TV in Review: Mad Men, “Signal 30″
April 16, 2012 9 Comments
Another week, another Mad Men, and this time around we’re focusing on Pete Campbell. Having achieved a good measure of business success, Pete is now forced to deal with meaning. Married, with a child, living in Cos Cob (a neighborhood of Greenwich, Connecticut), Pete evidently feels that his life is repetitive and mundane, like the leaking faucet that frames this story. Drip, drip, drip…
That’s the appetizer. Now, if you want to stay away from discussing the drama until you’ve had a chance to watch, step away from the table now. The entree is about to arrive.
This week’s dramatic real event from history is Charles Whitman, the former Marine who shot and killed sixteen people, wounding dozens more, at the University of Texas at Austin. Don’t worry, the gun laws have never been tightened, so these sorts of events are still regular occurrences in the U.S. On the one hand, you’ve got Ken Cosgrove’s argument.
KEN: Without a gun, would he be able to kill his wife and mom and twenty other people?
On the other hand, there’s Pete.
PETE: One rifle for shooting gophers is not the same as a frustrated ex-Marine shooting at pregnant ladies.
(Why does it always have to come back to gophers?)
The business side of “Signal 30″ involves Lane Pryce bringing in a potentially big client. A car company, no less — Jaguar. It gives Roger Sterling an opportunity to reveal The Roger Sterling Guide to Blurring the Line Between Business and Friendship.
ROGER: You order a scotch, rocks and water. You drink half of it, until it turns see-through, you get another. And then, well, then it’s kind of like being on a date….I find it’s best to smile and sit there like you’ve got no place to go and just let him talk. Somewhere in the middle of the entree, they’ll throw out something revealing and you want to wait till desert to pounce on it. You know, let him know you’ve got the same problem he has, whatever it is. Then, you’re in a conspiracy, the basis of a, quote, friendship….I once went on a five minute tear about how my mother loved my father more than me, and I can assure you that is impossible.
Lane is trying to deal with his place in the world, whether it’s his role in the company, or his relationship to wife and country.
REBECCA: You love football.
LANE: No, that’s my father.
Still, Lane is able to get back into the Brit-swing just a little bit, as the English win the World Cup.
Don knows what he wants (for the moment). He wants Megan, and maybe even a baby, but he does not want the suburbs or parties with the Campbells.
DON: Saturday night in the suburbs — that’s when you really want to blow your brains out.
The episode struck me as particularly poor when it came to guys vs. girls. It was all about the male turmoil of Pete, Lane, Ken, and Don. Don’t get me wrong, I find that all very interesting, but I missed having any real moments with Peggy, Joan, or Megan, all of whom wound up playing supporting roles in more way than one.
There was Peggy, being supportive of Ken’s literary ambitions. What does he write about? Fantasy and science fiction.
KEN: Robots and planets and things.
Here’s how his wife Cynthia explains one of Ken’s stories.
CYNTHIA: It’s called “The Punishment of X4.” There’s this bridge between these two planets and thousands of humans travel on it every day and so there’s this robot — he does maintenance on the bridge — and one day he removes a bolt, and the bridge collapses, and everyone dies.
The way Ken talks about it, “The Punishment of X4″ sounds like a metaphor for working in a corporate world and feeling like the only possibility of resistance is whether or not one tightens a bolt correctly.
There was Megan placating Don with a kiss, whether it’s to let him know that she won’t cover for him and lie in order to get out of going to the party, or that it’s time for them to leave for said party. It felt a bit condescending, to both of them. She’s the adult here, asking Don to grow up.
MEGAN: You don’t think there’s any chance you could have a conversation with another couple as friends?
And of course Joan also has to play the adult with Lane when he kisses her in a desperate attempt to realize a fantasy.
JOAN: If they’ve tried to make you feel you’re different than them, you are. That’s a good way to be.
I do like when Mad Men explores the practicalities and impracticalities of fantasy. With the opening scene of Pete in Driver’s Ed class, I was hoping that we’d have the same blurring of waking and dreaming reality that we had last time around, with Don’s delirium. I was hoping that older Pete was dreaming about himself back in high school, but no, older Pete is just himself, finally learning how to drive.
I do love that the little things — like fixing a sink! — are big in Mad Men, but compared to the usual depth, there was a deficit of character exploration and a surfeit of surface drama. I don’t want this to be L.A. Law.
Still, there are some good exchanges.
PEGGY: Did you hear? Lane kicked the crap out of Pete.
KEN: I can’t believe he beat me to it.
With Roger getting three of the best lines in the episode. There’s…
ROGER: Oh, fun.
ROGER: Well, my wife likes fur but you don’t see me growing a tail.
ROGER: I know that cooler heads should prevail, but am I the only one who wants to see this?
I love Mad Men’s willingness to show the bad side of its characters, but much of this felt rote, without a moving recognition of emptiness until the end. The best part for me was that ending, with a desolate Pete Campbell riding down in the elevator.
PETE: I have nothing, Don.
Can’t win ‘em all. For me, last week was great, and this week subpar. I’ll just lie here on the couch waiting to see what next week brings.
AMC first broadcast Season 5, Episode 5 of Mad Men on April 15, 2012.
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