If you ask me (you kind of are, since you came to my website) last night’s episode of Mad Men was an example of how great the show can be. Lots happened, yet very little happened. It was an hour of small but meaningful moments, cunning power plays and quiet revelations. It was excellent.
Let’s begin with Pete Campbell, who’s always been one of the most fascinating characters on the show. As a character, I appreciate Pete Campbell. I love the performance that Vincent Kartheiser delivers. But I’ve also always hated Pete. In fact, I find him to be the most detestable person on the show – of course, I love every minute of it.
Fancy Dinner Party
The first half of the episode centered around a dinner party hosted by Trudy and Pete. Trudy proved herself to be just as cunning as her husband when she managed to get Don to commit to a dinner date, so Don and Megan joined Ken and Cynthia Cosgrove at Pete and Trudy’s home in the country. (I loved that no one could remember Cynthia’s name, and that she’s played by Alex Mack of The Secret World of Alex Mack.)
Early on we had some great stuff with Don and Megan, when Megan told Don that if he wanted to cancel the dinner he’d have to call Trudy and do it himself. Betty was always the perfect businessman’s wife, and we’re seeing more and more how Megan is a completely different kind of woman. This marriage is much more equal compared to that of Don and Betty. Betty would never tell Don to stop drinking before driving to a party, and if she did Don wouldn’t have listened.
I found the dinner fascinating to watch. Six people who don’t particularly like one another and don’t particularly trust one another, sitting and having a generally pleasant time. Don looked so uncomfortable in a plaid sport coat, but he played along. Pete’s bragging over his new record player and sucking up to Don in every way possible. You could see Ken cringe as Cynthia revealed that he still writes.
Pete wants so badly to be Donald Draper, but he’ll never achieve it. In fact, it’s the wanting to be Don that prevents it from happening. Don has never really wanted to be himself, but that’s just who he is. Pete tries to fix a sink and fails, he cheats on his wife and then acts crazy about it. For better or for worse, these were things that came easily to Don – both the looking hot while fixing a sink and the cheating on his wife.
The British Are Coming
The other major plotline in this episode was Lane Pryce wooing Jaguar, and the resulting disaster. Lane meets the Jaguar exec while watching England win the World Cup in a pub with some British ex-pats, and the account is practically thrown at him. After getting some tips from Roger, Lane takes the exec out for dinner to seal the deal. We never see what happens, but I can imagine it’s incredibly awkward.
So instead, Don, Roger and Pete all take Lane’s Brit friend out for a night on the town. He says he wants to have fun, and when the client wants fun you give him fun. They took him to a high class brothel. (I loved how at home Don was there. The man can be relaxed anywhere.) The resulting debauchery causes friction between Pete and Don, but even more between Pete and Lane.
Pete cheats on Trudy at the brothel, something that comes as a surprise to Don but not to the viewers. We’ve always known Pete’s true colors, and we saw him lusting after a pretty teenager at his drivers’ ed classes. But like I said, this doesn’t come easily to Pete the way it did to Don. Don never would have caused such a scene in the cab. Those were the words of a guilt-ridden man. Don keeps his cards much closer to the chest, but his disgust with Pete was pretty obvious. Don likes Trudy, and he didn’t know Pete was miserable the way Roger is, or the way Don was.
The next day, Lane finds out that the Jaguar exec’s wife discovered “chewing gum on his pubis”, words that literally everyone other than Lane finds hilarious. Lane had so many reasons to be angry. He feels irrelevant at the company, since Joan can practically do his job – I think sealing the deal with Jaguar would have been his way to feel needed, but he’s not an account man and doesn’t have the social skills to pull it off. I also think he hoped to have found a friend in the British executive, and now that can never be. He took his loneliness out on two faces — Pete’s, by beating the crap out of it, and Joan’s, by kissing it. I can’t say I was displeased about either occurrence.
You can’t say that watching Pete get beaten up wasn’t funny, and while I’m not dying to see Lane and Joan get together I thought it was fascinating to watch her gracefully navigate that situation. Joan understands what it is to be sad and lonely. I’m glad she’s back in the office again, it just wasn’t the same without her.
Writing In Bed
Meanwhile, Pete told Roger that Ken still writes his stories and Roger told him to stop. Can you imagine? First of all, I’m pretty sure at the ad agencies of today the bosses encourage their employees to do stuff like that. Blogs, Twitter, etc. Second of all, can you imagine a boss today telling an employee to abandon an outside of work hobby? He writes in his spare time! What’s it to you? (I am an obnoxious Millennial. Just ask me to preach about work/life balance! Also – writing on lunch breaks? Ken Cosgrove, you are my spirit animal.) Part of Roger’s criticism stemmed from his own failures as a writer, but part of it too is the belief that you can’t be focused on anything other than your job. Oh, how times have changed.
The story Ken was writing based on Pete at the end of the episode, under a new pen name, was a brilliant way to sum up the tone of sadness that was so prominent in “Signal 30″.
I’m very curious about where the show is heading with Pete and with Don. Don is supposedly happy, he seems like he’s in a much better place than he once was. Yet he’s doodling a noose during a meeting. Red herring? I think so. But Pete. Pete knows he has it all but feels he has nothing. He tells his wife not to talk about their baby during the dinner party, but when everyone coos over how adorable their daughter is he wearily admits he can take no credit for her. There was a mention of the rifle he’d purchased with store credit back in season one, which Trudy didn’t know he still possessed.