Monday, January 11, 2016

Mad Men Season 5, Episode 5 Recap: Signal 30

"It might have been living in the country that was making him cry.  It was killing him with its silence and loneliness, making everything ordinary too beautiful to bear." - Dave Algonquin

The episode begins with the screech of tires followed by the sound of crunching metal.  Pete Campbell is finally studying for his driver's license and part of the process is watching this film of actual car accidents.  But Pete's mind is elsewhere as his wandering eye takes in the loveliness of a young girl in his class.  Back at home and in bed his sleep is interrupted by the rhythmic tap tap of a leaking faucet.  The next morning, Pete grabs his tools and goes all DIY underneath the offending sink and fixes the leak.  He smiles to himself, satisfied.

Elsewhere, Lane Pryce is being not-so-gently urged by his wife to get ready to go to the local watering hole and meet up with their fellow ex-pats at a "football" game between England and Germany.  Lane is not interested in reconnecting with the motherland, but his wife longs for home and wants to stay connected to her fellow Brits.  The reluctant Lane ends up having a great time cheering England on and then having dinner afterwards with another couple.  The husband is Edwin Baker, senior vice president of public relations for Jaguar and is looking for an ad agency to work on promoting Jaguar cars to America,  Lane has a potential new client for the firm.

Pete is the only one in the office meeting not excited about the prospect of the Jaguar business.  He has been on the other side of the fence, trying to get Lane to give him the resources to go after new business.  He wants to give Lane a taste of his own medicine.  But Pete's attempts for childish revenge are too transparent, and getting a car company is too important to the firm, for anyone to care about Pete's protestations.  Lane gets the go ahead to pursue the work and Roger offers him suggestions on how to wine and dine the potential client.

Lane tries valiantly to implement Roger's keys for success, but his potential client is not all that forthcoming and, worse, Lane has no natural affinity for chit chat.  The dinner is not a rousing success.  There is something organic about being able to schmooze and it's not a skill that can be taught.  Roger has it, Lane does not.

Out in Cos Cob, Trudy Campbell has managed to land the great white whale. She has backed the elusive Don Draper into an inescapable corner and he and his lovely wife Megan will be the Campbells' guests for dinner.  Also there will be Ken Cosgrove and his wife, good ol' what's her name.  That bit was particularly funny, as Don and Megan avoid letting on that they can't remember her name and then Megan blurting it out when Ken finally says it at dinner.

The Campbells are wonderful hosts and the dinner goes swimmingly, until there is a minor emergency in the kitchen. The sink that Pete thought he fixed is now gushing like Old Faithful.  Don swoops into the kitchen, takes off his shirt like Superman and deftly handles the plumbing duties like a pro.  The women are all duly impressed by this display of rugged manhood and poor Pete is a bit humbled by being outshone in his own house.  But in comes baby Tammy to steal Don's thunder by being the cutest baby ever.

On the drive home, Don and Megan are feeling particularly amorous, Don driven to want to make a baby right then and there.  Will there be a new baby Draper in their future?

Lane having failed to woo the Jaguar exec, Pete and Roger decide that the A-Team should take a go at getting him primed to sign.  They and Don take the man out to a lobster dinner and offer to show him the town.  But it becomes clear that he has very particular tastes and what he's looking for is not a night out with the boys but a few minutes doing some heavy breathing with a female not his wife.  Roger, of course, knows just the place and the four go to an upscale brothel.  The Jaguar exec goes off with a gum-chewing brunette, Roger can't say no to a redhead (old habits die hard) and Pete is squirreled away by a young blonde, who no doubt reminds him of the young girl at the driving class he's been crushing on. 

Don stays at the bar and tells the madame, cryptically, that he was raised in a place like that.  Interesting.  We know some of Don nee Dick's backstory, but a whorehouse?  His mother may have been a prostitute but as she died in childbirth he didn't grow up with her.  Hard to imagine his bible thumping stepmother would have ended up there after his father died.  Odd.  But Don does not break his marital vows and stays physically detached and emotionally bemused from his surroundings while his coworkers satisfy their particular tastes.  Of most interest, how Pete's fantasy scenario involves being someone's king.

Speaking of fantasies, Ken Cosgrove is now writing them under the nom de plume Ben Hargrove.  He has been trying to hide that he continues to moonlight as a writer, the firm not having taken it well the last time his writing success came to light.  He tells Peggy about his writing in confidence then later reluctantly tells the dinner party about one of his stories - about a computer that controls a bridge between worlds and then destroys the bridge and plunges everyone to their death.   Roger hears about Ken's second job and is not pleased.   He has tried, and failed, to be a writer and his envy at Ken's success is palpable.  He gives him a tacit "or else" about cutting out the writing and focusing on his full time job at the firm.

It's time for the partners' meeting, but Lane gets a call from his wife.  Seems that she was contacted by the wife of the Jaguar executive who was not so pleased to find chewing gum in her husband's pubic hair after his night out with the SCDP execs.  Lane is furious with Don, Roger and Pete for corrupting his friend, not realizing that the whole outing was his idea.  Edwin was only too happy to risk having his private parts mixed up with whatever was going on in some strange girl's mouth.

Lane is furious and blames everyone, but particularly Pete, for ruining his account.  Pete counters that Lane is completely iuept and was totally incapable of landing that or any other client for the firm.  He should just sit behind a desk and move numbers around on a ledger, he should not interact with other human beings.  Not surprisingly, Lane does not take Pete's words lightly and so he insists that the insult be responded to by resorting to fisticuffs.  Marquess of Queenberry rules and all that.  Lane rolls up his sleeves and after Pete looks to the others to stop the inevitable and sees no help there, he too prepares to fight.

And so the simmering hatred between these two finally bubbles over.  Pete embodies Lane's father, his mother and everyone else who has ever made him feel small and insignificant.  He's tired of having his manhood questioned and tired of being pushed around.  And for Pete, battling Lane gives him the chance to be the king he desires to be.  Not to be the weakling, the guy who can't even fix his own kitchen sink, but to get the better of someone for once.  To carve his name atop the totem pole. These two beta males feel that this is their chance to achieve alpha status.

Lane gets the better of Pete, bloodying his nose and getting a knockout.  But while he won the battle, he feels as if he's lost the war.  Pete's comments cut deeper than the scratches on his knuckles.  He questions whether he really is vital to the company.  Joan comes bearing a bucket of ice and some positive words but Lane misreads her support and plants an unwanted kiss on her.  But Joan handles the matter graciously, letting him know it was a mistake without making him feel too embarrassed.

When Peggy goes to tell Ken about the fight he missed, he tells her that there was no love lost between him and Pete.  Pete told Roger about his writing and that's now he has an ultimatum from Roger that he can't ignore.  Ben Hargrove, fantasy writer is dead.  Of course, if writing really is in his blood and is his passion, what's to say another pen name and another genre may not be in Ken's future.  He has to be more careful in the future, and certainly can't trust Pete with the information.  But he knows that he can trust Peggy and that their pact (to let each other know if they ever plan to jump ship) is still good.

And so we hear in a voiceover as Ken sits writing in bed the new story by a new writer, Dave Algonquin, about a tiny orchestra - a story inspired by Ken's visit to the Campbell house.  Ken's muse will not be silenced and he will continue to rebel, each story a small triumph over the mundane world of advertising.  Pete tells Don in the elevator that he has nothing, despite having a stunning, loving wife, an adorable new baby, a beautiful house in the burbs and a great career that affords him whatever he wants.  But he is restless and unsatisfied.  He has no outlet like Ken does for whatever is churning inside him, what unspoken needs are not being met.

He flirts with a cute high school senior, he has sex with a trained professional and all of this is to make him feel like a man.  But he could go home to his house, his wife and his daughter and feel satisfied if he chose to.  Instead he's chasing something he'll never find.  He wants to be something more than he is.  Or at least something different.  It is tiring, and unfulfilling, being Pete Campbell.


Lane:  The first half of a football match is just flirting.

Lane:   I hate this business of bringing England over in pieces.  It's strictly for the homesick.

Lane:  How lovely your face becomes when you tell me you need something.

Jenny:  Things seem so random all of a sudden.  And time feels like it's speeding up.

Megan:  You should slow down.
Don:  I'm timing this for when we arrive.  I want to hit the doorbell with my chin.

Pete:  It's seven feet long.  Wilt Chamberlain could lie down in there.
Ken:  Why would he want to do that?

Ken:  Trudy has ground rules.  No work talk, no baby talk.  And you get the big steak.

Edwin:  I haven't a complaint in the world.
Lane:  Well, that's too bad, isn't it?

Ken:  Those people tell him what to do and he doesn't have the power to make any decisions except he can decide whether that bolt's on or off.

Don:  I'm too drunk for you to drive.

Don:  I grew up in a place like this.

Pete:  Wait till your honeymoon is over.

Roger: So, a little birdy told me you've been hard at work - writing stories. Who'd have thunk you were you by day and Edgar Allan Poe by night?
Ken:  It's nothing.  I only do it because my wife likes it.
Roger:  Well, my wife likes fur, but you don't see me growing a tail.

Roger:  As a fellow unappreciated author and a friend, let me tell you, when this job is good, it satisfies every need.  Believe me, I remember.

Roger:  I know cooler heads should prevail, but am I the only one who wants to see this?

Roger:  I don't know about you two, but I had Lane.

Lane:  I just seem to find no end to my humiliation today.


This episode takes place around August 1, 1966, when Charles Whitman shot and killed over a dozen people at the University of Texas.  In the pre-internet age, news of these mass killings - the Speck massacre in July and now this - still spread fear across the country no matter how far you lived from the scene.  The television news brought the stories into your living room and wherever you lived, it was hard to feel safe.

Notice how Don corrected them when they mentioned the killer as "Whiteman."  Of course, Whitman is Don's given name and so he would be aware of the connection.  Don was also very forthcoming this episode, discussing growing up in a rural environment, telling the dinner party: "I grew up in the country, too, and I don't miss walking to an outhouse in the middle of winter."  Plus his cryptic comment to the madame about growing up in a whorehouse.  Don has gone from mysterious to practically bubbling over with new information.

Here's a link to the driver safety video that begins the episode.

Pete is miserable.  He has it all and none of it matters to him.  He has wanted to be Don Draper since the first moment we saw him and now he has become the Don of 1960 and it's not satisfying.  The house in the country, the commute on the train, the wife, the child, the dalliances on the side.  Isn't this supposed to make him happy, he's achieved his goals.  But he still doesn't feel like a man, whatever that is supposed to mean.  He'll never be as handsome or as manly as Don, he won't be a suave and urbane as Roger, he won't be appreciated for his writing like Ken, he can't even beat Lane in fisticuffs.  He sees just how ridiculous he is when he looks at the high schooler nicknamed "handsome" who with ease has claimed the young girl Pete thought he was flirting with.  It's not easy being Pete Campbell.

There is so much envy and jealousy directed at Ken for following his heart and having a modicum of success with it.  To be honest, one wonders if Pete and Roger are more embarrassed and ashamed that they have abandoned writing than they are jealous of Ken's continuing with it.  But both of them would rather destroy Ken's writing than actually create something of their own.

Lane is such a tragic figure.  As his wife put it, he's been in a long, messy divorce from England and really does not fit in either as an ex-pat Brit nor a new New Yorker (Mets banner notwithstanding).  He is told that he makes no contribution to the firm, his new friend Edwin does not enjoy his company, and we already know that his wife is not at all happy with the move and just wants to go home.  His father doesn't love or respect him and his efforts to find love and acceptance from American girls has not gone well.  Even in his moment of triumph - getting the better of Pete in that brawl - he manages to turn it into another embarrassment by making a pass at Joan.

Episode directed by John Slattery.

Spoilers.  Don't read until you're completely caught up:

Don will look back and shake his head at this exchange with Pete:
Don:  Look, I'm just trying to tell you because I am who I am and I've been where I've been that you don't get another chance at what you have.
Pete:  Brave words for a man on his second time 'round.
Don:  Yeah, and if I had met her first, I would have known not to throw it away.
Pete does get another chance.  He and Trudy break up because of his philandering ways but he does get a second chance with her as he comes to his senses and realizes how great she is and how lucky he was to have her.  Don, on the other hand, does "throw it away" cheating on Megan and eventually loses this marriage that he once tried so hard to make work.

Well, we thought it odd when Don mentioned being raised in a whorehouse, but we later learn that was real.  His widowed stepmother, pregnant and weighted down with the unwanted whore-child, went to her sister and brother in law's business - a whorehouse - to stay.  That experience drastically shaped young Dick Whitman as we see in later episodes and helped him become the empty, rudderless, confused boy with an unhealthy, conflicted relationship with women and sex, who ends up stealing another person's identity and become the poster boy for infidelity.  But he also became a very successful ad man.  Richard Pryor grew up in a whorehouse and he became one of the greatest comedians of all time, but also set himself on fire while freebasing cocaine.  So I'm not sure I'd recommend a whorehouse as a great child-rearing locale.

As we later learn, things go from bad to worse for Lane.  His wife goes back to England, he needs money, he embezzles money, is caught and then it all catches up with him and he ends it all in the office next to that banner that had been his connection to his new life.  

Ken tells Peggy, "the pact still stands.  If I go anywhere, you go with me."  That does not exactly work out as Peggy leaves Ken behind when she briefly leaves to go work for a rival firm (Cutler, Gleason and Chaough).  Ken stays at SC through its various incarnations before eventually being fired.  Does Ken use this opportunity to finally devote himself to writing full time?  Nope. He becomes a client of the firm and gets his pleasure in torturing Pete.

Megan mentions that she came to New York to be an actress but having found no success she moved into to advertising to pay the bills and then after seeing what Don and Peggy did, she thought it looked like something she could do.  Yet, as we later learn, the desire to be an actress never really left her as much as she tried to find happiness in advertising.  

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