Episode 3

Air Date: 

Mary talks to a reporter about her cooking, the Lombardis, and what a super achiever her daughter Heather is. Heather isn't feeling very well—is it the 4 boxes of M&M's she ate or something else entirely? Tom and Mary actually have a tender moment together. We discover that Tom is not Master of his Domain, but Mary has always been Queen of her Castle. The Fernwood Flasher strikes again.

Review and Commentary: 

This episode is a doozy—probably best remembered for Tom and Mary's frank discussion about masturbation towards the end, but it's packed with other wonderful stuff, too.1

Our first scene is between Mary and the reporter who was interviewing Loretta yesterday. He's Archie Hahn, a semi-regular although not a major character by any stretch. Their dialogue together is filled with classic Mary-isms. We open with her talking about what a terrible cook she is, then the reporter gets down to the subject at hand:

REPORTER: Tell me, Mrs Hartman, did you know the Lombardis?
MARY: I didn't know them that well. . . I saw Mrs. Lombardi in the market sometimes, but we never seemed to shop in the same section. I'm usually in frozen foods.

Mary, per her usual style, is more preoccupied with properly seasoning her dinner than discussing the murders. . .

MARY: So what do you think it needs?
REPORTER: What do you have?
MARY: I have, uh. . .salt. And pepper.

. . . proving that Mary's self-evaluation of her cooking skills is probably, on the whole, accurate. Then there's this bit of standard Mary-naivete:

MARY: I sent away for a book about psychology once. It was guaranteed to improve your emotional health. I thought it was a wonderful book. Maybe you read it?
REPORTER: What was the name of it?
MARY: Oh, I don't remember. But it was a wonderful book.
REPORTER: Did it improve your emotional health?
MARY: I think so. . . You see, it was while I was reading that book that I realized that I needed glasses, and that made me feel much better.

The book was guaranteed, and that's good enough to convince her. She believes in the sales pitch so deeply, she doesn't even register that the actual product didn't work (cf. her disbelief in Episode 1 that her floors could possibly have waxy yellow buildup despite the evidence of her own eyes).

The whole bit where Mary tells how she first met Tom is almost textbook MH2 in its multiple layers. It's simultaneously funny (Mary's completely oblivious to how deadly dull the story is), sad (because her life is so utterly prosaic), and touching (look how flattered she is to get a small compliment on her looks from the reporter), all in the span of about a minute.

A bit later, we finally get our first look at Mary's daughter Heather (Claudia Lamb), and she steals the rest of the scene. Heather, as we will soon see, is a true demon spawn from Hell. Most of the time it seems her entire purpose in life is to make her mother as miserable, or at the very least as uncomfortable, as possible. She's as rough on Mary in her own way as Tom is in his, maybe worse because she's relentless. She displays virtually no love or even tolerance for her mother throughout the entire series, but as was typical of MH2, things aren't as simple they first appear. Your heart goes out to Mary, yes—she is the heroine, after all—but I would not call her a "good mother" at all. When you stop and consider how Mary treats her, who can blame Heather for rebelling? Her mother constantly and desperately tries (and fails) to present the dishonest, stifling appearance of a "typical, happy" family to outsiders. We'll see a lot more evidence of Mary's comically poor parenting techniques as the series continues.

Claudia Lamb was a real find. She doesn't have a lot of acting range, but she was a kid after all, and she's perfect at what she does, i.e., to torment her mother endlessly. The way Heather slumps down into a prone position under the kitchen table is hilarious, as is Mary's reaction.

Then Heather blithely announces, while the reporter is there, that she's having her first menstrual cramps.2

Next we get to see Loretta rehearsing her act for a beaming-with-pride Charlie, and Mary Kay Place is delightful as well as funny. You can see here that she's no longer trying to get laughs out of her voice. It's the kitchiness of her act that's funny here, but even so, she's so legitimately entertaining and has such a presence, it's no wonder that MKP and company quickly learned to play Loretta's actual talent straight. I always get a giggle over Loretta's unique mispronunciations: in this case, "shlaughter" for "slaughter".

The next scene between Martha, Cathy and George has too many funny parts to note. But I can't fail to take special notice of George pulling a pillow off the kitchen wall the first time. . . the one that says explicitly "Hooray Daddy's Home!" and implicitly that George has a permanent case of bad hemorrhoids. I should also note how funny Debralee Scott's demented potato peeling is here, and Martha's great line to her about spending too many nights away from home:

MARTHA: Cathy, you couldn't spend less time in this house if it were on fire.

The infamous final scene is another of Tom and Mary in the bedroom, spent discussing Heather's blossoming womanhood, and masturbation. But first, Tom offers a sweet spontaneous compliment while Mary's getting ready for bed, telling her she looks "awfully cute doing it". Take a look at Lasser's reaction here. You can feel her entire world light up at this crumb of genuine affection being offered to her. This is how very little it takes to make Mary happy; the sincerity Lasser brings to even these little moments is what makes Mary feel real, not just funny. She practically leaps over to Tom to show her appreciation, then immediately checks herself for fear of saying something to mess up the moment:

MARY: I'm too eager, huh? I'm just so happy. I'll just change the subject. . .
Heather's been getting cramps.

As if we haven't seen enough topics already to inspire the response, "Did they really just go there, on a show from 1976?!?", Tom and Mary now have an extended talk about masturbation. That's right, folks. A subject that, when Seinfeld tackled it 15 years later, could do so only with a nudge and a wink ("Master of your domain", "Queen of the Castle", etc). True, the word itself is not used here either, but the frankness of this dialogue was a complete shock to me. And so funny—I cackled at Mary revealing that her mother warned her, not the usual "you'll go blind", but "you'll go deaf".

And then, all the connection, all the communication, all the openness between them vanishes in a heartbeat, just as soon as Mary makes the mistake of initiating sex with a husband so hopelessly wrapped up in masculine insecurity. He shuts down completely, his whole manner changing in a instant, another moment of outstanding acting from Mullavey.

Mary lies facing the opposite direction from him, taking what small comfort she can muster from Tom's confirmation that, yes, he meant it when he said that she looked cute tonight. She looks upwards towards the heavens and whispers plaintively:

MARY: Thank you, God, for small favors.

. . .which could serve as an apt mantra for her entire desperate, miserable existence.

And then Cathy calls, to inform her that Grandpa has done it again.

The final scene in the police station features a lot of screaming, and one stone-cold classic Mary quote, when she tries to assert control over the chaos:

MARY: Everybody! Look, everything's going to be all right! And afterwards, we're all going to go to the House of Pancakes!

I wonder what that strange look in Sergeant Foley's eyes in the closing shot could be about. . . ?

As always, please share your thoughts in the comments—I really look forward to them.

1I can't swear to this, but I'm pretty sure this is the first episode to be taped after the show was sold to syndication. There are references in interviews to there having been two pilots, but what I've pieced together is that this wasn't a case of a pilot being redone, as in the case of, say, All in the Family: the two pilots of MH2 were the first two episodes of the series. If you're looking for it, you can spot some subtle and some not-so-subtle differences in makeup and hairstyles starting with this episode. Loretta's hairstyle is pretty much completely different now, but more interesting is that Mary's makeup has been considerably toned down, making her look (appropriately) more drab and plain than she did in the first two shows. Back

2 I didn't pick up on this until probably halfway through the whole series, but Heather suffers from a severe sugar addiction. She's constantly on the prowl for sodas, candy, pure sugar, it doesn't matter. But this is never, as I recall, punched up to the level of an outright gag. It's just "there", a character detail that, after you notice it, gets funnier and funnier each time it's reinforced. This is a style of humor that was unique for this time. Remember, e.g., that it's been said Police Squad was cancelled, at least in part, because it had the nerve to demand the audience pay attention to get the jokes. Heather's sugar addiction is either there just to amuse the writers, or they must have had enormous faith in the audience to discover these things on its own. Back



You're right about the pilots. Ann Marcus said that after she was hired for the project, she, Jerry Adelman, and Daniel Gregory Browne wrote 10 scripts. Norman Lear wanted a pilot episode plus one additional episode to show potential buyers how the show would play daily after the first show. According to Ann Marcus, ABC and CBS gave Lear some financial backing to produce the two episodes. The idea was that MH2 would air daily in traditional soap hours, but both networks rejected it after they saw the pilots. So they took it to NBC where the reaction from Lin Bolen, head of NBC daytime, was even worse. She hated MH2, saying it made "her" housewives and viewers look like fools. It was at this point that Lear decided to try to sell MH2 to affiliates. Marcus said that the two pilot episodes were taped in early 1975, but Bruce Soloman commented in an interview that it was the fall of 1974. The pilot has a copyright date of '74, but either way, there was nearly a year between the production of the pilot and episode 3. Production for MH2 began in December 1975. Because they were able to keep the pilot cast intact, they managed to avoid having to retape the first two episodes and picked up with number 3. If you watch closely, you can detect subtle differences in the costuming, makeup, and set design.

Thanks for the confirmation that the first two shows were the pilot episodes. Kind of surprising that the entire cast was still available (the only major cast member not in the pilot episodes is Claudia Lamb), and how little difference there is in the sets, at least to my eyes. It's not as if they could have left the sets standing for a year while they waited to sell the show!

Yes, the lamp in the opening/closing credits is different in the Pilot.

I was waiting in line at the grocery store tonight and realized Mary and I have similar shopping habits/cooking skills. I also have salt... and pepper.


Me, too. . . except, come to think of it, I may not have any pepper. I do have salt. I definitely have salt.