Re-watching Mad Men, S01E03: “Marriage of Figaro ”
I have to admit it. I love Pete Campbell. He’s old money, he’s slimy, he’s a sniveling little bitch, and I adore him and his complete incapability to be sensitive, respectful or even likeable. Some of the best one-liners on the show are either to or about Pete. Now he’s Mr. Married and making sure Peggy knows it—and that Don knows it in the most awkward private moment since Betty vs. Mona “Would you mind touching me up?”
Sterling-Coo is abuzz with marriage talk. It’s integral to the break-room dish about Lady Chatterley’s Lover, which is, quoth Joan, “another testament to how most people think marriage is a joke.” And then Harry Crane makes a joke about marriage just before Rachel Menken’s entrance. Harry and Pete talk about the challenges of being able to only flirt with women.
Marriage is a either a roadblock or a stepping-stool to the characters of Mad Men. When Rachel finds out that there’s already a Mrs. Draper, she backs up off it after a very enjoyable afternoon filled with free cufflinks (my, what a chivalrous emblem) and German shepherds. Campbell can’t show up for any more booty calls, but he can string Peggy along on one hand with comments like “you look nice”, and on the other he can try to score an invite with the higher-ups, or at least commiserate with the Lollipop Kid and get whatever he wants for dinner.
And then, of course, is the grimmest birthday party in all of Christendom, full of unresolved conflict from episode two about men and women co-existing in the same space. In the married world of the birthday party, the men and the women have their prescribed routines; the women talk about their husbands and families, the men disparage their wives. But for all the unhappiness that married life seems bring the characters on Mad Men, Helen Bishop is Public Enemy #1 because she threatens to upset the status quo.
With the freewheelin’ side of Don Draper cock-blocked, it’s beers in the garage and drip-drying in the powder room as he constructs a playhouse (and who can judge him for drinking so much in the presence of such a heavy metaphor?). Don Draper belongs to a suburban neighborhood, to a wife and children, but it’s as though he’s only just realizing the limitations of that choice either because of incident on the train or on the roof. It’s interesting that Don cracks down on Kinsey’s lack of laxative copy with the phrase: “Part of this job is doing things you don’t want to do.” But when it comes to life out of Manhattan, it’s better to get tanked and take a nap by the railroad tracks than follow Betty’s demands. It’s Don Draper’s first disappearing act (on camera), and Betty’s quiet stalk back to the kitchen without a word is interesting to think about compared to the disastrous Around-the-World dinner party in Season 2.
One of my favorite gags in this episode is the children “playing house” and saying things like “I don’t like your tone.” Of course, it just drives Joan’s point home in a rather depressing way. These kids are already gearing up for the life their parents are leading, where they supposedly have the ever-present “all this” but feel empty, being bored by plays or shushing dead-wife jokes or gossiping about divorcées. Perhaps Betty says nothing about the addition of Polly to the family because she doesn’t have the stones yet, or maybe it’s that she, like Rachel Menken, understands that sometimes a little girl can only rely on a dog.
Pete, “Chinamen” is not the preferred nomenclature. “Asian-American, please.”
One line that has always confused me is Francine’s, “Want company [in the shower]?” innuendo. It’s so straightforward and tacky, even coming from Francine.
This is the first substantial appearance of Sally Draper, easily the saddest character on the show. And Glenn Bishop—the creepiest.
The wives’ fixation on Helen’s taking walks makes me wonder if it’s that they’re incredibly petty or badly written.
This hour’s Tao of Draper
Rachel Menken: “Something about the way you talk always restores my confidence.” Don Draper: “I have a deep voice.”
“Let me remind you ‘safe’ and ‘reliable’ would make me doze off if I wasn’t so blighted by the scourge of constipation.” What can I say? It’s a largely silent episode.