Mad Men S1E4: “Three Sundays”

“Church Is for Sinners”

By Colin Hart

8.5 / 10

Don and Betty Draper are two of the worst TV parents of all time. Why, you ask? Well, it’s just more interesting that way. If Betty wasn’t so mean to little Sally and Bobby, if she didn’t treat them with such stern contempt, then we’d feel too much sympathy for her character. Betty certainly deserves better, but that doesn’t mean she’s a good mother to her children.

In fact, she’s an even worse parent than Don, which allows us to look past some of his transgressions. Sure, he has sex with Bobbie Barrett in his office, but at least he shows a genuine love and affection for his kids, which is more than what can be said about Betty. She resents how he gets to come home and play the good guy, while she’s forced to play the role of stay-at-home authoritarian.

Still, Don’s lack of accountability is becoming a bad influence, particularly for Bobby. Yet once again, his charisma — and Betty’s overall ineptitude — allows us to look past his inherent character flaws.



“Three Sundays” isn’t entirely focused on bad parenting, but that’s the biggest takeaway. Betty feels that the kids could use a good spanking, but Don will have no such thing. Their argument culminates in a heated shoving match, which suggests that their already rocky marriage is about to get even uglier.

Elsewhere, one-time parent Peggy Olson is having a crisis of faith over the abandonment of her own child. She starts attending weekly Mass with her mother and sister, and befriends a young priest at church. This sparks intense jealousy in Anita, her sister, who confesses to Father Gill that Peggy had a baby out of wedlock (with a married man, no less). For Peggy, it’s another damning indication that she’ll never outrun her past — something that Don knows only too well.

Roger Sterling, on the other hand, is trying to recapture past glories. He has a loving wife, Mona, and his daughter, Margaret, is soon-to-be wed, but that doesn’t stop Roger from seeking out call girls for midafternoon trysts.

When Sterling Cooper is unable to land the American Airlines account, Roger doesn’t seem to mind. “Don’t you love the chase?” he asks. He’s not talking about advertising.



One of Mad Men’s greatest strengths is its ability to obfuscate the passage of time. Every episode moves at a stately, dreamlike pace, thus giving the show a sense of permanence despite being tied down to a specific era.

“Three Sundays” makes a point to emphasize that these events take place over the course of, well, three Sundays. It leaves an unfortunate timestamp on the proceedings — wait a minute, that took three weeks? Usually, a “nothing happens” episode is much more elegant when the days are all blurred into one.

In spite of that, “Three Sundays” does a good job in telling very distinct stories that all touch on Mad Men’s core themes — nostalgia, resentment and the alluring illusion of spiritual rebirth.

Mergers and Acquistions

  • This is the first episode that Mad Men touches on religion. Throughout the series, however, the characters never seem too concerned about God or any form of religious higher power. Peggy attends weekly Mass with her family, but it seems she only does so because that’s how she was raised. Her immense Catholic guilt isn’t a personal choice; it’s inherited.
  • Sterling Cooper exhaustively prepares for the American Airlines meeting — they even come to work on Palm Sunday — only to realize their client contact has been fired, essentially destroying any chance of landing the account. We don’t get to see their presentation, only the disappointment afterwards.
  • When Don is called into work, he’s forced to bring Sally with him. She spends the day commenting on Joan Holloway’s huge breasts, asking Paul Kinsey about sex and stealing a glass of whiskey when no one’s looking.
  • Don shares a touching scene with Bobby, in which he shares some information about his late father. He also makes amends with Betty when he tells her how his father used to severely beat him when he was a child. Together, these two scenes are probably the best of the episode. They fill in some more holes in Don’s past, and also explain his relationship toward his children.
  • However, we need to have a serious discussion about Bobby Draper. Is he the worst character in TV history? Maybe. He breaks the stereo, lies about it, burns his tongue on a frying pan and, worst of all, can’t act for shit. He was already recast midway through season one, but it hasn’t made much of a difference in season two. No wonder Betty gets so annoyed by him. Whenever another character speaks to Bobby — including the aforementioned touching scene with Don — they might as well be talking to themselves.
  • After having sex with the call girl, Roger invites her to grab dinner at Lutèce.
  • The episode ends on Easter Sunday, 1961.
  • “Three Sundays” was written by Andre & Maria Jacquemetton, and directed by Tim Hunter.

Sloganeering

  • “You think you’d be the man you are today if your father didn’t hit you?”
  • “The prices may have changed, but the menu’s still the same.”
  • “Old business is just old business.”
  • “My father beat the hell out of me. All it did was make me fantasize about the day I could murder him.”

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