By Forrest Cardamenis | Criticwire April 24, 2013 at 10:04AM
Just as positive was the "Mad Men" reception, which bounced back after a disappointing episode last week. Indiewire's own Alison Willmore, Sam Woolf of We Got This Covered, and Zap2It's Geoff Berkshire each called "To Have and to Hold" the season's best episode yet, while Cinema Blend's Zac Oldenburg went a step further and called it one of his favorite episodes of the series. Still, many agreed that it was far from perfect, expressing a desire to see Trudy (Alison Brie, who only appeared in the opening credits); a static plot and slow-pace still garnered complaints, but the introduction of Dawn as a (more) major player and the hypocrisy that characterized the episode were more than enough to satisfy most critics.
"After impressive work in a handful of scenes last season, Teyonah Parris stepped up to the plate for her biggest showcase so far...We'll have to wait and see if this is the show's way of laying the groundwork for exploring more of black life during the Civil Rights era, but Dawn's instinct to make sure she's on Joan's good side seems like a smart one."
"The diner conversations between Dawn and her soon-to-be-married friend Nikki (Idara Victor) outlined how Dawn is even more isolated in her workplace experience than the female characters making early forays into the male-dominated ranks of the agency."
"Dawn has her own story thread here -- that she is scared of standing up for herself at work because she is black and wants to blend in -- though this remains somewhat underdeveloped."
The same critics all took note of how Dawn was given more power as a form of punishment, and Joan's actions have come under heavy scrutiny as a result.
"Joan's act of hypocrisy here stems from her desperately trying to establish a sense of authority in the male-driven workplace. And you really feel for her, especially since that whole terrible Jaguar situation is still getting thrown in her face."
"There's something terrible and tired to Joan's graceful acquiescing to the will of others in that sequence, just as there was in her giving Dawn more power as a punishment. She's always been the character with the finest grasp of social undercurrents and how to flow with them, to use them for momentum, but her showdown with a petulant Harry in the office seemed to leave a lasting wound when he brought up what she did to land the Jaguar account."
As there was with Dawn's storyline, however, there remains a dissenting voice:
However, it's a tweet from Mark Harris that might be the most revealing and important detail in "Mad Men": "For chronology nerds: A faintly heard radio broadcast on
"It doesn't really matter how Joan landed her partnership, what matters is that she's a partner...Even Katie's clumsy attempt at a one night stand wound up reasserting Joan as a woman in control of her sexuality, suggesting there's little interest in diving right into any potential negative repercussions from what happened last season."
MadMen suggests tonight's show took place circa 3/27/68." It may seem like a faint detail, but it's actually a continuation of the foreshadowing that many have noticed. If you recall, last week's Criticwire recap pointed out a trend among critics to notice heavy themes of mortality and death, leading Matt Zoller Seitz to predict an impending death. With "To Have and to Hold" taking place a week before the Martin Luther King, Jr. assassination, and with Dawn -- the show's only non-white star -- receiving a new story that was called "somewhat underdeveloped," it's safe to say that the foreshadowed death at least will apply to Dr. King, as some critics have already suggested:
"Dawn also played a prominent role in the episode for the first time since she sat behind Don's desk and it was nice that it wasn't just plot, but character work as well. Dawn has friends and problems of her own, one who thinks Dawn should speak up about race more than she does. While it's great to get to know her, I imagine this might be all set up for MLK's death which should probably happen next week on the show."
...which means that the next episode or two could very well deal extensively with race relations and Dawn's place with SCDP. If so, it the puzzle pieces are going to start to fall into place.
Keeping in the now, however, "Mad Men" takes last week's big theme -- perception vs. reality -- one step further, turning the characters into noticeable hypocrites and reversing expectations. Reviews point out that Draper has no place calling a woman a whore when he is constantly finding his way into someone else's bed, Joan finds herself in a confusing place at work being constantly undermined, and Peggy out-pitches Don to win over Heinz Ketchup. At the same time, Ken chastises secret meetings while making his own. Each episode of "Mad Men" this season is working firmly within its own theme, though a resulting slower pace has made the season a bit uneven. Here's hoping the same ambition holds steady while the drama picks up again.
At We Got This Covered, however, Sam Woolf has a couple observations that, along with another Mark Harris Tweet, serve as a prediction to continue watching for.
"'Mad Men''s calculated pacing is often a byproduct of the show being a study of social, as well as internal, personal change -or lack there of. Because those things move at a snail's pace, no one's going to pat Joan on the shoulder and give her a “you've come a long way, baby,” speech about how this was all worth it...Peggy, of course, owes plenty to Joan's example of defying what people think of you based on gender, but as Don's squire-turned-protege, he's still her biggest role model. Lately though, it looks like she's gunning for his crown, not his friendship."
Peggy has done the impossible in terms of advancing her career, but what if that's entirely what "Mad Men" is about? Mark Harris postulated, "Maybe the 7-season arc of Mad Men is Don's journey from leading man to supporting character in the Peggy decade to come."