Mad Men S1E3: “Marriage of Figaro”

Directed by Ed Bianchi | Written by Tom Palmer | 43 min

Prestige Birthday Parties

By Colin Hart 

8.4 / 10

Mad Men is one of the only Great Shows that isn’t afraid to dish out a lower-tier episode every now and then. It’s a useful strategy, actually — staggering the clunkers to make the well-rounded episodes more impactful. It’s like establishing the run so you can uncork the deep ball. Who cares if you only gain three yards on first down if you throw for 40 two plays later?

For all of Mad Men’s apparent pretensions, the show will sometimes strive to be nothing more than perfectly average, which is quite an endearing quality.

However, the duo of “Ladies Room” and “Marriage of Figaro” coming at this early stage in the series might cause some initial apprehension. Much like its predecessor, this is another episode where nothing much happens. And even though Mad Men will eventually stake its reputation on making masterpieces out of inconsequentialities, its status has yet to be earned.

“Marriage of Figaro” operates with a bifurcated structure, the first half concerning itself with the Sterling Cooper office and the second taking place at young Sally Draper’s birthday party. Most of the enjoyment from the pilot came from watching Don dominate his job as an advertising executive. On the contrary, the second episode felt dragged down by the focus on domestic life. Combining the two elements in such a distinct way creates a dreamlike quality, as if the entire day is slowly floating past.

Don seduces Sterling Cooper’s new client, Rachel Menken, but the two aren’t able to follow through after Don reveals he’s married. Despite this melodramatic romance being no different than the hundreds of others seen on TV, Don’s impressive charisma makes everything he does onscreen worth watching.

Actor Jon Hamm has turned Don Draper into the most interesting man in the world. For instance, preparing for his daughter’s birthday party shows him to be a beer-drinkin’, T-shirt-wearin’ everyman. But skipping the celebration and coming home piss-drunk with an apology puppy makes him an early candidate for Worst Dad of the Year.

The most intriguing scene of the episode is right at the beginning, when a stranger on the morning train seems to recognize Don as someone named Dick Whitman. For the first time, Mad Men is raising questions: What’s the deal with Don’s past? Who is Dick Whitman? 

Yet the rest of the episode focuses on low-interest stakes, like Pete Campbell’s return from his honeymoon, or the newly-divorced single-mother who has moved in down the street. These things simply aren’t that compelling: Pete is a babyfaced baboon’s ass, and the gossip of suburban housewives isn’t even interesting to suburban housewives.

This type of humdrum Mad Men episode will be executed with much more precision once the show gets going. Nevertheless, “Marriage of Figaro” is one of the least memorable in the show’s entire run. Luckily, the energy will pick up now that these placeholders are out of the way.

Mergers & Acquisitions
  • The biggest theme established is Don’s increasing world-weariness. Here’s a man who seemingly has it all but doesn’t know what he wants. Comparable to David Chase and The Sopranos, creator Matthew Weiner wants his Mad Men audience to ask, “Is Don a good person?” And, even more significant: “Can Don change?”
  • Bobby Vinton’s rendition of “P.S. I Love You” closes the episode. Quite a poignant moment with this song playing as Don slumps on the floor drunk while Betty is at a loss for words. Vinton was also famous for his cover of “Blue Velvet.”
  • Draper? Who knows anything about that guy. No one’s ever lifted that rock. He could be Batman for all we know.
  • I want the Chinamen out of the building by lunchtime.

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