Marriage of Figaro (Mad Men)

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"Marriage of Figaro"
Mad Men episode
Episode no. Season 1
Episode 3
Directed by Ed Bianchi
Written by Tom Palmer
Original air date August 2, 2007
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Mad Men (season 1)
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"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.


Don is caught off guard when a man on the train recognizes him from their days in the Korean War and refers to him as "Dick Whitman." He manages to save face with the man, who now works at IBM. At Sterling Cooper, he discusses Volkswagen's new "Think Small" ad campaign. Don is dismissive, while Pete insists that the campaign is "brilliant." Pete, having just returned from his honeymoon, tells Peggy that they must pretend their affair never happened. However, he later sends her mixed signals by complimenting her appearance as he leaves the office.

Don meets again with Rachel Menken and is embarrassed when she realizes that no one at Sterling Cooper has actually visited her department store. That afternoon, Don accompanies her to the store, where she gives him a tour and tells him stories about when she was a young girl and her father owned 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." Don kisses her impulsively, 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, and drinking copious amounts of beer. When the guests arrive, the children play outside while Betty gossips with the other housewives about Helen Bishop, a divorcee who has just moved into the neighborhood. Helen arrives at the party with her son Glen, but she is treated like an outcast over her failed marriage and habit of going for long walks through the neighbourhood.

Don films the party with a handheld camera. While observing the kids at play, he inadvertently captures a husband and wife sharing a passionate kiss, and he appears distraught over the scene. When Betty asks him to pick up Sally's birthday cake, he fails to return home for hours, choosing instead to sleep off the beer in his car. When he returns, the party is long over, but he has brought Sally a new dog as a gift. Still upset over the previous day, Betty is speechless over Don's actions.

Cultural references

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 unanimous, 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; Sepinwall also, however, believed some would find the symbolism in the birthday party to be too subtle.[2] In 2013, Todd 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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. VanDerWerff, Todd (November 20, 2013). "Mad Men: "Marriage of Figaro"". The A.V. Club. Retrieved May 31, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links