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Monday, December 5, 2016

By Meredith Blake, Los Angeles Times

NEW YORK — For “Mad Men” creator and show runner Matthew Weiner, the reality is beginning to sink in. The series returns to AMC for the first half of its seventh and final season in April, and Weiner is currently toiling away on Episode 9 — leaving just five episodes until the story of elusive ad man Don Draper reaches its conclusion.

“There is a weird psychology to saying, ‘OK, there’s five episodes left, three stories an episode. That’s 15 stories left to tell in the entire show.’ That’s pretty overwhelming,” said Weiner in a telephone interview Tuesday.

In a calculated move by AMC, the final season of “Mad Men” will be split into halves: seven episodes to air this spring, followed by seven more in 2015. The first batch of episodes have already been filmed, and production is set to begin on the back half of the season later this month.

Although Weiner said it was not his idea to divide the season in two, he “really didn’t fight” the network on it because he had seen how well this approach worked for the final season of “Breaking Bad,” and simply accepted it as a writing challenge.

“The interesting thing is the show is always kind of structured in halves, whether the audience notices or not,” he said, noting the tendency for major plot points to emerge around the halfway point of a given season — think the lawn mower incident in Season 3, or last year’s merger between Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce and rival agency Cutler, Gleason & Chaough.

The last season of “Mad Men” was set in 1968, with the tumultuous events of that infamous year driving the show’s narrative in a way they hadn’t since the assassination of JFK near the end of Season 3. In one episode, for instance, an advertising awards banquet was interrupted by news of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination.

This upheaval was reflected in the life of the series’ protagonist, who by season’s end found himself at his lowest point ever: alienated from his wife, Megan, suspended indefinitely from his job and caught (literally) with his pants down by his teenage daughter, Sally.

“It was a catastrophic year for the United States and for Don Draper as well,” says Weiner, whose film “You Are Here,” starring Amy Poehler and Zach Galifianakis, is slated for release this summer. Though some fans, sick of Don’s selfishness and womanizing, turned on him last season, just as many were encouraged by the closing scene of the finale, in which the protagonist revealed his true identity to his three children.