Mad Men 5.05 “Signal 30” Review

mad menMad Men is full of characters that inhabit the grey areas; there are no true heroes or villains and each person has at least one unlikeable aspect. “Signal 30” concentrates on one of the more odious characters that inhabits this world, but that also makes Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) one of the more compelling to watch.

Pete is the guy who appears to try the hardest to get ahead, he is nakedly ambitious but doesn’t have any of the ease of his co-workers and you know when he is working towards something. Pete has always been in the shadows of men such as Don (Jon Hamm) and Roger (John Slattery) and isn’t just an age factor; they both have a certain presence that makes what they do look effortless. This inability to breeze through life without appearing overeager is possibly why Pete is deeply unsatisfied with what appears to be a pretty great life; he has a home, a loving wife and a daughter but that isn’t enough. What does Pete Campbell really want?

This question doesn’t really get answered because he doesn’t seem to know himself and we have heard him complain before with childish consternation saying “Why can’t I get anything good all at once?” One of Pete’s major issues is that he has this dream idea of what his life should be like, but he doesn’t know if the one he has is the one that he really wants. From the outside everything looks pretty great; at the dinner party which is nowhere near as awkward as it could be, we get a snapshot of Pete, Trudy (Alison Brie) and baby Clara smiling and this even makes Don smile in return. This scene of suburban happiness even gave a super drunk Don the idea to have a baby with Megan (Jessica Paré), a moment in passing most likely thanks to the alcohol but a moment nonetheless. Don earlier suggests that a Saturday night in the suburbs “is when you really want to blow your brains out” and with all the mentions of guns, including Pete’s own rifle this could be seen as some heavy foreshadowing. Nothing of this kind happens in this episode but should we be concerned for Pete?

When Pete’s father died in season 2 he didn’t know how he should respond or even behave, questioning whether he would cry or not and it is this moment that really sums up who Pete really is; he just doesn’t know how to act. Raised in a family of privilege, but one that lacked affection has really made Pete this figure who doesn’t know how to respond and while his unlikeable qualities can’t solely be based on this loveless upbringing, it can go some way to explain why he always striving for some form of approval and always wanting something that he doesn’t have.

mad menPete is looking for his place in the world as they all are really and despite being in a position of power at work he doesn’t seem all that happy there either; instead of welcoming this potential new client Jaguar he snivels that they don’t have enough staff to cover it. Relations appear to have improved between Pete and Roger (John Slattery), but he is still dangling opportunities in Roger’s face in a less than respectable manner. It is not surprising then that the episode ends with someone punching Pete in the face and it really has been a long time coming, the surprise was who challenged Pete to a fight. The fight with Lane (Jared Harris) was so brilliant in the awkward manner in which it was conducted that had curtains being drawn and Don, Roger and Bert (Robert Morse) as the bystanders. Roger is typically Roger saying “I know cooler heads should prevail but am I the only one who wants to see this?” Of course he isn’t and Joan (Christina Hendricks) and Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) get in on the action through eavesdropping.

Pete loses the fight and Don tells him that he will be fine, but will he be? Pete and Don have had an interesting relationship throughout Mad Men and Pete references how he invited Don over for dinner when he and Trudy first got married and it has taken this long for it to happen. This has not been an easy journey for this pair and Pete’s attempts at blackmailing Don in season 1 really didn’t set them up to become BFFs. Don’s disapproval of Pete’s actions with the prostitute is something that Pete registers and takes to heart, especially as Roger didn’t get the same disdain. Don knows that Roger is deeply unhappy and he doesn’t see the same in Pete, even though Don lived his own suburban nightmare. Pete’s tearful declaration in the elevator that he has nothing seems melodramatic, but is this a feeling of emptiness rather than physically having nothing?

Mad Men 5.05 “Signal 30” ReviewDon can do everything with ease in Pete’s eyes and that includes fixing the faucet that Pete believes he had already managed to fix. Don’s whips his shirt off much to the delight of the woman at the dinner party and even gets called Superman. Pete also gets to meet a young Don Draper type at his driver’s ed class and he gets schooled in the art of seduction by a teenager. All of this makes Pete look like a desperate man who should appreciate what he has but will this send him deeper into self-loathing oblivion?

The one guy that Pete has always seen as his competition is Ken (Aaron Stanton) who has always had a carefree attitude towards being an account man. He has other passions including writing which was introduced in season 1 and this also happened to be another occasion when Pete attempted to have a go at challenging Ken. However, news of Ken’s side project got back to Roger who essentially told him to quit it to concentrate on his real job.

Other observations

-Megan continues to be awesome, not only because she doesn’t bow to Don’s demands but also because she hilariously couldn’t remember Ken’s wife’s name. Megan also buys Don clothes that make him fit in with the other guys and the coordinated uniform of different colored sports jackets looked a treat. As always A+ work from costume designer Janie Bryant.

-More horror stories from the news get referenced, this time the University of Texas mass shootings by Charles Whitman (Don is the one who remembers this surname, which also happens to be his own). This comes on the heels of the nurse murders and shows how turbulent this time really was both internationally at home in the US.

-In other events England won the World Cup in soccer, an event that managed to bring the Englishman out of Lane and he looked like he was having a genuinely good time by the end. There’s nothing like a sports event to bring out patriotism.

-Joan’s back at work! And she gets inappropriately kissed by Lane after his fight with Pete. Joan acts how you would expect her to and she pretends that it didn’t happen.

-“Big and brown” is Don’s drink of choice at the dinner party. He also wanted to “hit the doorbell” with his chin on arrival.

-It takes Pete’s prostitute a while to guess how he wants to play it but is it really a surprise that he wants to be referred to as someone’s king?

Signal 30 is the name of the film that Pete was watching in driver’s ed class that features real footage of car crash victims; it is also the name of the episode.

-John Slattery stepped behind the camera again making this his third time with the director’s hat on for Mad Men and he did a terrific job. The staging of the fight was particularly enjoyable, as were the folks who were both watching and listening to the antics of Pete and Lane.

Where this now leaves Pete is unclear, his relationship with Lane is certainly fractured and despite his loving wife and child at home all signs point to deep unhappiness in this area. While this might not have been a good week for Pete Campbell, it certainly was an excellent episode and one that showcased all that is brilliant and frustrating about Pete’s character and Vincent Kartheiser should get a special mention. Hopefully Kartheiser will finally get some individual recognition when it comes to awards season this year.

What did you think of this Pete-centric episode?



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  1. KevD
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