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Episode 5 - Signal 30

30 April 2012

Credit AMC

I liked this a lot. As Mad Men isn’t a narrative show as such, I sometimes forget about it during the week. There are no island mysteries, zombie hordes or dragons to keep my mind occupied. Yet an episode like this can be so entertaining and so richly realised that I wonder why I haven’t been thinking more about Sterling, Cooper, Draper, Pryce.

As I read elsewhere Pete’s character is that of the man who will never be happy. No matter what he achieves he will always want more and be unsatisfied with his lot. Earlier this season it seemed like he was meant to be turning into Don but actually having reached Don’s season one state Pete is miserable. He has a lovely wife and child but wants other women. He has success at work but is still jealous of those who have more.

It’s a sadly relatable emotional story and I loved the bitterness of his feelings toward Don. Finally Don comes round to dinner and Pete feels like they are on equal footing. Don is at his level and eating from his table. Then the sink goes awry and Don saves the day to a round of applause while Pete fiddles with his toolbox. Later at the whorehouse Pete gives in to the chance to play away, something Don has done many times before, and yet he still can’t win. Don is currently happy and not partaking, robbing Pete of even the temporary high he was enjoying. Finally Pete decides to take his frustration out on Lane. Surely here is an easy target, Pete knows he is more successful than Lane but his mean words immediately come back to literally punch him in the face.

The Lane story was good too as he struggles with his own desires. As a Brit the 1966 World Cup Final is suffused through our culture in a way that really made Roger’s dismissive “Cup of what?” line work beautifully. The good feeling generated by that match is definitely reason enough to make Lane think he could be an account man for a day and prove his worth to everyone. Instead he gives off the wrong impression entirely and takes out his frustration on Pete.

I loved the way the plot organically took us to a whorehouse and a fist fight. I wouldn’t have predicted either and enjoyed them both a tremendously. The writing throughout was excellent with Roger’s kind advice to Lane exposing the ad sales psychology or Ken’s robot story capturing an Asimov-style idea in a way that linked to Pete and Lane’s own limited control of their worlds. The comedy was excellent too with Don not knowing Ken’s wife’s name (“Hello you”), Roger joking about how much his mum loved him and referring to himself as an “unappreciated author. That’s before I even get to Lane announcing that Edwin was "caught with chewing gum on his pubis."

Lane’s decision to kiss Joan felt to me like an act of desperation rather than unrequited love. He is clearly so desperate to be out of his marriage and free to make a new life that he reacted inappropriately to a moment of tenderness. Does it get any better than her response of calmly getting up, opening the door and sitting back down? Her poise was entirely fitting and perfectly performed.

It’s also worth keeping an eye on Ken Cosgrove the one seemingly well adjusted ad man in the business. He would clearly take up writing full time if it paid enough and he doesn’t seem bitter when Pete tells on him for skipping work to go write. Instead he tells everyone he has given up his nom de plume and then heads home to carry on writing. Very neat.

The only false moment came with some very literal dialogue from Pete’s drivers ed girl Jenny. She talked about how “time feels like its speeding up” which seemed like a reference to how the 1960s was such a decade of change. But would someone at the time have actually said that?

Otherwise I thought this was excellent. Entertaining, interesting, well crafted and capturing Pete and Lane nicely in their frustration.

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  • This was as good an episode of television as I have seen. Didn't miss any beats and all the highs had me cheering.
    Not every episode of television can take you through the range of emotions this episode did. It was funny, dramatic and tragic. This show continues to be one of the best on television along with Justified and Game of Thrones.
    Thanks for the forum Robin

    Viewer score: 85 / 100

    Posted by Kayode from Baltimore, 21/04/2012 12:04am (6 years ago)

  • Thanks for all the comments guys. Great stuff.

    I also spotted the Charles Widmore similarity but didn't think that of course Whitman would have more resonance to Don. Nice explanation of the faucet too :-)

    Posted by The TV Critic, 20/04/2012 10:16am (6 years ago)

  • I also loved everything about Joan getting up to open the door. Best moment of the show.

    I also liked the subtlety when Ken's wife incorrectly refers to the Texas A&M shooter Charles Whitman as "Charles Whitmore" and Don, whose real surname is also Whitman, solemnly corrects her. (Also, maybe that was a tacit nod to "Lost" since it almost sounds like she said Charles Widmore.)

    I agree about the "time speeding up" line which was a McGuffin serving to accentuate Pete's own inner conflict. Along those lines, the dripping faucet is an evocative metaphor. The show ends with Pete telling Don he he has nothing when the whole episode focuses on how "rich" Pete's life appears to be. How he has a great home in a great neighborhood with a beautiful baby and charming wife. His life is like that toolbox by his dripping faucet: it seems to have everything and anything could need, yet he doesn't know how to use any of it. So he is unable to stop that nagging, continuous drip of dissatisfaction. No wonder he wants to be king.

    Viewer score: 76 / 100

    Posted by jeremy, 20/04/2012 4:50am (6 years ago)

  • Pete Campbell got ounched, really need I say more. I have been waiting for this since the actor played Connor on Angel. Seriously though it was a great episode but Pete got punched!

    Viewer score: 82 / 100

    Posted by Derek, 18/04/2012 3:55am (6 years ago)

  • I forgot to mention how much I liked Pete's side story of Driver's Ed and his flirtation with the young girl. I was sure that he was going to choose the 'pouty virgin' routine from the girl at 'the party' and then was surprised when he chose the 'king' line as the preferred fantasy.

    Posted by Yogabon, 17/04/2012 6:57pm (6 years ago)

  • I loved this episode. Many quiet moments really sold it; Trudy's look of confidence after hanging up the phone with Don, (and his look of knowing he'd been had), The partners faces and actions surrounding Laine's challenge to Campbell, Joan opening the door after Laine's kiss.
    The fight was beautiful paced and so well acted by all - I laughed almost as hard as when Betty got out the shotgun and blew the pigeon's out of the sky in an early season.

    Viewer score: 85 / 100

    Posted by Yogabon, 17/04/2012 10:52am (6 years ago)

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