or suffer without knowing that you’re causing the actor to feel that pain. It was a startling and compassionate revelation. (This was the weekend before the news of Jon Hamm’s very recent rehab stint was made public. Hearing this added a whole new layer of meaning to this particular portion of the discussion, which already reeked of poignancy. The Basket wishes Jon success, health, and all the privacy he wants as he begins his recovery.)