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 throw the deep ball 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 be enough to freeze you out. 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, it has yet to be earned.

“Marriage of Figaro” operates with a bifurcated structure, the first half concerning itself with the 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 is still the most interesting man in the world, and so almost everything he does is worth watching.

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 in the show’s run, questions are being raised: What’s the deal with Don’s past? Who is Dick Whitman? The stakes are being raised ever so slightly. I mean, something is happening, kind of.

Yet the rest of the episode focuses on low interest, like Pete Campbell’s return from his honeymoon, or the newly-divorced single-mother moving in down the street. Pete remains a babyfaced baboon’s ass, sneering and brown-nosing his way through the office. And the gossip of suburban housewives is never interesting, even for suburban housewives.

This type of humdrum Mad Men episode is not a rare occurrence. 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 The Sopranos, creator Matthew Weiner wants his 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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