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Criticwire TV: ‘Top of the Lake’ concludes, ‘Mad Men’ Bounces Back, and ‘Game of Thrones’ Holds Strong

Criticwire TV: 'Top of the Lake' concludes, 'Mad Men' Bounces Back, and 'Game of Thrones' Holds Strong

Jane Campion’s Sundance mini-series “Top of the Lake” aired its final installment last week, and Beth Hanna of Thompson On Hollywood argued that it ended on “a beautiful note,” making use of mise-en-scene to enhance (and foreshadow) the narrative, while Alan Sepinwall wrote for HitFix that the ambiguity “doesn’t feel like a cheat.” For the majority of critics writing about the show, the finale was an immensely satisfying conclusion.

Beth Hanna, Thompson On Hollywood:

“Certain episodes of television stand out not only within the course of a series, but within the course of a year. In 2012, it was the eleventh episode of ‘Mad Men,’ titled ‘The Other Women.’ This year, the finale of ‘Top of the Lake’ achieves that same skin-tingling, harshly heartbreaking, core-shaking status.”

The biggest question, however, might be one that exists outside of the show:

David Thomson, The New Republic:

“In two hours there must have been half-a-dozen chances to get ‘a first look’ at the forthcoming Rectify. If that is the only way Sundance can survive, it may deserve to be doomed. And maybe that conclusion can be applied to the entirety of ‘Top of the Lake’: Is it really worth making a show as ambitious as this if its best hope of being seen is the chopping block called Sundance?”

Whatever the answer to that question is, viewers are sad to see it go, and now that it’s streaming on Netflix Instant, it will probably pick up many more supporters who are happy to see ambitious TV regardless of the medium. That said, it’s a question worth asking: Was it better for “Top of the Lake” to unfold in episodic installments on Sundance if it is already on Netflix? Could it have gone the “House of Cards” route and given viewers the uninterrupted, all-at-once treat, and would that have been better for it? It’s hard to say, but as Netflix (and Amazon) continue to put effort into original programming, it’s not a question that will be going away anytime soon.

Also gone but not forgotten: “Central Park Five,” the recent Ken Burns retrospective on Trisha Meili that aired on PBS last Tuesday. Meili was gruesomely raped in 1989, and five innocent boys were jailed for the crime, served between seven and 13 years later, and were then proven innocent when the real rapist confessed after being arrested for another rape.”Central Park Five” is an intimate look at justice, focusing largely on the long, intimidating interrogations that led to false confessions and a law that allowed 14- and 15-year olds as adults if they were alongside a 16-year old. The Huffington Post called it a “must watch” doc and Austin Chronicle called it a “heartrending and compelling tale.”

Next: “Game of Thrones” delivers again. Of course.Meanwhile, “Game of Thrones” delivers again. By most accounts, “Walk of Punishment” was a great episode of “Game of Thrones,” though some critics took a few issues with gratuitous nudity. With the fourth episode, “And Now His Watch Is Ended,” praise is unanimous beyond the big storyline, which focused on Dany with this episode. The big, sprawling plot is certainly an apt starting point, however, as critics are singing high praise.

David Chute, Thompson On Hollywood:

“This episode is a Daenerys Stormborn special, easily the most satisfying since the Season One finale.”

Nathan Campeau, Having Said That:

“Last week’s ending was nothing compared to what we witnessed this week and somehow, when it seemed impossible, Daenerys Stormborn became even more of a badass than she already was…This was by far the most exciting ending of season and I would say easily one of the best endings this show has ever given us.”

Alan Sepinwall, HitFix:

“But it’s Dany’s absolute victory in Astapor that’s the episode’s masterpiece, and its best example of how the show’s deliberate, fragmented storytelling can pay off so beautifully at times…And that’s why I watch ‘Game of Thrones,’ and why I ultimately forgive it for the parts that drag, or the parts that are too fragmented to make any impression at all. Because every now and then, a moment comes where my patience, and the show’s patience, pays off as majestically as it did here.”

Critics are also continuing to see the underdog theme manifest itself in different ways, with TV.com’s Tim Surette noticing a formal parallel.

Tim Surette, TV.com:

“‘Game of Thrones’ has mastered alternating between the grandiose and the intimate, telling interweaving compelling smaller stories that affect the slowly moving larger picture, and vice versa.”

Surette goes on to say that it makes sense for such a grandiose show to finds its footing, but that “Game of Thrones” has done so, and that “I think I’m ready to sign and wax-stamp the official document declaring ‘Game of Thrones” third season the best of the series so far, a mere four episodes in.” He also noticed a theme running through the episode of cruelty and evil, a sentiment that many others echoed.

Tim Surette, TV.com:

“‘And Now His Watch Is Ended’ also had a rare consistent theme running through it, and it bluntly stated that no matter how bad you are, there is always someone worse out there.”

Josh Hackson, Paste Magazine:

“From the camera’s first glimpse of Jaime Lannister’s cut-off hand, vengeance and cruelty dominate the stories of ‘And Now His Watch Has Ended.'”

Alan Sepinwall, HitFix:

“Throughout the episode, we see characters waiting for the perfect opportunity to spring their revenge.”

This theme was noticed especially in Theon’s storyline, who is led back to the torture room by his presumed savior. The betrayal is a plot point that is confusing but still captivated critics, who saw no motivation for the move. At the same time, at only four episodes into the season, there is plenty of time for explanations, and if the stories of Jaime and Dany the past two weeks are any indicator, answers could arrive in a shocking fashion at any moment.

Next: “Mad Men,” of course.

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.

Geoff Berkshire, Zap2It:

“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.”

Alison Willmore, Indiewire:

“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.”

Caitlin Hughes, Film School Rejects:

“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.

Caitlin Hughes, Film School Rejects:

“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.”

Alison Willmore, Indiewire:

“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:

Geoff Berkshire, Zap2It:

“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.”

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 #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:

Zac Oldenburg, Cinema Blend:

“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.

Sam Woolf, We Got This Covered:

“‘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.”

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