Botswana Beast: A lot of folk seem to be wetting themselves about the quality of this episode, which – I mean, I liked it obviously, Pete Campbell being a prime turd and getting an unlikely comeuppance, but it didn’t seem so tightly structured or to have so much of an “aboutness” to it? I guess last ep was maybe – arguably – a bit too on the nose for some of it, this was more about just the characters? (My favourite MM ep is still the first season’s closer, just for frame of reference).

Amypoodle: Oh The Wheel is a very good episode. Very sad, amazing ad pitch, etc. So people are getting excited over this one? I can see that. I mean, I preferred last week’s (despite on the noseness), but that’s a personal thing to do with liking ghost stories/Joan, but Signal 30 was still pretty bloody good. In some ways it was very traditional fare with its alcohol greased dinner party in a suburban dream home and Pete Campbell acting like an ultra dick (which is of course going to be the main focus here, isn’t it?), and it came complete with lots of nods to the past, particularly the first season, so it’s exactly the sort of episode someone who likes Mad Men should like.

But it very definitely was about something: Status. Status and Power.

Illogical Volume: You’re dead on about Status and Power, and it was interesting to see Roger thriving here in comparison to Pete when his young opponent seemed to have him on the ropes for the first three episodes. Roger’s still fucked, of course – like Don said, he’s miserable – but this episode was relatively free of his troubles.

I’ve got to say that I laughed pretty hard when I realised that Lane and Pete were actually going to duke it out at the end. What a sorry attempt to reclaim some status that was!

Compared to the last two episodes, Signal 30 was definitely less overt in its “aboutness” – there were no Lynchian dream sequences or fairytale castle’s here – but there was still a running theme of male frustration that tied Lane, Pete and Ken’s plots together.

It’s all about the endless drip-drip-drip that starts and ends the episode, how “fixing” the tap at the start gives flip-flop fancying Pete Campbell a sense of smarmfaced pride, only for the burst in the middle of the episode, and Don’s effortlessly and traditionally masculine handling of the same (still looking good in a vest, Don!), to cut him right back down.

Ad Mindless: I thought this episode was more about masculinity rather than just status and power. The whole scene in Campbell’s kitchen was a case in point: yes Don does win the race to fix the tap (Pete fumbling around in the toolbox, while Don pulls out his wrench and gets to work – lolz), and wins the admiration of everyone (status), but the nature of the activity itself – plumbing – is non-trivial, not simply because it represents one of the channels by which status and power can be legitimately pursued by men in 1966, but because it’s manly. This episode was as much about male identity as it was about anything else. Yes everyone’s measuring themselves against Don, but Don has his own struggles, underplayed this episode, but definitely there – he’s using different metrics. As Joan reminds Lane, there are good things about not fitting into the macho culture of SCDP, and talents other than those that are traditionally valued. When Lane notes that Joan could do his job the show is highlighting a blurring of gender boundaries that offers other options, options that perhaps a younger Pete Campbell, had he been born a few years later, would be in a position to take advantage of, instead of bashing his head against the traditional model that he so obviously loathes, but doesn’t know how to escape from.

Amypoodle: I do think Signal 30 is about masculinity, yes, but there are many, many instances of Pete going for something else in this episode, something that’s not just about being macho and tough. I think maybe power isn’t the right word. Perhaps it’s validation he and Lane are looking for. Value. The ground is shaky this season and people want to know they slot in somewhere, that they’re useful and respected. Pete’s dinner party is one of the things I was talking about when I mentioned this episode harking back to Mad Men of yesteryear. This is, as Molly says (but this thought doesn’t come from Molly – I don’t read other blogger/articles before posting), Don and Betty’s house circa 1960, and Pete and Trudy are presenting the same show-home front the other couple did. Sure, this is about Pete showing off what he has now, what a good bread winner he is, but it’s also about other things. He’s hoping that if he sees his life reflected through others’ eyes it’ll all be worth it, that everything will suddenly come into focus instead of feeling indistinct, hollow and empty. But, and again this ties into the Mad Mens of times past thing, more than anything else he’s looking for Don’s approval – he’s always been looking for Don’s approval. Trudy didn’t phone Don for herself, but for Pete. She knows, just as we do, that if Don believes in Pete’s new life, then so will he.

Well that’s the plan. Man, other than the one where Betty discovers the truth about Dick Whitman, I’ve never seen an episode where someone cracked so hard.

Ad Mindless: [I need to rewatch the episode tonight, but in the meantime does anyone know what Pete was doing at that school? Seems very pertinent, but I somehow missed it]

Illogical Volume: [Pete was there on some driver's ed shit, no? He's never learned before because he's Manhattan born & raised. There's something about this that ties in with the other challenges to his status as a traditional man - he's not as young and muscly as "Handsome" Hanson, nor as capable as Don, and on top of all that he's old enough to get mistaken for the tutor.]

With regards to this episode being about masculinity, well, you only have to look at how sidelined all of the ladies were this time round to know that there’s something to that.

Got to hand it to Vincent “Son of Angel” Kartheiser, he really knows how to ride Pete’s never-more-obvious sense of insecurity (and really, if we’re talking about “on the noseness” here, has Pete ever been more obviously exposed than in that scene in the brothel, with the bluff control of “You any good at this or not?” wilting away in the face of “You’re my king”) as far as possible out of the realms of the likable. Which, as your point about Joan’s comment to Lane indicates, he really could be, in another show, another performance, another (more cheerfully non-traditional) life.

Getting back to the end-of-episode boxing match, I liked Sean Collins’ point about violence in Mad Men:

…the big difference between Mad Men and Davids Lynch and Chase is that the threat of violence here remains an un-serious one, to be sublimated into dreams in the former case and slapstick in the second.

He makes some smart comments about how the horror-movie tone of the previous episode bleeds through into some of the footage of crashed cars here, real (if sometimes accidental) violence is at the edge of the story from the beginning, which only emphasises the slapstick nature of the violence that erupts at the climax to this plot.

Ad Mindless: Sean points out that Lane and Pete are people who have “no business fighting”, which is pretty much my point. They’re trying to adopt modes that don’t suit them, and they end up hurt and ashamed and feeling worthless.

On the violence, the sniper killer pretty much defines lurking at the edges. I’m sure we all noticed the way Don pounced on the gunman’s name, “Whitman”, but even more interesting, in an obtuse kind of way, was the reference to “shooting pregnant ladies”, a few minutes before Don suggests to Megan that they have a baby. The ghost of Don the lady-killer, the homewrecker, still haunting the show in the same episode where he successfully fights off his demons in the brothel.

Amy: Oh, very cool. Well spotted. The ‘Whitman’ correction made me laugh, and I thought it was nice in a whimsical weird-shit-happens kind’ve way, but I didn’t think to conflate the two men. Yeah, there are connections between these last few episodes, aren’t there? All of them feature the spectres of game-changing, indeed life destroying, monsters – tumors, rapists, gun-men (does Megan count here? Not as something ‘life destroying’, obviously, but in that first episode she still felt like an unknown quantity, potentially threatening, already game-changing) – lurking behind the scenes. Shades of Niles Caulder lecturing Cliff Steele about the catastrophe curve. It’s the same principle, isn’t it, but in different iterations? Perfectly apt background music in a season with a focus on change.

Illogical Volume: It seems to have become traditional for me to drop one Molly Lambert quote per write-up, so this time I’ve decided to up my game with two quotes this time.

Here’s the first:

References to death abound. Cars spin out and slice off limbs, Don doodles a noose in his notebook during a dull meeting, Ken and Pete recreate a shot straight from Hitchcock’s Rope while they talk about how a man could fit inside the giant stereo. (The corpse of Ben Hargrove, perhaps?) References are made to Pete’s gun and University of Texas tower sniper Charles Whitman (WHITMAN!). Mad Men is one to show a gun in the first act and then never make reference to it again, but I wouldn’t be too surprised if somebody blew his or her brains out before the end of this season, and I wouldn’t be too surprised if it were Pete (which is not to say that I wouldn’t be very sad).

Molly’s dead right that thoughts of mortality haunt this episode (this whole season, in fact), but I’m still not convinced that anyone’s actually going to top themselves in the end.

I’m much more openly enchanted by Molly’s aforementioned-by-amy description of Pete and Trudy’s house as a sort of time-delayed Draper household:

I didn’t think there could be a home more claustrophobic than Betty and Henry Francis’s dark mansion, but I hadn’t been to the Campbells’ busy patterned suburban nightmare yet. The plaid sport coats and bright party dresses looked more sickly than sharp. The interiors already seem out of date — ditto Trudy’s full-skirted hostess dress, even though it was fashionable just a few years ago when Betty Draper favored it.

The more I think about it, the funnier I find the idea that Pete’s trying so hard to live Don’s life that he’s taken on some of Don’s misery.

Ad Mindless: Ah, I didn’t pick up on the Rope reference at the time. Wonderful stuff.

The mise-en-scène of the Campbell’s house was vile, wasn’t it? And spotlighted by all those references to how nice everything was.

Illogical Volume: My eyes, they will never forgive me – they thought this was supposed to be one of the beautiful shows!

Molly and Sean seem to disagree about how much bullshit there is in Don’s contempt for Pete. Any thoughts on that?

Ad Mindless: I think Molly’s pretty hard on Don, or at least makes too much of his hypocrisy. I consider hypocrisy to be one of the lesser sins, especially if the hypocrite is imparting a worthwhile message, which is pretty much what we get in Signal 30. Monogamous structures withstanding, Pete’s betrayed the trust of his wife and child, he’s done something bad, it doesn’t matter that the person doing the admonishing is a serial philanderer – except inasmuch as it might get in the way of the message being received – what matters is that Don has a point. Even if Pete’s marriage is a sham, which I’m not sure it is, and he’s miserable and needs to make some radical changes, Don still has a point. Infidelity is unlikely to help with anything, it just runs the risk of making things worse and hurting people. Don’s marriage was a sham, he was miserable, and yet his dalliances were never anything less than a problem, even if they were one of the few channels through which both his pain and his marriage’s emptiness could be vented.

As for where all this puts Don psychologically, the question of whether or not he’s lying to himself is an open one, all we can be sure of is that right now he wants to hold on to what he’s got. Right now he understands that infidelity could kill a relationship that he needs and hurt a woman that he loves, and he doesn’t want to see other people throw away the chances they’ve been given. Of course his judgement is wrapped up in the fact that he “likes Trudy” (whatever that means: as Sean points out Don has always had excellent taste in brunettes), and his own guilt and quite probably a fear that he’ll sin again, but since when has anyone ever done anything from entirely pure motives?

Illogical Volume: I’d agree with all of that, actually. Change & redemption are slippery phantoms (“slippery phantoms” - ?) but even if Don doesn’t think he’s going to be able to grasp them, that doesn’t mean he’s wrong to chase them, or that his advice to Pete was bad advice.

The way that Don’s anger was based on recognition seemed very fatherly to me, and Molly is very good on this later on in her post when she points out that Pete reacts badly to fatherly advice because he wants to treated as Don’s peer.

It’s also worth noting that this isn’t the first time in this season that sexy Don Draper has seemed parental away from his kids…

Amypoodle: And while we’re talking about the failure of someone’s bad behaviour to negate the truth of the words coming out of their mouth, I’d like to point out that what Pete says about Don honeymooning may well me on the money. It works both ways.

I’ll read Molly and Sean after we’ve posted, but as for whether or not Don has contempt for Pete, I’m squarely in the ‘it’s complicated’ camp. He absolutely does not straightforwardly despise Peter Campbell.

Illogical Volume: Oh, yeah, sorry – that was sloppy phrasing on my part. I reckon Don feels conflicted about Pete in the same way I’d expect the viewer to feel conflicted, which maybe suggests that there’s something about Don’s relationship with Pete that’s like a Rorschach test for the audience.

Ad Mindless: Show me a viewer who thinks Don straightforwardly dislikes Pete and I’ll show you a viewer who’s not watching the show closely enough. As you guys say, it’s complicated.

Amypoodle: Regardless of whether this episode is redemptive or not, and I think it might be, Pete really is destroyed by the end of it. His dream home and his perfectly shiny preppy head, in fact all the elements of the facade, were heavy with the imminent threat of being smashed to pieces from the moment they appeared. And that’s what happened, of course. The preppy head was cracked wide open, the smirk turned to a dull grimace – Pete’s perky robot voice (is it me or does anyone else think Vincent Kartheiser, January Jones and Alison Brie were cast in their roles because of their ability to speak like people in 1950s/60s TV/cinema?) cracking in that lift: ‘I have nothing, Don.’ Sure, the fight was funny (‘Mr. Toad’!), but it was also horrible watching Pete’s (failed, but very real) attempt at the sublime brought crashing down into the abject. It was as though the memory of those previous scenes in his house suddenly ruptured, the lens cracking. It always was cracked. We were just waiting, morbidly, for the fault lines to show and everything to fall apart.

Pete and Lane don’t want to be these people, the people they feel they’re forced to be by their surroundings, fighting for the pleasure of those who make all these shitty rules (sure, as Don says, maybe it was the only way things could’ve resolved themselves, but there was something terribly Roman about the whole affair nonetheless. In hindsight their boxing match seems tremendously unfair, the onlookers grotesque). They need new identities that they carve out for themselves, not to blindly ape the failed lives that’ve come before them. As you say, Ad, Pete’s in an awkward situation, between two worlds, the old and the new, possibly just out of time for both of them – and if he is, how sad is that? There’s a good and sensitive person in there somewhere and it’s so nice when he finds expression. It was miserable to see him punched to the floor with his bad self (‘We’re supposed to be friends’ broke my heart, bringing back memories of Lane’s ‘It pains me to hear you talk like this. On a personal level I’m rather fond of you.’), but maybe it’ll be the former who gets back in the ring. I really hope so.

Ad Mindless: So Sean C wants to know what we think about the scene in the pub. I don’t imagine you Scottishes, Botswana Beast and Ill Vol, will have too much to say on this but I’m more than happy to oblige.

Predictably I pretty much hated it. The word “bloody” is in there in the, what… the second line of dialogue, and they’re talking about football, and everything from the decor up is semi-comical, slightly tasteless and ugly? A line that runs all the way through “gum on his pubis” and into the boxing match. At least “football” wasn’t substituted for “soccer” – I suppose we can thank God for small accuracies, but not for unavoided gratuitous cliches, eh?

That aside, the absurd by modern day British standards  – as much as there are modern day British standards in this age of devolution – patriotism on display is appropriate for the occasion of England’s ’66 World Cup victory over Germany (non-Brit readers should know that it’s still considered a cultural touchstone today), and I imagine even more so when you take into account the context of an ex-pat community that spent their formative years fighting WWII and their childhoods wallowing in the dying glories of empire.

Amypoodle: Yeah, it’s difficult to judge that scene too harshly because the victory against Germany probably did see the most revolting displays of patriotism one can imagine – stupid hats, everyone shouting at the telly about Huns and whatnot and Union Jack bunting bursting forth from every ceiling like a horrible blue and red weed, and all of this would’ve been especially virulent in ex-pat land, as it still is today (just ask Spain). Having said that, I think Lane was probably playing the role of a Little Englander. His whole thing is that he wants to reinvent himself in the New World, and while he may’ve been shocked by just how much he wanted to be British there in that pub surrounded by his fellow countrymen, that’s play acting of a kind too, isn’t it? Saying that, though, all of this could just be me apologising for the usual awfulness we get whenever the British show up in an American TV show.

Illogical Volume: As a Scottish, I think I’m officially required to roll my eyes at any invocation of England’s 1966 world cup victory (“Cup of what?” indeed), because Jesus – not that again!

The “Britishness” of this scene scorched my devolved, Scottish eyeballs, but this overload of Empire has lots of connotations for this West coast boy that have nothing to do with Mad Men and everything to do with sectarian bullshit, so I’ll probably shut up now.

Amypoodle: Roger’s “Cup of what?” line is interesting though, and not just because of the cliche about Americans being oblivious to the biggest sporting event/sport in the world, but because it’s another example of Lane not fitting in. The greatest British victory since D-Day and it doesn’t even register with these people. It gains Lane no traction whatsoever and it underlines the casual arrogance and insularity of the culture, work based or otherwise, that he’s so keen to be a part of. But at the point where Roger says it Lane’s too buoyed up with excitement to notice. Poor old Lane.

England haven’t won a World Cup since, so it’s especially poignant actually – the last defiant gasps of Empire and nobody cares, in fact they don’t even notice.

The more I think about it, the more I’m fascinated by the constant reminders of the past this episode. It’s there in the brief nod to the upcoming Nixon campaign when Bert’s massaging(!) Roger’s shoulders, the resurgence of Kenny’s writing career as an issue and the reference to Pete’s declined dinner invite to Don and his stupid gun, as well as being echoed in the whole dinner party segment. Given that there’s so much of it I’d hazard it’s intended to do more than simply reinforce the verisimilitude. We’ve already mentioned that Don is seeing his own trajectory mapped across Pete’s current life choices, so that’s a thing, but it’s also worth noting that this season and the season before it has seen a jettisoning of the World of Mad that was and in some ways I think Signal 30′s concerned with reminding us of how close but distant this world is, how, as I said before, you can feel it round the corner, almost touch it, but in the end you can’t go home again, as well as pointing out the cyclical quality of history – that there’s nothing new under the sun, and how our lives, our hopes and fears and frustrations, aren’t so different from those of the generation before us. This is different from the simple recycling of plots evident in most soap operas, because in Mad Men it serves a thematic and philosophical purpose. And we’re presented with a tantalising What If? situation, aren’t we? How will Pete deal with the same challenges Don faced? Will he arrive home later and later each night, neglect his family, descend into adulterous frenzy….? Whatever, Molly’s comment about Trudy’s outdated fashion sense echoed my thoughts when I was watching the episode, but because I’m hazy on the 60′s sartorial timeline I couldn’t be sure if my suspicions were right. Thinking about it now, it’s evidence that Pete is out of time. He’s trying to duplicate and locate (FIND!) himself in a world that’s past, a ghost world. The horrible garishness of the Campbel household makes sense through this lens. It’s Don and Betty’s life with everything whacked up all the way in the mix. It’s desperate. It clashes with itself. it’s too loud, too brittle, and about to burst.

The other, and I think most interesting, point about the disinternment of all this history is how it relates to Pete’s behaviour this episode more generally. I’m a Pete apologist, tbh. I feel he’s made tremendous progress since the little shit of season one. But this episode really shook all that to the core. Much of what Pete got up to in Signal 30 is pretty much indefensible (even his protectionist attitude vis a vis his clients, which seemed so imminently justifiable in previous episodes, came across as miserliness), and we should’ve known what was coming when the spectres of Pete’s past (again, the invite, the gun, and also his unmentioned but nevertheless very real jealousy of Kenny’s writing success) began to creep in around the dinner table. Because what we saw this time was the old Pete, the guy we hoped had disappeared for good. It was quite a blow to see him back, snorting and scoffing and acting out his insecurities in the shittiest ways imaginable. I like that Weiner and co, while concerned with progression (see Joan last ep), are unafraid to let their characters revert to their worst selves occasionally – because it’s real. What pisses me off is the knowledge that there are some dumber viewers out there who will be all ‘I told you so!’. This episode proves nothing, it’s a portrait of someone at their lowest, Pete may learn from his mistakes this time and be even better in the future, but even if he doesn’t I don’t think this is a show that doesn’t believe he could.

Something else bears mentioning here: this is the first time Pete’s slept with a prostitute, as well as the first time we’ve seen him try to pick up a teenager, and all of this occurs, rapid fire, over the space of an hour. As I’ve been saying, this episode represents a explosion of pain and frustration, not, as some people probably believe, yet another black mark in a long line of transgressions. Don Draper spent three years commiting an infidelity an episode (sometimes more) – and he also tried to pick up Anna’s niece, remember? – but he doesn’t receive half as much ire because he’s handsome and pitches well. Shit, even Lane’s been with a call girl. Pete is relatively tame compared to many of his colleagues.

Illogical Volume: Just as a brief aside, since you mentioned Burt Cooper, I want to throw a little shout out to Roger’s “Burt speaks British” quip – mark that up as +1 for Cooper as walking joke!

I’d agree that it hurt to see Pete Campbell revert so fully and spectacularly to type here. Just a few entries ago  we were discussing whether he could accurately be described as a “disaster of a man” anymore and trying to work out how far he’d moved on, and now all we can talk about is how little he’s changed.

There’s a double sting in this tail, I think – Mad Men is definitely a show in which Pete, Joan, Don and friends are allowed the possibility of change, and of progress, but there’s never any illusion here about how easy it is to slip back, and I think Pete’s performance here is like the ghost of a possible future for Don too.

(MUST RESIST TERRIBLE “DONS OF FUTURE PAST” JOKE. MUST! RESIST! SHIT! JOKE!)

Amypoodle: Absolutely!

I’ve watched the episode a couple of times now – Mad Men is so much more excellent on second viewing – and it definitely goes to great pains to present Don and Roger as especially blessed. We’re told Roger is miserable, but we don’t really see it this time around (except in his exchange with Kenny – he’s taking out his stress there, isn’t he? Cue massage! How traumatic it all must’ve been for him! How stressful to work with all these ingrates!). What we do see is Roger the slick as fuck accounts guy, reminding us that even though he nearly killed the new agency last season, he was born to do his job. Perhaps he is being lazy, perhaps he should’ve pushed Lane into letting him come along to his meeting with Jaguar, but, regardless, we know that the advise he gives Lane is solid and that for him all of this is second nature (I always felt trepidatious about Lane, though. One: because: telly, and I quickly realised he was running the same script as Pete. Two: because people like Roger don’t necessarily realise that even though their approach is spot on, sometimes this stuff can only work for a certain sort of person, one with oodles of natural charm). The ease with which Roger comported himself this episode made for a noticeable change. Don likewise. This isn’t existentialist Don with his self hatred and ennui, but Don Draper Man About Town, who loves his skyscrapers and big city living, who all the guys want to be, all the babes adore and who can fix Real. Life. Taps. I like how this ties in with what Ad was saying about realism last time around. Mad Men doesn’t portray a straightforwardly objective reality – in this episode, even though we spent a bit of time with Don, for instance, we were nudged just slightly into another perspective, the perspective of Pete and Lane, where he and Roger are just that little bit more heroic.

Illogical Volume: That’s a tremendous point, actually. The realism of this show is subtly pliable, as shown by everything from Don’s uneasy dreams in Mystery Date to the gloomy fog that seems to hang over Betty’s fairy tale life in Tea Leaves, and it pays to keep this in mind while you’re watching, lest you mistake this reality for a true one.

Don and Roger definitely come off a lot more carefree here than they have in the last couple of episodes, but it’s all a question of emphasis – nothing has actually changed for either of them in the space between episodes, aside from the fact that Don seems to have shifted that nasty bug of his.

Amypoodle: We’ve barely discussed the third guest at the dinner party. Just watch Kenny while Pete desperately flails around in his tool box trying to prove himself the equal of Don – like a writer he just hangs back and observes. By placing Don and Pete in the centre of the action, Kenny is easily overlooked by the viewer, just as the option he presents is easily overlooked by the Petes and Lanes of the MM world, but his mingled awe and fascination is a very real, perfectly plausible and valid response. He’s got nothing to prove – he can just sit back and enjoy the show. And it’s so great that, even though for a ew minutes there Roger forces us to believe that not playing the game isn’t a real possibility at SCDP, when we cut to the final scene the only thing Kenny’s finished with is Ben Hargrove. This is this episode’s rebuttal to Pete’s pitiful ‘I have nothing, Don.’, because it’s clear that what Pete doesn’t have is something he doesn’t really want. Kenny has something precious, another life he can retreat into whenever he wants – a secret life and passion that all the subjugated sex workers in the world can’t hold a candle to. There are these things out there, but Pete has to stop looking in all the wrong places for them. He has to stop struggling for a moment, take stock, and ask himself what he really needs. Not a gun, not a miniature orchestra like in the story, not to be Don Draper, but something true and real. He may never find it, but I think at the end there Weiner and co are letting us know that these things are a possibility. It’s not hopeless. And of course one of the ways Kenny gets there is by swallowing as opposed to shoring up his pride. He’s happy to convince everyone his successful writing career is over, completely rejecting the macho competition favoured at his agency.

Anyone got any thoughts on why he makes the transition from SF to realism, though?

Illogical Volume: I like the way you’ve just imagined Pete’s new life as sort of sci-fi scenario (“WHAT IF… PETE CAMPBELL WAS DON DRAPER?!!”) just before asking why Ken switches back from sci-fi to realism at the end.  To be honest, I’m not entirely sure why Ken changes his style up, maybe he’s just trying to distinguish his new pen name from his old one, testing what kind of suit he can wear, or maybe the Pete Campbell scenario was just so loaded with metaphor that he didn’t feel that it required a shift in genre.

Ad Mindless: Or maybe he’s getting real about his writing career. Who the fuck knows? Can’t fanwank this one into something particularly interesting.

Illogical Volume: Aye, fair dos, this question is definitely far less important than the fact that Ken wins by (A) not being a dick, and (B) not trying so hard to be Donald Bloody Draper.

Amypoodle: I think maybe it’s like that bit at the end of the first volume of The Invisibles where Brian Malcolm is sacrificed so that Mr. Six might live. It speaks to the idea of reinvention – the sense that the old Pete Campbell is finished, even if he doesn’t know it (I know he certainly feels it!), and if that man in that skin wants to pick himself up off the floor and meaningfully carry on, he needs to switch the script. Switch genres. No more unrealistic dreams. Life isn’t a metaphor. You can’t be Pete Campbell pointing to Don Draper. It doesn’t work like that.

In light of all this, the episode’s title, Signal 30, the American police code for a trauma case, is particularly telling. Trauma is defined by Wikipedia as:

‘an often serious and body-altering physical injury’

Pete’s old ‘body’ is useless, maimed.

(Jeez, even my cursory search for Signal 30′s meaning turned up a few hits with people waffling about suicide! A character may or may not off themself this season, but you don’t need that to happen for the thanatic symbolism to make sense. All the car crashes and nooses fit perfectly with the events of this episode, and this season’s themes thus far.)

Pete is a ghost when he leaves his office. ‘Ben Hargrove is dead’ – he died in the car wreck of that dinner party, the head on collision with all that office realpolitik and busted up self delusion.


Long live Dave Algonquin!

36 Responses to “Mindless Mad Men #4 – Signal 30”

  1. ddt Says:

    Please compare and contrast “Signal 30″ with the John Cheevers “The Enormous Radio and Other Stories” and John Updike’s “The Early Stories: 1953–1975″. Note the question’s choice of comparing a serialized television episode with the short story form rather than the novel. Possible themes include the failure of the American dream, classes in America, estranged or estranging relationships, infidelity, middle-aged men creeping on high school chicks.

  2. Ad Mindless Says:

    Probably best never to start a comment with “please compare and contrast”.

  3. Greg Hunter Says:

    Glad you chose to include that still of Don and Pete in the elevator. w/r/t Don’s feelings about Pete: Pete may be rightfully indignant that Don et al stood and watched while Lane punched him out, but Don’s decision to hold open the elevator door (that did happen, right? I’m not misremembering the episode?) struck me as an act of real kindness, almost something paternal. Don knew that acting otherwise would have been as severe a blow as anything else Pete suffered that afternoon.

    (Don spotting Pete that large sum of money a couple seasons ago ought to have ended that debate, incidentally—)

  4. Ad Mindless Says:

    Good points, but some people just want the show to validate their preferences. They’re not really amenable to argument.

  5. Ad Mindless Says:

    (which you know but I can’t help jussayin)

  6. amypoodle Says:

    Oh yeah, Greg, I hope we don’t give the impression we think Don is a straight ahead shit to Pete. He may genuinely have felt that there was no other option because Lane was going to punch Pete’s lights out either way/etc – I was just trying to describe how it felt for Pete to see Caesar clapping as his slaves knocked ten shades of shit out of each other.

  7. Papers Says:

    The death-wish, lingered upon during the first season, seems to be the underpinning of the fifth season as they all suffer the indignities of mortality. Will Roger succumb to his despair? Will Megan jump off that balcony? Will Pete’s gun go off, finally, all those seasons later (which seems extra mixed, given how that gun ties into his relationship with Peggy, which seems like a dream by this point – did that really happen? Was that baby real? Rhetorical but strange, history deleted by the Draper Method).

    Mad Men the show is saying, “One of these people might kill themselves,” while they succumb to their worst selves. But this is the first half of the season, remember, and there’s always a turning point, the question’s going to be asked outright, and someone’s going to have to answer. Will they reject the death-wish or give into it?

    Ken Cosgrove does it with ease, killing his pseudonyms and literary styles as needed (And I think he kills off the sci-fi purely because it was discovered by the wrong people), but maybe he’s been doing that for a while now–he’s certainly not the idiot frat-boy dragging a secretary down to the ground in the middle of a party to check the colour of her underwear anymore. He’s the only one of that crowd who seems to be improving–Paul Kinsey dissolved, Harry Crane has only become more of a monster, and while Pete has grown and improved and changed, he can still be his worst self. Cosgrove seems to shed them and not look back, like some smaller, quieter, less destructive version of Don.

    And Don simply subjects Pete to the rough “learn through taking responsibility and moving forward” curriculum he took Peggy through, only that’s always going to be a bit tinged and tainted by the fact that Pete has the kinds of privilege that Don and Peggy were denied in different ways.

  8. Sean T. Collins Says:

    “it’s another example of Lane not fitting in. The greatest British victory since D-Day and it doesn’t even register with these people.”

    Ooftah, that’s really sharp. You guys, these posts are just terrific.

  9. SnazzyO Says:

    Amypoodle – THANK YOU for calling out the mindless “Pete is a xxx (insert mean-spirited word here)” internet drivel that shows up on twitter and elsewhere. Sure, not everyone is going to watch Mad Men and pick up on the details but really, there is so much more to the character of Pete than his S1 self.

    I think Matt Weiner almost eggs that on sometimes. Hoping people will show the complete lack of insight and make pretty=good comments. Perhaps I’m wrong and he’s just acknowledging you have to throw in some broad humor.

    Still, I’m fairly certain the barbaric office battle was meant to be seen as grotesque despite the “Down Goes Campbell, Down Goes Campbell!” headlines.

  10. Zig Zag Zig Says:

    I was thinking about the relationship/connection between Pete and the robot in Ken’s story, who removes bolts from the bridge. Why does he do it?

  11. Papers Says:

    I actually think that all the physical debasement of Pete this season – smashing his face into the beam in the first episode, Lane beating the shit out of him in front of everything – is there to highlight that our feelings have changed for Pete. If this had happened in the first season, I would have been delighted! But by Season 4, Pete was doing a lot of the work to hold SCDP together and he’s grown a lot as a character. Having him injured repeatedly–specifically in the face–underlines how I actually feel bad for the dope, even as he fucks his life up, sliding first one way and then the other. Lane punching him in the face is there to remind me that I no longer particularly want to see that happen.

  12. Ad Mindless Says:

    Thanks, Sean. Yours are always a good read too. It’s fun to write about this stuff!

  13. amypoodle Says:

    SnazzyO: I think the comments we both hate so much are the product of people who think they’re in *that* show, the one presented to us by all the bullshit ‘Adultery is BACK!’ trailers. This ties into what Papers is (absolutely right in) saying, that the boxing match this episode was a way of guaging our current response to Pete. We’ve had to wait five seasons for him to ‘get the slap he deserves’, and when it happens those of us who’ve actually been invested in Mad Men, not bullshit tropes like goodies and baddies, aren’t altogether sure how we feel. The point in the end is this: we’re might have a moral position wrt to Pete, we might not like him, but we’re not supposed to be happy that this guy is going to return home to his wife and child covered in bruises. Was there anything satisfying about the aftermath of that fight? No. No, there wasn’t. It was just shit. Fights are shit. There was no moral victory, just suffering.

    Zig Zag Zig: I think the story only relates to Pete insofar as he hasn’t demonstrated real choice yet. He’s still screwing in the bolts and the whole thing keeps on turning. He’s still a slave, basically. Whereas Kenny isn’t. It’s a pretty hefty statement of intent from Ken, actually. He won’t be dragged down by the rat race. He’d rather see the whole thing destroyed than let it define his (ACTUAL) life.

  14. SnazzyO Says:

    amypoodle: You’re so right about the hype being very surface level. Conversely, the previews are staring to look like and exercise in Dadaism to prevent any real insight. But MW seems to be making that angle work as there are tons of post-episode interviews and buzz versus pre-episode hype.

    On Pete as X-4: Pete leaves and takes out the bolt, SCDP crashes.

  15. amypoodle Says:

    Oh yeah. Oh yeah for sure. Very good point. They really would be screwed. Man, I didn’t think about the implications of him flipping his script. It could just be a change in focus, but the other thing… Wow.

  16. Zig Zag Zig Says:

    See, yeah, I was thinking something along those lines, but that would totally destroy the setting, splitting up the cast, etc. Strangely, I don’t think you could have MAD MEN right now without Pete. He’s got Honey Maple Hams and everything.

    But more I was thinking that Pete takes out the bolts of everyone around him. “I thought we were all supposed to be friends,” he says, oblivious to the fact that he’s often a poison pill, a destructive machine.

    Anyway. These are great posts.

  17. Tim U. Says:

    Am I imagining things, or did Pete’s driving school friend have some qualities vaguely reminiscent of Peggy? The eyes, I think? It’s been a week, but that struck me at the time.

  18. Ad Mindless Says:

    Doubt that was intended.

  19. Marc Says:

    “Anyone got any thoughts on why he makes the transition from SF to realism, though?”

    Are we sure that he does? I mean, maybe the man really does have a miniature orchestra!

    And “Dave Algonquin” doesn’t exactly sound like the pen name of a guy who’ll be submitting his stories to the Atlantic. I got the impression that he changed little but the name, and adopted a new subject or two from his observations at Pete’s house. (Interesting how he all but signs the story–the miniature orchestra, the name Coe–perhaps confident that Pete will never read it. Another sign that he has no plans to leave his old stomping grounds?) He’s drawing material from life, sure, but as you point out “realism” is highly permeable on this show. The jump from Ben Hargrove to Dave Algonquin could be no larger or more lasting than the jump from “Time Out of Joint” to “Confessions of a Crap Artist.”

    (And I have no idea why, but I kept thinking of Philip K. Dick whenever they brought up Ken’s writing. Perhaps because that Cheeveresque milieu was so much a part of his stories, even at their most outlandish?)

  20. Ad Mindless Says:

    To be honest I didn’t get a sense that there was any switch either. I just assumed I’d missed something

  21. amypoodle Says:

    I suppose we don’t know, but there were no sci-fi tropes evident in that little extract. But, sure, that would be the case with many soft sf books. And, yeah, the name. Still feels like one for the mags.

    The Peggy thing was the cheerleader ponytail, I think, and that maybe was intentional.

  22. Ad Mindless Says:

    Okay, yeah maybe I’ll give you that

  23. Peter Tupper Says:

    When I saw Pete checking out that girl in the drivers ed class, I didn’t mind too much, considering it just a harmless flirtation…

    …until I remembered (and I seem to be the only person who does) that Pete RAPED Gudrun, that young au pair girl, a few seasons ago.

    Pete might be miserable in a pit that’s largely of his own making, but whatever would prevent him from going over the edge and taking his pain out on somebody else is not working. He’s trying to be Don, but he’s more like Joan’s husband Greg, venting his insecurities and frustrations on subordinate women. That casts a shadow over everything else in this storyline. I can even see him hurting Trudy.

    As for Don, I think the old Don regarded Pete as a useful idiot. Remember last season when Don somehow got Pete to help him sabotage the big aerospace deal so that Don didn’t have to go through a background check? There’s no way that was good for Pete or SCDP. The only reason that Pete went along with that is that he was still seduced by the Don Draper mystique.

    Now, I think this is Don performing his new “responsible adult” persona, and his council to Pete is utilitarian. Say what you will, Pete is bringing in the clients, and Don knows Pete can’t do that if Pete has a breakdown.

  24. Ad Mindless Says:

    That reading’s a little too cold and flat for me.

  25. SnazzyO Says:

    @Pete Tupper

    So I disagree Pete raped Gunrud. And this could go on forever so I want to explain why but I don’t intend to get into a discussion on it as it will derail the topic.

    Why Pete did not RAPE Gunrud:
    - Per the DVD commentary, that was not the intent. It was supposed to show the power imbalance (upstairs/downstairs) and Pete unwittingly using coercion because he didn’t realize she really didn’t want the sex to happen.
    – When it was being filmed there was no intention for rape implied. VK commented that the actress refused to kiss him but then there was the fade to black. This was not some plot to make Pete look like a rapist without VK knowning it, it was actress interpretation of showing reluctance.
    - Again, per commentary, he didn’t even consider sex an option until she kissed him on the cheek as a thank you. He then went back to his apartment, got drunk, and thought he’d try his luck. Drunken Pete WAS feeling entitled but again, he ASKED her.
    - He didn’t understand her feeling of coercion. He didn’t even know she was upset until the neighbor said so the other day.
    - There has been a large response to that episode with one blogger going on ad nauseum repeating “Pete Campbell is a racist”. This happens a lot for people who watched the show and made that interpretation.
    - Everyone is entitled to their interpretation of a scene but they won’t be playing future Pete Campbell as if he raped Gunrud because that was not the intent. As evidenced by “Signal 30″, neither MW nor VK have any problem with Pete looking like an asshole of epic proportion. But audience interpretation is not going to drive the future storyline in this particular direction.

    Sorry for the diatribe. I’ve run across this position before and most of the time the people are not aware of the story behind the story so I feel the need to share.

    I’m NOT trying to change your interpretation but I don’t think your interpretation has been translated to fact from a show perspective.

  26. SnazzyO Says:

    Correction to the paragraph starting with “There has been a large response. The correct word is rapist not racist.

  27. Ad Mindless Says:

    I’ll need to rewatch that episode but I remember cleaving to something like that interpretation, but also feeling very conflicted about it.

  28. RetroWarbird Says:

    The focus (or slightly out-of-focus) on Pete and Ken this episode was great, and reminded me of the conspicuously absent Harry, and how Pete looks (seemingly futily) to the older generation for his behavioral cues, while Harry seems to look to the younger (a little creepily). Ken seems, in addition to having the healthier sensibility to just edit his own secret personal life so that it’s once more kept separate from the office, to be content with acting his own age. There’s nothing wrong with being a Beta-male in this phase of his life. In fact, his switch to writing realism happening now in the wake of the events here strikes me as him finally using his “supporting role” status in the office to his own benefit – like his bit of realism might be about SCDP itself, or something similar.

    It also struck a chord when thinking of the macho/masculinity angle. Ken mentioned being from a rural background. The rural-ness of his background was easily trumped by Don’s, same as how he stepped back and let Don be Superman. But had Don not been there, it’s feasible to think Ken would’ve been fixing the faucet while Pete still struggled with the toolbox. And when we think about how quickly Ken was able to keep his private life private, make new secrets – not necessarily in the Don Draper metric, no – but with easier conspiracy and far less distress and drama than Pete. Don has come a long way from his beginnings. Ken has come quite a ways. Pete never actually left home, as hammered home by his awkwardness as a suburban home-owner and his finally having to get his driver’s license. It’s hard to create-your-own-image and maintain secrets when you’ve never left the neighborhood.

    Anyway beyond that, I saw some cool things. Meghan coolly making sure Don knew she was driving. There’ll be no more reckless DWI crashes while she’s taking care of him.

    And that Nixon name-drop (straddled as it was by a quick pick-up in Roger’s interest levels) perked my ears up. I smell the foreshadowing in the air like ozone for Roger’s ups and downs, but I’ll be damned even trying to guess what’s in store. Still, there was a little something there, and it’s nothing new for MM to mention something in passing and then for that to become the whole crux, two, three episodes later.

  29. werdsmiffery Says:

    @Marc: I definitely got a Philip K. Dick vibe as well. Reading his early, 60s-era (I think) short stories, there’s this bizarre disconnect between all the tropes of “straight” postwar SF (scientists, military men, robots and spaceships) and an increasing surreality that would come to the fore of his work as the 60s soured; drug culture, Nixonian paranoia and the like. Fits in with the “pliable reality” thing mentioned above.

    Add to that all the mortality/death urge stuff floating around – the driver’s ed car-crash films, the clock tower sniper, Robot X-4 destroying the bridge – there seems to be a theme of willed vs. unconscious (self-) destruction, like Lane and Pete bumbling into that grotesque fistfight that neither of them really “win”. I would not be surprised if the Cold War/nuclear paranoia were to come back to the fore in a future episode.

    As always, this was a really terrific read. I end up enjoying/thinking about the show much more after I’ve read these. Keep up the good work!

  30. James Says:

    Loving the weekly commentary – it’s ‘Mad Men’s Little Brother’ or ‘ Man Men – You’re Fired’.

    But you know, in a good way.

  31. Carnival of souls: Closed Caption Comics, Jonny Negron, Glenn Greenwald, more « Attentiondeficitdisorderly by Sean T. Collins Says:

    [...] * The Mindless Ones may well be doing the best Mad Men writing around. [...]

  32. Mindless Ones » Blog Archive » Mindless Mad Men #5 – Far Away Places Says:

    [...] the previous instalment of Mindless Mad Men, Amy made a neat point about how the reality of Signal 30 was skewed towards Pete Campbell’s [...]

  33. Ales Kot » ON MINDLESS ONES Says:

    [...] yours truly — Mindless Ones also post their roundtable discussions of Mad Men episodes, the second-to-the-last of which made me sit down and chew on my tongue for a few hours, seeing as I (on multiple occasions) [...]

  34. grant Says:

    1966, Google tells me, is the year “serial murder” is coined. Richard Speck… Charles Whitman (the name! we went to the same high school!)…

    There’s also the Jersey Shore murders… Charles Schmid trial… Brady/Hindley trial….

    And I’m going to predict that this season hits on the Zodiac before it ends.

    Summer of love.

  35. Mindless Ones » Blog Archive » Mindless Mad Men #11 – Commissions and Fees Says:

    [...] despised upstart Peter Campbell, and not declaring his love for Joan. As demonstrated in Signal 30, despite his best efforts to become an American, to inhabit the role of partner, to be a man, Lane [...]

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