With “Mad Men” airing its second episode last Sunday, the psychologizing of Don Draper continues, although this week’s episode (“The Collaborators”) made that task a bit easier than usual — at least according to the consternation of some critics. A flashback of Don watching his widowed stepmother sleep with Mack (Morgan Rusler) has been interpreted in several reviews as an answer to Don’s business-like approach to relationships.
“But there’s more than affairs — or perhaps less — going on in ‘The Collaborators,'” writes Alan Sepinwall at Hitfix. “We get another flashback to Dick Whitman’s childhood relationship with prostitution — here finally explaining previous references he’s made to having been raised in a whorehouse.”
Maureen Ryan at The Huffington Post took issue the framing device. “At what point does Dick Whitman’s life story become so utterly filled with horror and tragedy that it tips into some kind of parody?” she wrote. “His life is like 50 country songs condensed into one long litany of rejection and pain.”
It’s understandable that some critics feel let down by what could be seen as an easy explanation for Don’s troubled psyche. But for a majority of those who reviewed Sunday’s episode, it was far from detrimental to the overall experience; many pointed out the irony of Don’s comment that “sometimes you gotta dance with the one that brung ya,” while others questioned his constantly shifting stance on prostitution. The flashback is just another piece of the puzzle, not the big picture.
Elsewhere, critics have united against Pete but reached a fork in the road with Peggy. Indiewire’s Alison Willmore condemned the character, stating that Peggy “betrayed Stan’s trust” and “didn’t require much finessing from Ted to let go of ethical reluctance on her end, still anxious to prove herself in terms of talent (though she’s not much of a manager).”
Conversely, Ryan wrote sympathetically of the charger, arguing that “her employees find her intimidating, and that’s sad and frustrating, because the problem is more their inferior work than her management style” and that the saddest thing would be for Peggy to think that their perception is reality, and for her to begin thinking that her lively mind and strong will limit her romantic possibilities.”
All in all, critics seemed to agree that this was a weak episode of “Mad Men,” with Willmore calling it “one of the series’ weaker installments” and New York Magazine’s Matt Zoller Seitz declaring it “one of my least favorites episodes of ‘Mad Men’ overall.” Notably, however, Seitz and Karmen Fox of the Baltimore Sun noticed themes of mortality running through the episode and echoed a prediction Willmore made last week.
Seitz wrote that “television characters never state opinions on abortion unless somebody on the show is going to consider having one,” and concluded that the episode foreshadowed coming events, while Karmen Fox of the Baltimore Sun commented on a continuation of death and suicide imagery from the season premiere, highlighting Raymond’s admission that he is on a “suicide mission” and Roger’s comment about “self-immolation.”
Next: Critics weigh in on the season premiere of “Veep,” the historical fantasy “Da Vinci’s Demons,” and the latest installment of “Game of Thrones.”
Over on HBO, “Veep” premiered to reviews praising the humor but criticizing characterization and depth.
Dustin Rowles, uproxx:
“‘Veep’ provides a refreshing change of pace, in that it doesn’t aspire to do anything more than make you laugh your ass off. You don’t need infographics to keep up with the characters, or an understanding of English literature to follow the themes.”
Kevin Jagernauth, The Playlist:
“At this point you’re either watching ‘Veep’ to keep up with the endless one liners, in order to cherish the handful that make it through and result in a good belly laugh…or you’re not. One complaint that we had following season one was that Armando Iannucci often put the gags in front of any kind of characterization, and he’s not changing his game plan with season two.”
Eric Deggans, Tampa Bay Times:
“News that Joe Biden called Dreyfus with congratulations on her Emmy win mostly shows the vice president knows his TV comedy. And ‘Veep”s second season continues the same sidesplitting style, presenting Meyer as a self-obsessed, perpetually disappointed politician with a knack for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.”
On rival network Starz, fans bid well to “Spartacus” but may want to welcome “Da Vinci’s Demons,” a historical fantasy written by David Goyer (who co-wrote Nolan’s Batman trilogy) that aims to rival the mythology of “Game of Thrones” as it depicts Leonardo Da Vinci’s “invention” of the future. Although Hilary Rothing wrote the pilot off as a “somewhat unimaginative play for the ‘Spartacus/Game of Thrones’ crowd, Joe Bendel gave the first half of the season a more positive “B” rating. He highlighted the same level of sex as Rothing, but also said that Tom Riley as Da Vinci grows on the viewer and the show itself picks up steam as it goes along.
But one must return to HBO for the big pleaser, as “Game of Thrones,” in addition to “finally hitting the gas this season,” included a major shocker that is drawing praise from critics. Alan Eyerly of the Los Angeles Times called it the episode’s “most dramatic sequence.” Others were in the same boat. The best swordsman in the Seven Kingdoms lost his title with the loss of his sword hand, a punishment for telling a lie that kept Brienne’s “honor unbesmirched,” but it looks like a win in storytelling.
David Chute, Thompson On Hollywood:
“It’s worth cutting off that hand, in other words, just to see how Jaime will fare without it, and how his perspective will shift, over the next few weeks. In storytelling terms, that’s more than enough to justify the act.”
Michael Hogan, Huffington Post:
“It might be a good thing that Jaime has lost his hand — it dims that smarmy, Bush-family-style aura of rich-boy entitlement that has made him so easy to hate. Maybe there’s hope for this fellow yet.”
Alan Sepinwall, HitFix:
“As it toggles back and forth between its various locales, ‘Game of Thrones’ also shifts between the stories of those in power (the Lannisters in particular) and those with no power at all. ‘Walk of Punishment’…largely focuses on characters scrambling to find a tenable position in situations where they seem to have little to no control over their fates.”
Alyssa Rosenberg, Think Progress:
“It’s an apt opening to an episode of the show that’s concerned with rituals and institutions, and that argues, often in dreadful ways, that Westeros’ best institutions and traditions are frequently doomed to failure or misinterpretation, while its worst are the ones to which people adhere most rigorously.”
Scott Meslow, The Week:
“Of course, people aren’t just numbers on paper, and it’s not always simple for the rulers to make the ruled behave…Westeros may be a land built on lineage and legacy, but violence is the great equalizer, and Starks and Lannisters bleed just as easily as the rest of Westeros.”
But it wasn’t all praise for “Walk of Punishment.” Many were quick to criticize the film’s explicit sexuality as having gone a bit too far this time.
“When Pod is offered his reward in the brothel the show runners seems to be addressing the horny 14-year-old-boy contingent in the audience,” Chute wrote for Thompson on Hollywood. “‘You’re grumbling that there hasn’t been enough nudity this season? Well how about this? And this. And this! That oughta hold you for a while.'”
At the Huffington Post, Hogan sounded a similar note. “I have no problem with gratuitous nudity,” he wrote, “but something about the brothel scenes on this show always takes me out of the story and gets me thinking about how awkward it must have been on set that day. And the contortionist really took that to a new level.”
As a whole, however, there’s a sense of admiration for how “Game of Thrones” has managed to weave its tale together even as show-runner David Benioff says that a whole narrative could be built around an entirely different set of characters. Everyone, it seems, remains on board with the episode’s big twist and its thematic drive.