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Mad Men Recap: “Signal 30″ (Season 5, Episode 5)

Posted By Julia Rhodes On April 16, 2012 @ 3:50 pm In Movies & TV,Television | 3 Comments

Pete Campbell is a horrible, smug, insecure creature whose very existence makes everyone at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce just a little bit less civil. A good bit of viewers probably rolled their eyes last night when it became clear this was a Pete episode. It’s a credit to Matthew Weiner and the writing team that even though we find him deplorable, we can’t…stop…watching. Watch Pete fail to fix a faucet! Watch Pete flounder with a prostitute! Watch Pete get the crap kicked out of him! Watch Pete make bitchface [1] over and over and over! It’s alternately satisfying and cringeworthy. In last night’s episode he truly was a punching bag (in every sense).

Lane’s wife Rebecca drags him out to a pub to watch England win the World Cup (“Cup of what?” Roger asks later, reminding us that soccer – or football, depending – is a fairly new trend in American sports). Against his will, Lane strikes up a friendship with Rebecca’s friend Edwin, who works for Jaguar and is looking for new ad representation in New York. Pete, who snipes cruelly at Lane the very moment it seems Lane might pull ahead with Jaguar, sends Roger in to coach the Brit on wooing a client. It’s just like a date, Roger says. Dish out flattery within reason, ply with lots of booze, and maintain control while letting him talk about himself. Lane, who is decidedly not an ad man, can’t close the deal with Edwin, so sends the rest of the partners to finish it off. So to speak.

Edwin asks Don, Roger, and Pete to show him a good time – and they do, in the form of a brothel (“I grew up in a place like this,” Don says to the madam. “Only it wasn’t so nice and we called it a whorehouse.”) Roger disappears into a room with a hooker, and Pete quickly follows suit. Pete’s pick of the evening writhes around on the satin sheets, briefly playing the Virgin and the Mother and finally settling on the fawning subject – which is, of course, exactly what Pete wants.

Incredulous. Photo credit Jordin Althaus/AMC.

Throughout the episode, Pete tackles a driver education course, which gives him access to teenagers. Shudder. After he flirts with a pretty young girl, offering to take her on a VIP trip to the Botanical Gardens, he gets upstaged by a handsome boy with enviably muscled triceps – who’s actually nicknamed “Handsome.” Life’s just not fair, huh?

Perhaps the overriding motif of this episode is the constant, mind-numbing dripping of a leaky faucet. Pete, lying awake in the middle of the night, is baffled as to how Trudy doesn’t hear the drip. drip. drip. So he fixes it. But Pete’s “fixes” for things never actually seem to work out.

Trudy, using subterfuge, finally gets Don and Megan out to the suburbs for dinner and drinks (Don has to get drunk just to function in a social setting with Pete). Ken Cosgrove and his wife Cynthia are also in attendance – and it feels like forever since we’ve caught up with Ken. Early in the episode, he let slip to Peggy that he’s written 20 stories as Ben Hargrove – “something between science fiction and fantasy,” he explains, neither proud nor ashamed. “Planets and things.” Cynthia, every bit the proud and beaming wife, brags about Ken’s moonlighting at dinner. He tells the crowd about a story he wrote: “The Punishment of X4,” about a bridge between two planets, traversed by thousands of people every day, demolished by a robot who removes the bolts and massacres all the travelers. Why? “Well,” Ken explains, “he’s a robot. These people tell him what to do and he only has the power to remove the bolts.” The impotence of a creature created only to do others’ bidding, and the way that makes one a little bonkers, has been the subject of a huge chunk of sci-fi. And does it remind us of anyone? Perhaps one Peter Campbell, struggling for potency in a position that’s wearing him down?

In the middle of dinner cleanup the faucet explodes, causing the ladies to giggle and Don to strip down to his undershirt and fix the faucet in record time (“It’s Superman!” Cynthia cries playfully). Here’s Don, every bit the better man – AGAIN. Poor Pete the robot. All he can do is remove and affix bolts.

Smug. Photo credit Michael Yarish/AMC.

Don’s disgust with Pete after the brothel is palpable. Pete, for his part, acts a bit like a teenager. But Roger did it too! “Roger’s miserable,” Don says rightfully (that exchange with Jane during Megan’s performance a few episodes ago tells us all we need to know about that). “I didn’t think you were.” Pete pretty much tells him he just doesn’t understand, then goes home to his sleeping wife and baby.

Of course, only the pros get away with philandering repeatedly. A pro Edwin is not. His wife catches him with “gum in his pubis.” (It’s hard to even type without laughing!) When Lane challenges the bad decision – taking a married client to a whorehouse is an iffy choice at best – Pete gets a little too big for his breeches. He insults Lane one too many times, and Lane puts up his dukes, adding a beautifully British insult: “You are a grimy little pimp.” Unfortunately for Pete, Lane knows a little bit about boxing. What’s really baffling – though somehow not entirely surprising – is the fact that Bert, Roger, and Don close the curtains and enjoy the show.

This ends well for no one. Lane, mourning his knuckles and his dignity (though not so much as Pete), mistakenly kisses Joan when she helps him bandage his wounds. Her reaction is perfect. She neither reciprocates nor pulls away, but slowly stands to open the door and let in the din of the office. “That, sir, was inappropriate,” she seems to say gently, “but I understand, and I’ll forgive you.”

In a final blow, Pete tried to drag Ken down with him; he informed Roger of Ken’s moonlighting, and Roger makes it clear that is not cool with SCDP. “Ben Hargrove is dead,” Ken tells Peggy. But Pete didn’t even succeed at this task; the episode ends with a voiceover from Ken, now writing as Dave Algonquin, using a name and telling a short story inspired by none other than Peter Campbell. In the elevator at lunch, Pete tells an embarrassed Don that he has nothing. “You’re supposed to be my friend,” he says, holding back tears. How badly Don misjudged Pete’s misery.

We hate Pete Campbell. Everyone does. (It must be a fun role for Vincent Kartheiser, who’s particularly brilliant in this episode.) But it’s intensely difficult not to feel sorry for him when everything, ever, seems to be going entirely wrong for him. How do you feel? Where do you think Pete’s headed? Who were you betting on in the fisticuffs?


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[1] bitchface: http://petecampbellsbitchface.tumblr.com/