Mad Men: Season 5, Episode 5 – ‘Signal 30’ Review and Synopsis

Mad Men Pete Campbell Season 5 Episode 5

Opening with a montage of car wrecks, we notice Pete Campbell studying up for his driver’s license while eyeing a young blond girl at the same time. A dripping faucet in the kitchen keeps him from going to sleep and it is already evident that this is probably going to be a Pete themed episode. His fixing the faucet likely signals his mastery of his environment and his skill-set. Perhaps he is coming into his own or about to receive a much needed humbling experience?

Please note: Spoilers ahead. 

Lane is resisting his wife’s attempts to get him to join her for some time at a pub with fellow emigres from England. He claims he will try his best to have fun but ends up letting loose during what is hinted to be England’s victory over Germany in the World Cup of 1966.

In a moment of victory at the staff meeting, Lane drops the bombshell that he has met a representative from Jaguar and that he is beginning to explore Jaguar’s business needs and how SCDP may be able to meet them. Pete challenges this announcement by highlighting the firm’s limited resources to service a new account, especially one like Jaguar, while the others are excited at the prospect of advertising for a car manufacturer. Pete not only challenges this find by Lane, but he also arrogantly dismisses it and is openly disrespectful to him.

Mad Men: Season Four [Blu-ray]

‘Saturday night in the suburbs? That’s when you really want to blow your brains out.’

Ken tells Peggy that the reason for the cloak-and-dagger earlier in the diner was because he was meeting with some kind of literary agent to hock stories for his nom-de-plume, Ben Hargrove, a writer of science fiction and fantasy. The tension between those characters who find lives outside of work and those who live for work manifests in Pete’s unfulfilled existence at home because of what he perceives to be a stilted trajectory at work.

The opposite shows in Ken’s pursuit of something outside of work that has opened up new avenues for him to find fulfillment. Ken is breaking out of the system while Pete is bemoaning its inability to crown him king.

‘Smile and sit there and act like you’ve got no place to go.’

In a break after class Pete begins a conversation with the young girl that he was eyeing in the beginning of the episode. She tells him about how the sniper in Texas, Charles Whitman, combined with the nurse massacre in Chicago at the hands of Richard Speck, has pressured her parents into discouraging her going to college.

Mad Men: Season Four [Blu-ray]

She then begins to rhapsodize about how time passes more quickly the older one gets, giving Pete a perfect opportunity to try and bed a high schooler by setting up the false pretense for the two of them to spend time together ‘learning how to drive.’

Don is the guest of honor at Pete and Trudy’s house and the whole scene brims with effulgence from the two of them because of Don’s arrival. It’s all quite stilted and bizarre.

Cynthia brings up the Charles Whitman sniper shootings at the University of Texas during the dinner conversation at the Campbell’s house. This segues into a story about one of Ken’s science fiction stories which places him in an awkward spot during the dinner.

The faucet in the kitchen begins to spout water into the air, recalling the repair Pete performed on it earlier which has now proven ineffectual at the worst moment. Pete arrives toolbox in hand while Don takes care of the problem as he usually does.

Pete and Roger offer their help to Lane in securing the Jaguar account and he accepts though he is clearly frustrated in his inability to assert himself in the company, leading him to further question his role at SCDP.

‘I’m inviting you to the dinner, not the wedding night.’

A younger guy literally named Hansom though nicknamed ‘Handsome’ moves in and steals Pete’s thunder with the young high school girl that he has been attempting to seduce, recalling the theme of the older generation being replaced by the younger generation.

Roger takes the opportunity to shine at the business dinner with the Jaguar rep and winds up taking the party back to a whorehouse in which everybody gets lucky except for Don who stays behind at the bar and is subsequently mistaken for a gay man. If that doesn’t signal some sort of change, I don’t know what else could?

Mad Men: Season Four [Blu-ray]

Pete rejects all of the prostitute’s fantasies until she calls him ‘king’ and he is satisfied, bringing around to full circle his need to be preeminent among his peers and his frustrations with that not having happened yet.

At the end of the night only Don and Pete remain in the back of the cab and the two of them share a rare moment between them not filled with loathing or enmity.

‘Why do I feel like I’m riding in the back with a nun?’

Don admonishes Pete about his sleeping with a prostitute and tells him to not ‘throw it all away’ because of momentary weakness.

Ken Cosgrove is chastised for being a part-time author by Roger. Roger tells Ken that he too is a failed writer, obviously implying that if he has failed, so will Ken. Additionally, Roger questions Ken’s divided loyalties. Namely, how can he be an effective account man if he is writing science fiction novels? There is no such thing as work/life balance – work is life.

Lane storms into the conference room to announce the loss of the Jaguar account because the prospective’s wife found out he had been to a whorehouse. This is because the prostitute had apparently left chewing gum on his pubic hair, resulting in Lane’s classic exclamation: ‘There was chewing gum on his pubis!’

Pete insults Lane and the two of them begin to fist fight each other in the conference room while Joan listens through the intercom with Peggy joining in later. Lane thoroughly beats Pete in front of his peers, emasculating him and also satisfying the audience’s craving for Pete’s humbling.

Lane’s attempt at making out with Joan afterwards invites even more awkwardness into an episode brimming with it.

This focus on Pete’s comeuppance or his frustrations with the direction his life is taking consumed the action of this entire installment. He more or less confesses to Don in the elevator that he has little to his life outside of work. Introduced in the episode as brimming with confidence and a master of his domain, the course of events that follow thereafter reveal that Pete still has a ways to go in terms of mastering his career as well his more destructive urges.

Ken’s narrative overlaying the closing montage approximates Pete’s miserable existence in the cloak of expository writing:

‎”There were phrases of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony that still made Coe cry. He always thought it had to do with the circumstances of the composition itself. He imagined Beethoven, deaf and soul sick, his heart broken, scribbling furiously while Death stood in the doorway, clipping his nails. Still, Coe thought, it might’ve been living in the country that was making him cry. It was killing him with its silence and loneliness, making everything ordinary too beautiful to bear.”


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