Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Mad Men Season 1, Episode 3: Marriage of Figaro

The "Marriage of Figaro" is the name of a comedic opera written by Mozart in the late Eighteen Century (about ten years after we Americans launched our revolution against British rule and just a couple years before the French people declared their own revolution).  Why this title?  The four-act opera is about love and lust, cheating and faithfulness, class distinctions and relative power, but also about mystery and intrigue - hiding one's identity and then revealing the truth. Before the episode is over, we should have an ample supply of all of those things. 

The episode begins jarringly with a chummy, chubby man on a train approaching the dapper Don Draper, convinced he is some other man he used to know - Richard Whitman, from Ft. Sill (a US Army post outside of Oklahoma City).  The gregarious Larry muses over old times and engages in some quick catching up with his old pal "Dick."  Don doesn't correct him on a mistake, rather he shares in the old memories and promises to keep in touch.  He did blink a bit excessively and look over his shoulder repeatedly during their brief, odd exchange, but other than that, Don maintained his composure remarkably well during what looks like a case of mistaken identity.

Pete Campbell gets quite the welcome back from the office upon returning from his honeymoon, which confuses us as much as him until he opens the door to his office and sees the surprise waiting for him.  "Who put the Chinamen in my office?" he asks as he backs into the hall and quickly shuts the door behind him.  Everyone (except for his secretary, Hildy) laughs at the prank and goes back to business.  Peggy greets Don with news of the hijinks, "They paid an Oriental family to be in Mr. Campbell's office," which allows Don to retort, "Someone will finally be working in there." 

But Don isn't being funny so much as denigrating as we can tell from his sour demeanor in the office meeting with Paul, Ken and Sal to discuss the Secor Laxative account.  Sal suggests they use humor, a la the VW bug advertisement that Don was looking at on the train.  But Don hates the ad and hated their ad last year, "Think Small" - a half page ad on a full page.  So does Roger, but Pete likes the approach.  And even Don, who hates it, recognizes that they are talking about it and it must be having some effect. The meeting goes nowhere, after highlighting the divide between the old way of thinking about advertising and this new school that Pete and Sal seem to appreciate.  Kudos to Pete, in particular, for standing up for what he believes in.  A mid-level exec with his eyes on ascension is usually more of a sycophantic toady rather than an independent thinker.

I found the parallels between Pete's awkward reunion with Peggy and his with Don to be notable.  She is all smiles upon seeing Pete approach her desk, but he quickly lets her know that things have changed now that he's a married man.  She goes from beaming happiness at his return to quiet sadness in a matter of seconds.  She understands the rules, what happened between them never happened.  Conversely, when Pete is alone with Don, he's expecting a warm reception and leads the way, letting Don know that he missed him (oh how Peggy would have loved to hear that).  But Don cuts him down with a withering, "then it must not have been much of a honeymoon," before sensing Pete's hurt and offering Pete a sliver of the camaraderie he so dearly craves from Don. 

The girls of the office are tittering about Lady Chatterley's Lover, the then-scandalous D.H. Lawrence novel of love and sex between a taciturn working class married man and an upper class married woman.  Joan is returning the book, which she much enjoyed, but poo-poos the idea of letting Peggy the demure one read it, thinking it would be too shocking for her.  What with its tale of wild sexual escapades between a man and woman married to others, it's clearly not suited for someone as prim as Peggy Olson, according to Joan. Oh, Joan, aren't you familiar with the saying "Still waters run deep?" There's more to Peggy than meets the eye! 

Speaking of sexual attraction between an unmarried couple, the office meeting with Rachel Menken over recent research on her competitors is giving off a lot of heat between the client and Don, which does not go unnoticed by Pete. The pheromones sent out between them are so heavy it's surprising they didn't create their own weather pattern. The presentation seems to be going quite well, it's detailed and thorough.  Only...the suggestions made by the researcher, Mr. Pelham, reflect things her store already offers.  Turns out, none of the men in the meeting took the time to actually visit Menken's Department store, so busy were they in scoping out the competition.  Now, they didn't come straight out and admit that.  Ken and Harry tried to pretend they had been to her store, but Don quickly recognized that this approach was failing.  So he in effect admitted their mistake, apologized for the oversight and promised to correct it that afternoon.

Harry Crane also noticed the looks between Don and Rachel, but he's not as troubled by the flirting as Pete is. The way Harry looks at it, when you're married, there's nothing wrong with a little flirting.  Pete agrees that a married man can have fun in this limited way, but he always thought Don wouldn't take it any farther.  Watching the looks that passed between them in their brief moments together, he's now not so sure.  But newly-married Pete, like Harry, is still marveling at the wonders of married life, just the fact that there will be dinner waiting for him when he comes home.  It couldn't possibly get any better than that.  As he leaves for the evening, he readily turns down an invite to join the group after work.  Yet he takes the time to tell Peggy that she looks nice.  Well, Harry did say that there are some things that a married man can still do.

Don's visit to Menken's Department Store nets him a new set of cufflinks - medieval knights - and a tour of some of Rachel's favorite parts of the store, especially the rooftop where the security dogs are kept.  These dogs, and their younger incarnations, gave Rachel some of her happiest moments growing up and she wanted to share that with Don.  She tells him about her childhood and as she bares her soul to him, he kisses her.  But then he utters those two words that you really don't want to hear after your first kiss.  "I'm married."  Don doesn't wear a ring, so Rachel had hoped this meant he was single, but she never asked because she was worried about the answer.  And now she knows.  She doesn't want to be the other woman (little does she know she'd be the other, other woman) and so she leaves in a hurry and asks that someone else be put on the account.

Don looks upset as he sits on the train heading home.  But is he feeling guilty and, if so, over leading Rachel on, or because he wanted her to be okay with his being married?  Does he realize what a pathetic jerk he is?  He can't even be faithful to his mistress!

The next morning, it's all unicorns and rainbows as the Drapers get ready for little Sally's birthday party.  Don looks decidedly un-Draper-like, wearing just a t-shirt and khakis.  He's quite the hunky specimen, as Francine notes (love when she asks Don if he'd like company in the shower).  He's building Sally's playhouse, but seems to require a six-pack of beer to get through the job.

The party starts and Don could not possible look any more uncomfortable in his own house.  When Francine's husband, Carlton, asks rhetorically how "Mad Ave" is treating Don and remarks that they must be taking good care of him, marveling "We got it all," Don looks at him with thinly veiled disgust and responds, clearly mockingly, with "Yep, this is it." Yet Carlton is as clueless as the husbands were when one of them told the "who do you save, your lawyer or your wife" joke in front of all the not-amused wives.

This little piece of 1960 domestication is straight out of a time capsule, with the discussion of the polio vaccine and boys playing with BB guns.  So when Helen Bishop shows up in slacks (!), it's really noticeable how different she looks from the married ladies.  The husbands look at her like she's a rare steak and they haven't eaten for a week.  Betty gives Don his orders - get the cake, don't forget - like you always do - to take movies at the party. It seems that neither the husbands nor wives are happy with their respective partners, but they all play the game.

The men might be obsessed with the new divorcĂ©e and her sex life, but the women are just obsessed with her upsetting the apple cart of their domestic suburbia with her differences.  She goes for walks, "swinging her hips" it is noted, around the neighborhood.  It unnerves them, where is she walking to?  They don't understand her; she might as well be from Venus.

Don has his camera out and he shoots a cute moment of the kids running around, with Sally waving to her daddy.  He also catches the tail end of an awkward exchange between Helen Bishop and Carlton, when she takes his offer to help with her son Glenn as what it likely was, an invitation for an affair.  She's been down this path before and puts Carlton in his place very firmly.  Don also espies another couple, this one happy together, their tender, loving moment standing out in stark contrast to everyone else's lives of quiet desperation, and this gives him pause.  It's as if he's seeing what's could be real, but for him is just an act.  The whole day has felt like that.  Assemble the big present, welcome the guests, make small talk, take the movie, get the cake.  He's sleep walking through the role of husband, neighbor, father.

He drinks some more while in the backyard, listening to the kids playacting their version of married life.  It's not a pretty scene, the backbiting and sniping, the petty grievances.  This is the most depressing view of married life since Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf.  Inside, the women are still cattily discussing Helen, though Betty tries to stick up for her, saying it must be hard working with two children. Outside, Don is briefly joined by Helen, who seems to feel a little of what Don's feeling, but soon Betty observes her husband outside with that woman, and whatever sympathy she felt for Helen disappears.  She quickly breaks up their chat, sniping at her husband to get the cake.  Let me step out of narration to mention what a bang up job Jon Hamm does in displaying Don's exhaustion and resignation in this moment.

Don has the cake in the passenger seat of his car and returns home, only he doesn't pull in to the driveway.  He slows down, then just drives off.  Yes, Don ditches his daughter's birthday party and takes the cake.  For someone who's already shown himself to be a serial philanderer, he has now sunk to a new low.  Helen rescues the party from total collapse with her frozen Sara Lee cake and those who are still at the party do their best to sing a jolly birthday wish for Sally (producers didn't spring for the cost of the official Happy Birthday song - Mad Men had a small budget first season!).

Night comes and Don is still in his car, alone, in front of the train tracks, staring as a train passes in front of him.  Back at home, Betty is cleaning up - and her hands are back to shaking - when at last Don makes his return.  We hear a dog bark and Sally squeal in delight.  Daddy is home and he brought her a doggy and as excited as Sally is, that's just how angry Betty is. Not only did he neglect his responsibility, go AWOL for the afternoon, and leave her to deal with the repercussions, but he comes back the hero with a dog they didn't even talk about ahead of time. 


When we first saw Don, he was looking at a full page ad for a fairly new product, the VW bug.

It was a bold ad for a bold innovation in cars.  Not just for the small size and unique styling, but for the fact that we'd just wrapped up a war against Nazi Germany not 15 years earlier, and now they wanted to sell us cars built in a Wolfsburg plant originally built by the Nazis.  It was a new approach for advertising, using humor and the product's apparent weaknesses and turning them into strengths.  The Bernbach that Roger refers to was William Bernbach, the creative mind behind this ad. He also came up with the "We Try Harder" slogan for Avis and the "Mikey" commercials for Life cereal.

Francine's anti-Semitic comments about feeling "uncomfortable" during Spring Break in Boca Raton harkens back to Don's "not on my watch" comment about whether they've ever hired a Jew.  Francine did not feel comfortable around those people, and Roger noted to Don that they didn't have any Jewish admen because they felt more comfortable working with other Jews.  Kudos to Betty for chastising, if only mildly, Francine for her "big nose" comment.  

Was anyone else surprised to learn that Betty graduated from Bryn Mawr, one of the prestigious and rigorous Seven Sisters Colleges?  And that she traveled abroad, circa 1954 (around the time of the movie Three Coins in a Fountain).  Neither of those things were common at all for young women in the 50s and gives us a little insight into Betty, that there may be more to her than the nervous Suzy Homemaker we've met. 


Paul: Here comes Romeo without his roe.  Like a dried herring.

Roger: I want the Chinamen out of the building by lunch.
Don: I'm still waiting on my shirts.

Peggy: I understand.  It never happened.

Don:  I was raised that men don't wear jewelry. 

Roger:  I'll tell you what brilliance in advertising is - 99 cents.  Somebody thought of that. 

Pete:  I missed you. 
Don: Then it must not've been much of a honeymoon.  

Rachel:  it's hard to get caught in a lie. Don: It wasn't a lie.  It was ineptitude with insufficient cover.

Harry:  Draper?  Who knows anything about that guy.  No one's ever lifted that rock.  He could be Batman for all we know.

Don: Don't try to convince me that you were ever unloved.

Rachel:  What do you do, just kiss women all the time? Women you aren't married to?

WHORE COUNT: 0 (2 total)
Though Peggy is warned not to read LCL on the train, lest men get the wrong idea.

SUICIDE COUNT: 0 (1 total)


Lack of subtlety: Pregnant Francine drinking mint juleps.
Lack of subtlety runner up:  Father smacking someone else's kid in the face.

Oh, things were so quaint back then:  Betty only made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the kids because everyone eats that.  These days, we're so fearful of allergies, no one would think of having peanut butter within five miles of a kids' birthday party.   Lady Chatterley's Lover was scandalous, to be passed around in secret.  These days you see 50 Shades of Gray in nearly every woman's hands.

Spoiler-y observations (don't read unless you're caught up)

Carlton says to Don, we've got it all and Don replies, yep, this is it.  But both men are lying.  They're not satisfied and are cheating on their wives, looking for that something more that will make their lives better. 

First introduction to Glen Bishop who stays connected to the Draper family for years. Also first time we see Allison who later becomes Don's secretary until Ep. 4.04. 

Rachel tells Don the family store originally sold hosiery.  In Season 7 when the agency is coming up with new ideas for selling Topaz pantyhose, he thinks of reaching out to Menken's Department store.  He dreams about Rachel and then finds out that she recently died. 

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