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the recap recap

The Best of This Week’s Mad Men Season 7 Premiere Recaps

The first half of the seventh and final season (got it?) of Mad Men aired on Sunday — albeit to disappointing numbers — with an episode that overlapped the story lines of four of its primary characters: Peggy Olson, Joan Holloway, Roger Sterling, and Don Draper. As Matt Zoller Seitz recounted in his recap, the episode is “about the gap between fantasy and reality, and the ache that we feel as we stare into it.” If the premiere is any indication, we are in for some heavy-duty ennui. Here is your recap of the recaps:

While many have already proclaimed this a classic episode of “Mad Men,” it’s hard not to feel that the show is making the same fake progress as its characters. Each season is starting to resemble an animated cartoon where the same landscape rolls by over and over again. We’ve seen a lot of these story lines before, and the writers are going to have to work hard to make this round of searching for utopia feel fresh to us. —Salon

The show’s strength is still the way it relishes lingering and withholding, pausing and fetishizing, forcing the audience to gaze at endlessly interpretable images, like that final one of Don caught in the prison bars of his own broken sliding door. Yet, for all its languorous pacing, it’s surprisingly hard to predict. —The New Yorker

Peggy’s coldness is a bluff, and when she curses out a tenant’s son or collapses to the floor in exhaustion, it’s obvious that what she really needs is love and affection. Most of her male coworkers have always had wives and/or other women to feed and comfort them when they get home from work. Without a shoulder to hang on for support, be it Abe’s or Ted’s or someone else like Stan’s, Peggy is forced back into being self-reliant to a fault. It’s tolerable, but it’ll never feel cozy. What she really needs is that cat! What happened to her cat? Maybe ask Llewyn Davis to look? —Grantland

Hi there. Tonight, the role of Don Draper will be played by... me. Good ol' recovering drunk and reformed pants-wetter Freddy Rumsen. Only in a few minutes you'll see that the role of Don is now being played by cuddly old man Lou Avery, and that Pete will now be played by one-eyed Ken, and Joan will somehow filling Ken's shoes, and Roger will be hosting a non-stop orgy in his apartment, and Pete will have gone completely native in LA while the actual Don Draper won't fit in on either coast. And the only constant will be Peggy Olson catching grief from decisions made by all the men in her life, past and present. —HitFix

Don is in a cool dude montage: leaving an airport, looking level 1 Don Draper handsome as the Spencer Davis Group’s “I’m a Man” surges on the soundtrack, organ blaring and British beat sounding cool. Megan’s all leg and a baby blue minidress (baby blue: Betty’s color!) in a sweet little curbside convertible, ready to drive him back to her place in the canyon. They are in California, as promised last season. California, the place of endless potential rebirth for Don Draper and Mad Men, the land that beckons any weary New Yorker with promises of sun and a laid-back attitude. —Flavorwire

The Cyrano storyline proves just how committed—addicted, one might say—Don is to deception. The last moments of season six, when he took his children to the whorehouse where he grew up, seemed to imply that Don was accepting the scars of his past. Not so. Not only is he perpetuating a grand lie with Freddie, but Megan, who is out becoming a TV star in Los Angeles, seems to believe he still has a job, asking whether she can drop him at the office. Don nearly allows himself to open up to the airplane passenger played by Neve Campbell. He says of Megan: "She doesn't know that much, but she knows." Still, he pulls himself away from Campbell's mysterious woman, explaining that he has to go back to work. —The Wire

In season 3, when Don suggests a p.r. pitch for the razing of New York’s old Penn Station (a move later remembered as an architectural atrocity), he mentions that he’s recently been to California, where everything is “clean” and “new.” It’s a golden wrecking ball, clearing out old hierarchies and orders. It’s the future. It’s like Death in a Tarot deck–it represents change, which could mean a second chance for some characters and an ending for others. —Time

With all due respect to the colorful array of characters that populate the Mad Men universe, let's hope that creator Matthew Weiner's intention to turn the focus back on the core personalities of the show means, as the end of the premiere suggested, that this is now the story of Don Draper and Peggy Olson. Yes, Don is the last person we see, staring into oblivion, but "You Keep Me Hangin' On" begins with Peggy's breakdown on her floor. —Rolling Stone

We know that the show's seventh and final season will be about rising up out of the depths. The question before us: Just how painful can purgatory be, especially when there's no booze to numb it? —Ad Age

The tone of the premiere was overwhelmingly bleak, perhaps because Matthew Weiner, the show’s creator, seems to adhere to a kind of Spanx vision of both psychology and history: Over and over, the culture and his characters stretch and push at limits, before snapping right back into place. —New York Times

Success has always been within Don Draper’s reach. The question is whether he can overcome his flaws to hold on to it. We perhaps need to rank the large, bold arc of Don Draper’s character with the classic figures of dramatic tragedy; and we need to watch –terrified, perhaps–as his story plays itself out. Don Draper needs to re-enter of his own story. —The Wall Street Journal

Creator Matthew Weiner has said that he wants to explore the interplay between “the material world and the immaterial world” in the series’ final season, and he is clearly laying the groundwork. It’s January 1969, and having weathered the horrors of 1968, Don, Peggy, Roger et al are, materially speaking, just fine. It’s the spiritual side where things are not so much ragged as torn and frayed beyond repair. —Los Angeles Times

Peggy continues to be cursed by caring too much. For Peggy and Don advertising is not crass. The two of them, with their hidden pasts and reconstructed presents, are their own best work. They believe in the art of the sell, in the power of the fantasy in a zealous, personal way: It's fundamental to their very beings. —Slate

Neve Campbell’s character, Lee, delivers one of the most interesting lines of the evening. In an episode involving both Peggy and Joan battling against the patriarchy in the workplace, Lee drops this jewel: “You can blame Madison Avenue for that,” she tells Don after he wonders why he always expects a beautiful woman to sit next to him on his flights. It’s important that it’s a woman who calls bullshit on the sexist dream created by these mad men, the dream that you will be seated next to a gorgeous lady while traveling. —Complex

Airplanes have circled Mad Men for six seasons now. We’ve seen Don’s face repeatedly meeting with the, once liberating, California sun or Betty en route to her Reno divorce. Pete’s dad dies in a plane crash in Jamaica Bay. Last season, Ted Choaugh gives Don a rough chop into submission by taking him through some routine turbulence in a tiny private jet. And the advertisements for this new season have all placed our favorite characters in the terminals, curbside pick-up areas, and aisle seats of an airport. Travel and escape are themes of the show, but the airplane itself is a kind of sacred space, as representative of death as it is of re-birth. But it hasn’t yet been a space to be explored materially like the others. —L.A. Review of Books