“Mad Men” returns for its seventh and final season on Sunday, but can a show widely considered to be among the greatest in television history continue to chart the future of small-screen drama or is it beginning to show its age?
The stakes are high, because Matthew Weiner‘s vision of 1960s America attracted some complaints about its deliberate pacing and obtuse plotting during its most recent chapter — one that coincided with the end of that tumultuous decade, an era marred by political assassinations and unrest. When we last left the good folks at Sterling Cooper & Partners, many of the suave, sophisticated ad men and women were looking the worse for wear from the social upheaval and constant cocktailing, with Don Draper (Jon Hamm) suffering a semi-breakdown during a sales pitch and finding himself taking a company-mandated leave of absence.
If you’re worried about spoilers, fret not. In true control freak fashion, AMC only allowed critics to get their mitts on the season premiere, so details about what exactly is in store for the philanderers, drunkards and strivers who make “Mad Men” so addictive were scant.
TheWrap’s Tim Molloy hit back at the pot-shot takers in his appraisal of the seventh season’s first episode, arguing they were guilty of taking a superb drama for granted. Savor Weiner’s crack dialogue, the sparkling performances and assured production design while you still can, he implied.
“Life can only be lived forward, and understood backward, and all that,” Molloy wrote. “And that’s how it will be with the show. We won’t be able to fully appreciate it from moment to moment, because we’re so eager to learn what’s coming next, to get to whatever the future holds. But that future is a world without ‘Mad Men,’ so let’s not get there too fast.”
Likewise, Kristi Turnquist of The Oregonian, wrote that the initial episode is assured and Weiner evinced no pressure to speed up his story-telling or alter his approach to the material, despite internet harping.
“If Weiner was shaken by those who defected from the flock in Season 6, it’s not apparent,” Turnquist wrote. “With its signature mixture of tiny details providing texture and easy storytelling flow, “Mad Men” lures us back into its final season with all the confidence in the world.”
In the New York Daily News, David Hinckley praised the season’s first episode, as it charts Don and his wife Megan’s (Jessica Pare) efforts to forge a new beginning in California, describing it as masterful. He welcomed the show’s ability to chronicle its characters’ growth and metamorphosis.
“A changing world tends to be a nervous world for anyone,” Hinckley wrote. “That’s only human. Fortunately, Weiner’s ability to capture ‘human’ set ‘Mad Men’ apart at the first beginning and shows no sign of faltering at the second.”
For Entertainment Weekly’s Jeff Jensen, part of this season opener’s magic is the way it shuffles between Don’s journey and the struggles and frustrations of supporting characters such as ambitious account executive Pete (Vincent Kartheiser) and glass-ceiling shattering office manager Joan (Christina Hendricks).
“Wherever Don’s headed on this final flight of ‘Mad Men,’ the ride promises to be exhilarating,” Jensen wrote.
Don’t give up on the show yet, Newsday’s Verne Gay implored. He notes that Don Draper’s fall from the pinnacle of Madison Ave. advertising has been tough to watch, but is worth the discomfort.
“This still very much feels like a journey worth taking if only because – in the process – Hamm deftly continues to locate some heroic facet in TV’s reigning anti-hero,” Gay wrote.
Gay’s pleas were ignored by the New York Times’ Alessandra Stanley, who seemed eager to see the window close on the 1960s and the acclaimed AMC drama in a review that does not seemed destined to be excerpted in future “Mad Men” promos.
“The season premiere seems as exhausted as the decade it has chronicled so intensely,” Stanley wrote.
“That sagging of energy happens to any long-lasting series, but it’s oddly apt in the case of “Mad Men,” because the show’s trajectory so closely follows the era it portrays,” she added.
Time to switch over to “Game of Thrones”?