Sitting in the middle of a long row at the MFA'S packed Remis Theater for a spotlight event with Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner (as part of the Ruth and Carl J. Shapiro Celebrity Lectures) reminded me of the first foreign film I saw at a theater. Everyone around me smelled good and was triple my age. And anything slightly amusing was worthy of laughter (in the case of the foreign film, it was nudity; in this case, it was emotion and discomfort. In other words, both instances had the crowds rumbling). Before Weiner graced the stage with TV critic Joyce Kulhawik, the moderator and interviewer, a screen slid down atop the stage, projecting the Kodak Carousel pitch, a now legendary scene from season one's last episode "The Wheel." In it, Don presents photos of his own family while tying in the theme of nostalgia, which, he informs his clients, "literally means ‘pain from an old wound,'" in Greek (a fact Weiner learned in high school). For the first time, the cinematic quality of the clip (David Carbonara's delicate score seeping in alongside the sound of clicks and images of grainy photos) presented itself in the most obvious way in a large theater full of eager patrons--and then the audience laughed. It was at the moment when Harry Crane, overcome with emotion, runs out of the room. Though meant as a bid for sympathy, it seemed Harry's intimate gesture prompted giggles.
For Weiner, who's no longer "a writer, but the man," as an attendee pointed out during the Q&A, to call his relationship to the show "intimate" could produce even more uproarious laughter. On any given day, he thinks "Would Peggy really say that to Don?" His wife, Linda, who was in the auditorium, but who refused to stand when acknowledged, is his go-to critic (the lack of necessary compensation an added bonus, he admits, to her much sought-after advice); his son plays Glen (a revelation for the crowd, who sprung up and turned in their fitted sports jackets and zebra-printed blouses); when other staffers go to their first and only meeting of the day, it's his sixth. Adding to that, Weiner also admits that much of the show's elements and characters' traits belong to him, including framed moments and personal shortcomings. The picture of Don and Betty biting a hot dog on opposite ends featured in the slideshow of "The Wheel" is a replica of a photo from Weiner's parents' first date, and the photo of Don carrying Betty on their wedding day also belongs to an image of his parents' special day. For personality flaws, he attributes Joan's--whose very name drew applause from the woman next to me, her diamond ring and bejeweled watch glistening as her hands motioned--judginess to his own catty inclinations.
Weiner responded without pausing, without taking a moment's rumination. He didn't flinch when he divulged personal details, didn't see a need to qualify his criticisms: Peggy was the name of a babysitter he had a crush on, as well as the woman he purposely walked in on and whom he asked for a lock of hair (he mentioned the tale to his son as background to the scene he would replicate. His son's response was much the same as the viewer's to Glen's, "Dad, you're weird."). The first mental image of Christina Hendricks and Elisabeth Moss placed next to each other on screen prompted him to think, "they're not even of the same species."
Throughout the various topics, Kulhawik's various exclamations, Weiner's remained relaxed, reveling in his anecdotal offerings, his legs crossed and his red socks showing, until the topic of actual advertising came up. He struck down the value of placed ads in the show -- "If you're Cadillac, you don't want Betty Draper vomiting in your car." He offered that the clients they work with are far worse than the clients on the show, characterizing Heineken (for whom they did an placed advertisement) as "awful."
Though Kulhawik's questions never scratched far beneath the surface, Weiner obliged each one, almost spitting up water when she asked,"Tell me what you're really trying to do with this series?" He continued to dodge "big picture" questions, mentioning that "Every season is the last season for me," out of financial fears and for an attempt at psychological relief. However, in response to the close of Mad Men, he replied with something somewhat concrete: "It's human life--you know how it ends."
That response drew no laughter.