Every week, Aaron Cohen (@UnlikelyWords) writes a recap of Mad Men for his blog Unlikely Words, and I illustrate something from the episode to go with it. Here’s Aaron’s recap for season 5 episode 4 (but really it’s 5 because they are counting the first episode as 2):
“Everyone in this office has wanted to do that to Pete Campbell.” First of all, this episode’s historic references: The title of the episode, Signal 30, comes from a 1959 Driver’s Education movie with mangled cars and bodies. Pleasant film. On July 30th, 1966 England beat West Germany 4-2 in the finals of the World Cup. In overtime, England’s was awarded a goal on a ball that hit the crossbar and shot straight down. This was controversial. On August 6, Braniff Flight 250 crashed in Nebraska. On August 1st, Charles Whitman killed 16 people and injured 32 more, in an incident at the University of Texas. I’m not sure if there’s more references than usual this year or if I’m relying on them as a way to start the recaps.
-Don continues to be in the background as other characters’ story lines are highlighted. This episode it was mostly Pete and Lane with a little Ken/Ben Hargrove/Dave Algonquin. Not shocking for Don? He didn’t want to go to Pete and Trudi’s. Shocking for Don, he grinned like an idiot at baby Tammy Campbell and then told Megan he wanted to make a baby. He’s in a great place, seemingly, and Pete resents him. In the first or second episode, I wrote about how Pete and Don had traded places, and that theme was addressed again tonight with the dinner party in the suburb and the visit to the brothel. The cab ride was also a good contrast between them. “Roger is miserable, I didn’t think you were.” “You don’t get another chance at what you have.” “And if I had met her first I wouldn’t have thrown it away.” Pete is ruffled, drunk, and embarrassed. Don is together. This exact contrast happens again at the end of the episode in the elevator. Pete’s beat up and lost, “I have nothing, Don.” Despite not being a central part of the episode, Don did have some great lines.”She got this far on subterfuge. “Saturday night in the suburbs, that’s when you really want blow your brains out.” “It’s too bad your husband can’t close a deal like this.” “I’m timing this for when we arrive. I want to hit the doorbell with my chin.” “No one grows up wanting to be in advertising.” “I’m too drunk for you to drive.””Let’s make a baby.”
-This season, also, Don talks more about his past, to brothel proprietors: “I grew up in a place like this,” and to dinner party companions: “You miss the horseshit, huh?” There was a bit of this earlier in the season, too. I liked the interaction between Don and the madame. He definitely looked totally comfortable.
-Pete Campbell, Pete Campbell, Pete Campbell. He’s so reviled a character, I find myself feeling sympathetic towards him. Creepy Pete in a high school driver’s education class hitting on a senior. Smug Pete mocking Lane. Clumsy Pete making the sink worse. Arrogant Pete testing out a prostitute’s talents. Deflated Pete riding down an elevator with Don. For the second time this season, he was threatened with violence from one of the partners, and this time there was no way for him to weasel his way out of it. I used ‘weasel’ in that previous sentence because that’s how Mad Men recaps are supposed to talk about Pete Campbell. Can’t be avoided. His driving classes were predicted at the beginning of the season while on the train. His seatmate mentioned taking later and later trains and also driving back and forth as well. The dripping sink, obviously, is a metaphor for Pete’s current status. He’s being driven mad at home, and to a certain extent, at work, too. He thought he had fixed it, but he’d made it worse, and Don had to put it back together again. I guess this shows some jealousy or envy of Don by Pete. Does Don have what Pete wants? Is Pete jealous that Don put his past life behind him and recreated himself? What are Pete’s passions besides dancing the Charleston? If he could recreate himself, who would he be? Drip. Drip. Drip. Drip. Drip.
-Cos Cob, CT. “No bakeries, no Greenbergs…” Oh, Trudi.
-Befitting the title of the episode, there were lots of driving references: The driver’s ed classes, Megan telling Don he was driving to Pete’s, Don doodling a noose next to the note ‘Traffic Meeting’, Megan driving home, Pete telling the cab driver he’ll have to drive him to Cos Cob, CT (about 30 miles outside the city). Where are we going?
-”Then, pretend I shall.” Well done, Lane, NOW you can be American. Or at least the Mad Men version of an American. Lane and his wife went to the pub to watch the World Cup finals with other British people. While there, he gets a chance at the Jaguar account. He wants to pretend to be an account man, but he’s terrible at it. He has trouble relating to everyone, actually, and that’s no recipe for sales. “Cooper speaks British.” “You’re a grimy little pimp.” I think Lane thought the Jaguar account would be something that was his only, which explains his anger at losing it, but the fight… I guess he’d been bottled up forever and he just needed to pop. Riveting analysis right there, huh? Well, remember how Cynthia said Ken predicted the Texas sniper with his story about the robot killing all the commuters? Why did he do it? “Because he’s a robot…” Maybe Lane snapped after one last insult from Pete and was tired of being a robot? So you can tie the sniper to Lane. You like that better? “If they try to make you feel different than them, you are. That’s a good way to be.” “I just seem to find no end to my humiliation today.” Or ever my friend, or ever. Don’t be the guy caught with chewing gum on his pubis.
-Ken’s writing still, and has written enough to collect 20 stories and meet a wife. I don’t remember the story that he had published (season 3?) being science fictiony, though. Incidentally, Kurt Vonnegut worked early in his career in public relations, which is almost advertising. I’m not sure why, but I don’t think Pete was the one who told Roger about Ken’s writing. It doesn’t seem like Pete is on good enough terms with Roger to even bring it up. It’s not going to stop Ken, though, he’s just going to kill Ben Hargrove. And the pact with Peggy. Was that new? “If I go anywhere, you go with me.” I’d like to know more about this pact.
-I don’t think we’d ever really seen Roger showing ANY type of knowledge about business, so it was refreshing to see his ‘how to’. An account man who can tell creative exactly what to put in the RFP would certainly be valuable, and Roger must have been deft at collecting this information during dinners past. Roger explained to Lane how to get the other party to open up, to connect on a level outside of business, but Lane just couldn’t do it. He was thwarted over and over. “Just let him talk.” “Then you’re in a conspiracy. The basis of a “friendship”.” I also liked, “Be nice to the waiter.” This was Roger at his finest, just as him comparing his writing to Ken’s was him at his lowest. “When this job is good it satisfies every need. Believe me, I remember.” I’m not totally sure you do, Rog.
-”You don’t stop a war before an election.” Bert’s political advice was prompted by Don saying something about Johnson ending the war before the election. Kind of strange they’d be talking about the election 2 years before it happened. What is this, now? Were presidential elections always 3 years long?
-I think the last thing to talk about is turbulence and violent change which has been a theme throughout the entire season. Pete’s driver’s ed Lolita was talking about this week, “Things seem so random all of a sudden and time feels like it’s speeding up.” She was talking about how her parents might not let her go to college because of the violence (she mentioned the sniper and the Chicago nurses from last week). Maybe Don’s not been too much in the lead this season because his life is not currently in upheaval. I’ve never really thought about violent change as an overarching theme for the show, but I’ll have to consider it more. It’s definitely being highlighted weekly this year, though. Also, Pete, stop being a creep.
What did I miss?