When “Mad Men” began in 2007, Roger Sterling was presented as the embodiment of the old guard, capital-E Establishment. This was a guy who, after all, had no compunction about putting on blackface for a Kentucky Derby party at his country club.
Now? Though he still projects that old-money vibe at work, Roger (John Slattery) has taken a deeper dive into ’60s counterculture than anyone on “Mad Men” not named Stan Rizzo. Taking LSD helped him find the clarity to end his second marriage, and it actually seemed to improve his performance at Sterling Cooper & Partners. And was there ever a more perfect match between man and philosophy than Roger and free love?
“Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner says that Roger being born into privilege has actually made him more receptive to the countercultural forces around him.
“He’s a patrician person anyway, but he also has been indulged, so he’s got a kind of childlike attitude toward things,” Weiner says. “The fact that he took LSD and was able to learn something that most of us already know — that was his enlightenment, that other people have thoughts he doesn’t know about or that aren’t the same as his. It sounds really silly, but he’s undergone a bit of an education.”
He also has relatively little to lose in experimenting: His position and wealth are not on the line the way that, say, Don’s (Jon Hamm) are at the end of Season 6. “Everyone at the beginning of the show was like, ‘Are we gonna see Don in love beads and a Nehru jacket?’ I was like, no, but Roger will probably get there,” Weiner says with a laugh. “Looking at the real history, guys like him did great. So we just wanted to be true to him and keep him on that journey.”
It’s not always a pleasant ride: “Even Roger Sterling is starting to see a little darkness in the repetitive nature of hedonism,” Weiner says. But the way he moves through life provides an interesting counterpoint to Don’s experience.
“I loved seeing him and Don go in and out of parallel experiences with such different backgrounds and such different senses of themselves,” Weiner says. “Roger is on some level filled with self-love, and Don not so much.”
Season 7 of “Mad Men” premieres at 10 p.m. ET/PT Sunday (April 13) on AMC.