In every season of Mad Men there's an episode which seriously ups the ante, and this was series five's. Signal 30 had everything; the most awkward dinner date imaginable, a night in a brothel, and perhaps the most satisfying fight in the show's history.
The show began with Lane Pryce heading to watch the 1966 World Cup Final in the pub, where he met a fellow Englishman from Jaguar cars looking to break his brand in the US. At last the finance guy would have a chance to prove his usefulness to the firm beyond money.
After a couple of weeks of Don not exactly being at his best, tonight he was back on form. Attending a dinner with Ken Cosgrove and their wives at Pete Campbell's house that he didn't even want to be at, he saved the day with some emergency plumbing and generally looked like he was being made to sit with the kids rather than his colleagues.
This is something we have come to expect from Mad Men, a narrative coming to the fore only to drop back to being an undercurrent again as we focus on the troubles of another character. So with Don's confidence back it was Pete Campbell's emasculation that took centre stage.
Firstly he had to watch as Don fixed his plumbing problem as he fumbled about with his tools. Next it was off to the brothel with the man from Jaguar, as Lane had underestimated what was required to gain his countryman as a client.
In the house of ill repute it was only Don who didn't succumb to temptation, and this led to Pete's second loss of his manhood. Sitting in the car after the evening's festivities, Don turned to Pete with remarkable clarity for a night spent drinking free whisky, and said: "I thought you were happy." Heavily implying that his colleague was the worst type of idiot; a self deceiving one.
After this the two stories met; two men not quite able to deal with not quite being the alpha male and their contrasting approaches to dealing with this. Lane, who had let the account men take control of looking after the man from Jaguar, stormed into the office, absolutely furious.
The source of his fury was a moment that will surely find its way into Mad Men lore, as it turned out that the client's wife had discovered about his nocturnal adventures. When asked how the Jaguar man's lady wife came upon this information, Lane screamed the immortal words: “HE WAS CAUGHT WITH CHEWING GUM ON HIS PUBIS!”
Yet Campbell, wanting to prove that he was above someone in the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce food chain had to push him. Lane raised his fists, called Pete a “grimy little pimp” and proceeded to floor the younger man, Marquess of Queensbury style, as Peggy and Joan listened in. Joan sympathised with Lane after the fight, yet spurned his advances.
After his beating Pete was left in the lift with a less than impressed Don. Bloody, beaten, with his veneer of cocky confidence utterly shattered. “I have nothing” Pete exclaimed.
Yet it's worse than that: Pete has a beautiful wife, a brilliant job and a new daughter, he is the man with everything for whom it still brings despair, who still feels like an inadequate boy despite the trappings of manhood.
Contrast his situation with Don's in Season one: both were dissatisfied with life in the suburbs, yet Don had respect from everyone and his conquests were as respectable as adultery ever is. Pete in the same position is despised, paying for sex and being beaten up by the office wimp.
All in all Signal 30 had all the ingredients of a perfect Mad Men episode; wonderful moments, characters at their best and worst, all within a wider arc that truly examines the changing personality of each.
It even finished wonderfully, with Ken Cosgrove, chastised by Roger for writing stories earlier in the episode, beginning another that could well have had as its tragic hero one Pete Campbell.
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