By Sam Adams | Criticwire April 2, 2014 at 4:47PM
It's only a trickle before what will be a deluge, but the first reviews of the first episode of "Mad Men's" seventh and final season are in, and it's... a split decision.
If you follow The Hollywood Reporter's Tim Goodman on Twitter, you already know he's fallen hard for "Time Zones," which airs on AMC April 13; he's already watched its three-minute closing sequence six times. His review is a rave, and largely spoiler-free, though not by creator Matthew Weiner's stringent standards. (He commits the cardinal sin of revealing the year in which the episode is set -- hide your eyes!) Although it's only an hour long, Goodman says "Time Zones" "densely packs storylines on top of each other, some with intriguing twists, others hinting at the possibility of new directions, change, dread, weirdness and reinvention."
Obviously one episode -- and that’s all AMC sent to critics -- can't tell the story of the entire season, but evaluated merely as one episode competing against all the previous episodes in the series, this one is pretty spectacular. As Weiner begins the last 14 episodes (seven this spring, seven more starting in spring 2015), he begins with an hour that at once gives us the vestiges of the "Mad Men" we were first introduced to, set as the calendar rolled over into 1960, and what might actually become of the people we met so long ago as a storied, complicated decade has its last gasp.
His counterpart at Variety, Brian Lowry, is not so impressed. We've been here before, he suggests, and diminishing returns have set in.
That’s not to say the premiere is without pleasing moments, from Joan (Christina Hendricks) and her various challenges at work as she assumes greater responsibility to Roger (John Slattery), who, not surprisingly, has embraced the sexual revolution with all the gusto he brought to chasing secretaries around the office. Yet for a series that has been so good for so long, the beginning of this final leg finds “Mad Men” looking a touch past its prime -- a judgment subject to revision, naturally, once we can see the rest of the elephant.
Ben Travers, Indiewire
Don has been on a journey of self-discovery that's never provided him the answers he craves since we first met him sitting in a bar scribbling ideas on a napkin. At one point in the season premiere, in a conversation between Don and a surprise guest star during the episode's most telling scene, Don poses the question, "Have I broken the vessel?" After last year's split between viewers sick of Don's debasing decisions and those still craving more from the quietest salesman in New York, half the audience is probably rolling their eyes while the other half can't wait to hear the next line. No matter which camp you fall into, prepare yourself for more of what you saw last season, at least in the season premiere.
Jeff Jensen, Entertainment Weekly
One of the most artful aspects of the premiere is how it gives meaningful moments to so many supporting characters -- Pete (Vincent Kartheiser), Joan (Christina Hendricks), and Ken (Aaron Staton) -- while remaining largely about Don. He continues to sweat his significance, but he's trying to figure out how to make real change out of last season's sobering, liberating meltdown. He sees with clear eyes and accepts that he's broken, yet he's still at a loss as to how to fix himself. Like his late friend Lane, he's stuck in the in-between of here and there, yesterday and tomorrow, lost and found. You wonder if the answer he seeks is to abandon such binary thinking and cultivate grace for his present-tense self. Wherever Don's headed on this final flight of "Mad Men," the ride promises to be exhilarating.