TIME Television

Cristin Milioti on How I Met Your Mother’s Ending: ‘There’s No Way to Please Everybody’

Cristin Milioti
Cristin Milioti Richard Shotwell—Invision/AP

The A to Z star talks Tinder, her worst date ever and the nipple episode of Mad Men

Proving that television really is becoming the go-to place for romantic comedies, NBC’s new sitcom A to Z tells the complete story of Andrew and Zelda, who date for eight months, three weeks, five days and one hour. Mad Men’s Ben Feldman plays Andrew, the eager romantic; Cristin Milioti, otherwise known as How I Met Your Mother‘s titular mom (or sexy-baby-voice girl from 30 Rock), plays Zelda, who’s more eager to put the brakes on their relationship’s whirlwind beginning.

TIME caught up with Milioti to talk about the show (premiering Oct. 2), online dating and why you should still make mixtapes for your crush.

TIME: How does the show keep viewers on their toes when we know that the main characters break up?

Cristin Milioti: Gosh, it’s interesting, because your guess is as good as mine. They won’t tell us how it ends. Which I actually really like, because that means we don’t know how to play anything other than what the episode is. We’re not playing toward an ending. Ben and I differ in what are opinions are. I think they’re going to break up, he thinks they’re going to get married.

I was going to guess that there would be some bait-and-switch or reset that allows the premise to keep going.

Right? I thought that too. They have to go through the friendship of it, and we start the alphabet all over again. I’m not sure, to be honest with you. I think what the show does beautifully, as I’ve been working on it, is examine what it’s like to let someone into your life when you’re falling in love, which is the most incredible feeling in the world. But also terrifying.

You mentioned the alphabet — are there 26 episodes for each letter?

I think it would be 22, but I think they would combine some of the letters. I only say this because I heard [creator] Ben Queen say this at the TCAs. “LMNO” is — God, I sound like a grandma — texting code for “laughing my nuts off.” Those are his words.

Well, you learn something new everyday!

I always thought it was LMAO, which is “laughing my ass off.” That’s the one that I know. And obviously good old standard LOL.

I’m partial to ROFL.

I’ve seen that one too!

It’s almost onomatopoeic — that’s what I imagine rolling on the floor laughing sounds like.

Rofl-rofl-rofl. Yeah!

So this is the second show you’ve been on where the ending is somewhat known and what happens in the middle is the real meat of the story.

It’s interesting because I never thought that, not even for a second. And then we were doing the TCAs and people started asking questions like that. “Do you think it’s a coincidence that you’re doing a show that’s so much like How I Met Your Mother?”

But, other than that aspect, I don’t really think of them as that similar?

Yeah, but we do deal with a similar theme of whether or not destiny exists.

Do you believe it does?

I gotta tell you, I do for the most part. And then sometimes … I’m still trying to figure that out. Every now and then I’m like, are we the ones that need to take action and then destiny doesn’t exist? Do you create your own destiny? But then, if you create your own destiny, destiny already exists! And you just didn’t even know.

So you differ from your character in that way.

Ben Feldman and I sort of are each other’s characters in real life. I’m Andrew, he’s Zelda. He’s far more pragmatic. I think I believe more in love at first sight than he does.

Andrew works at an online dating company. Have you ever tried that?

No, I’ve never tried it. I’m not on any social media. I know people who have met on Twitter and through Facebook. I had a friend, someone liked her photos on Instagram and they started direct messaging each other and went out on a date! That’s so foreign to me. Whatever floats your boat. If it works for you and that’s how you find love, that’s wonderful. On the other hand, there’s nothing like meeting a person and knowing there’s that sparkly chemistry. But I guess you know that when you go out on that date after your profiles get Tindered.

Have you played around on someone else’s Tinder?

Last summer a friend of a friend gave me his phone and said, “Want to flip through and do my Tinder?” I had this crazy power rush. I was like, “Oh my God, I’m deciding who you’re going to go on a date with!” But I also felt terrible clicking no.

Destiny’s in your hands.

Yes, exactly! My my, how the tables have turned.

What’s the worst date you’ve ever been on?

I went on a date with someone that I had not been seeing for very long — I’ve pulled a real Andrew here — but I was very sure: “I have feelings for this person and I’m going to tell them tonight.” We went out to dinner and had a couple glasses of wine, and I was finally like, “I just have to tell you, I really, really like you and have all these feelings and just needed to get that off my chest.” He just stared at me and was like “Oh, okay, I’m sorry, I don’t feel the same way.” We had just finished dinner!

And you just had to sit there until it was over?

Yes! It was a nightmare.

Okay, happier thoughts: what is your ideal date?

It would probably involve the beach and eating.

Very good choices.

Or like something wild that I’ve never done before like being driven to a lookout and being able to see the city. I feel like I could come up with a better one.

I don’t know. Eating at the beach is hard to top.

That’s all you need!

Going back to How I Met Your Mother for a second, were you surprised about the backlash regarding the ending?

Oh no, I wasn’t surprised. That show — which speaks to the quality of that show — always had such a passionate fanbase. I remember talking with one of our props guys about what the reaction was going to be, because some people all along had rooted for Ted and Robin, even when she was going to get married. There’s no way to please everybody. There’s no way to please 10 million people, unless you take them to the beach and give them food.

Do you watch Mad Men? Because Ben’s character went a little crazy this season.

We were just talking about this yesterday. I’ve never seen Mad Men. I want to do it leisurely and really soak it in, but I don’t have time to get to season five [when Feldman’s character is introduced]. I just want him to send me his scenes, but he won’t do it.

Do you know what happens?

I do, because we did the upfronts the day after he cut his nipple off.

Oh my God.

We were in the press line together, and all the questions were like, “Cristin, how do you feel about dying?” “Ben, how do you feel about cutting your nipple off?” It was a really dark press line.

My first thought after watching that scene was thankfully A to Z isn’t on until October — we have some time before we have to think of him in a rom-com way.

Yeah, and he does it with aplomb. I really, really want to see Mad Men. I’ve YouTubed — he doesn’t even know this — I’ve YouTubed parts of his performance when he was first being brought in for the role of Andrew. I loved it. I loved what he was doing, and I want to see more of it, but he was like, “It’s important that you know what’s going on.” I basically asked him for his reel.

In addition to acting, you’re also musical: you’ve been nominated for a Tony and the Once soundtrack won a Grammy. Are you going to go for EGOT status?

Haha, geez, I don’t know — I’ll try, I guess? I’m in complete disbelief of what has happened to me. And the Grammy thing, it seems like I just went to a store and asked them to make me a Grammy. It’s so unbelievable to have that thing in my house. It just looks like when you’re little and you’re playing and you get an Oscar that says “Best mom.” That’s what it feels like. I still can’t believe that.

Speaking of music, will Andrew and Zelda swap mixtapes this season?

No, but they should!

Maybe as like a DVD extra you can include them.

Yeah. Do people still do that? People should do that.

I would, but I feel like people catch on too quickly now — they know what’s up when you give them a mix CD.

But hasn’t it gone retro yet now? Maybe not. I don’t think mixtapes will ever go out of style.

You need to speak out and make them cool again.

This is a public statement: I’m in favor of mixtapes.

A version of this story appears in the Oct. 6 issue of TIME, on stands this Friday.

TIME

From Mad Men to Empowered Working Moms

The Importance of Strong Work-Life Balance Policies in 2014

Secretary school. Menial, “fetching” tasks. Available 24/7/365. The “Glass Ceiling.” It’s safe to say, women have made major strides forward in the professional world since the era of Mad Men.

Of course, there’s always more progress to be made. In my own professional lifetime of more than 20 years, I’ve seen this progress take place, albeit sometimes at a snail’s pace. Today, I’m proud to work for Ogilvy & Mather North America, a company that’s named to the “100 Best Companies for Working Mothers.

When my daughter was born over 23 years ago, there was little flexibility for a working mom. As a divorced, single mother, long nights at the office meant expensive babysitters. Work trips left my daughter behind in tears, with any family member that was available. When my daughter was too ill for school, I had to stay at home as the caretaker, leaving my work neglected at times and often returning to work, myself sick with a runny nose.

Any working parent can attest to these and the myriad number of other daily issues that comes with the territory of being a professional with children at home. However, women have certainly taken the brunt of the pains of being a working parent. We’re often seen as the “natural caretaker” and judged as negligent when we, as mothers, miss a ballet performance or soccer game, leave a sick child at daycare instead of staying home, or decide to buy brownies from the grocery store for the bake sale because we didn’t have time to make them from scratch the night before. Yet, leaving the office early to make dinner or even just to put the children to bed before 8 p.m. can often warrant just as many judgmental looks from our co-workers.

Over the past 20 years, it has taken the combined efforts of many women, including myself, acting as trailblazers for today’s working mothers. As we broke down barriers and climbed the corporate ladder, we reached high enough positions of power to not only ask for change, but to be in the position to enact the change as well.

I know firsthand the importance of working for organizations that provide flexibility and support. As the Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer for Ogilvy & Mather North America, I have collaborated with my colleagues and visionary leader and CEO, John Seifert, who is the ultimate champion of diversity and inclusion, to implement the ability to design our company’s strategies to mirror those of our clients and peers. This has made significant strides in building inclusive corporate cultures.

We have worked tirelessly to improve our policies and benefits to ensure that working mothers are able to take advantage of flexible work schedules, emergency childcare, lactation rooms and in our New York office, a vibrant Working Parents Network and a Pumping Moms Club. Policies such as these have been critical in my ability to become the senior leader that I am today. I believe these policies will give new working mothers the flexibility and support they need to succeed in both their personal and professional lives.

Only by standing up and asking for change can we help one another achieve a better work-life balance, with the breathing room for both professional growth and fulfillment and happy home lives.

Donna Pedro is Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer for Ogilvy & Mather North America and was honored by Working Mother magazine and Advertising Women of New York (AWNY) and named one of five “Trailblazer Moms,” identified by Working Mother as “Pioneers who are paving the way for future working mothers.” Ogilvy & Mather North America is the only advertising agency on the 2014 “100 Best Companies for Working Mothers” list.

TIME Television

Watch ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic Perform at the Emmys

Featuring Andy Samberg as Joffrey Baratheon

 

The most exciting performance at the MTV Video Music Awards actually happened the next night — at the Emmys! “Weird Al” Yankovic performed a medley of television show theme songs and parodied the likes of Mad Men (“Jon Hamm’s never won an Emmy / who cares, he’s still Jon Freakin’ Hamm), Modern Family and Game of Thrones. Check out the performance above.

 

MONEY Food & Drink

WATCH: Why Bourbon is a Billion Dollar Business

After a generation of slowed bourbon whiskey consumption a billion dollar bourbon boom is upon us and distilleries around Kentucky are stacked with millions of barrels.

TIME celebrities

When a Very Pregnant Amy Poehler Met Rising Star Jon Hamm

15th Annual Costume Designers Guild Awards With Presenting Sponsor Lacoste - Backstage & Audience
Actors Jon Hamm and Amy Poehler attend the 15th Annual Costume Designers Guild Awards at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on February 19, 2013 in Beverly Hills, California. Stefanie Keenan—CDG/Getty Images

The actors initially crossed paths during the Mad Men star's first stint hosting Saturday Night Live. Hilarity ensued

It’s safe to assume that your favorite actors are all friends with one another. (Or, in the case of Paul Rudd, best friends with everyone ever.) If you assumed that was the case for Jon Hamm and Amy Poehler, it turns out you’d be correct. When Hamm — riding high off the conclusion of Mad Men‘s second season — hosted Saturday Night Live for the first time, he left quite the impression on Poehler, who was very, very pregnant at the time. Here’s what Poehler had to say in her soon-t0-be-released memoir, Yes Please:

Jon Hamm was hosting Saturday Night Live, his first time, and I was just getting to know him, and we were doing a sketch, a Mad Men sketch, I was dressed in an old-timey way, in a big dress, and I was huge. And I had, my plan was that I was gonna do the Jon Hamm show and I was due the next day. And it was an example of the beginning of what children do to you, which is they fuck up all your plans. So I remember saying to my doctor, Dr. G, ‘I’m gonna do the show and I’ll come in Sunday, and maybe we’ll do it Sunday/Monday.’

I did the sketch, I was shooting with Hamm on Friday, and I called my doctor ’cause at the end there you kind of have to call in every day, and the receptionist was crying. I said, ‘What’s wrong?’ and she said, ‘Oh, he passed away last night.’

I was due the next day. So it’s my first kid, I’m in a Mad Men outfit, I turn to everybody and I hysterically start crying, and a really pregnant woman crying is terrifying. So, juicy tears just like squirting out of my eyes. And it was like the punch line to a joke, it’s like, my doctor just died and I’m due tomorrow. And Jon Hamm, who I am just getting to know, comes over and puts his hands on my shoulder and is like, ‘This is a really important show for me. I’m gonna need you to get your shit together.’ And I laughed so hard, I probably peed myself – I believe that going through crying to laughing adds like five years to your life.

To summarize: Amy Poehler and Jon Hamm are both the best, and even though you’ll probably never have friends this funny or cool, at least you’ll be able to enjoy stories like this. Yes Please is currently slated for an Oct. 28 release.

[Vulture]

TIME Television

Here Are the 10 Best TV Shows of 2014 (So Far)

HBO

The shows that already made a big impression in 2014 (by June, at least)

Correction appended June 3, 1:20 p.m.

Every year, I keep a running list of shows that amuse me, amaze me, impress me or depress me (in a good way). At the end of the year, I whittle that list down to 10, and I have my best-TV-of-the-year list. But it’s tough. I have to leave out a lot of really good stuff. And why should arguing over subjective choices come only once a year?

In that spirit, I give you my very provisional list of The Best TV of 2014 (So Far). But first, a few notes:

  • This list is only in alphabetical order, because I only rank lists if my editor makes me. (That said, I’m glad The Americans begins with ‘A.’)
  • I kept this list to 10 items, because you have to stop somewhere or you’ve got an “everything I like” list. There are a few others that came very close. I’m not going to tell you what they are, because that’s the road to madness.
  • That said, I reserve the right to put shows on my year-end list that I omitted here, because I changed my mind / considered new arguments / saw later episodes / suffered a blow to the head.
  • This may go without saying, but criticism is a snapshot: several of these series are currently airing, so they can always get better or worse.
  • I’ve seen six episodes of Orange Is the New Black, the entire season which will be live on Netflix June 6, and I would have put it on the list on the basis of those episodes except for the timing. If the rest of the season holds up, it’s a good candidate for my year-end list again.
  • There are many other shows critics adore but I somehow don’t connect with (Hannibal). There are shows that I love but just got crowded out at the moment (Bob’s Burgers). And there is one show that is obviously the best thing on TV now, maybe ever, and I just left it off because I am a biased idiot who should be fired (Your Favorite Show Here). Please, tell us about it in the comments!

And now, the Best TV Shows of 2014, as of very early June, according to some guy from TIME:

THE AMERICANS - Pictured: Keri Russell as Elizabeth Jennings. CR: Frank Ockenfels/
FX

The Americans (FX)
And you think you have work-life balance problems? KGB agents Elizabeth and Philip Jennings tried to find the secrets of the Stealth program, their children struggled to find themselves, and this ’80s drama found a new gear.

Comedy Central

Broad City (Comedy Central)
Meet your new favorite two broke girls. Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson deliver the contact buzz of laughter in the weirdest, freshest, funkiest new comedy of the season.

COSMOS: A SPACETIME ODYSSEY: More than three decades after the debut of "Cosmos: A Personal Voyage," Carl Sagan's stunning and iconic exploration of the universe as revealed by science, COSMOS: A SPACETIME ODYSSEY sets off on a new voyage for the stars. Seth MacFarlane (FAMILY GUY, AMERICAN DAD) and Sagan's original creative collaborators.  Hosted by renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson (pictured), the series will explore how we discovered the laws of nature and found our coordinates in space and time.  COSMOS: A SPACETIME ODYSSEY premieres Sunday, March 9 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX and simultaneously across multiple U.S.  networks, including National Geographic Channel, FX, FXX, FXM, FOX Sports 1, FOX Sports 2, Nat Geo Wild, Nat Geo Mundo and FOX Life.  CR: Patrick Eccelsine/FOX
Fox

Cosmos (Fox)
Neil DeGrasse Tyson picked up his mentor Carl Sagan’s work (with the help of Seth MacFarlane), breathing new life into the ancient universe and making a passionate argument against the forces of anti-science.

FARGO -- Pictured: Billy Bob Thornton as Lorne Malvo -- CR: /Matthias Clamer
FX

Fargo (FX)
This miniseries isn’t a remake of the Coen Brothers’ movie so much as an extended jazz cover of it — in an improvisatory yet deeply original string of riffs. It’s a bloody yet playful examination of the seduction of evil and the hard cold road of good.

HBO

Game of Thrones (HBO)
Like Daenerys’ dragons, this fantasy epic in its fourth season continues to grow in scale and confidence. But what makes it great is that it handles small conversational duels as well as its epic battles.

The Good Wife
CBS/Getty Images

The Good Wife (CBS)
For five years running, this sharp-witted legal drama has offered more pleasure per season than anything out there. Taking on love, politics, technology and (spoiler) death, it shows no sign of adjourning.

HBO

Last Week Tonight With John Oliver (HBO)
The Daily Show alum’s blistering comedy-cast is very new, but it’s the most welcome addition in a year of late-night change. Reorienting the fake-news format toward world events and commercial culture, it’s becoming the go-to chaser to the stiff drink of Sunday-night TV.

LOUIE: Episode 8: "Elevator Part 5" (Airs Monday, May 26, 10:30 pm e/p). Pictured: Louis C.K. as Louie. CR: KC Bailey/
FX

Louie (FX)
The only predictable things about Louis CK’s show are that it will be unpredictable and that it will linger with you long after you watch. From philosophy to sex-toy jokes, vignettes to the equivalent of a full-length movie, this is TV that can be whatever it wants to.

Roger Sterling (John Slattery), Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks), Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser), Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss), Betty Francis (January Jones), Megan Draper (Jessica Pare) and Don Draper (Jon Hamm) - Mad Men _ Season 7, Gallery - Photo Credit: Frank Ockenfels 3/
AMC

Mad Men (AMC)
We’ll see if the back half of the final season can close the deal next year, but this was a fine start. In seven often-haunting episodes, the age of Aquarius met the age of IBM, and it left us with a song.

's "True Detective" Season 1 / Director: Cary Fukunaga
HBO

True Detective (HBO)
Few shows have inspired so much obsession so quickly, and it wasn’t just The Yellow King’s magic. This one-season story (rebooting next year) dripped talent, from Harrelson and McConaughey’s testosterone-drunk performances to Nic Pizzolatto’s dirty poetry to Cary Fukunaga’s direction, in which you could practically see ghosts come alive in the postindustrial bayou air.

Correction: The original version of this article misstated the name of a character on The Americans. It is Philip Jennings.

MONEY A Pick From A Pro

For Lions Gate, The Hunger Games is Only the Appetizer

140530_INV_PickPro_HungerGames_1
Jennifer Lawrence stars as Katniss Everdeen Murray Close—Lionsgate

So says Federated Investors' Lawrence Creatura. The studio's next challenge: parlaying its hits into franchises for years to come.

The Pro: Lawrence Creatura, co-manager of the Federated Clover Small Value fund

The Fund: Federated Clover Small Value invests in shares of undervalued small- and medium-sized U.S. companies. Under Creatura, the fund has beaten more than 70% over the past 15 years.

The Pick: Lions Gate LIONS GATE ENTERTAINMENT CORP. LGF 1.5274%

The Case: Lions Gate has gone from a bit player in Hollywood — a decade ago it was mostly known for small, independent films such as Dogville and Monster’s Ball — to the king of the young-adult heroine blockbuster.

The film and TV production company purchased Summit Entertainment, which included the Twilight franchise and library rights, in 2012. Throw in The Hunger Games and Divergent, its newest franchise, and you have potentially more than 10 films and dozens of branding opportunities going forward.

In television, Lions Gate also has big hits on its hands such as Netflix’s Orange is the New Black and AMC’s Mad Men. Such shows have helped the production company increase revenue by 66% since 2011.

There is a downside, though, to hitting the big time: Investors constantly want to see big results. And when the company announced late last week that revenues had fallen in the recently ended quarter and fiscal year, the stock lost more than 10% of its value in a day.

Nevermind the fact that in its most recent fiscal year, Lions Gate had only 13 wide release films compared to 19 in the prior year — and that the most recent quarter only included about 10 days worth of Divergent’s box-office.

Federated’s Creatura says investors misunderstand the nature of Lions Gate’s business. “They think it’s a hit-driven volatile business,” he says, “when it has a portfolio of evergreen property which will produce dependable cash flows for years and years and years to come.”

These are franchises such as Twilight, The Hunger Games, and Divergent, which just started filming its sequel.

The Hits Go On
Lions Gate’s dive into young adult franchise films gives the company a seemingly endless number of movies to produce. “The first Hunger Games starts with the 74th annual Hunger Games — what happened to the first 73?” asks Creatura.

And if Lions Gate decides to make 73 prequels, there’s reason to think they’ll be profitable. The most recent Hunger Games, for instance, took home more than $860 million in theaters, per BoxOfficeMojo.com, and cost $130 million. Divergent made more than $266 million and cost just $85 million.

Not only are Lions Gate films profitable, they generate a ton of so-called free cash flow, which is the amount of money left after paying all the bills and making all necessary investments in the business. (See the chart below.)

Lions Gate Free Cash Flow Yield
Lions Gate’s free cash flow yield beats that of rival Dreamworks Animation

Relative Value
Lions Gate is a play on fast growth. But that doesn’t mean the stock is necessarily expensive, says Creatura. Lions Gate’s price/earnings ratio based on estimated profits, for instance, is 20.3. That’s not considered cheap, but compare that to the 33.3 P/E for Dreamworks Animation. Plus the company’s earnings are expected to grow 17% annually for the next five years.

“The stock is not expensive if you consider the likelihood and longevity of future cash flow,” says Creatura. “These properties are evergreen – they can be reused and reformed again and again.”

Box office risks
While Lions Gate may have valuable franchises in the canon, there is a limit to what one brand can get you. Is Lions Gate more than The Hunger Games?

Divergent did perform well, but took in about a third of the box office of the first The Hunger Games film. Ender’s Game, another book based on a young adult novel (although this one featuring a male lead), failed to develop an audience and only made $125 million worldwide –limiting it’s potential for a viable franchise.

Ender’s Game wasn’t the blockbuster that some believe it could have been and that hurt the perception of the stock,” says Creatura.

TIME Television

Could Mad Men Actually Have a Happy–or At Least Hopeful–Ending?

Justina Mintz/AMC

The exquisite end of this half-season finds the show doing something different for a serious antihero drama: having the protagonist realize it's not all about him.

Spoilers for season 7 of Mad Men to date follow:

With “Waterloo,” Mad Men has soft-shoed off with Bert Cooper to hiatus–albeit a less permanent one for the show than for him–so that we’ll have to wait another year to find out where, and when, the story goes. But it seems time we begin bracing ourselves for a shocking possibility:

Mad Men may have a happy ending.

Well, if not a happy one, then a hopeful one. A lot of Mad Men viewers–and I’ve been among them–have seen the show as being much like The Sopranos (which Matthew Weiner wrote for) in its view of human nature: People don’t change. And certainly not for the better. Characters would repeat their patterns: Don running away from his problems, Betty lashing out in pettiness, Pete being a heel. They might make a show of changing, but–as with Don’s “quitting tobacco”–it would be a marketing gesture out of self-interest. They might make genuine efforts, but they return to some psychological set points. They might deceive themselves that they had had epiphanies, not unlike Tony Soprano doing peyote in the desert (in “Kennedy and Heidi,” an episode Weiner wrote). But people, as Dr. Faye once told us, were types, even if they didn’t like to hear it, and they would revert to type–Don Draper above all.

And yet–could it be?–the first seven episodes of the final season seemed, in what amounts to a stunning twist for a Serious Cable Drama, to show characters actually changing. For the better, even. Maturing. Learning.

It wasn’t only Don, though we might as well start with him. The half-season ended with a “win” for him on the job front, in that he saved his place with the firm he started. But the closing fantasy number, “The Best Things in Life Are Free,” suggests that that success in itself wasn’t a triumph. It was nice; it felt good. But keeping his office, and getting millions for his partnership, is not going to be the thing that saves Don.

What’s more significant in these seven episodes is how Don goes about turning around his life, which is, largely, by not “being Don Draper” as we’ve come to know that. On the one hand, the Don Draper we know is a man who’s dealt with problems by escaping, geographically (California’s right there! He could go any time!), or emotionally, or into a bottle. Mad Men could have shown us that and played him true to character. On the other hand, he’s had a history–especially when it comes to business–of pulling out genius moves at the last minute, be it an ad pitch or the coup that led to the founding of his own agency. Mad Men could have given us that and satisfied the itch of the antihero audience to see another brilliant Difficult Man prove his exceptionalism by taking his destiny (and everyone else’s) into his hands and emerging victorious.

Don Draper and Mad Men did neither of those things this season-to-date. Instead, the show did something unusual for its genre in having its antagonist succeed by acting internally rather than externally–by stepping back, listening to others, giving agency and control to the people around him.

It’s by no means been an easy or 100% successful process for him: see the season premiere, in which he imposed his perspective on Megan’s new life in L.A. in the form of a massive, unasked-for TV set. Nor has he been able to resist trying to pull the dramatic Don move, as when he barged into the Commander Cigarettes meeting in an attempt to outmaneuver Jim Cutler and Lou Avery. But in the end, what worked for him was something we truly have not seen from him before on a sustained basis–indeed, something we rarely see in antihero-driven drama: humility, reflectiveness, even, in a good way, passiveness.

The season begins with Don having to adjust to not being at center stage: it literally opens with a tight focus on Freddy Rumsen, in the Don position, delivering what we later learn is Don’s sales pitch. In a way, it’s another strategy–he’s basically warging Freddy Rumsen to stay in the picture. But it’s a first step. He’s adjusting to the idea that he may not always be in the spotlight, or need to be. Slowly, and again, not without a hitch: after he gets back to the office, he throws a silverback tantrum at the idea of being assigned to deliver tag lines to Peggy. But it’s through acclimating, knuckling down, doing the work, silencing his ego, that he begins to find his way back.

Maybe not all the way, but enough that, by the remarkable sixth episode “The Strategy,” we can see that his willingness to give authority to Peggy is not merely, well, a strategy. (She first suspects it might be, and who can blame her?) It’s a recognition that things have changed, that she has changed too, that she’s earned the responsibility, risk, and credit. In the gorgeous, holy Burger Chef tableau that closes “The Strategy,” he’s just one more mouth on the table, one more member of the team. And at the same time we see how Peggy’s grown: fitfully, she’s developed a kind of authority and confidence that comes not from being “the next Don” but from learning to work–and manage, and dream–like herself.

Likewise, the last bit of derring-do that upends Cutler’s plan to eject Don (and maybe much of the rest of the company) is not a Don Draper Hail Mary but Roger’s plan, and one that demonstrates his own personal progress. Roger’s arrested development has been a theme played subtly for a long time in Mad Men–it’s not just that he’s an older man hanging on to youth (through youthful women, for instance) but that, as his mother’s funeral last season suggested, he still sees himself as a little boy. His last conversation with Bert gets at this, as his partner tells Roger that after all this time, he doesn’t see him as a leader. Even Roger’s business coups in the past have often had the feel of college-boy hijinks, cajoling business secrets out of liquored-up execs on airplanes, for instance. His sale of the agency to McCann, on the other hand, is big-picture thinking, and a plan that doesn’t just protect his buddy but enriches each of his partners. And Don’s role in this is–to let him do it. He provides an assist, talking Ted off the career ledge (and maybe an existential one), but he doesn’t impose himself on the story.

Nor does he at the end of his marriage, which takes place quietly, sadly, calmly, in what may be the most mature joint action he and Megan have taken as a couple. There’s no talk of fault; it’s two people realizing that they are in different places between which there is no air route. He doesn’t make a grand gesture in an attempt to fix anything. “You don’t owe me anything,” she says when he offers her his help, and what he does give her in the moment isn’t material–it’s the recognition that what’s happening is not only about him.

Mad Men has a large ensemble, and you can make valid arguments that other characters are more important or interesting, but at least in terms of narrative structure, Don Draper is still the show’s protagonist. But this half-season has been a recognition of what many of us take a lifetime to learn: that everyone is the protagonist of his or her own story. And while Mad Men hasn’t always done well with huge historical moments (e.g., the JFK assassination), the moon landing ends up perfectly suited to this theme. It’s a collective achievement, collectively shared. Neil Armstrong may have been the “protagonist” of that event, but he didn’t put himself on the moon. The moon, as the song says, belongs to everyone. “One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind”: with everyone, working together, letting each other be their best, he’s just one guy stepping off a ladder.

So too with Don; at every major juncture of this half-season, he contributes best by letting someone else be the star. This is an unusual step in the recent history of highly individualistic TV dramas. Walter White went out guns blazing, executing his singular plan; Tony Soprano fought his last battle as many of his soldiers were cut down around him; even the highly community-focused Lost ended on Jack’s self-sacrifice. But in this stretch of Mad Men, especially the remarkable last two episodes, Don Draper grew by allowing himself to recede, and he gave others the space to grow around him.

Of course, this isn’t the end. Seven more episodes is more than enough time for terrible things to happen. Matt Weiner has said that he constructs the second halves of his seasons as answers to the first, so we may see next year that none of this sticks, or that what seemed like triumph could end up being a terrible mistake. But so far it’s striking to see a drama like Mad Men, so conscious of how history repeats, to suggest something more hopeful about human nature, the capacity to grow, to mature, to see beyond ourselves. If we can put a man on the moon, maybe we can do anything.

TIME Television

Mad Men Creator Explains Sunday’s Mid-Season Finale

The creator of the acclaimed AMC drama opened up about the show's future and Sunday's mid-season finale in a new interview with The Hollywood Reporter

If you’re still trying to make sense of all that happened this season on Mad Men, creator Matthew Weiner finally has a few answers for you. After Sunday’s mid-season finale — Mad Men returns for its final seven episodes in 2015 — Weiner spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about writing the last episodes, the evolution of his characters and what really went on with Ginsberg.

The full interview is worth a read, but here are the most enlightening excerpts:

On hallucinations: “I don’t want to do it all the time, but it is the language of the show. It’s as old as the flashback … For me, I’m a person who frequently sees things that aren’t there. I don’t know if they’re as elaborate as that, but I don’t question the reality of the emotion.”

On Bert Cooper’s musical send-off: “I never thought it would happen, actually. I know who [Robert Morse] is. I knew who he was when I hired him. It’s part of why I hired him. We were really dodging it the first two seasons, in our fictional 1961 and 1962, because Robert was a gigantic star on Broadway at the time.”

On how Don Draper has changed: “You’re surprised and worried about whether he can stick it out and not self-destruct, not drink his way out of it, embarrass everyone or be selfish … Peggy earned her real confidence, because it wasn’t given to her, and Don behaved with — I wouldn’t call it maturity — integrity on a pretty large scale.”

On Ginsberg: “He’s a delusional schizophrenic. That’s not a disease that’s a cause and effect disease. I don’t know how much we know about it, but there are triggers and anyone who has been paying attention to the story can see that he’s been wrestling with that.”

On the series finale: “I’m in the office today finishing the series finale. I start directing episode thirteen, the second to last, next week. It’s pretty heavy stuff.”

[THR]

TIME Television

RECAP: Mad Men Watch: “Waterloo”

Mad Men Season 7: Episode 7, "Waterloo"
Mad Men Season 7: Episode 7, "Waterloo" Michael Yarish—AMC

Don ponders the future, Peggy scores a much-needed win and SC&P gets hit with some surprising news during Mad Men's final episode of the year

Sunday’s mid-season finale of Mad Men was officially titled “Waterloo,” but it may as well have been called “Bad News” — that’s all the characters seemed to get in the last episode before the series’ 2015 conclusion.

On the business front, Jim Cutler tries to get rid of Don Draper with an unceremonious termination letter after the agency fails to score Commander cigarettes. Cutler claims Don violated the terms of his return when he unexpectedly appeared at the Commander pitch meeting a few weeks ago, and he makes his feelings known: “You’re just a bully and a drunk.” Joan sides with Cutler, but a quick vote among the partners — minus Harry Crane, who’s become to SC&P and what Jerry Gergich is to Parks and Recreation — keeps him safe. (Pete, concerned about how the news will affect Don’s Burger Chef presentation, delivers the line of the episode: “That is a very sensitive piece of horse flesh! He shouldn’t be rattled!”)

When Don calls Megan to say he might be out of a job and could start over with her in California, she goes silent. Last week’s episode felt like the show was gearing up for Megan’s farewell in many ways, and Sunday’s finale did indeed pull the plug on their struggling marriage without much fanfare. The two handle things amicably: “I’ll always take care of you…I owe you that,” Don tells her, but Megan kindly rejects the offer. Weird, it’s almost like they’re adults or something. Once again, the most powerful Mad Men scenes are the ones where characters barely speak.

Nowhere was that more true than during the moon landing. Props to Mad Men for making a bunch of television characters sitting around anxiously watching television seem thrilling. It’s July 1969 in the Mad Men universe, and Neil Armstrong is making one giant leap for mankind on TV sets across the country. (A text I received mid-episode from my mother, who was a college student around this time: “Everyone in the world was watching that! You can’t imagine how riveting it was.”)

What made the episode especially touching was how these characters experienced history. Nearly everyone was surrounded by their loved ones, both traditional families and not. In a way, it almost reminded me of Love Actually: Roger is on the couch with Mona, his son-in-law and his grandson; the dysfunctional work family of SC&P is gathered on hotel beds on the eve of the Burger Chef pitch; Betty’s with the children, but Don talks to them by phone; and then there’s Bert Cooper, who’s joined only by his maid. That’s at once both adorable and sad, considering it’s the last time we see Bert Cooper alive. Of all the people I thought might die on Mad Men this season — Bob Benson, Megan Draper (despite Matthew Weiner’s protests), even Ted at the beginning — Bert somehow wasn’t on my list. But as Roger notes, we should have seen it coming: “Anytime an old man starts talking about Napoleon, you know they’re going to die.”

With Bert gone, the balance of power among the partners shifts, and Don’s no longer safe. He hands the Burger Chef presentation over to Peggy to ensure she has a future if he gets sacked. Though she’s daunted by the last-minute change, Don gives her the abridged version of last week’s pep talk: “I wouldn’t do this if I didn’t know you could.” And, oh, she can! Peggy’s Burger Chef presentation is a thing of beauty up there with the best of Don’s pitches. It’s a clever passing of the torch: “Every great ad tells a story. Here to tell that story is Peggy Olson,” Don says, repeating the line Peggy planned to use to introduce him. Peggy, dressed like the Scooby-Doo gang rolled into one, surprises everyone by pulling a classic Don Draper and veering off script. (Is there an Emmy Award for Most Expressive Furrowed Brow? Because Jon Hamm has that on lock.)

Two things stand out about Peggy’s presentation. First, though the moon landing showed just how unifying television can be, Peggy paints the good ol’ idiot box as something of a threat to family bonding at the dinner table. Second, she cites the neighbor boy Julio as an example of someone who’s always glued to the TV in her house, but she doesn’t clarify that he’s not actually her son. Maybe she’s bringing the housewife voice into her pitch, or maybe Mad Men is forcing Peggy to find alternative paths to “having it all.” Following last week’s early mid-life crisis about being 30 and single, the show almost suggests that Julio is the closest thing she’ll come to having a child. Not that Mad Men forgot about the baby she gave away seasons ago: When Julio says his family is moving, Peggy gets teary, not just because she’ll have to find someone else to ask for fashion advice, but because the news is an uncomfortable reminder of the sacrifices mothers make.

Back in the New York office, Bert’s death wakes Roger up from the dreamland he’s been sleepwalking through all season. Roger doesn’t want to lose Don, nor does he like the direction Cutler’s pushing the agency in, so he makes a pitch to rival agency McCann Erickson to buy the company. It’s an ideal situation: SC&P would operate independently under Roger’s leadership, but McCann would own their competition. The partners, even Cutler, are happy to learn they’ll become millionaires, but Ted Chaough nearly brings the deal to a halt as he tries to leave advertising and succumb to his “real feeling of wanting to die.” Fortunately, Don still has at least one more miraculous advertising pitch left in him, and he convinces Ted, usually the show’s voice of reason, to stay aboard and focus on creative work. “You don’t want to see what happens when it’s really gone,” he tells him — and if anybody would know, it’d be Don.

Over at Casa Betty, Sally is growing up quickly and getting a little boy-crazy, but her romantic choices this episode are ultimately overshadowed by Bert’s bizarre beyond-the-grave musical number. The moment, on pair with the infamous nipple incident, raises a few questions (why is Don having hallucinations?) and ominously foreshadows (singing “The Best Things in Life Are Free” before the partners make bank suggests money won’t buy happiness for long). But I think the meaning is ultimately quite simple: Robert Morse is an acclaimed musical theater actor, so what better way to send him off? The scene hints at a possible new agenda for Matthew Weiner in these final episodes: have some fun! (Why else would he have forever-clueless secretary Meredith suddenly come onto Don and promise to be his “strength” after finding his termination letter?)

But if there’s one scene that sums up where Mad Men is right now, it’s when Don entrusts Peggy with the Burger Chef presentation. While the beginning of the final season was all about Don accepting his new place in the world, these last few episodes seem to find Don grappling with how he’ll leave that world when he’s inevitably gone. Don wants to make sure Peggy doesn’t suffer any collateral damage from the consequences of his actions; he wants to make sure Megan is all squared away, despite the collapse of their marriage; even his renewed relationship with his children shows an awareness of his legacy. Don is far from taking part in a 12-step program here, but Sunday’s episode almost felt like a mission to make amends. It’s hard not to imagine Mad Men ending with Don trying to right his wrongs before the world simply moves on without him.

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