Brow Beat

Matthew Weiner Opens Up About What That Don Draper Hug—and That Coke Ad—Really Meant

Don finds peace at the end of Mad Men.

Photo by © AMC Network Entertainment LLC and Lions Gate Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved

On Wednesday, Mad Men showrunner Matthew Weiner—who is often loath to unpack the meaning of his work—took time to unpack the meaning of the show’s hotly debated finale. In a conversation with novelist A.M. Homes at the New York Public Library, Weiner dug into Peggy and Stan, Joan’s evolution into a single-mother feminist, and more. Many of the highlights have been noted elsewhere and are worth reading, but what will likely most interest longtime fans is Weiner’s interpretation of that ending: Coke ad and all.

For one, Leonard (Evan Arnold) is representative of a feeling of  “invisibility,” a culmination of years of political and cultural tensions that have isolated people like himself, Don included. Of that monumental hug between Leonard and Don, Weiner said, “I hope the audience would feel either that [Don] was embracing a part of himself, or maybe them, and that they were heard … I liked the idea where he’d come to this place, and it’d be about other people and a moment of recognition.”

When it comes to the Coke ad, which he calls “the best ad ever made,” his feelings are clear, and much more hopeful than one may initially assume. He dismissed a cynical read of its existence: “I don’t think it’s as villainous as the snark of today thinks it is.” A bit more muddled is the ad’s narrative connection—was Don really responsible for creating it, as pretty much all evidence seems to suggest? Weiner reportedly didn’t come right out and confirm our suspicions, but he didn’t deny them, either:

I have never been clear, and I have always been able to live with ambiguities. In the abstract, I did think, why not end this show with the greatest commercial ever made? … It was nice to have your cake and eat it too, in terms of what is advertising, who is Don and what is that thing?

If Weiner remained publicly ambiguous on this matter, Jon Hamm, who was also in attendance at the discussion, did not: “My take is that, the next day, he wakes up in this beautiful place, and has this serene moment of understanding, and realizes who he is. And who he is, is an advertising man.”

Read all of Slate’s coverage of Mad Men.