Who hasn’t wanted to clock Pete Campbell?
What a juicy episode of Mad Men Season 5 last evening! There were more than a few Laugh Out Loud moments, additional insights into the usual characters, a surprisingly soft underbelly to Don Draper (more exposed than usual), and Pete and Lane take to the ring, in a boys-will-be-boys showdown that reminded me of Colin Firth and Hugh Grant in a girly fight in Bridget Jones!
Now now. I’ll behave. Fair is fair; this was a superior match – there was no kicking! It was dukes up (though little bobbing and weaving), as Bert, Roger, and Don can’t resist watching these two go at it. In the boardroom!
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Shall we recap?
Episode 5 begins with Pete in a driver’s ed class, ogling an 18-year old and watching a notoriously gory highway safety car crash film from which Signal 30 takes its name. And collision course it is throughout the hour – not only for Pete and Lane, but in the contrasts and clashing secrets revealed among both major and minor characters.
Cheshire Cat Grin – Sizing Up the Jaguar
And exactly how do we get to Lane and Pete’s blow-up?
The lonely financial manager and dutiful but dreary wife meet up with another expat couple at a pub. It turns out, this is Lane’s chance to land Jaguar as an account for the agency. Schmoozing isn’t his forte after all, and he isn’t an “Account Man.”
Following a fumbled solo dinner with the grinning Jaguar cat (Edwin), Lane lets Roger, Don, and Pete advise him. Eventually they wine and dine the gentleman in question, escort him to an upscale whorehouse (at his request), and when the missus finds out, the deal is squelched. How did she know about the evening’s shenanigans? When she discovers “chewing gum on his pubis” – of course!
Cue laughter from the Three Stooges – Mr. Campbell, Mr. Sterling, Mr. Draper – (and all of us watching), as a furious Lane gets down and dirty with a somewhat stupefied Pete who thinks he’s among friends (so he says), only to be challenged to a fist fight.
Now it’s another trio – Burt, Roger, and Don – who can’t resist their ringside seats, as they draw the curtains and stay to watch. To everyone’s surprise, while Pete lands a few hits, he’s ultimately felled by a one-two punch from the elder Brit!
Pete, Pete, Pete – Peter Indeed
Pete is particularly petulant this episode, positively perky over the wholesome blond in his class who is headed to Ohio State in the fall. Pete may want her, but like so many other things for Poor Pete, want doesn’t mean get.
And notice that the young lady’s mannerisms and features are very Season One Peggyesque, especially in a scene with her hair in a pony tail. Might this be Pete’s private passion preference? Or is he is so bored when it comes to Trudy and the suburban life he’s supposed to want, the eye will wander no matter what?
Incidentally, he’s referred to as “Peter” in his evening driver’s class – and weasel Peter he is – certainly at the whorehouse, where he indulges in extracurricular activity along with Edwin and of course, Randy Roger. And speaking of the silver-haired ad exec, he is painted as an increasingly tragic figure whose approach to the world can’t keep up with the times.
Don on the other hand remains at the bar – very Clark Kent (more strikingly handsome than usual), and oddly out of place. So much so in fact that the Lady of the House mistakes him for a cop. Our favorite Superman appears detached, but he is in fact disapproving of Pete. When Pete protests, Don clarifies with something to the effect of: “Roger is miserable. I didn’t think you were.”
Don! Darling! You are in love with Megan! (And Pete, you “grimy pimp,” you’re still the woeful Wannabe you were a few years back.)
Dapper Don, Drinking Dick
In fact, another marvelous moment occurs as Don the former Dick pulls on his drink at the brothel bar – that’s how many tonight? – and engages in friendly chat with the Madam about how he “grew up in a place like this.”
Our once utterly jaded hero is letting more of his past blend with the recreated present, not only in this scene, but at the suburban get-together chez Pete and Trudy. Over dinner, as they’re downing their drinks (as usual), they share bits of their upbringing in cities, country, and suburbia. Don comments that it’s no fun walking in the cold to the outhouse.
When a faucet that Pete attempts to fix shoots off its gusher of water, Don swoops in “like Superman,” peels off the white shirt, reaches under the sink, tweaks the water supply, and problem solved to the mirthful response of the ladies (and the semi-consternation of Clueless Campbell).
Two more sweet – yes, sweet – Don moments?
When Trudy brings out the baby, the look on Don’s face is one we rarely see. He grins, broadly, with an open expression that suggests a more softhearted version of the man we see with Sally, Bobby, or even Baby Gene. As he and Megan are driving home, he coaxes his wife into pulling over for an enthusiastic exchange.
“Let’s make a baby,” he says.
Joan is back at the office and it seems like she never missed a beat. (Joanie – happy to see you where you belong!) How could we not adore her reaction to the fisticuffs in the Boardroom, as she and Peggy listen on the other side of the door?
Following the Big Bout, she brings an ice bucket to Lane’s office, closes the door, places his bruised hand in the ice, and gives him a gorgeous gaze that is part empathy and part admonishment.
He leans in and kisses her ardently. Surprise, surprise. He can take on Pete and plant one on the sexiest dame at the agency!
In a flawlessly and comically choreographed scene, Joan gets up after Lane’s advances, slowly walks to the door, reopens it as if to leave, and then returns to the couch and sits down.
Lane says “I’m sorry.”
Joan reassures him with this: “Everyone in the office has been wanting to do that to Pete Campbell.”
Friends, Foes, Lovers, and Robots
Signal 30 shows off the dramas of friendships and alliances – or attempts at any rate – even if a few of the participants end up mauled.
Peggy and Kenny and his tales of robots? It’s a little of both – friendship and alliance.
Lane and Edwin? Nudged together by Lane’s wife Rebecca, this friendship is in trouble almost before it starts. Lane and Joan, crossing the line with a kiss? We’ll have to stay tuned and see what develops.
Don and Megan? He’s uncomfortable with friendships, accustomed to secrets rather than disclosures. But with Megan? There’s romance, there’s trust, and emotional intimacy.
Throughout the episode, we hear bits of Kenny Cosgrove’s “secret life” – as a writer. A far cry from Dick Whitman in the closet, he’s been churning out semi-sci-fi stories under the nom de plume of Ben Hargrove. And apparently, he’s good at it.
Generally, we see little of his wife, Cynthia, but we’re treated to Megan, Trudy, and Cynthia getting along easily (friendship that works?), and in a way that Betty was never able to achieve. It’s one more contrast in an episode full of them – Don and (his Dick?) in the whorehouse, mild-mannered Lane and Lane fired up, Pete and Roger – different, and yet not so much; both robotic in their private lives as well as professional.
The Beauty of the Ordinary
And the contrast of Don’s marriage to Megan, as opposed to the first time around with Betty? Is there a crash ahead?
Despite last week’s Fever Dream, it’s not looking likely.
As for Kenny, Cynthia is proud of his writing and lets the cat out of the bag. Peggy is impressed, Don thinks it’s fine, but Roger gets wind of it and tells him to shut it down. (Jealous much, Roger?) Kenny agrees of course – to save his job – yet in a final scene, he’s in bed with pen and paper in hand, crafting another story.
As Beethoven takes us out, Kenny’s words extol the exquisite nature of the ordinary which is almost too beautiful to bear. All the more to underscore what Lane, Roger, and in particular Pete don’t comprehend, and Don in his full appreciation of Megan, at last, does?
Season 5 photos: Click images above to access originals at AMCTV.com.