'Mad Men' recap: Season 5, Episode 5: 'Signal 30'

Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser): The man of the hour.
Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser): The man of the hour.(Michael Yarish/AMC)

"I can't believe I have to explain that I was doing my job to a man who just pulled his pants up on the world" -- Pete Campbell

Five seasons in, we know this much about Pete Campbell: He's entitled, he's never happy, he can verge on super-creepy and he lives for impressing Don.


And he has always deserved a good punch. We all owe a debt of gratitude to Lane Pryce for finally doing the deed.

I can't remember the last time we had such a Pete-centric episode (maybe when his father died? Still, it wasn't the focus). And here we had one where the writers managed to fill us with contempt for Pete but also feel sorry him. Vincent Kartheiser -- Emmy nominee? This one was a classic.

Pete is a boy who has never become a man. He doesn't even know what man he wants to become or is capable of becoming.

We get to see Pete in multiple disparate places. He's for some reason taking a drivers ed class in a high school (maybe so he can learn to drive away when the baby cries or Trudy speaks?), where he's flirting creepily with a recent high school grad. Nothing says budding romance like exchanging longing looks while watching a violent drivers safety video!

When he's not flirting with a girl who's maybe 18, he's playing happy husband and going through the motions of planning a dinner party with his wife. On the guest list: Ken and Cynthia Cosgrove (in a funny moment, no one can remember Cynthia's name, but I couldn't either) and Don and Megan Draper. Don, shockingly, tries to get out of the date.

"Saturday night in the suburbs. That's when you want to blow your brains out," says Don, reverting back to his old ways of not wanting to do things normal (or, to him, boring) people do.

Somehow Megan convinces him to attend (she's powerful, that Megan) what may be the saddest dinner party ever. Not just because the couples talk about sniper Charles Whitman's recent shooting spree at the University of Texas at Austin (that places this episode in early August 1966), but because of the painful lengths Pete goes to in order to convey his fake happiness.

It was almost as scary as the collection of plaid blazers every guy wore.


He shows off his gigantic stereo to Ken and Don. "It's 7 feet long! Wilt Chamberlain can lie down in there!" He says stuff like "Dessert, yes. I'm having too much fun for coffee!" and "A frig in the garage! That's a good idea!"

When he wakes up his daughter after breaking the sink, he says, in what appears to be a statement only directed at Don, that "I take no credit for her at all." Yuck.

We never get to really see if Trudy Campbell really believes her husband is happy -- I would imagine she has some sort of clue he's not -- but this was a painful display of dishonesty.

And all of this comes right after he asks drivers ed object of affection out on a date, where, in his fantasy, Pete and almost-college freshman will walk around without a care in the world.

Oh, Pete gets creepier. Lane is having trouble landing a deal with a representative from Jaguar. Turns out Lane is, well, nice and normal, while the Jaguar guy is kind of a freak. He wants "more fun" than Lane had to offer, so Roger offers to take him to a "party at a friend's house."

Or a friend who owns a high-end brothel, where Jaguar guy immediately finds a lady. It's interesting to see Don there, acting un-Don-like, refusing the company of a random woman for the night (the madam even approaches and offers a male prostitute, if he's in to that). Roger finds himself a red-haired Joan stand-in.


Even Pete gets some action. "You any good at this or not?" Pete asks her. Nice.

She goes through some "sexy" scenarios. The horny housewife? Doesn't do it for him. The virgin? No. What it takes is the woman calling him "the king." Of course.

My favorite moment of this episode, and there were many great moments, was the Don-Pete stand-off in the cab after the party. New Virtuous Family Man Don silently judges Pete's action in his Don way: acting standoffish and disapproving with a mere dismissive glance.

"Boy, this is rich," Pete says. "I can't believe I have to explain that I was doing my job to a man who just pulled his pants up on the world."

Don holds his ground, says he has finally learned to appreciate what he has (right. We'll see) and tells Pete that he doesn't get another chance with what he has. It's a wise comeback that I doubt Season 1-3 Don would ever say. It says something when even Don is telling Pete how to treat women and live his life.

Yes, it gets even rougher for Pete. Not only does drivers ed girl rejects him for a classmate (that doesn't stop creepy/sad Pete from staring in class when the new guy start to run his hands up her thighs. This is one inappropriate drivers ed situation), but he ends up getting into an unexpected brawl with Lane.

Turns out Lane's Jaguar friend is in trouble. His wife found out what happened and called Lane's wife -- "Because he was caught with chewing gum on his pubis!!" Classic "Mad Men" line and also the first time I have ever typed the word "pubis."

Lane is mad that the guys took Edwin to the brothel. "He didn't ask you because he thinks you're a homo," according to Pete.

Lane by now is fuming mad. "I can't believe the hours I put in helping you become the monster you've become," Lane responds. When Pete tells Lane that he doesn't even understand why SCDP keeps Lane around, stuff gets real, real quick.

It all comes down to a fist fight. In the office. In the middle of a partners' meeting. Really. The curtains. Are. Drawn. No one does anything to stop it.

"I know cooler heads should prevail, but am I the only one who wants to see this?" Roger says. No, Roger. You're not the only one.

Lane beats him down, since the best move Pete can offer is calling him Mr. Toad. "Consider that my last piece of advice," Lane says before leaving. I plan to say that whenever I'm in an office fight and win.

Lane gets consoled with a bucket of ice by Joan. I actually wasn't surprised when Lane kissed her ("Mad Men" had been kind of hinting that some sort of Joan-Lane shenanigans might happen), but all Joan does is get up silently, open the door, smile to herself, sit back down and thank Lane for punching Pete -- finally.

Good move, Joan.

I could have done without the whole end scene of Ken Cosgrove writing a short story about Pete called "The Man With a Miniature Orchestra." It all seemed a bit perfect and heavy-handed for my taste. Ditto for the symbolism of the dripping drain reflecting the unending inner madness Pete feels trapped in his marriage.

I would have preferred the episode to end with tearful Pete's heartbreaking line to Don in the elevator: "I have nothing, Don."

More highlights from 'Signal 30'


What's with the title?:

"Signal 30" refers to the name of the video of horrific traffic accidents Pete watches in the drivers ed class. Yes, I had to look it up.

Sexiest/weirdest moment:

Driving home from the Campbell's party, Don gets a little frisky and asks Megan to pull over. "I'm too drunk for you to drive. Let's have a baby," he says.

Writer Ken:

Apparently, Ken Cosgrove has still been writing. Who can forget his Atlantic Monthly short story, "Tapping a Maple on a Cold Vermont Morning"? I believe Robert Frost tried to sue. However, we also learn that he has been writing under the pen name "Ben Hargrove." Ken is so mysterious!

Secret world:

When Megan couldn't remember Cynthia Cosgrove's name, I thought someone would shout out, "Alex Mack!" Good to see you, Larisa Oleynik!

Best window into British sports:

Before going with his wife to watch a football (er, soccer) match at a pub, Lane says, "The first half of a football match is just flirting."

Best representation of how most Americans still feel about soccer:

When Lane says Britain won the World Cup, Roger says, "Cup of what?"

Most disconcerting doodle:

Don's draws a noose during the partners' meeting.

Most philosophical recent high school graduate:

Pete's drivers' ed obsession, who says, "Things just seem so random all of a sudden. And time feels like it's speeding up."

Return of Roger the ladies man:

He tells his "date" at the brothel, "Look honey, I'm not going to bore you with complements.