Mad Men S1E3: “Marriage of Figaro”

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

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 give the masterpieces more impact. It’s an old-school television approach, akin to establishing the run to set up the passing game.

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 slow-paced duo of “Ladies Room” and “Marriage of Figaro” coming at this early juncture 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 become known for these types of episodes, that status has yet to be earned.

“Marriage of Figaro” operates within a bifurcated structure, the first half taking place at the office, and the second at young Sally Draper’s birthday party. Director Ed Bianchi combines both elements in a distinct, dreamlike manner, as if the entire day is slowly floating past. 

At work, Don seduces the agency’s newest client, department store owner Rachel Menken, but the two aren’t able to follow through after Don reveals he’s married. At home, he gets drunk at his daughter’s birthday party and comes back hours later with an apology puppy.

Watching Don drift aimlessly through life is compelling television. It doesn’t matter if he’s shopping for cufflinks or drinking a beer; he’s that charismatic. Unfortunately, whenever he steps away, the resulting storyline can be quite boring. The other characters simply aren’t ready for the spotlight.

The most intriguing scene of the episode is right at the beginning, when a stranger on the train recognizes Don as someone named Dick Whitman. He references fighting in Korea together. For the first time, Mad Men is raising questions: What’s the deal with Don’s past? Who is Dick Whitman? Unfortunately, this is the only time it’s addressed.

The rest of “Marriage of Figaro” settles into a workaday groove. Pete Campbell returns from his honeymoon, and a newly-divorced single-mother moves in down the street from the Draper residence. Lots of office gossip, coupled with suburban housewife gossip. A dreadful pairing.

These types of humdrum Mad Men episodes will be executed with much more precision and passion once the show gets rolling. Luckily, the energy will pick up now that these early placeholders are out of the way.

Mergers & Acquisitions
  • The biggest theme established so far 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. Betty is at a loss for words. Vinton was also famous for his cover of “Blue Velvet.”
  • Excerpts from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s 1786 opera, “The Marriage of Figaro,” play in the background as Don videotapes the party-guests. The melancholic effect is reminiscent of Raging Bull, and it prompts Don to run away. He spends the evening drinking in his car, watching the train tracks (as seen in the featured image).
  • I want the Chinamen out of the building by lunchtime.
  • Draper? Who knows anything about that guy. No one’s ever lifted that rock. He could be Batman for all we know.

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