I needed a great “Man Men” episode. And I got a great “Mad Men” episode. That’s what I tweeted earlier this week after sitting down with “Signal 30,” the requisite “let’s put Pete Campbell in his place” episode for this season. Maybe “great” was a bit much in retrospect, but it certainly helped the show’s cause after the previous week’s debacle (as noted by Roger Sterling extraordinaire, Adam Campbell, below). Or, in other words, I’ll give it at least another week to keep me interested. Besides, this week gave me perhaps my most favorite moment of season five to date (Joan’s reaction to Lane’s kiss was completely and utterly pitch perfect).
This was Pete Campbell’s week, though, and for the first time this year, we were reminded of exactly how pathetic his life is. He can’t be Don — nobody can, really — though he insists on constantly aiming to embody things he simply doesn’t have the abilities to fully embrace. He’s not a handy man. He’s not a ladies’ man. And this week, we even learn that he’s not a good fist-fighter.
Where this leaves us moving forward, though, one can only guess. Does Don’s decision to sit out on the fun during the brothel trip mean he’s going to continue down a straight and narrow path? Of course not. Does Lane’s TKO of Pete mean that Pete will become more tolerable and grounded? Of course not. Does the missed chance at signing Jaguar mean the company will go down the tubes? Of course not. Thus, we are left with more questions than answers going into episode six.
But enough about me. Let’s see what our board of experts had to say …
Adam Campbell (Blog) – Roger Sterling
After three weeks of watching Roger Sterling pathetically navigate his reversal of fortune within the agency, it was satisfying to see him return to form as a shrewd and savvy account man once again (perhaps the John Slattery director credit had something to do with this). Roger might be a terrible human being, but there’s no denying that he’s gifted with an emotional intelligence quotient that no other account man at SCDP possesses, especially arch-enemy Pete. And while Roger hasn’t worked as hard as others to bring in new accounts, his hard work is reflected in the round-the-clock dedication to the whims of his clients. To him, the dedication of the account man is so total that nothing (including moonlighting as a hack science fiction writer) should divide your attentions. Roger relishes his work and believes it can satisfy every intrinsic need.
The scene with Roger teaching Lane the performance aspects of a successful client dinner was a highlight not just for Roger, but for “Mad Men” in general, as it momentarily stripped the show to its essence. That statement might seem trite, but to echo Colin’s frustrations with last week’s episode, the dream sequences and other soap opera-like flourishes often detract from the very compelling drama that exists in the everyday work of ad men. In other words, it was a welcome change to see Roger actually doing his job, and doing it well, too. Roger was surely being self-deprecating (and perhaps self-pitying) when he referred to himself as “Professor Emeritus of Accounts,” but the countless three-martini lunches and late night dinners he’s logged over the years certainly give him the expertise that Lane could benefit from. Unfortunately, Lane was unable to implement Roger’s manipulation-masquerading-as-empathy routine with Edwin Baker from Jaguar, setting up a follow-up dinner and a calamitous turn of events ironically spurred by Roger.
Naturally, Roger’s efforts to cater to clients often leads to morally dubious behavior, and when Lane’s buddy from Jaguar looks to indulge in some after-dinner “fun,” seasoned veteran of debauchery Roger knows exactly what he’s looking for. The resulting loft party with prostitutes (and a madam who might be Dr. Faye Miller’s fat older sister) leads to unsurprising sexual dalliances for Roger, Pete and the client (and surprisingly not Don), but ultimately spells disaster for the Jaguar account when Mr. Baker’s wife eventually discovers evidence of the “fun” he had. While Lane’s anger over the circumstances is ultimately transferred to Pete via fist, it’s worth wondering if Lane has gained a new respect for Roger’s account man sensibilities. Lane has put Pete in is his place (for the time being at least), perhaps opening the door for a restoration of Roger’s role as top account man.
“Saturday night in the suburbs? That’ll make you really want to blow your brains out.”
Who would have thought that watching a man fix a leaky faucet would be the high point of a dinner party? But when Don Draper does it, both men and women are amazed. The Campbell dinner party established, as if there was any doubt, that Draper is the alpha male of the office and his very presence in the suburbs is cause for excitement (even when he wears the most hideous sports coat made by man). His plumbing ability is so charismatic that on the road back to the city and civilization Megan consents to pulling over to have sex simply because he is so damn sexy. Don, on the other hand, seems aroused by the thought of making another unhappy child. Even in the throes of wedded “bliss” the consequences of his actions seem to elude him.
The Campbell dinner party sequence is in direct opposition with a different kind of “party” in an upscale Manhattan brothel later in the episode. Supposedly happily married Pete trots off with a submissive prostitute (Roger and their client have already made similar departures) while Don waits patiently at the bar. He strikes up a conversation with the institution’s madam and it is obvious that Draper is infinitely more comfortable in a whore house than he was in suburban domestic hell. During the cab ride home Campbell confronts him about his dismissive attitude. “I didn’t say anything,” says Draper, but his judgment is written all over his face. Pete accurately observes that the man that just decided to “pull his pants up on the world” has no right to judge him. Don seems to acquiesce to this statement but maintains that if he had met Megan first, everything would have been different.
But despite what he asserts there are obvious signs that domestic bliss is a charade that Don can maintain for only so long. In the initial shot of him at the partners tracking meeting we see a very detailed noose drawn on his notepad. While Don might maintain he is enjoying his new marriage, internally he is feeling the noose grow tighter by the day. The feral creature that stalked nightclubs, bedded women randomly and grew up in a whore house is hiding just below Draper’s facile persona. It seems only a matter of time before the real Don Draper once again emerges.
“He may act like he wants a secretary, but most of the time they’re looking for something between a mother and a waitress.”
A long time ago, in an office on Madison Avenue, Joan spoke those words to Peggy when she was just starting out at Sterling Cooper.
Joan may not be a secretary anymore, but she’s still a pretty good “mother hen.” Not just to her actual son, Kevin, but to the immature, needy men that inhabit the Sterling Cooper Draper Price office.
The episode came to a head when Lane and Pete engaged in good old-fashioned fistacuffs in the board room. It was no surprise that Lane came out ahead, since “Signal 30” pretty much centered around Pete’s masculinity and self-worth getting chipped away piece by piece. But Lane still needed some TLC afterwards.
In popped Joan, right on cue, with a bucket of ice and curiosity about why fist fights inside office walls have become appropriate since she left to have the baby.
Turn’s out, Pete’s comment about Lane being unnecessary to the company cut a little close to his core. It would seem that Lane’s friend at Jaguar thinking he’s gay, and therefore not inviting him out for a night on a town with the rest of the guys, wasn’t taken too well, either.
So when Joan softly pushed back a tendril of his hair and told him it wasn’t a bad thing to be different from the rest of the SCDP partners, he acted a little rashly and planted one on her in an overwhelming moment of (rare, for him) acceptance.
Despite Joan’s clear fondness for Lane, it seems that she doesn’t reciprocate his romantic feelings. But being the polite woman that she is, she didn’t scold him for his inappropriate advance. She simply got up, opened the door, and sat back down to continue their conversation, making it clear without saying a word that it was not to happen again.
While we didn’t get a lot of Joan in this episode (probably less than three minutes, total) her comments to Lane seem to indicate that she’s tired of the testosterone-driven actions of the men in the office. Since she told Greg when she kicked him to the curb in the April 8 episode that she was sick of trying to make him feel like a man, maybe this season will show us that she’s tired of indulging the egos around her in general. Since mothering the SCDP men is something Joan is historically good at, what will happen if she leaves her mom hat at home with Kevin? The times are a-changin’ — that’s been a major theme of this season so far — and maybe Joan is trying to change right along with them.
As a newly single mother, maybe she’ll go looking for the raise to go along with the promotion she got last season. Or perhaps she’ll want something to do beyond glorified secretary work. Remember when she had a brief TV script-reading stint at Sterling Cooper but was swiftly replaced with a less-qualified man? Back then, she let it roll off her back. But as we learned in “Mystery Date,” she’s not in the business of letting things roll off her back these days. Joan always had a lot of potential within the ad world. She’s smart, she knows the business, and she enjoys the work. In the early seasons of the show, her dream was to leave the office and be a wife. She achieved her goal, and eventually learned that it was nothing to write home about. Now that her marriage is over with, it’s hard not to wonder what she’ll put her mind to next.
Tyler Hannah – Pete Campbell
John Slattery’s directorial “Signal 30” was almost classical in its study of Peter Campbell’s failure. Thinking it was not possible, episode 5 imbued in us a sense of pity and feelings of mercy for poor Pete. As the episode progressed, the impression that something sinister and dark loomed heavily.
With his “Cheshire Cat” grin and his rustic-country-living, Pete hosted an awkward dinner party where he appeared stiff and robotic. Pete did not loosen his tie, overindulge with drinks, or remove his dinner jacket, a façade of control and composure.
Peter Campbell’s spiraling tailspin commenced with the spraying of his broken faucet. Symbolic of professional and personal life, the spraying faucet represented Peter’s inability to control the environment around him. Having attempted unsuccessfully to fix the problem previously, it was up to Don to quell the spouting tap.
Everything Pete touched and encountered crumbled as if he were Midas’ antithesis. Spited by “Handsome” in trying to pick up a high school Driver’s Education student, to the role-playing harlot in the brothel, Pete was doomed to fail. Along with Don, he shared a cab ride home from the brothel, attempting to right his destructive path by exclaiming, “I have everything.”
The longest scene we’ve seen so far at the office was soap-operatic in its portrayal of a stuffy Brit fisticuffing with a pompous Manhattanite. The culmination of Campbell’s malfunctioning life was the smiting of his Mohawk Airlines euphoria with a strong jab to the jaw in the form of Lane Pryce’s would-be client, Jaguar. It was a clever parallel to see Don and Pete in the cab, riding home from the brothel, to Don and Pete riding the elevator down from the office. But, this time, Pete was not righting himself — he was realizing, with depressing force, that his life was in shambles, evidenced by his statement, “I have nothing.”
Admittedly, Pete’s self awareness of his own ineptitude and ineffectiveness is saddening. Forlornly, he appeals to Don in the elevator for guidance and substantiation. Truly feeling that he has nothing, Pete affirms his belief to Don that everyone at the office is supposed to be friends. Thus, ends the episode as Beethoven’s informally titled “Ode to Joy” plays in a melancholy tune. Fittingly, composed:
Whoever has had the great fortune
To be a friend’s friend,
Whoever has won a devoted wife,
Join in our jubilation!
Yes, even if he calls but one soul
His own in allthe world.
But he who has failed in this
Must steal away alone and in tears.
This week’s episode was Peggy-lite (her best moments were her reactions to Lane’s epic beat down of Pete Campbell), but it did reveal an interesting detail about her relationship with Ken Cosgrove. At some point, most likely during the abyss of the show’s hiatus, Peggy and Ken made an agreement to look out for each other. If Ken goes to another firm, he’ll take Peggy with him. It’s presented as a one-sided arrangement in the episode, but we can assume that if Peggy ever gets the opportunity to move on to something bigger and better, she’ll bring Ken along, too.
Ken was one of the few people to acknowledge and accept Peggy’s talent early on and, often, any ribbing that he gave her was almost brotherly and not out of malice. Advice that he offered was sincere and they built a great working relationship together. Some of the same ideas pepper her relationship with Don, but with Ken she’s on more equal footing, despite his senior position.
Ken confides in Peggy about his writing and she understands the significance of this creative outlet, disappointed when he eventually says that he’s giving it up. Of course, he doesn’t stop writing and instead creates yet another pseudonym to protect his secret, but it was less of him wanting to deceive her and more about him wanting to keep it close to his heart (and away from Roger and Pete, the grimy pimp). Peggy has her secrets, too, so it’s not an indication of a breach of their pact, and with all of the drama between the partners (excluding Bert Cooper, who is a Zen master), you have to wonder if their arrangement will have some weight in the future.