'Mad Men's' Final Season: What the Critics Are Saying

AMC
'Mad Men'

Jon Hamm, Elisabeth Moss, January Jones, John Slattery, Vincent Kartheiser, Christina Hendricks and the rest of the cast return for the final seven episodes of Matthew Weiner's critically acclaimed AMC series.

The last of Mad Men begins airing Sunday, with Jon Hamm, Elisabeth Moss, January Jones, John Slattery, Vincent Kartheiser, Christina Hendricks and the cast returning for the final seven episodes of Matthew Weiner's critically acclaimed AMC series.

See what top critics are saying about the premiere of Mad Men's final season:

The Hollywood Reporter's Tim Goodman writes, "The episode, titled 'Severance,' feels like precisely what it is — the eighth episode in a 14-episode season. ... To expect fireworks out of 'Severance' would be unwise since servicing the story is Weiner’s main objective and part of that is no doubt setting up what will be a very ambitious wrap-up to this phenomenal series when we get to the last episode. And yet, 'Severance' has some important conceptual elements that will likely shape the remainder of the series." Additionally, "a lot of viewers are not particularly interested in Don’s interior machinations — even though the entirety and point of the series revolves around those struggles — preferring instead to soak up the drinking, fashion, relationships, workplace drama and ethnographic elements instead. But 'Severance' smartly repositions Mad Men on the existential fast track, tackling familiar themes of death, aging, happiness and identity."

"A lot of the familiar Mad Men characters are missing in 'Severance,' but most will clearly be back (or the ones who appear only briefly will benefit from future episodes that flesh out their current state). And while there’s a faint bleakness to this episode, so too is it funny in a number of areas (including visuals)," he continues. "How this final season wraps up will go a long way toward determining Mad Men's position in the pantheon of great television shows, but it should be noted up front that getting closure on all of the Mad Men characters and themes may not be the single most important objective for Weiner. ... He need not go out with a bang of fireworks or some finale that makes everybody happy. He just needs to maintain the high standards that have secured Mad Men its place in the pantheon."

Time's James Poniewozik notes that the first episode "finds several characters facing the fact that they’ve gotten a decade older. ... Some characters find they’ve gotten plenty but it’s left them unsatisfied. Others have to deal with what happens when life, like an inept waiter at a restaurant, brings you what someone else ordered." The mental state of the episode is "Don, in particular, seems to be in a kind of waking dream state, seeing faces and images that vaguely remind him of his past. ... It's a bit sci-fi, ... [but] it makes for a slow but haunting last beginning. The final overture is well-orchestrated by Weiner, who wrote Tony Soprano’s extended dream in The Sopranos' 'The Test Dream' and has always explored the spectrum of consciousness: how dreams and hallucinations can be lucid and waking life can pass like a dream."

USA Today's Robert Bianco explains, "Inflated expectations have never done Mad Men any favors, something any new viewer might want to keep in mind. ... The beauty of the show, and of Hamm's performance, is the craft with which they convey that crisis through silence and visual cues. Don opens a door, turns on the light, surveys his gorgeous but empty apartment — and turns the light back off. And in that one, character-defining moment, we see into his state of mind." Peggy and Joan shine "in scenes that are among the opener's best. ... Mad Men remains a gorgeous show, one that is capable of sustaining an almost trance-like state. There are times when it seems like style and mood are everything, whereas in any other show you would find yourself asking 'Do people really behave like that?' But in a medium prone to the literal, Mad Men has always been willing to explore a world where who we are and who we want to be collide as if in dreams. And in a country that tends to equate 'big' with 'better,' Mad Men has never been afraid to be small and self-contained."

New York Daily News' David Hinckley says, "It can safely be said that we’re not sailing into these last episodes like kids cruising in muscle cars with the tops down. No, there’s a sense of unease, even among characters who are doing well. ... While the new season doesn’t pick up a lot of specific story lines where the last one left off, viewers won’t be surprised by the mostly personal issues with which Don, Peggy and the others are wrestling. ... Almost all of his focus falls on the world of the core characters, not what's happening outside. We sometimes want to grab them by the shoulders and shake them, but after six seasons we understand why they can’t always put it all together. The premiere lends support to speculation that in the end, they still won’t. They can’t. On the other hand, the premiere also leaves plenty of sky in which the sun could break through."

 

The  San Francisco Chronicle's David Wiegand teases of the episode's opening and closing track by Peggy Lee, "The song sets the perfect tone as we near the end of the TV epic that will be remembered for its depiction of the implosion of the postwar American dream in the 1960s," and that "mirrors will figure later in the episode as well, in one of Mad Men's almost literary uses of symbolism: Men like Don, Bert, Pete and Roger have no room in their lives for self-reflection. In fact, it is antithetical to what they do and who they are. At the office, which is in essence their real homes, they run from considering the consequences of their actions."

The Washington Post's Hank Stuever explains, "Secrecy — and an ambiguity about true meaning — will be Mad Men’s legacy, a show that is so fussy about verisimilitude that it struggles to reveal its characters and their stories in a plain manner. I won’t tell you what else happens in the episode, mainly because not much happens. Don, Peggy, Joan: The end is quickly approaching, but Mad Men still offers no hope of a broad statement or definitive conclusion. ... There’s no better example of Golden Age TV devotion than the way we once watched Mad Men, admired Mad Men and participated in its constant hype. ... Now, in the Silver Age, Mad Men is fading away as beautifully — even indifferently — as one would expect."

Mad Men airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on AMC, beginning April 5.

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