Marriage of Figaro (Mad Men)

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"Marriage of Figaro"
Mad Men episode
Episode no.Season 1
Episode 3
Directed byEd Bianchi
Written byTom Palmer
Original air dateAugust 2, 2007
Running time45 minutes
Episode chronology
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"Ladies Room"
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Mad Men (season 1)
List of Mad Men episodes

"Marriage of Figaro" is the third episode of the first season of the American television drama series Mad Men. It was written by Tom Palmer and directed by Ed Bianchi. The episode originally aired on the AMC channel in the United States on August 2, 2007.


The mystery of Don's past deepens when he is caught off guard by a man on the train who recognizes him from their days in the Korean War and refers to him as "Dick Whitman." Don acknowledges the man and makes non-committal plans about getting together, while avoiding giving him any true information about his current identity as Don Draper.

Pete arrives at Sterling Cooper, back from his honeymoon. When he goes to his office, he is startled to discover several people dressed to look like very stereotypical Chinese people of the late 19th/early 20th century, along with several live chickens, and they yell at him to close the door. Pete realizes he's been pranked, and he affably says "who put the Chinamen in my office?", while the rest of the staff of Sterling Cooper laughs at their joke. The joke continues as Roger says "I want the Chinamen out of the building by lunch!" and Don responds "I'm still waiting on my shirts!" Pete says, "Sorry about that, I took the Chinese out of the building. But I have a feeling in an hour I'm going to wanna take them out again."

At Sterling Cooper, Don discusses Doyle Dane Bernbach's new "Think Small" and "Lemon" ad campaigns for Volkswagen. Don hates it, Roger is puzzled why a Jewish advertising executive (Bill Bernbach) would want to help the Germans, while Pete says it's "brilliant." Don says "love it or hate it, we've been talking about it for the past 15 minutes. And this is Playboy!"

Peggy greets Pete, who lets her know that things must be different now that he's married, and Peggy readily reassures him that their dalliance "never happened," a reoccuring saying. Later, Peggy chats with the other women of the office, who are giggling about reading a well-read copy of the scandalous Lady Chatterley's Lover. They comment how men won't read it because it's romantic, and Joan comments how it shows that most people think marriage is a joke, due to the extensive infidelity in the novel. The scene then cuts to the men in a meeting, joking about the appeal of one's wife dying. Earlier, Pete's friends—Ken, Harry, and Paul—try to get him to tell them about his honeymoon, but Pete says he is a changed man and refuses to tell any salacious tales. Later, Pete and Harry talk about being married and fidelity vs. infidelity.

Don meets again with Rachel Menken. That afternoon, Don meets her at the store, where she gives him a tour and tells him stories about when she was a young girl and her father ran the store. On the rooftop, she shows him the store's guard dogs, telling him that she loved them as a child because "as a little girl, a dog can be all you need." She tells Don that her mother died giving birth to her. Don kisses her impulsively and passionately, then admits to her that he is married. In response, Rachel tells Don that she wants someone else put in charge of her account.

That weekend, Don and Betty prepare for Sally's birthday party. Don spends the morning assembling a playhouse for her while drinking copious amounts of beer. When the guests arrive, the children play outside while Betty gossips with the other housewives about Helen Bishop, a divorcée who has just moved into the neighborhood. Helen, who has a VW Beetle, arrives at the party with her son Glen, but she is treated like an outcast due to her failed marriage. They imply to her that she's promiscuous, and the ladies also find it highly suspicious that she frequently goes for long walks in the neighborhood. The fathers at the party, meanwhile, leer at her and one propositions her.

Don films the party with a handheld camera, and espies amidst all of the suburban flirtations, gossiping, back-biting, and one-upmanship, one couple sharing a genuinely tender and loving moment, which appears to distress him. Betty sees Don and Helen standing together, and quickly rushes out to ask him to pick up Sally's birthday cake. However, after getting the cake, he drives by his house and then drives away without stopping. Betty is humiliated in front of all of the neighbors, while the children are disappointed. He finally returns late that night, the party long over, accompanied by a dog. Don gave his daughter, Sally, a precious gift of a dog, having taken in what Rachel told him about how a dog can be everything to a little girl. However, he continues to ignore his wife's needs as Betty shakes her head in disbelief.

Cultural references[edit]

The episode's title refers to the opera of the same name, which can also be heard playing on the radio during Sally's party. The creative team at Sterling Cooper discuss the Think Small campaign, which was considered revolutionary in the advertising industry during the time in which the episode is set.[1] In one scene, Peggy and Joan are shown discussing the novel Lady Chatterley's Lover with some of the secretaries.


Although critics' reviews for "Marriage of Figaro" were not unanimously positive, most saw character development as a strength of the episode. Alan Sepinwall of New Jersey's The Star-Ledger enjoyed the focus on Don's identity, which he wrote was the show's "most involving element" at that point in the series.[2] In 2013, Emily VanDerWerff of The A.V. Club graded the episode an "A-", praising its having delved into Don's character in what was only a third episode. Six years after its initial airing, VanDerWerff wrote retrospectively:[3]

The task Mad Men set for itself from very early in its run was a tough one. Lacking the sorts of obvious external stakes that drive many of its cable drama cousins, the show was forced to figure out ways to portray interiority, the psychological makeup and emotional lives of its characters, without often resorting to them simply sitting down and telling us how they feel. It’s for this reason that so many people I know have struggled with the show for several episodes—if not several seasons—until everything finally clicks in some episode and they realize the scope and ambition of what the show has pulled off. Mad Men is a show about things like anomie and emptiness, about boredom and frustration and intimacy. It’s a show where the big moment can sometimes be something as simple as a beautiful woman sliding a handsome man’s cufflink back to him when it drops from his wrist. 'The Marriage Of Figaro' has a very deliberate work/home split, following Don Draper in both environments and seeing how he fits (or doesn’t fit) in either one.


  1. ^ "Top ad campaign of century? VW Beetle, of course". Portland Business Journal. Retrieved May 31, 2014.
  2. ^ Sepinwall, Alan (August 3, 2007). "Mad Men: Slappy Birthday". The Star Ledger. Retrieved May 31, 2014.
  3. ^ VanDerWerff, Emily (November 20, 2013). "Mad Men: "Marriage of Figaro"". The A.V. Club. Retrieved May 31, 2014.

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