As we wrap-up Jon Hamm Birthday Week here at BoK, I wanted to focus on the events of Don Draper’s life over the course of Season One.

Weiner, at the oft-quoted Jacob Burns Film Center event, talked about the influence of the film the Apartment. We’ve heard this a lot, and the film itself is alluded to in Babylon. But what Weiner discussed was how in the Apartment, most of the movie is set-up. Exposition. The bulk of the film is the audience and the characters discovering the circumstances that are already in occurrence.

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes is mostly exposition. It remains a brilliant pilot no matter how many viewings, but the big reveal at the end turns into a not-so-much once you know that Don is married. And the season is filled with such reveals. We are figuring out who these people are by finding out who they’ve been. Dick Whitman. Joan and Roger. Joan and Paul, for that matter.

This is the nature of storytelling, these two components; exposition and occurrences.

And so I wanted to close in on what has happened to Don, distinct from what we learn about him.

Because um… he’s had a hell of a year. And that is what I thought as I watched him sit on those stairs, our heads filling with the future.

So let’s review.

Nine months for Don

  • He gets a new secretary. He recognizes her talents and promotes her to copywriter.
  • His wife grows increasingly unhappy and strange. After Betty has a car accident with his children, he reluctantly sends her to a psychiatrist… with whom Don covertly discusses her progress.
  • He fires Pete Campbell, only to have him unfired by his superiors. He gets a big fat bonus. He gets seriously wooed by a bigger agency, and as a result gets an even bigger fatter raise. His direct supervisor and sometime partner-in-crime has a non-fatal heart attack in his presence. He heads up several successful campaigns, brings in new clients, and loses one account. He is made partner.
  • He leaves his mistress of (seemingly) many years.
  • He meets and falls for Rachel Menken. He reveals things to her that have never been revealed. She leaves him.
  • His secret past is discovered, and he is blackmailed. He does not give in, and the truth is brought to his boss. Who doesn’t care.
  • He falls down a flight of stairs. Ow.
  • He smokes pot.
  • His younger brother comes to him out of his lost past, and Don pushes him far away. After a few months, Don has a change of heart and tries to contact Adam, only to discover that he has committed suicide.

And I am just saying… holy crap, that’s a lot. For a man who knows how to cope and survive but who doesn’t have a clue how to process, this is a lot.

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Here’s something Matt Weiner said (when we met! him! la la!) that has stuck with me: Each episode should be its own movie.

It was striking, there in the Jacob Burns Film Center, that Smoke Gets In Your Eyes worked perfectly as a film, albeit a short one. It through introduction of characters smoothly, it was sexy, it had a pay-off and a reveal and a bit of mystery, it was gorgeous to look at, and it filled the big screen.

Weiner’s goal is for each episode to be a movie. Yes, each should build on the last and our understanding of these people should grow. But each should be self-contained, hold its own personal and symbolic value, have some emotional conclusion (however subtle) and have visual strength.

I’m putting zillions of words in Weiner’s mouth. He never said any of this. But he did say that each episode should be its own movie (and some other stuff…damn, Roberta, where’s that transcript?) and this is how I understood him. And given what we know of this show, it makes total sense.

Yesterday’s Q&A session with Matt Weiner, as Roberta has already told you, was a joy.

(First, because I’ll probably forget to say this later, it was fabulous seeing a great print of Smoke Gets In Your Eyes on a huge theatrical screen, with a large, appreciative audience. The experience of theater just belongs with the experience of Mad Men, and the Jacob Burns Film Center is a fantastic venue.)

Back to Matt Weiner. He is infinitely interesting because he is infinitely interested. He’s smart and charming, and he’s just fascinated by the world. He’s fascinated by his own writing process. He doesn’t know why certain images compel him, but he’s eager to write towards those images and see where it leads. Some of the questions people asked were maybe not that good: It didn’t matter. Weiner can take any question to a place that’s meaningful and insightful and smart. I could quote him all day. (And I undoubtedly will.)

A few months ago, I saw an excellent interview with the screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz. He was amazing and fascinating and I never wanted him to stop; the word that popped into my head was raconteur. But with Matt Weiner, I wouldn’t use that word. With him, I’d say he’s a great conversationalist. The difference is, with a great raconteur you want to shush everyone else so you can just listen and listen and listen. But with a great conversationalist, you want to ask more questions and leap right in and engage. Matt Weiner is one of the best conversationalists I’ve met in a good long time.

Here’s another thing. If I met, say, Jon Hamm, I’d turn red and humnah-humnah and try not to do something humiliating like touch his pants. And then I’d go home and bang my head against a wall. Starstruck is a terrible feeling. But I didn’t feel starstruck by Matt Weiner. I felt admiring, certainly, and incredibly pleased to be able to meet him, and even more pleased that he knew some of my work. I’m a writer with some success, he’s a writer with a lot of success. So, not starstruck. A little verklempt, sure. A little thrilled and amazed to be able to meet and talk with such an amazing person. But definitely a person, not a star.

And seriously? If he wasn’t married, I’d have totally flirted. Charming intellectual bald Jewish writers totally turn my crank.

Roberta, Matt Weiner, Deborah
Roberta, Matt Weiner, Deborah

The Jacob Burns Film Center, in Pleasantville, New York, will be showing Smoke Gets In Your Eyes at 3p.m. tomorrow (Saturday, February 9th). Following the episode will be a Q&A with Matt Weiner and Janet Maslin.

Your blogging sisters, Roberta and I, will be in the audience.

Tickets are $10 for non-members, $6 for members.