Mad Men Season 6: The “Mad Women” Share Their Feelings On Their Characters’ Pasts And Futures

In anticipation of the April 7th 2-hour premiere of the sixth and (maybe) final season of Mad Men, its cast and creators gathered at the historic Beverly Wilshire hotel to discuss their experiences on AMC’s critically acclaimed drama. While there was a strict embargo on any details from the new season, the ladies of Mad Men, January Jones, Jessica Paré, Christina Hendricks and Elizabeth Moss, were able to reflect on where their characters have been and where they might be going.

The women as archetypes of the time period. Peggy has been the groundbreaking character of the show, because she’s in her mid-twenties, unmarried, and focused on climbing the corporate ladder. Moss doesn’t think this makes her a stereotype, “[I]t’s called Mad Men, but it’s actually got these really interesting female characters. Betty, Joan and Peggy are really complex and weird, and not stereotypes.” Moss finds this complexity to be one of the unique aspects of the show. “That was one of the first kind of surprises of the show. [The] first season – ‘Oh, there’s really cool women on this.’”

Hendricks takes a similar view and is quick to reject viewing Joan or the other women as stereotypes of an era. “I don’t think Matt has written any of these characters to represent or to be stereotypical in any way. I don’t know that [Joan] represents anything specifically for her era. I think a lot of people if you said, ‘Joan,’ maybe the first thing people would say is strength or confidence.”

Betty has fulfilled the more traditional role on the show as a housewife and mother. That doesn’t mean that Betty is stuck in the one-dimensional role of caretaker. Nor would her children want her to be since her caretaking skills are questionable at best. Jones reflects on Betty’s role, “I think that she sort of generically represented the implosive housewife that was unsatisfied with her circumstances and felt sort of blocked from doing things that she wanted to do. [She] is trying to find her happiness and sort of was that mother/housewife type.” Jones hopes there may be a slow change on the horizon for Betty. “I think over the seasons, especially when she left Don and married Henry, I think she’s trying to find more independence.” How this independence will manifest itself as Betty struggles with low self-esteem remains to be seen.

Don’s new wife Megan is definitely not interested in a traditional role. Picking up from last season, Megan will delve deeper into her acting career and consequently build a life outside of taking care of Don. Does this mean that she’s stepping out of the ingénue stereotype and into the role of a self-sufficient woman? “They’re all full and real people,” Paré explains, “so they don’t represent one single idea or movement at all times of their existence, but I think Megan is probably part of the first generation of women that thought that she could have a career and a family life without so many social barriers.”

Don has waffled between recognizing the value of women in the workplace and wanting them to maintain traditional roles. He may have hired Peggy as a copywriter, but he torpedoed Betty’s modeling career. It’s unclear, though, if he’s ready to accept a wife who is his equal. Paré is optimistic Don can evolve, “I think just as [Megan’s] sort of one of the first of a group of women who are, like, ‘Oh, I can have it all,’ as they say, I think that’s really new for him, too. I mean, certainly it wasn’t part of his first marriage, and here he is having to adapt to this sort of new social norm that women were going to be in the home but also in the workplace.”

How much do they know about future storylines? “Nothing, nothing, nothing,” Paré laughs. “They’re so tight-lipped about it, and the special challenge for me working on this – I mean, I’ve done work, a little bit in TV, but mostly in film where you’re handed your whole character arc before you even get the job. You know where you’re going. So with this, it’s such a challenge.” Paré did get one special heads-up, however. “I found out about the engagement because when we were shooting the second to the last episode of that season, Season 4, our props master came and measured by finger. She was like, ‘I don’t know how to do this any other way.’”

Jones confirms that storylines are kept on lockdown, but there are some times when details come out early. “The only time I’ve ever gotten a little bit of knowledge is if I had learned something specifically and I’d needed to learn it before we started. Before Season 2, I was taking months of English horseback riding lessons, learning to jump and do all that.” Otherwise, Jones prefers to be kept in the dark. “I don’t ask. I know some of the cast members ask and try to needle info out of [Matthew]. But, I’d rather be surprised.” Hendricks shares Jones’ sentiment, “I get the scripts each time and I am, ‘What’s going to happen? What’s going to happen?’”

How they see their characters. Jones describes Betty as “emotionally immature.” This immaturity causes Betty to make questionable parenting decisions. “I think that maybe [Betty] thought it was a good idea to be a mother and have children and have this idea of what was expected of her,” Jones explains. “[N]ot everyone is a natural at it. Or if anyone. But I think she tries. I think she’s trying harder and she wants to be good at it.” Even though Betty tries, one has to wonder if there are ever times when Jones thinks Betty is just a terrible person. “Yeah, sure. I mean, I don’t judge her for that, but I feel like – why? Who is this person? Why someone makes these choices, but that’s the cool thing about my job – [ ] that I get to do things I would never do. That’s why I do what I do.”

Paré believes that her song and dance routine of Season 5 revealed a lot about who Megan is. “I think the big thing about that particular scene, and that episode in general, is that we didn’t know anything about Megan. . . . So it’s kind of like we learned that she’s extroverted, and joyful, and vibrant, and absolutely infatuated with this man.”

In contrast to the light-heartedness of Megan, Joan is far more serious and bears the weight of keeping the peace in the office. “I think that’s one of her strengths…is that she is incredibly political in that way and she can really gauge her environment,” Hendricks muses. “I think that is why she can take the sexual remarks and the behavior at work by turning around and joking with them, but just enough to say, ‘Back off. But I’m not going to make a big deal of this.’ And she does have a really nice balance. Then, on the other hand, she goes and says real rash things to some of the girls in the office, but I think it is because she is trying to be helpful and she believes that she is running the ship and she needs everyone in order, so she needs to make it run smoothly. I think that is how she survives with the men and the women in the office.”

What they’d like the future to hold. While actual details on the futures of Betty, Megan, Peggy, and Joan are tightly guarded, their alter egos have some thoughts about what they’d like the future to hold for them. Paré confesses, “This is so why it’s good that I’m not a writer. [Megan and Don] would just be happy and nothing bad would ever happen to them. That’s why I’m an actor.”

Jones isn’t as optimistic that Betty can be happy in the future. “I think that it could be a very happy marriage, the one with Henry, because I think he is exactly what she wanted and asked for. I just don’t think Betty knows how to be 100% happy. I don’t think that she’s ever satisfied with her circumstances. It’s just a personality flaw.”

Hendricks takes a more cerebral approach to Joan’s future. “As we get toward the end here, I just hope that it wraps up beautifully for her. I don’t think I will ever be satisfied because I would like to play her forever. So it will be difficult. I want her to be happy and in love, but it is Mad Men, so who are we kidding? Who knows what is going to happen?”

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