A four-time Emmy-winner for best TV drama, Mad Men returned last night for the first half of its seventh and final season. And based on the online reviews, the sixties-era period piece did not disappoint.
The Telegraph gave the Mad Men season-opener four out of five stars, citing the growth of Jon Hamm's layered portrayal of conflicted ad man Don Draper. Don was once a womanizer, but now seems practically inert, inexplicably passing up the opportunity to bed an attractive widow (played by Canadian actress Neve Campbell) he meets on a flight from Los Angeles to New York. (In an interview with Yahoo! TV, Campbell talked about waivers, spoilers and the "Super Secrecy Speech" she got on her first day on set.)
Telegraph reviewer Jonathan Bernstein rightly points out the time frame of the new season – 1969 – is in line with most of the show's principal characters fading to various empty existences. "It's the last year of the sixties and these people seem to decaying in front of our eyes."
The Hollywood Reporter relished the fact that the premiere didn't so much wrap up existing plotlinesas start fresh ones – like Don's possible new relationship with a widow and the challenging dynamic between ad agency up-and-comer Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) and her new boss at Sterling, Draper and Partners.
In Variety, TV editor-in-chief Cynthia Littleton's review of the launch was thoughtful and positive, pointing out that Don is as uncomfortable dropped into the sunny climes of California as his former partner Roger (John Slattery) is at home when dropped into a seedy orgy involving hippies and flower children.
Hey, a good ad man always knows how to adapt to a situation.
The AV Club's review was glowing, with Todd VanDerWerff and Sonia Saraiya noting that the new season begins with Don "stripped of everything. His wife lives a continent away, his job doesn't want him anymore and he's sitting alone in a freezing apartment with a door that won't close."
The show earned an "A" from Newsday, with reviewer Verne Gay heaping praise on show creator Matthew Weiner's inexorable depiction of time in the series. "The passing of time…the inability to control time…and especially the remorselessness of time. Even Don – who knows this best of all – can't avoid its ravages for much longer," writes Gay.
The San Francisco Herald, meanwhile, attempted to put the Mad Men season-opener in historical perspective, with reviewer David Wiegand suggesting that the show's "operative conceit" was to explain the mythology behind the American dream.
"The postwar years found the country collectively strutting its stuff, and no one strutted more than Madison Avenue," he writes.
The website Flavorwire opined that Mad Men came back strongly, stating that the first new episode was "Don's journey. Don is travelling, Don is escaping something and trying to find something else to believe in and coming to grips with where he is in life."
Good luck, Don. We're with you all the way.