Mad Men: 5G (S01E05)

5GA small reminder: I’m making my way through all of Mad Men before the last episodes premiere next spring. The plan is to do two episodes a week, with reviews going up Mondays and Wednesdays, but the schedule might vary a little bit. 

“5G” , if not quite a great one, is a very important episode in the history of Mad Men. The first three episodes of the series seemed to be very interested in raising the question of  who stands behind the polished exterior of Don Draper. Up to this point we’ve gotten a number of abstract answers, getting somewhat of a glimpse at Don’s inner psyche. “5G”, however, presents us with a surprise, announcing that the question of “who really is Don Draper” could be answered in a far more literal way than we’d expected.

In true Mad Men fashion, though, the episode raises as many questions (if not more) as the ones it answered. The plot is a callback to the opening moments of “Marriage of Figaro“, in which a man recognizes Don on the train and starts calling him Dick. What we find out here is that Don is, in fact, Dick. Or he was, at least, until he changed his name to (apparently) escape his past. We learn all of this thanks to the arrival of one Adam Whitman (Jay Paulson), who sees a picture of Don in the newspaper and recognizes his long-lost brother. The introduction of Adam is one of the pivotal moments in the history of the show, and one of the most important moments in the show’s early characterization of Don. This development not only seems inspired by F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, but announces its intentions of being somewhat of a spiritual successor to that great novel. Although Mad Men is a period piece, it is in many ways trying to explore modern America in a similar way to which Gatsby explored the America of the 1920s.

Don Draper and Jay Gatsby have similar pasts, but they are not the same character. In fact, we still have a lot to learn about Don’s past, because “5G” doesn’t really get into the details of it. I remember I was truly perplexed by what I had seen the first time I saw the episode. I didn’t really have a critical opinion whether the episode was effective or not, because I could only wonder about what direction the show was going to take next. I must admit, though, that back in 2007, Don’s backstory ended up being one of my least favorite parts of the first season. Now that I have the power of hindsight I can see all the many wonderful things the show did with this storyline, and am very curious to see how I react to that aspect of the first season during this rewatch.

In the case of “5G”, I’ve come out not being a huge fan of the episode. Like I said above, it is undoubtedly a critical moment for the show’s plot going forward, and a lot of great moments in the show’s future come right out of what happens in this episode, but in my opinion, it just doesn’t work all that well as a unit of television. It seems more concerned with teasing us with glimpses at what Don’s backstory might be than with being the show Mad Men was evolving to become. It doesn’t help that Adam Whitman is a very lacking character. Jay Paulson plays him as well as he can, but there really isn’t very much to Adam beyond his excitement to have found his brother. At this point Adam is more the representation of a concept than an actual human being. He is a plot device, and that’s something about the character that has always bugged me.

That is really the main reason why I’m not a fan of “5G”, which always leaves me a little cold. The ending, in which Don denies his brother (and begins a long tradition of throwing money at his problems) doesn’t land quite in the way I think the writers were expecting. It is such a sudden development, and one motivated by such a clunky character, that it feels like something that we feel is and important moment because the show’s cues tell us it’s supposed to be an important moment, and not because we feel the moment’s importance.

Also in This Episode:
To counter-balance the bleakness of Don’s storyline, we get a couple of pretty funny developments in the office. First, Peggy gets her own private Three’s Company episode when a series of misunderstandings have her learning about Don’s extramarital relationship with Midge, and then trying to keep it all a secret when Betty suddenly pops up at the office.

Meanwhile, a much more substantial story-line comes when Ken Cosgrove is revealed to be a published writer. This seems like the show trying to better define the personalities of the supporting character that inhabit the office, as Kenny becomes less of the douche-bag we met in the first few episodes of the show and more of the effable guy he will be for the rest of the series. Similarly, Paul Kinsey’s jealousy makes him emerge in the role of pedantic asshole that suits him so well. Last, but not least, the show decides to remind us that Pete Campbell is pretty much as despicable a character as you’d find in terms of his ruthlessness in doing whatever is necessary to get what he wants. And this coming after an episode that painted him in a relatively sympathetic light. He too is jealous of Ken’s success, and is willing to go as far as pimp out his wife to become a published writer himself.

Random Thoughts:

  • “An award for horsees?” Kiernan Shipka is adorable as Sally.
  • Joan’s personality still doesn’t show itself. She’s still very catty and more of a foil to Peggy than anything else. I wonder if the character’s evolution was a course correction of the writer’s part or more of a natural progression of the character. I guess I’ll find out soon.
  • Joan on why Don hasn’t noticed her: “probably because he is so good looking he can leave the office to go wherever he wants”.
  • Betty’s comment about Sally looking fat in the family portrait is just the first glimpse into what a horrible mother she is capable of being.
  • “Kenny, I know I’ve been a bear.  But I’ve been competing neck and neck with  people in this place.  I didn’t know I was competing with you, too.” “You lost.” What an awesome burn courtesy of Ken Cosgrove.
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Short Notes on Begin Again

Begin Again

1) Usually when we see a dumb romantic comedy, or a tired action tentpole, or really whatever movie that doesn’t feature a single ounce of originality we tend to say that it was a product of “filmmaking by committee”. This term refers to the fact that the most critical aspects of the making of the movie were determined not by the director, writer, or any other person that could be described as an artist, but by a group of soulless Hollywood executives (all them probably old and white and bald) that were trying to make as much money as possible and treated the movie as a commodity and not at all like a piece of art. So it’s kind of funny that Begin Again (originally titled Can a Song Save Your Life?), a movie whose very plotline revolves around a drunk music producer (played by Mark Ruffalo) who manages to put his life together thanks to the authentic music of a young singer (played by Keira Knightley), ends up being one of the best example of what I mean when I say “filmmaking by committee”. This movie is the product of people getting together and trying to make what people think of as an “indie” movie, resulting in one of the most trite and unimaginative movies I’ve seen this year.

2) The man responsible for the existence of this movie (in so far as he is the writer and director) is John Carney, who you might remember was the man responsible for the existence of an independent Irish movie called OnceNow, the difference is that Once was one of the most delightful mixtures of subtlety and romantic passion, while Begin Again is a shell of a movie that features no sincerity in its discourse. This makes me think that Once is as much a product of luck as it is a product of talent. It is a product of Carney and actor/composers Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova finding each other at the precise perfect moment to create such a sweet and memorable movie. And when you think about it, the failed attempts at regaining some of that movie’s magic seem to support this claim. For example, Once lost some of its magic (although not all of it) when it was adapted into a Broadway musical, and Begin Again looks desperately to find the bittersweet emotions of the previous movie without ever coming close.

3) Watching the scenes in this movie in which characters talk philosophically about music made me afraid of rewatching High Fidelity and not liking it. Especially since the discussions sound like what a pretentious high schooler who’s into indie rock would say when talking about music (not that I would know because I was never ever one of them, like not at all). I already wrote about my difficult relationship with talking and writing about music, so there was no way that I was going to like Begin Again, a movie that features all of my pet peeves about music discussions (chief among them the fact that a ballad, in these characters’ eyes, is always more authentic than an upbeat song). It is kind of ridiculous how phony this movie feels about everything it has to say about the music, the music business, life, or romance. The fact that it talks about authenticity and “real emotion” when the movie itself is build on some of the most tired pillars of film narrative takes it to the level of self-parody…

4) …Talking about self-parody: Another movie that as released this week is David Wain’s They Came Togethera spoof of romantic comedies starring Amy Poehler and Paul Rudd available for rental on demand, which is so precise and clever in its parody that it makes flaws of Begin Again feel all the more cheap and stupid. 

Grade: 4 out of 10

Summer of ’92: Boys and Girls

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Welcome back to Summer of 92, the summer series in which I take a look at the movies released in 1992, also known as the year I was born. If you want an overview of what I’ve covered so far, you can click HERE. Otherwise, keep reading. 

“You couldn’t have picked two more different movies” said a friend to whom I told I was writing this article. He was probably right. The dark and merciless drama of Glengarry Glen Ross is as far as you can get from the warm nostalgia and the friendly comedy of A League of Their Own. But just as my friend quickly realized, there is one obvious similarity to both movies, and one that makes all the differences between them connect neatly and easily into a wonderful comparison: they are the same while being opposites. Glengarry Glen Ross is about being a man. A League of Their Own is about being a woman.

Let’s start with Glengarry Glen Ross, which is based on the Pulitzer-winning play by David Mamet. Now, if you’re at all familiar with Mamet’s work, then you know that a lot of what he writes about has to do with masculinity. This piece, which features practically an all-male cast, is not only about being a man, but about the role and image of men in our society. The movie focuses on a group of real estate agents desperate to sell as many pieces of worthless land after they are informed that the bottom two sellers will be fired. The movie features a cast of all-star actors (including Ed Harris, Kevin Spacey, and Alec Baldwin, who is the centerpiece in one of the movie’s most famous scenes), but the two main characters of the story are Shelley Levine (Jack Lemmon) and Ricky Roma (Al Pacino).

We are first introduced to Shelley, who is the oldest worker in the agency, but is having a major slump as far as selling real estate is concerned. We also learn that he is having financial trouble, apparently being unable to pay expenses related to his daughter (possibly her college tuition). Shelley is stuck on his sales, because he only has bad leads, but he won’t be given any good leads unless he starts selling. We meet Shelley as a desperate man, and he only grows more desperate during the movie’s first half. We see him make all kinds of pathetic attempts to sell a piece of real estate, going as far as to visit a possible client unannounced. We see very few glimpses of Ricky Roma in the first half, although a lot of time is spent saying how good he is at closing deals. When we finally have a full scene with him he is drinking with a man (Jonathan Pryce), and by the calm and powerful way of his words, we have no doubt that he will have sold a piece of land by the end of the night.

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Jack Lemmon, Al Pacino and Ed Harris in Glengarry Glen Ross.

The second half is when we really get a glimpse into the mind of Ricky Roma, and the set of ruthless skills that led him to be such a successful salesman. He is a master manipulator, coming up with elaborate fantasy scenarios to make a sale. Usually, when we see this kind of crazy role-playing games in movies, they’re played for laughs, as desperate characters turn to desperate measures to get what they want (think of the gangster dressing up as women in Some Like It Hot, or the premise of Weekend at Bernie’s). In this case, though, the role play is used to show how cold and effective Ricky Roma’s sell tactics can be. The movie argues that he is the man that we value the most as a society. A man who can get shit done, no matter the consequences. He comes into the office, and he has, for the lack of a better term, the biggest dick in the room. He even gets to insult his boss (Kevin Spacey), just because he is the one that brings in the money. He has the power.

We are, of course, supposed to compare Ricky Roma and Shelley Levine. Roma is the successful one, Levine is in dire straits. The easy comparison would be to think of Roma as the ruthless man that is beloved by everyone, and Levine the good man that is pushed down by the world. But things are more complicated than that. The most interesting thing about Glengarry Glen Ross is that it doesn’t feature easy answers. We sympathize with desperate Levine, but he proves to be just as dishonest as Roma. Meanwhile, we think of Roma as a shark, but he also shows a certain level of loyalty for his co-workers. At the end of the day, these are just men trying to buy themselves some dignity. They’re only as valuable as the money they produce, and if they produce enough they’ll be in a position where, like Roma, they can do whatever they want. Not everyone can get there, though, as Alec Baldwin’s character explains in his famous speech, you are either a millionaire or you are nobody.

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Jack Lemmon is desperate in Glengarry Glen Ross

This dark representation of manhood stands in sharp contrast to the female relationships at the center of A League of Their Own, which is understandable, since one is a dark drama and the other a comedy. Anyway, the main relationship in A League of Their Owseems to be the one between sisters Dottie (Geena Davis) and Kit (Lori Petty). I says seems to, because is the relationship with which we open and close the movie, but one that gets sidelined in the middle part. That, however, is a product of the movie’s spattered screenplay -by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mendel- which is interested in a lot of subplots throughout the movie. We meet Dottie and Kit as workers in an Oregon dairy farm. It’s World War II and the boys are over fighting in Europe, which brings to life the idea of creating a female baseball league in order to keep having games during the wartime. A scout sees one of the sisters’ game and wants to recruit Dottie. However, Dottie won’t go if the scout doesn’t take Kit too.

That’s the start of a light rivalry between the sisters. Dottie is apparently perfect in every way. She’s a great payer, she’s beautiful, and she’s all no-nonsense about everything that goes on. She even takes the reins of the team when they have to deal with drunk coach Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks). On the other hand, Kit is a spunky girl who has had to live in the shadow of her sister her whole life. The fact that Dottie is so stern and rightful make her not the most interesting character, but it does help that she is surrounded with colorful characters. In the last moments, the movie does go back to Dottie and Kit, but while it works relatively well, it is not quite the poignant moment it wishes it had been. The real emotional impact of the movie isn’t really the relationship between the sisters, but the sisterhood that emerges out of all the women in the team (including Madonna and Rosie O’Donnell) coming together to play baseball.

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Geena Davis, Rosie O’Donnell, and Madonna play baseball

It is, of course, a story about how the call to take action during World War II awakened a strong spirit of fortitude in women. A spirit that they were asked to give up once the boys came back home. The movie’s most effective moments are those in which it uses this baseball league as a metaphor to show what it’s like to be a woman in the world. The men responsible for this league, for example, are not only looking for good players, but for pretty ones that will look good on camera and bring people to the seats. There is also a scene in which the players are presented with their uniforms, which are designed to be alluring and revealing more than effective sportswear. It’s the relationship between these women, and their collective sharing of a memory of agency and independence that pulls the heartstrings in the movie’s final moments, during which, I must admit, I cried like a freaking baby.

Since we’re on the subject of crying, I can’t write about A League of Their Own without mentioning Tom Hanks’s performance as Jimmy Dugan, perhaps the funniest of his career, and one of his best and most charismatic. His speech about how there is “no crying in baseball” is one of the movie’s most memorable scenes. I’ve said before how I’ve had trouble with Hanks as an actor, but the more I watch of his the more I realize that my problem is with his performance in Forrest Gump and not with his work as a whole.

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A drunk Tom Hanks tries to sleep it off in A League of Their Own

What can we take out of these different views on men and women? Well, the more I think about it, the less I think of the movies as being about “men” and “women” (although they clearly are), but as being about people with and without power. In the case of Glengarry Glen Ross it’s a bunch of competitive men, using their most basic and primal instincts to become the alpha male in the office. A look at masculinity as raw strength. Meanwhile, A League of Their Own, uses the story of the women’s baseball league to advocate for a feminism and girl power. It is, after all, a story about taking agency and reaching a goal. One is the story of an old Goliath crumbling, the other about a young David emerging.

Next Week’s Double Feature: The Last of the Mohicans and Unforgiven

Mad Men: New Amsterdam (S01E04)

New Amsterdam

As a small reminder: I’m making my way through all of Mad Men before the last episodes premiere next spring. The plan is to do two episodes a week, with reviews going up Mondays and Wednesdays, but the schedule might vary a little bit. 

After three episodes that serve very clear introductory purposes, I am eager to say that “New Amsterdam” is the first episode of Mad Men that actually feels like a typical episode of Mad Men. For the most part, this is true, since the episode features basically two story-lines that focus on different characters, but are connected through some kind of theme or subtext. The problem with making that statement, though, is that “New Amsterdam” is very different from almost every other episode of Mad Men in that Don Draper isn’t the protagonist of either of the episode’s two stories. In this episode, Don more or less plays a supporting role to both Pete and Betty. But while Don sitting on the sidelines is an uncommon development on this show, the fact that creator Matthew Weiner was willing to cool down on Don (coming off an episode that was all about him) in favor of other people’s stories is representative of one of Mad Men’s biggest strengths, which is the show’s recognition of how important it is deepen and explore the lives of its supporting characters.

The interesting thing about “New Amsterdam” is that is focuses on the two characters that have, for a long time, been the most divisive among Mad Men fans. In the case of Betty, at this point in the show’s run she is still one of the most interesting and intriguing characters (this episode was yet another reminder of how great her arc is in this first season). It was only in latter seasons that the writing of the character started getting broader and people turned on her. On the other hand, though, Pete Campbell was a very unlikable character right from the start. I mean, we’re only three episodes into the series and we’ve already seen him sexually harass a woman (in the bachelor party scene in Smoke Gets In Your Eyes), go behind Don’s back in search of some glory (the Lucky Strike pitch), and have sex with Peggy right before going on his honeymoon. However, even if he is a weasel, he has always been one of the most interesting characters in the show. Well, at least in my opinion.

The most interesting facts about Pete Campbell are still to come, so it is worth it to remember that I probably hated Pete at this point when I first watched the show. So far he has been nothing but a jerk, but things started to change in this episode. In this episode we learn that not only does it suck to be Pete Campbell, but Pete Campbell might actually be aware that it sucks to be him. We learn a lot about Pete’s background and family life in this episode. Starting by the first on-screen appearance of his wife Trudy (played by Community’s Allison Brie). Trudy wants to buy an apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. The young couple doesn’t have that kind of money, so Pete visits his parents hoping to get some financial aid. Pete’s parents, however, are not only incredibly stuffy, they come from old money. They’re so old money that Pete’s dad doesn’t really consider advertising to be an actual job, and refuses to give Pete any money saying that they already gave them everything he has: “We gave you your name”.

But that’s just the start of the episode, what happens next is that Trudy actually gets her parents, who are very excited about the newlywed couple, to give them the money they need to buy the apartment. All these developments make Pete feel like he is worthless, and so, he does something stupid at the office. He gets his “cousin” to entertain a client, and uses the moment to pitch an idea behind Don’s back. You’d think Pete would have learned to not go behind Don’s back after the tough talk he gave him in the Pilot. Anyway, the worst part is that the client loves Pete’s pitch, which infuriates Don, who fires Pete on the spot. Suddenly, Pete’s world is crumbling. Thankfully for him, though, Bert Cooper comes in to tell Don and Roger that they can’t fire Pete, because they don’t want his wealthy parents going around New York’s society circle saying how badly Sterling Cooper treated their son.

Pete lives another day, but his father’s words now sound truer that ever. All he really has is his name. That, however, doesn’t seem to be a good thing. Pete’s ego and personality don’t let him be another member of a powerful family, he has to establish a dynasty of his own, one that is founded on his own merits and talents. For all his terrible qualities, you have to give to Pete for trying to become a successful man on his own. He may not be taking the best possible route, but that is what makes him such an interesting character. He wants to be the apparently self-made man that is Don Draper. He wants to be a living legend, but the truth is he never will be. He is a tragic character because he doesn’t know what lies behind the legend, and he doesn’t know what the future has in store for him.

Also in this Episode:
The episode’s other main plot-line centers on Betty, who like Pete, has a very privileged background. Like I said when I wrote about Ladies RoomBetty seems to have been raised to be the perfect housewife. She, however, isn’t entirely happy being one. That’s why, instead of being immediately dismissive of Helen Bishop like the other women from Ossining, she is actually fascinated with the idea of a divorced woman. Most of her still thinks Helen’s life is basically a tragedy (her house is messy, she doesn’t have time to cook), but a part of her is flirting with the idea of a woman living on her own. The main development of this storyline, though, is that Betty goes to Helen’s house to babysit, and in a truly creepy turn of events gifts a lock of her hair to Helen’s son Glen (who is played by Matthew Weiner’s son). Oh, and all of this happens after Glen walks in on Betty while she’s using the bathroom. Sure, Glen asked her to do it, but she should know how creepy the whole thing really is. That is, however, just the start of Glen Bishop’s creepiness.

Random Thoughts:

  • Let’s start by saying how amazing Trudy is, and how amazing Allison Brie is at playing her. Pete really doesn’t deserve such a loving wife as her. That being said, let me also give a shout-out to Vincent Kartheiser’s fantastic job playing Pete. It’s a huge shame that the show will probably end without him ever getting an Emmy nomination for this role.
  • Pete has ideas: “Direct marketing? I thought of that. Turns out it already existed, but still”
  • I guess couples tend to vote for the same candidate, but Betty’s “I’m not sure who we’re voting for” line sounds a lot like she will vote for whoever Don decides they should vote for (although, as Don pointed out in a previous episode, he doesn’t vote)
  • Winking at the fact that it’s not the sixties anymore: This time it’s Trudy, when she says: “The armory? When will they tear that dinosaur down?”
  • This episode shows Betty reading a book about Italy, which is the first sign of the character’s long history with that European country.
  • It’s funny how Don kind of can’t stop talking as if he’s pitching while he’s at work. In this case, he comes up with some pretty clever slogans while talking to Roger.
  • “You picked the wrong time to buy an apartment”. Sal can be so sassy.
  • Hunter College Watch: This might only be funny to me because I actually go to Hunter College, but the show has a tradition of having young female characters point out that they’re “taking classes at Hunter”. Said tradition begins in this episode, when Pete’s “cousin” says that exact line when she is asked what she does for a living besides, you know, being an escort.

Mad Men: Marriage of Figaro (S01E03)

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As a small reminder: I’m making my way through all of Mad Men before the last episodes premiere next spring. The plan is to do two episodes a week, with reviews going up Mondays and Wednesdays, but the schedule might vary a little bit. 

“Marriage of Figaro” is an odd episode of television. It is not the best episode of Mad Men ever made, but coming in these initial stages of the show, it is very much the key episode in understanding the direction the series is going to take. It comes after two episodes that, more than anything, serve as an introduction to the world and characters of the show, at a point where the show is basically ready to put the foot on the pedal and start moving forward into the more important developments of the season. “Marriage of Figaro” does a little bit of this, but before things really get going in Mad Men’s season one, creator Matthew Weiner decided to give us an odd episode of television. One that makes it clear that -if you haven’t realized it yet- this show’s main investment is not on plot, but on character.

I think this approach to storytelling -slow-moving and character oriented- is one of the show never really caught on with audiences the way a show like Breaking Bad did in its last seasons. Breaking Bad is all plot. It’s a magnificently executed show, but it’s ultimately about what happens to Walter White and he people he affects as he becomes a drug dealer. Mad Men, on the other hand, wants to be about more than its plot. Sometimes it feels like it wants to be about everything, but at this early point in the series it’s clear that it wants to be about the inner life of its characters. A few notable things happen in “Marriage of Figaro”, but the stakes are really low. There is no bomb about to go off or villain to take down, the only thing on the line here seems to be the happiness of a privileged white man. What’s interesting about that? Well, that’s a question I asked myself when I first started watching the show, and I feel like Weiner also asked himself this question, and that is why he decided to explore deeper themes about America and humanity in the show. But let’s not get too philosophical about the show (at least not yet). Right now let us talk about “Marriage of Figaro”.

The episode begins with Don reading a magazine while sitting on the train on his way to work. He flips a page over and the famous Volkswagen “lemon” ad, which was pretty revolutionary at the time. Everyone in the office seems to have an opinion of the ad. Don is dismissive of it, but Pete Campbell thinks it’s great, and mentions the “think small” campaign (which VW launched in 1959), while saying that sometimes “less is more”. This seems to me like the key scene in the episode, and I have thought of many in which to interpret Don’s dismissal of the idea that “less is more”. Is it that he wants more than he could ever had? Or is it that he is willing to give up everything to in search of something that is apparently “less”, but could mean more? I’m not quite sure which is the thing the writers of the episode had in mind, but I think both are valid interpretations considering what happens in the episode.

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The ad featured in the show (left) and the one mentioned by Pete (right)

“Marriage of Figaro” is rather unique in its structure when compared to other Mad Men episodes. It is clearly divided in two halves. The first half takes place at the office in Sterling Cooper, and the second at the Draper’s house in Ossining. What’s more, while most episodes of Mad Men feature one or two sub-plots that focus on one of the supporting characters, this one centers exclusively on Don. It’s as if the show were saying “this is our lead character, we’re going to explore his inner life, and if you are not ok with us doing that, then this show is not for you”.

In the first half, Don spends a day at the office. Rachel Menken comes in for a meeting in which it is revealed that, despite being currently working on her campaign, nobody at Sterling Cooper has ever set foot on her department store. This reunion between Don and Rachel (after their initial fight and friendly reconciliation in the pilot) is extremely flirtatious, ending with Don offering to visit the store that afternoon. Rachel gives Don a tour of the store that ends with them kissing. Rachel is a pretty cool character, and I’ve always liked her initial reaction to Don telling her he is married. They clearly want each other, but while Don is pretty comfortable with having an affair (as we know from his relationship with Midge), Rachel is rightfully not having it. She has basically nothing to gain and everything to lose going into a relationship in which she would be “the other woman”. Especially in 1960.

So, Rachel calls off the kissing, but Don won’t let go. Betty and him are hosting little Sally’s birthday party that weekend, and Don seems to be barely able to go through the day. If you’ve watched all of the show you’ll know that the relationship between Don and Sally is one of the show’s most interesting elements, but at this early point in the series’ run, it isn’t even clear how much Don loves his daughter. What is for certain is that Don wishes he could be anywhere except at that birthday party. At one point he uses the excuse of picking up the cake to leave and not come back until very late at night, when the guests have all gone. Don is clearly unsatisfied by his home life, as represented by the fact that we see him having tremendous difficulty building a playhouse for Sally.

The episode, like many in Mad Men‘s run, goes heavy on symbolism to signify what is going on inside Don’s head, and while a lot of it is too obvious and doesn’t leave much room for interpretation, “Marriage of Figaro” ends up being an effective way of letting the people know what kind of stories the show is going to tell going forward. Coming as early as it does in the show’s run, it is not only a way of establishing the tone of what will come, but also kind of a gamble considering how an episode as contained and metaphorical as this one could have alienated a large portion of the audience. However, what we are supposed to get out of this episode is clear, and on that level there is no denying that it is a successful piece of television if not the most elegant one.

Also in this Episode:
Like I said above, this episode is one of the few Mad Men installments that seems to focus almost exclusively on Don. We do get a couple of minutes with Pete, who comes back from his honeymoon, and has a conversation with Peggy that serves to reveal to us that he is still a jerk. He basically tells her that he is married and isn’t interested in her, even though he was the one that knocked on her door back in the pilot.

Also, after being mentioned last episode, we finally meet the bishops. Mother Helen is victim to a lot of scrutiny and talk from the other ladies in the neighborhood, but she kind of saves the birthday party by having a frozen cake on her fridge. We are also introduced to her son Glen, who seems like a perfectly regular kid, but would become so much more as the season moves forward.

Random Thoughts:

  • An important development going forward is that at the beginning of the episode, while he is riding the train, Don is recognized by a man who claims to have met him in the army. The only problem: he doesn’t call him Don, he calls him Dick.
  • Of course Paul Kinsey smokes a pipe.
  • Peggy is still trying to prove she is a big girl at the office. In this case, she expresses the desire to read Lady Chatterly’s Lover. Hopefully she won’t read it on the train, because it would “attract the wrong element”.
  • Don rather cruelly calls a little boy with polio who is wearing a feathered headband “chief tiny tim”.
  • Not to mention Pete calls Rachel Menken “Molly Goldberg” behind her back, alluding to the popular 50s sitcom The Goldbergs
  • And while we’re at it, let me say that Betty’s neighbor Francine has pretty antisemitic reasons not to vacation in Boca Raton.
  • Crazy sixties: All the women in the neighborhood wonder why Helen Bishop walks so much (jogging wasn’t a thing yet). We are also reminding that it was perfectly acceptable to casually hit children, even if they weren’t your own.